"Somebody's going to get tied up today."
Ever since Gertrude Blout had awoken from troubled dreams that cloudy morning, she had been convinced of that fact. She peered anxiously out the curtains, scanning the placid suburban street with her binoculars with all the eagerness of an ornithologist hunting a rare species of bird.
"Whenever I get a feeling like this, I'm always right," she remarked to her husband. "Someone around here, someone very close, is going to get tied up today. It may have already happened! Really, Big Jimmy, how can you just sit there, knowing something so fiendish is going on?"
"Glrmvrf," Big Jimmy replied indistinctly, flipping the page in his sports magazine.
"It might be Mrs. Applethorne across the way," Gertrude announced. "You know her, I think, dear? Yes, of course you do; you notice all the attractive women in the neighborhood, don't you, hmm?"
"I've seen her around," said Big Jimmy. Despite his nickname, he was short in stature and shorter in muscle; he was called Big Jimmy to differentiate him from his son, Little Jimmy, who, does not enter into this narrative, being busy at school causing his teachers to long for the day they could retire. "Believe me dear, I have no interest in her whatsoever."
This was the truth, actually. Although Gertrude was accurate about her husband's roving eye, he had always passed his glance over Mrs. Applethorne, despite her highly alluring appearance. He could not have told you precisely why that was; perhaps it had something to do with her mocking gaze that seemed to pierce directly into him, turning him inside out, and then discarding him as if she found him unworthy of her further consideration.
"I've seen her husband come out several times today," Gertrude said, "and he's been acting very suspiciously, if you ask me."
"I didn't, dear," Big Jimmy said, but quietly enough so his wife couldn't hear.
"But I haven't seen her at all, and their curtains are drawn, so I can't see inside the house! Very, very suspicious! He doesn't want me to see what he's up to inside, but I'm sure he has her all tied up. She must be in trouble!"
"Why don't you call her and find out?" Big Jimmy suggested.
"I have," Gertrude explained. "I called her cell phone and got her voice mail. Then I called their landline and got their answering machine. Both times I left a message stressing that she call me back ASAP, but she hasn't. That proves she's in trouble!"
"I don't see that, dear."
"Well, I do," Gertrude announced with finality. "Go over and see if she's okay, Big Jimmy."
"Me?" squeaked Big Jimmy. He had no desire to go the Applethorne's house whatsoever. Besides the unnerving qualities of Mrs. Applethorne, there was the matter of Mr. Applethorne….
"Yes, you," Gertrude declared.
"Why don't you go, if you're so concerned?" Big Jimmy suggested desperately.
"I think this calls for a man's touch, Big Jimmy."
"But really, dear, I'm at quite an interesting point in this magazine, the beach volleyball finals, and…"
"That's not even really a sport," Gertrude interrupted. "Honestly, how the women dress while playing that game, so skimpy to the point of it being positively scandalous!"
"I'm not reading this magazine to look at them in their, ahem, uniforms," lied Big Jimmy.
"You can get back to your magazine after you've been over to make sure Mrs. Applethorne's okay."
"Big Jimmy, I can't believe how heartless you're being!" Gertrude exclaimed. "Just think of the horrors facing that sweet woman!"
Big Jimmy shuddered, not from imagining any horrors possibly facing Mrs. Applethorne, but rather from hearing her described as a "sweet woman." In his extremely limited association with her he had formed the view that she was the dread-inspiring sort of person who would probably highly suited for being the headmistress of some ultra-strict school or the warden of a women's prison or possibly even a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent.
"He probably has her all bound and gagged in the basement," Gertrude said. "He's probably planning on flooding the place. He's probably started already! Big Jimmy, you have to go over there and stop him!"
"But we don't know that she's tied up at all!"
"Big Jimmy, my instincts tell me that someone's getting tied up today, and my instincts are never wrong! Now, maybe it's not her, but we need to find out. Just think about her in that basement, her head about to go under the cold water. Imagine what she must be thinking as she fights for her survival!"
"Just because someone gets tied up, that doesn't mean it has to lead to something so, um, perilous," Big Jimmy suggested.
Gertrude frowned. "Well, that's true, but we can't take the chance. I said the basement, but it could be something else; maybe he got her in the bathtub, all filled with water. She's struggling to get free, but he's about to drop in the toaster. He could do it any second!"
"So, go over there right away, Big Jimmy. Don't let Mr. Applethorne put you off, either! Get inside and see for yourself that's she's okay. Don't leave until you've actually seen her!"
"But, what am I supposed to say as to why I'm there?" whined Big Jimmy.
"Think of something," Gertrude urged him.
Big Jimmy sighed, but he rose from his comfortable chair and trotted into the kitchen.
Gertrude watched him slouch out the front door, a plastic jug in his hands. Frowning, she picked up his sports magazine. "He really doesn't need to be looking at this," she decided, so, with a contemptuous sniff, she tossed the periodical into the shredder and, listening with satisfaction to its hungry buzz, resumed her vigil by the window.
Big Jimmy thought wistfully of merely pretending to ring to doorbell, but, knowing his wife was watching intently, pressed it for real.
"Hello, gorgeous," Desiree greeted him.
Big Jimmy was immensely relieved to discover that Mrs. Applethorne was not tied up, "not even a little" he observed. He was also relieved it was she and not her husband who had answered the door. "Now I can get back home without any fuss," he thought happily and entirely incorrectly.
"Did you want something, or did you just come by to see me?" Desiree asked with a slanted smile.
"I came to, ahem, borrow a cup of sugar," Big Jimmy explained, twiddling the plastic jug. It wasn't anything terribly inspired, but that was his best idea. "If you're out, it's okay; I just needed some for, um, this cake I'm baking."
"Why, you naughty, naughty boy!" Desiree exclaimed. "There's more to you than meets the eye, I see!"
"What?" asked Big Jimmy. Looking at her in her scarlet dress, he felt all she needed was a set of horns on her forehead and a flaming pitchfork in one hand to complete the image of a demoness, a look he felt she could pull off admirably.
"I had no idea you had thoughts like that about me," she said. "Really, it's quite flattering, but you can't come over for… sugar… when my husband's home. Come back when he's away; luckily for you, he's going to be out most of the day tomorrow, so your chances of him not catching you here would be pretty good, I think."
"No, no, you don't understand," Big Jimmy squeaked desperately. "Really, just a cup of sugar, that's all."
"All the sugar you want," she informed him, "but not while my husband's home, okay?"
"Who's at the door?" demanded a new voice, deep and menacing as rolling thunder.
"Just Mr. Blout," Desiree explained, as her husband appeared to place a massive arm possessively around her.
"What do you want, microbe?" Sparky demanded, glowering down at Big Jimmy.
"Just a cup of sugar," Big Jimmy explained with a flinch, holding up his jug as evidence.
"Sugar, hey?" rumbled Sparky. "Well, let me tell you, there isn't any sugar here for you! Do you understand?"
"Right, no sugar," Big Jimmy agreed meekly. "I'll just be going, then."
"Hold on," Sparky ordered, and Big Jimmy stopped. "I don't know what you thought you were doing, coming around here and pestering my wife…"
"Really, just looking for a cup of sugar," Big Jimmy insisted.
"I know what you're really after, and you can't have any!" Sparky roared.
"You tell him, sweetie," Desiree said. "Let him know I'm a happily married woman who doesn't appreciate it when men come around and think they can make time with me!" She held up a hand behind her husband's head as she spoke, wiggling her fingers at Big Jimmy in invitation. She winked broadly and ran her tongue over her lips as she mouthed the word "tomorrow!" but abruptly stopped as her husband turned to face her. "And him a married man, too!" she exclaimed. "With the most precocious little boy!"
"Do you know what I'll do if you ever come slinking around here again?" Sparky asked Big Jimmy. "I'll break every bone in your puny body, that's what. I don't mean that as a figure of speech, either. I mean that if you ever so much as sully one step on my front porch by placing your filthy shoes thereon that I will crush every bone you possess one at a time, carefully checking afterwards that I haven't overlooked any. Are we clear on the program?"
"Crystal clear," Big Jimmy assured him. "Right, I'll be on my way."
Sparky stomped back inside.
"See you soon, lover boy," Desiree said, blowing him a kiss before gently easing the door closed.
Big Jimmy slowly retreated across the street. The worst part, he realized, was that when he got home, his wife would persist in her statement, declaring absolutely that someone was going to be tied up. She would keep watching the neighborhood and send him out again. She might even send him back to the Applethorne's house, feeling the dire events she had envisioned simply hadn't taken place yet.
"Go over and check again," she would tell him. "She's tied up now, for certain!"
How could he explain he simply couldn't go back to the Applethorne residence?
"That has to be stopped," Big Jimmy realized.
Gertrude Blout's binoculars lay abandoned on the windowsill, the curtains closed to prying eyes. Gertrude herself lay on the living room rug. Ropes bound her wrists behind her back. Cords surround her legs, with a length running from her ankles to her hands. Duct tape over her lips prevented her from saying anything much.
"Mpfff!" she seethed, wriggling so that she rolled from her stomach onto her side. She scowled up at Big Jimmy, seated in his comfortable chair.
"You were right, dear," he remarked, hunting vainly for the beach volleyball magazine. "Someone in the neighborhood did get tied up today!"