Foreclosure
by Zack
Copyright© 2002. All rights reserved.

Notice: This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons is entirely coincidental.
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The most junior member of the Northern Empire Bank's legal department was sitting in his climate-controlled office and sweating like a pig. He picked up his phone, put it down, and then picked it up again and reluctantly punched in a number that had nothing but bad memories for him.

The phone rang four times. Just as his hopes were building that it wouldn't be answered a voice proclaimed, "Loan Administration, Sharon Green speaking."

"Ah, Ms. Green, this is Larry in the legal department. I'm afraid I have some bad news."

"Not again! What have you fuck-ups botched this time?"

Larry winced and moved the phone farther from his ear. "It's that farm foreclosure we have scheduled for Saturday over in North Dakota. The person who was going to represent us has the flu and can't make it."

"Well, send somebody else. Even a cretin like you should have been able to think of that."

"We don't have anybody else. We have a lot of people away on vacation because of the Thanksgiving weekend, and more are out sick."

"Why don't you go yourself? You're a lawyer of sorts. How difficult can it be? A moron should be able to handle it, and that means you qualify."

"North Dakota has very restrictive laws. They don't like corporations buying farms, so they make it as difficult as possible. The only people who would be allowed to represent the bank are attorneys who are licensed in the state and officers of the corporation." Larry fought to keep his voice level; everyone at the bank knew Ms. Green was a vindictive bitch, and he didn't want to become one of her personal enemies.

"Well, hire a local lawyer to handle it. Or is that too complicated for you to understand?"

"We don't have anyone on retainer, and we have to get management approval before we can do any hiring. You know how long that takes."

"So what are you going to do?"

"Well, ah, you're a corporate vice president. You could go."

"Me! So now I'm supposed to be your errand girl? You stupid..."

Larry patiently waited during several minutes of imaginative cursing, and when Sharon slowed a bit he broke in and said, "I'm really sorry, but it's not our fault that the flu is going around. I tried everyone else I could find, but you're the only qualified person who might be available."

"You're right about being sorry. You're the sorriest bunch of incompetents I've ever seen. Well, if I'm the only one in the bank who isn't flaking off I suppose I'll have to go. When and where is the auction and how do I get there?"

"The auction is 9 a.m. Saturday at the courthouse in the town of New Trondheim. We've already made all of the travel arrangements. You fly from Chicago to Fargo and then it's about a two hour drive west and south. You'll be traveling on Thanksgiving, but that was the only flight available." Because Larry had been taught to be polite he added, "I'm sorry if this messes up your holiday plans."

"Spare me your sympathy, asswipe. You bozos owe me big time." She slammed down the phone.

Larry winced again. Then he wiped his brow and counted himself lucky that he had gotten off so easily.

Sharon raged around her office for several minutes before she remembered what her therapist had told her, and gradually she was able to stop cursing and get control of herself. She gulped some antacid tablets and her stomach pains eased.

Actually, she didn't have any plans for the holiday. Her parents were dead and both of her sisters hadn't been speaking to her for several years. Sharon had broken up with her sort-of boyfriend several months ago, and no one she knew would voluntarily spend time with her unless she provided sex. She had planned to spend the holiday weekend alone in her apartment.

It wasn't having to work on the holiday that burned Sharon; it was that someone even dared to ask her to do something this mundane. She had joined the Loan Administration department several months ago. It had been called a 'lateral transfer', and she still had her title and the same salary, but it was clearly a demotion. Sharon had started at the bank almost twelve years ago, just after she got her MBA, and she had spent every day since then clawing her way to the top. The transfer was an ominous sign that her career was headed for the toilet, and the associated stress was seriously affecting her health.

Sharon decided that if she had to work over the weekend she was going to take the rest of the day off. As soon as Larry had emailed the confirmation numbers for her airline and car rental reservations she took the elevator to the parking garage in the basement of the building. Her silver-blue Mercedes E-320 was parked close to the elevator; at least she still had a reserved space. She sat in the car for a few minutes and thought calm thoughts. Then she drove out of the garage and into the traffic of downtown Milwaukee.

Sharon lived in the western suburbs, almost closer to Madison than to her office, and as she fought the pre-holiday traffic she could feel her rage nearing the explosion point. She wished there was a chemical means of coping, but she had bad reactions to all of the usual tranquilizers. Once she was home things would be better; she would be alone in a dimly lit, quiet place.

* * *

Sharon experienced a remarkably smooth journey to New Trondheim. She was picked up at her apartment by a taxi and delivered to O'Hare Airport in plenty of time to catch her flight to Fargo. Her reservation was in order and she had no trouble going through airport security. It was a non-stop flight and it arrived on time. Her rental car was ready and she was on the road with no hassles. This unusual chain of events cheered her up so much that she was able to forget that she was all by herself on the nation's premier family holiday.

Sharon left Fargo and drove west on Interstate 94 for over an hour before she turned off on the secondary road that led south to New Trondheim. The weather was clear and cool. Fall had been unusually warm this year and as yet no snow had fallen.

The sun was close to the western horizon when Sharon entered New Trondheim. Like most towns in the Midwest it had shrunk as farming became more efficient and family farms were consolidated. On Main Street every third storefront was unoccupied, but there wasn't the aura of decay that Sharon had seen in other towns in similar circumstances. The sidewalks were swept clean and there wasn't any trash in the gutters. The buildings weren't rundown; even the plywood that covered the windows of empty stores was painted.

There weren't any motels in town, but Sharon had a reservation at what was advertised as a 'bed-and-breakfast' inn. It was a large frame house close to the center of town. The elderly landlady showed Sharon to a room on the ground floor that was clean but had furniture that dated from the 1950's. When Sharon asked directions to somewhere she could buy dinner she was invited to have a meal with the other residents. The food was good, and from the conversation Sharon deduced that the inn was actually more like a boarding house. Sharon had lived alone for so many years that sharing a meal with more than one person was very unsettling to her, but she decided she could learn to like it.

The next morning Sharon drove out to the farm that was going to be auctioned. She wanted to inspect it, but she also wanted to speak with the soon-to-be-ex owner. The bank didn't have any immediate need for the property, so it was willing to rent it out if the owner wanted to stay for a while.

It wasn't far to the farm and Sharon easily located it. She parked her car close to the house and walked around a bit. The house had been built in the 1960s, as a replacement for the original structure which had burned down. Beside the house and a large, dilapidated barn there were many large greenhouses. She had read in the file that this was where the bulk of the bank's loan money had been spent. The plan was to grow tomatoes out of season, but something had gone wrong.

Sharon knocked at the front door and it was answered by a woman a few years older than herself.

"Hello, I'm Sharon Green from Northern Empire Bank. Are you Mrs. Olsen?"

"Yes, I'm Lena Olsen. Come in, we've been expecting someone from the bank."

Sharon entered and Lena closed the door. The two women weren't too different in age, but they differed greatly in appearance. Sharon was wearing an expensive blue wool suit and a silk blouse. Her only concession to her rural surroundings were her shoes; she had exchanged her usual heels for flats. Her dark brown hair was smooth and glossy and cut short. Lena was wearing a cotton dress and an apron, and her long blonde hair was in a loose single braid.

Both women had trim, athletic figures; Sharon because she visited the gym frequently, and Lena because she worked hard on a farm. Each silently evaluated the other and then Lena led Sharon into the parlor.

A man was standing at the window, looking out. He turned when the women entered the room and said, "I'm Sven Olsen. You must be from the bank."

"Yes, Mr. Olsen. My name is Sharon Green." Sharon was uneasy. Sven was visibly upset, and this was the first time she had personally forced someone from his home.

Sven said in a bitter voice, "When the bank gave me the money they said we were partners. Why is it that when we have a setback I'm the one who gets hurt?"

Sharon primly explained, "The arrangement was structured as a loan, and the farm was the collateral. The bank can't use the depositor's money to make equity investments. When you didn't make your payments we were forced to foreclose."

Then she turned the knife. "You were the one who was supposed to have the expertise, so if the venture failed it's your fault. Any fool can grow a crop, but it takes real management skill to run a successful farm business today."

"You could have given me a little more time. I was starting to make a profit, and once I get through the winter I can make my payments again." Sven was desperately trying to control his temper.

"It's too late for that. The only way you can keep the property now is to pay off the entire balance of the loan."

Sven growled, "Where can I get that much money? You bloodsuckers!" He pushed past Sharon and hurried from the room.

Lena said, "Please excuse him. This has been a very bad experience for all of us, but it's been especially hard for Sven. He's very attached to this land; his great-grandfather homesteaded it." She wiped at a tear. "What's going to happen at the auction tomorrow?"

"My bid will be for exactly the amount you owe the bank. If somebody else bids higher then they get the farm, and anything over the loan amount goes to you. I don't expect that to happen, because land prices have fallen so much that the loan is for more than the market value of the property. Assuming the bank gets the farm, would you be interested in renting it until you can relocate?"

"I don't know; I'll have to talk to Sven." Lena was almost crying, but she remembered the local code of hospitality and asked, "Would you like some coffee?"

"No, I've got to be going." Sharon wasn't going to stay a second longer than she had to.

Lena showed Sharon to the door, and when it was closed she leaned against it and wept. She was still crying when the phone rang. She picked it up and choked out, "Hello."

"Mom! What's wrong?"

"Oh, Astrid, I'm so upset. The woman from the bank was just here and unless a miracle happens we're going to lose the farm. It's going to kill Sven."

"It's so unfair! The bank sucked him in with their foul scheme and now they're going to grind him into the dirt."

Astrid had attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison until her family's financial problems forced her to drop out, and her experience at the college had set her political philosophy so far to the left that she considered Hillary Clinton a right-wing extremist.

"I know, dear, but they've got the law on their side. Unless someone puts in a higher bid at the auction tomorrow the bank will get the farm and we'll all be out in the cold." Lena started to cry again.

"Oh, Mom, I'm so sorry. But I've got to go. The lunch crowd is here and the cafe is busy. I'll see you tonight."

Astrid hung up and got back to work as one of the three waitresses employed by Mom's Cafe, the most popular restaurant in New Trondheim. Most of the patrons were regulars, and Astrid knew what they wanted without having to ask. She was very busy for an hour, and then the crowd started to thin out.

When Sharon entered the cafe Astrid had a good idea of who she was; none of the locals had a suit that expensive, and Sharon was the only person who had ever hung a cashmere coat on the battered rack next to the door.

Astrid stepped up to Sharon with every intention of denouncing her, but then another plan took shape in her mind. Her scowl turned to a smile as she greeted Sharon and guided her to a table.

Astrid said, "Hello and welcome to New Trondheim. Where are you from?"

"Milwaukee."

"Oh, you must be here to represent the bank at the auction tomorrow."

"Yes, but how did you know?"

"There aren't many secrets in a town this size. Would you like coffee?"

"Yes." Sharon looked at the menu; it offered what she had expected, but with some unusual additions. She asked, "Why do you have so many Mexican dishes on your menu?"

"Our cook is Mexican, and the manager wanted to see if the folks in this town would buy something other than meat loaf and mashed potatoes. It seems that they won't, so we're having a sale on chili con carne. It's really good, and only fifty cents a bowl."

"OK, I can't go wrong at that price."

Astrid smiled and went into the kitchen. She said to the cook, "Juan! Where's your bottle?"

"Bottle? Bottle? I don't need no stinkin' bottle."

"Very funny." Astrid opened a drawer and extracted a pint bottle of vodka; it was about half full. She poured some into a bowl and filled the bowl with chili. She stirred and tasted, and added a bit more vodka.

"I'll buy you another bottle as soon as I can. I'm just playing a little joke on a friend; don't mention this to anybody."

Juan shrugged; he had three more bottles in his locker, so he didn't worry about making it through the day.

Astrid slipped the bottle into her apron pocket and carried the chili to Sharon's table. Sharon tasted it and said, "This has an unusual flavor, but it's very good. I'm surprised."

After Sharon had finished eating she sat at the table and studied some papers. Astrid kept watching her, and when she finally moved to leave the restaurant Astrid was waiting near the door. She took Sharon's coat off the rack and slipped the vodka bottle into a side pocket; then she helped Sharon into the coat.

"Thank you. This certainly seems to be a friendly town."

"We try to be."

Astrid watched as Sharon walked to her car and drove off. Then she phoned the Sheriff's office and reported that a woman was driving drunk. She described Sharon's car and gave the license number and the direction the car was traveling.

Sharon drove away from the cafe and wondered why she felt so strange. It almost felt like she was drunk, but all she had with lunch was coffee.

She looked out over the bleak landscape and wondered what it would be like to live out here, especially in the winter. When she looked back at the road she was almost at a sharp turn where the road jogged around a gully. She hit the brakes and cranked the wheel to the right. She managed to make it around the corner without crashing, but her car swerved across the center line, dangerously close to the ditch that bordered the left side of the road.

Sharon was shaken by her close call and started to slow down. Then she noticed the blue lights behind her. "Oh, shit!" she muttered, and pulled over and stopped where the road widened a bit.

The patrol car parked behind her and Deputy Sheriff Erik Petersen walked up to Sharon's car. She quickly rolled down her window.

He asked, "Are you all right, ma'am?" He had a concerned look.

"Yes. Why do you ask?"

"You took that corner kind of fast, and your car was all over the road. Are you sick? Did you hurt yourself?"

"No, I'm OK. I was just distracted for a minute, and the corner came up faster than I expected."

"Can I see your license and registration, please?"

Sharon dug through her purse until she found her wallet, and then fumbled for a while before she was able to remove her driver's license and hand it to the deputy. "I don't have the registration. This is a rental car, so all I have is the contract."

The deputy looked at the license and the rental contract. "Have you been drinking, ma'am?"

"No, of course not."

He opened the car door. "Please step out of the car."

Sharon released her seat belt and climbed out. "What's the problem, Officer?"

"I'd like you to take a sobriety test. Please close your eyes and touch your nose, like this."

Deputy Petersen demonstrated what he wanted and Sharon tried to copy his actions. She wasn't very successful. She couldn't walk a straight line or stand on one foot, either.

"Please step over to my car and take a breath test."

"What for? I told you I haven't been drinking."

"Then you don't object to taking the test, ma'am? Deputy Petersen guided her to his car and reached inside for the test kit. He handed the mouthpiece to Sharon. "Blow into the tube, please."

Sharon blew into the tube. Deputy Petersen looked at the readout. "This indicates a blood alcohol reading of 0.13, which is over the legal limit of 0.08. I'm arresting you for driving under the influence. Please turn around and put your hands on your head."

"You can't mean that! I haven't been drinking!"

"That's for the court to decide. Now turn around like I told you."

Sharon decided that it would be stupid to resist and turned around and put her hands on her head. Petersen closed a cuff on her right wrist and pulled it down behind her back. He used his other hand to force Sharon's left wrist behind her back and cuffed it too.

Petersen patted down Sharon's body. He felt something in the left pocket of her coat and removed a pint bottle of vodka, about a quarter full. "Carrying an open container of liquor in a car is a violation in this state. I'm adding this to the DUI and reckless driving charges."

He opened the back door of his car and ordered, "Get in."

Sharon awkwardly climbed in; the deputy put his hand on her head to keep it clear of the door frame. When he started to close the door Sharon cried, "Wait! My purse is in my car."

"I'll take care of it." The deputy closed the door and walked to Sharon's car. He found the purse on the front seat and the car keys in the ignition. He locked the car and returned to his patrol car, and Sharon was on her way to jail.

Sharon squirmed on the seat, trying to find a comfortable position. This was hard to do with her wrists locked into hinged handcuffs, especially since her palms were facing out. She was getting really mad. She hissed, "These hicks won't get away with this!"

The patrol car drove into town and parked in front of an two-story frame house. The house was old but well-kept, with apple-green trim and fresh white paint on the clapboard siding. Part of the yard next to the street had been paved with bricks and several cars were parked there.

Deputy Petersen opened the door next to Sharon and took hold of her upper arm. She stiffened her body and made no attempt to get out of the car. She angrily demanded, "Why are we stopping here? This doesn't look like the police station."

"This is the doctor's office. After a DUI arrest I have to get a blood sample before I take you to jail."

"You can't do this! I don't want to give a sample!"

"You don't have any choice. The law says we can take a sample whether you like it or not. Please cooperate; it'll make it easier for everybody."

He took Sharon's arm to help her out of the car, but she kicked out and struck his shin. She shouted, "I won't! Leave me alone!"

Petersen closed the door and reached into the front of the car. Sharon relaxed, thinking that he had given up, but he opened her door again and now he carried leg irons. She kicked and struggled, but he locked them onto her ankles and dragged her out of the car.

Sharon screamed and cursed as he forced her up the walk and into the doctor's reception room. Two women and a little girl were waiting there, and they looked on in amazement as she was dragged past them and into the treatment room.

An elderly man said, "What's all this commotion, Erik?" His face registered disgust as Sharon shouted some extremely vulgar epithets.

"A drunk driver, Doc. I need a blood sample and she doesn't want to cooperate."

Sharon was so angry that she didn't notice the nurse who walked up behind her until a rubber bit gag was forced into her mouth and strapped in place. In the silence that followed Doc said, "Thanks, Bertha, that's much nicer. Where did that gag come from?"

"It's what we used to use when somebody had a seizure. It protected their tongue. Now it'll protect our ears. You ought to charge her with disturbing the peace, Erik."

"Right. But now I need a blood sample. Doc and I will hold her while you use the needle."

He unlocked one of the cuffs and he and the doctor held Sharon's arms while the nurse got the sample. Then he re-cuffed Sharon and dragged her back to the car; the next stop was the jail.

The jail was located across an alley from the courthouse and it was the most decrepit building in town. It had been built by the WPA in 1936, and no attempt had been made to beautify the rough poured-concrete walls. Every now and then there was a proposal to tear it down and build something else, but the plan always foundered because there wasn't any money.

Erik parked out front and opened the back door of the car. He was expecting a struggle, but Sharon had managed to contain her rage and offered no resistance as she was led into the jail. The inside was as shabby as the outside; the floor was bare concrete and the walls were painted a particularly vile shade of institutional green.

The outside door led into an anteroom, where a grizzled old man was sitting at a battered desk. "Howdy, Erik. Who have we got here?"

"Hello, Otto. She was arrested for DUI, among other things. Call Trude, will you? She'll have to do the processing and the search." Erik tossed Sharon's purse on the desk.

Otto used the phone, and when it was answered he said, "Hi, Trude. Come over to the jail, we got a female prisoner."

Over in the courthouse Trude Olsen felt a thrill go through her body. She was a clerk in the sheriff's department, but she wanted to be a deputy. When there was a female prisoner she acted as the jail matron. This was a rare event, but it couldn't happen often enough for her. She pulled her long blond hair into a ponytail, told the dispatcher where she was going, and hurried out the door.

Back at the jail, Otto emptied Sharon's purse, got out a paper form, and began to inventory its contents. Erik led Sharon to a bench and told her to sit. He unlocked the cuff from her left ankle, slipped it through a U-shaped bracket bolted to the floor, and relocked it back on her ankle. Sharon was calm now, but Erik wasn't taking any chances.

Erik sat down in front of a computer and began to compose his report. He had just finished and was printing a copy when the outside door opened and a young woman entered. He looked up and smiled. "Hello, Trude."

Trude returned the smile. "Hello, Erik."

She kept her gaze locked on Erik until Otto interrupted, "Can we get down to business here? Some of us got other things to do."

Trude inspected Sharon. "So this is our prisoner? What are the charges?"

Erik replied, "DUI, reckless driving, open container, disorderly conduct, and disturbing the peace." He handed Trude a copy of his report.

Trude looked it over. "My, she's had a busy day. Where'd the gag come from?"

"Doc's office. She's got a very foul mouth, and Bertha didn't like to hear it." Erik moved to the door. "I've got to get back on patrol. Can I see you tonight? We can do another training exercise."

"I'd like that."

Erik and Trude looked into each other's eyes until Otto interrupted. "I got to leave for a while too, Trude. The only other inmate is Ole; he's sleeping it off in a cell. You should be able to handle things here."

Trude was over a decade younger than Sharon, and her muscular body was five inches taller and twenty five pounds heavier than Sharon's 5'4", 120 pound frame. She didn't expect to have any trouble.

As Erik and Otto were about to leave the jail the tow truck driver entered. "Here are the keys to that car you stopped, Erik. I parked it out front." He put the keys on the desk next to Sharon's purse and followed the others out.

Trude said, "OK, Sharon, time to get you checked into our hotel." She unbuckled the gag and took it out. "I don't like foul language either, so keep it clean unless you want the gag to go back in."

Sharon worked her jaw, and when she could talk she asked, "Don't I get to make a phone call? I need a lawyer. Does this town have any?"

"Yes, we have three. One is the District Attorney and the other two are out of town for the holiday."

"Then I'll have to find one from out of town."

"If it's not a local call it'll have to be collect."

"My cell phone is on the desk. If I can use that it'll save you the cost of the local call."

"OK." Trude removed Sharon's handcuffs and gave her the phone.

Sharon rubbed her sore wrists while she tried to decide who to call. She really needed legal help, and the only lawyer she knew (except for those clowns at the bank) was her sleazy ex-boyfriend, Richard. A weak reed, but she didn't have many options. Besides, she remembered his phone number.

She called, and waited impatiently until Richard answered. "Hello, Richard, this is Sharon. I need your help."

"I knew you'd come crawling back when you found out you couldn't live without me. Get your ass over here before I change my mind."

Sharon ignored his comment. She knew Richard was an asshole; that was the main reason they broke up. She managed to bite back her normal reaction. "I need legal help. I'm in jail in New Trondheim, North Dakota."

"Sorry, I have business here in Milwaukee and I'm not schlepping out onto the tundra, even for you. Unless you finally killed somebody."

"I'm charged with drunk driving. You do a lot of business in North Dakota. Don't you know anybody out here?"

"Let me think a minute; New Trondheim sounds familiar." Richard rummaged through his Rolodex. "Yeah, here it is. Heidi Schultz. She works in Bismarck, but her family comes from New Trondheim; just the other day she was telling me how much she missed it. I'll call her office on my other line." There was a delay, and then he said, "Her answering machine says she's gone until Monday. What do you want me to do?"

"Can you leave a message to have her call me? Even if she doesn't do criminal defense work she could probably recommend someone." Sharon gave her cell phone number to Richard and he hung up.

Trude got some keys from the desk. She removed Sharon's leg irons and led her into the cell block, which was separated from the anteroom by a solid door with a peephole. There were six small cells, three on each side of a center aisle. Each cell had three walls of concrete, and the side adjacent to the aisle was made of round steel bars.

There weren't any windows in the cell block; light and ventilation were provided by barred skylights over the aisle. Each cell had a small grill in the ceiling that was connected to an oil-fired forced air furnace. The furnace room, a small shower room, and a storeroom were located at the end of the aisle, behind another solid door. Otto had converted the storeroom to a bunk room, and he (unofficially) lived there.

Each cell contained a commode, a sink and an iron-framed cot. The cot was bolted to the floor and narrow steel strips were woven across it to act as springs. A thin, rolled-up mattress was on each cot.

The first cell on the right was occupied by a disheveled man. He was sprawled on his back and snoring loudly.

Trude said, "That's Ole, the town drunk. I'll put you on the other end so it won't be quite so loud."

"How long will it be before I can get out of here? Will I have to wait for my lawyer to show up?"

"You won't get out unless the judge decides to let you out, and you'll most likely see the judge Monday morning."

"But that's impossible! I have to be at the auction tomorrow morning. Can't I post bail and get out now?"

Sharon panicked. If she didn't put in the bank's bid at the foreclosure auction her career was doomed. She had to get out of here. If she could get away from the jail the South Dakota border was about ten miles away. She could hide out down there overnight and sneak back into town just before the auction.

"Only the judge can set bail. You won't be out before Monday." Trude unlocked the last cell on the right and swung open the door. "In here".

Sharon bumped Trude and the key slipped out of her hand. When she bent to pick it up Sharon shoved her into the cell and slammed the door shut. Sharon kicked the key away and ran out of the cell block, closing the door behind her. She grabbed her purse and car keys from the desk, opened the jail door, and collided with Erik, who was just entering.

Sharon struggled desperately, but Erik easily forced her back inside and shut the door.

She screamed, "Let me go! You dirty mot...".

The rest of her comment was cut off when Erik put his hand over her mouth and nose. Sharon fought and thrashed, but Erik forced her into the cell block.

When he saw Trude in the cell he laughed. "Hi there! I think you have it wrong. The prisoner is supposed to be on the inside of the cell and you're supposed to be on the outside."

Trude was not amused. "Shut up. The bitch surprised me. I didn't think she'd be so stupid as to try to escape; it's not like she was facing a murder charge."

"Assumptions like that are what get cops killed. You were lucky this time. You didn't get hurt and your prisoner didn't get away. The sheriff isn't going to like it when he hears about this."

"Please don't tell him! It wouldn't help my chances of becoming a deputy." She looked at Sharon. "Not that I really care, but the bitch is turning blue."

Erik removed his hand from Sharon's face and she gasped for air. Before she recovered he locked a cuff on her right wrist and pushed her arms between the bars on the front of the cell. Trude closed the other cuff on the left wrist and Sharon was chained to the cell bars.

Trude said, "The gag is on the desk; let's get it on her before she starts screaming again. I think the cell key is on the floor over there."

Erik tossed the cell key to Trude and retrieved the gag from the desk. Sharon resisted, but with Trude and Erik working together the gag was jammed into her mouth, and Trude buckled the strap so it was very tight.

Erik locked the leg irons on Sharon's ankles. "We've had enough from you. You can cooperate while Trude searches you and I'll wait outside, or you can fight and I'll have to stay in here and help her. If we do it that way you're going to get roughed up and your nice clothes will get rumpled."

Sharon's instinct was to fight, but her reason told her it would be useless. She nodded her acquiescence, and when Erik was gone she didn't resist when Trude removed the handcuffs and helped her strip. The leg irons were unlocked long enough to take off her pantyhose and panties, and then locked back in place. Trude put Sharon in the shower, and then got a jail uniform from the storeroom.

As soon as Trude was out of sight Sharon unbuckled the gag and spat it out. She got into the shower, but the water was barely warm, so she didn't stay in any longer than she had to. She used the small towel, and when she was dry Trude gave her the uniform and ordered, "Put this on."

Sharon examined the dowdy garments. There was a calf-length denim skirt with an elastic waistband, a gray tee shirt with 'Jail Inmate' stenciled on the back, and white cotton socks. There wasn't any underwear, and she asked about this.

Trude explained, "What you got is all you get. Now go into the cell and use the toilet so I can get you settled for the night."

"I haven't had any dinner!"

"Too bad, mealtime is over. Now get in the cell."

While Sharon was peeing Trude unrolled the mattress on the cot. She ordered, "On your back on the cot. Put your hands to your sides."

Sharon wondered where all this was leading, but she did as Trude told her. Trude used plastic handcuffs to attach Sharon's wrists to the frame of the cot. She unlocked an ankle cuff, wrapped the chain around the frame of the cot, and relocked the cuff. As the final step she jammed the gag back into Sharon's mouth and buckled it very tightly.

Once she was fastened to the cot Sharon was frantic. Surely she wasn't going to be tied down like this all night! She screamed and protested; the gag prevented articulate speech, but she could still make a lot of noise.

Trude spread a blanket over Sharon. "This is what happens to bad little girls. If you do as you're told and stay quiet I might let you up tomorrow. If you're still causing trouble you'll find that things can get much worse."

She left the cell, slamming the door behind her. When she was out of the cell block and the door was closed behind her she could still hear Sharon's protests, but they were faint enough to ignore.

Erik asked, "Everything secure?"

"Yes. She may find it a bit restrictive, but the bitch has it coming."

Erik warned, "Don't go too far. It may turn you on to tie her up, but the sheriff won't like it if you cause a lawsuit."

"Restraining her is completely justified. She has shown she's violent, and she assaulted me and tried to escape. Don't forget to add that to your list of charges."

Otto entered the jail. "Hi, kids. Everything OK?"

"Yes, now. The prisoner tried to escape, but Erik recaptured her. I had to fasten her to the cot. Be careful, she's very violent."

"Playing games again, are you? OK, I'll go along and leave her alone until morning."

Erik said, "It's time for our training exercise, Trude. Today I'm going to demonstrate a special application of plastic handcuffs. You know that the usual method of applying the one-piece cuffs is to use two, one for each of the prisoner's wrists? This is the easiest thing to do in the field, but you can also use just one cuff around both wrists. It's easier to do this if you have the help of a partner."

Erik handed a plastic cuff to Otto, and then pulled Trude's hands behind her back and held them back-to-back. "Put the cuff around her wrists, Otto."

Otto closed the cuff around Trude's wrists and pulled it snug. Erik tightened it several more notches and Trude winced, but she didn't complain. "See how much more restrictive that is, Trude?"

"Yes, I can't use my arms at all."

Erik opened the door to the outside. "We can finish the exercise at my house. See you later, Otto."

Erik hustled Trude outside and shoved her into the back of the patrol car. They drove to his house and went inside.

Erik said, "You really messed up this time. If that woman had escaped you could kiss off any chance of becoming a deputy. I won't tell the sheriff, but I'm going to have to reprimand you myself. I think twenty swats would be about right." He sat on the couch and pulled Trude over his lap. He flipped up her skirt and pulled off her panties.

Trude moaned as he stroked her bare bottom. "You're right, I really messed up. Twenty swats is the right number, but you should use the strap, sir."

Erik pushed Trude to the floor and stood up. "In that case, we'll need some more preparation."

He moved a chair into the center of the room and collected some rope. Trude moaned and struggled against the tight plastic band pinning her wrists as Erik pulled her to her feet and moved her so she was facing the back of the chair.

He removed Trude's skirt and shoes and then ordered, "Spread your legs!". Erik tied her knees and ankles to the chair legs. He formed a small bowline in another piece of rope and put the rope end through it to form a running noose, which he put around Trude's neck. He wrapped the rope around a rung at the front of the chair and pulled until Trude was bent over. When he tied off the rope the noose was snug, but she wouldn't choke unless she tried to straighten up.

Trude was panting now. A rope around her neck always multiplied the feeling of helplessness she got from bondage; not only was she controlled, but her life itself was now in the hands of another. Erik knew this, and he too enjoyed the control it gave him over her. He just had to be careful that she didn't strangle herself.

Erik said, "I'm not going to gag you. The neighbors aren't home yet, so you can scream without bothering anybody. Ready?"

"Yes, sir."

The first stroke drew a red line across Trude's bottom, and she gasped. As always, she resolved to take the punishment silently, but less than half-way through the whipping she could no longer hold back, and she screamed and begged until all twenty lashes had been delivered.

Erik didn't untie her from the chair right away; first he went into the bedroom and took off his own clothes and unwrapped a condom. Then he released Trude's legs and untied the neck rope from the chair. She rushed into the bedroom, and Erik was pulled along by the leash he held, like a child trying to control a big dog. Trude leaped onto the bed, and as soon as Erik touched her she screamed again, but not from pain.

* * *

The next morning Sharon woke up early from a restless sleep. She struggled to get up from the cot, but all she succeeded in doing was dislodging the blanket, and then she was cold as well as stiff. The gag wasn't so big that her jaw was more than uncomfortable, but the corners of her mouth really hurt from the pressure of the tight strap, and she had drooled enough to soak the mattress under her head.

She made so much noise through her gag that she woke up Ole, but all he could do was shout at her to shut up. It seemed like an eternity before Trude entered the cell block. Trude talked and joked with Ole for a long time before she stopped outside of Sharon's cell.

"I suppose you want to get up. Are you going to cooperate today?"

Sharon nodded frantically and pleaded through her gag. She gave a sigh of relief when Trude unlocked the door and came inside. When the gag was removed she complained, "That was terrible! Let me get up."

"I suppose I have to, but I'm not taking any chances."

Trude cut the plastic strip holding Sharon's right wrist to the cot frame and helped her sit up. Trude was carrying Peerless belly chains. She locked a cuff on Sharon's free wrist, wrapped the chain around her waist, and fastened it with a padlock. Only then did she free Sharon's other wrist, and this too was locked in a cuff. Trude removed the leg irons, but replaced them with another set that had a six inch chain.

Sharon shuffled over to the commode and emptied her bladder. Her lack of panties made it a lot easier than it could have been.

Sharon pleaded, "I have to be at the courthouse before nine a.m. Please, let me go there. Keep me chained if you have to, but I must be at that auction. I'll make it worth your while."

"So now you're adding attempted bribery to your crimes? This is the foreclosure of the Olsen farm, isn't it?"

"Yes. How did you know?"

"Sven Olsen is my father." Trude would have been at the auction herself, except that Sven had said he'd be there.

Sharon was crushed by this revelation, and she sat on the cot and started to sob, mourning her wrecked career. Trude was disgusted that anyone could be so disappointed just because she missed a chance to kick a family out of their home. Astrid was right; bankers were scum.

An hour or so later Otto brought Sharon a bowl of oatmeal, and she had to learn how to eat while chained. Three inch chains attached the cuffs to the waist chain, but the attachment points were on the opposite sides of her body. Sharon had a limited use of her hands individually, but she couldn't use them together. There was enough slack that she could get a spoon into her mouth, and she choked down the oatmeal.

Sharon spent the rest of the morning supine on the cot, brooding and plotting revenge. She decided that the only way to keep from being blamed for the failure to foreclose would be to demonstrate the existence of a plot to defraud the bank.

She thought back over what had happened the previous day and realized that the alcohol must have been slipped into her lunch at the cafe. There was something about the waitress that bothered her. She thought back and pictured the woman in her mind: tall, with long blonde hair and blue eyes. There had been a name embroidered on the woman's uniform. Ingrid? No, Astrid. Then Sharon made the connection; the waitress and her jailer looked alike! They must both be Sven Olsen's daughters, and no doubt the authors of the conspiracy.

Sharon's rage kept her entertained until late afternoon, when she had a visitor. Otto brought a casually dressed, dark-haired woman a few years younger than Sharon back into the cell block and introduced her as Heidi Schultz.

Sharon said, "I didn't expect to see you today."

"I checked my answering machine and found the message from Richard. I'm spending the weekend in town with my folks, and it was easier to visit you in person than to try to get a message to you."

"Can you help me?"

"Otto showed me the list of charges. I don't specialize in criminal defense any more, but I do some, and I've done a lot in the past. If you want me to represent you I need a retainer."

"I've got some money in my purse, it you can get them to let me have it. But I must know something first; you're not related to the Olsens, are you?"

Heidi laughed. "Which Olsens? About a third of this county's population is named Olsen. Almost all of the rest are named Petersen or Schultz. Why is it important?"

"Because I'm the victim of a plot." Sharon related her conspiracy theory.

Heidi was skeptical, but she didn't say anything. Sharon was obviously upset, and Otto had warned Heidi about Sharon's violent behavior of the previous day. Arguing might set her off again.

"I'll go over the charges and then talk to the District Attorney. We may be able to get most of this settled without a trial. I'll get back to you tomorrow or Monday."

"Can't you get me out of jail now?"

"Sorry, you'll have to appear before the judge, and that won't happen until Monday."

"At least make them take these chains off!"

"I'll see what I can do, but the escape attempt and the assault are plausible reasons for maximum security. I'll ask Otto, but if he won't do it we'll have to take it up with the judge on Monday. Of course, if all goes well you'll be out of here then"

* * *

Sharon spent Sunday alone in her cell. Otto had refused to remove the chains, and she had been locked in them continuously. By Monday morning she was fuming. She was so angry and upset that she couldn't eat her meager breakfast (more oatmeal).

Her rage built by the hour. At about ten a.m. Heidi appeared, and she was the immediate target of Sharon's wrath.

"Where the hell have you been? I've been chained up like an animal for two days now, and you haven't done a damn thing!"

"Wait, let's talk in private. Otto, can we use the storeroom?"

"OK, but she has to stay chained." He unlocked the cell. Sharon shuffled into the storeroom and Heidi followed and closed the door. Sharon sat on the messy bed and Heidi leaned against the wall.

Heidi said, "I'm sorry I didn't get back to you, but the District Attorney was unavailable yesterday, and there wasn't anything I could do until this morning. Didn't you get my message?"

"No, I didn't. That dirty old man didn't tell me squat. All he did was stop by now and then and stare at me like I was a zoo specimen. Did you manage to get these charges dropped?"

"Some of them. The DA agreed to drop the felony escape and assault charges, but he wouldn't budge on the DUI and the other driving offenses. He did agree to combine the disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace charges. You're scheduled to appear before the judge in less than an hour. If you plead guilty you'll be hit with a hefty fine, but you probably won't be sentenced to any more jail time."

"But I'm not guilty, damn it! I told you what happened. That waitress, Astrid, must have slipped me the booze so I'd miss the auction."

Sharon was so mad now that Heidi was glad she was chained. Heidi quickly said, "I believe you. I checked, and Sven and Astrid Olsen were the only ones at the auction. He bid ten dollars and won back his farm. But that doesn't prove that she got you drunk. My advice is to cut your losses with a guilty plea. Then you can go back to Milwaukee and forget all this."

"Not a chance! If I go back without the foreclosure my job won't be worth shit. I've got to show there was a conspiracy to defraud the bank."

"You can still bring a civil suit even if you plead guilty. That would be a better forum than a DUI trial."

"If I admit guilt I weaken my case. Can I get a fair trial in this town?"

Heidi was sure that Sharon was making a mistake, but she was willing to go along if Sharon insisted.

"If you really want to do this, I'd recommend that you waive a jury trial. Judge Petersen is very fair and impartial. He will be much more likely than a jury to accept your conspiracy theory. But I've got to warn you: he insists on politeness and decorum. If you lose your temper and mouth off he will certainly cite you for contempt of court."

"I don't get angry if I'm treated fairly. If you advise it I'll waive a jury trial. I wouldn't trust these yokels anyway. What's the schedule going to be?" Sharon missed the glare that Heidi gave her when her friends and fellow townsfolk were derided as 'yokels'.

"If you plead not guilty, the trial will be scheduled for sometime in the next few days."

"Can you get me out on bail?"

"Maybe, but it would cost you a lot since you don't have any ties to the community, and I wouldn't recommend it anyway. If you're convicted you are more likely to be sentenced to time served if you've been in jail all along."

"How much time do I have to pay any fine?"

Heidi smiled. "You can take as long as you like, but you won't get out of jail until it's paid."

"Does that mean that somebody without any money would stay in jail forever?"

"No, they'd be credited for $25 in fines for every additional day in jail."

"$25 a day? When was that set? 1960?"

"Actually, it was 1977. But money won't be a problem for you, will it?"

"Of course not. I can buy and sell anybody in this village."

Heidi shook her head. If Sharon always displayed this much arrogance she was glad that she wasn't going to have to face a jury.

Heidi said, "It's almost time to go to court. Please reconsider; a guilty plea will get you out of this mess without any more trouble."

"Not a chance."

Otto interrupted to say that it was time to leave for the court, and they all left the jail and walked across the alley, Sharon shuffling fast to keep up. Once in the courtroom there was only a short delay before the judge arrived.

Heidi moved for the dismissal of the assault and escape charges and the District Attorney didn't object. Sharon pleaded not guilty to all the driving offenses and her trial was set for the next Wednesday. She followed Heidi's advice and didn't ask for bail. In spite of Heidi's best efforts the judge agreed that high security was appropriate.

* * *

Over the next two days Sharon bitterly regretted not asking for bail, because Trude kept her in the belly chains and the short leg irons for the entire time, day and night. The only concession was that she wasn't gagged or attached to the cot at night.

Just before nine a.m. on Wednesday morning Trude appeared at Sharon's cell. "Time for your trial. Since you're not going to face a jury you don't have to wear your own clothes."

"The trial is just going to be a formality, huh? A kangaroo court for the city slicker, with the verdict arranged in advance?"

"Believe what you like, but Judge Petersen is an honest and just man, and you'll get a fair trial. But he won't stand for any misbehavior in the courtroom. You talk to him like you talk to me and you'll regret it."

Trude replaced the belly chains and the short leg irons with standard leg irons and handcuffs. A connector chain between the handcuffs and the leg irons kept Sharon from lifting her hands above her waist. It did let her keep the chain between her ankles from dragging on the ground while she walked.

Once in the courtroom Sharon was seated next to Heidi at a small table in front of the bench. Trude sat in a chair behind her. The courtroom wasn't crowded. Except for a few old men the only spectators were Lena and Astrid, who sat together in the front row. Sven wasn't there; he had a day job in Bismarck, and he couldn't afford to skip work.

Heidi said, "It's not too late to plead guilty. I talked to the DA, and if you plead he won't object if you're sentenced to a fine and time served."

"I told you I'm not pleading guilty, damn it! I was framed. Are you going to call that waitress as a witness?" Sharon's rage was starting it's ascent.

"I don't have to; the prosecution is calling her."

Judge Petersen entered the courtroom and everyone stood until he was seated behind the bench. The clerk called the case and the trial started.

Once the formalities were over the District Attorney called his first witness, Deputy Sheriff Erik Petersen. Erik gave a factual, unemotional account of Sharon's arrest and the altercation at the doctor's office. He didn't say anything about the attempted escape from the jail.

Sharon had to admit to herself that there were no actual lies, although the deputy didn't mention the way he had roughed her up and insulted her. She was still angry, but she kept her emotions under control.

Heidi got up to cross-examine. "Did you just happen to notice Ms. Green's car?"

"No, I got a call from the dispatcher that the driver of the car had been reported to be drunk."

"The excuse for stopping her was allegedly reckless driving. Isn't it true that she merely crossed the centerline, and there was no hazard to anyone?"

"She was going too fast and not staying in her lane. That's reckless driving. She was lucky there wasn't another car on the road. If there had been there would have been a collision."

Heidi realized that she wasn't going to get anything helpful from Erik and dismissed him.

The next witness was Bertha, the nurse. The District Attorney introduced the blood sample into evidence, and Bertha identified it and testified as to where and when it was drawn. Her testimony also described the altercation at the doctor's office, and she dwelt at length on how offended she had been by Sharon's bad language and violent behavior.

Heidi didn't cross-examine; she knew that Bertha wasn't going to modify her story. Sharon didn't agree with this, and Heidi's refusal to do as she was told increased Sharon's anger.

The District Attorney called his next witness, Astrid Olsen. After she had taken the oath he asked, "Did you observe the defendant at the cafe?"

"Yes, sir. I was her waitress."

"Did you see her drinking alcohol?"

"Yes. She had a pint of vodka and poured some in her coffee."

"What happened after the meal?"

"I met the defendant at the door as she was leaving. I could tell that she was drunk, so I asked her not to drive. I offered to take her to where she was staying, but she refused. When she got in her car and drove away I called the sheriff."

Sharon lost her temper. She stood and shouted, "You lying bitch! That's not what happened and you know it! You put the vodka in my food yourself!" She started towards Astrid, but the chains slowed her down and Trude grabbed her from behind, pinning her arms to her sides.

Sharon continued to fight and scream obscenities, now directed not just at Astrid but at the entire populations of New Trondheim and of the state of North Dakota. The flow continued until Erik jammed a handkerchief into her mouth. Then he re-cuffed Sharon's hands behind her back, and when she continued to struggle he forced her to the floor and hogtied her with the leg irons.

All this time the judge had been pounding his gavel and calling for order. When Sharon's verbal output had been reduced to muffled and unintelligible noises he said, "I'm declaring a recess. Ms. Schultz, you had better get your client calmed down, or she's going to be in jail indefinitely. Tell the clerk when you are ready to proceed with this trial in an orderly manner." He left the courtroom.

Heidi knelt next to Sharon and tried to calm her. Eventually Sharon stopped struggling, and Erik released her from the hogtie and put her back in her chair.

Heidi said, "That little outburst will probably cost you thirty days in jail. If you have any sense at all you'll keep your mouth shut. Do you think you can do that?"

Sharon nodded, and Heidi pulled the handkerchief out of her mouth. After giving Sharon a few more minutes to calm down she signaled to the clerk that they were ready to proceed.

The judge returned to the bench, glared at Sharon, and said to the District Attorney, "Proceed."

"I have no more questions for this witness, Your Honor."

Heidi started her cross-examination of Astrid. "Did you put alcohol in the food you served to the defendant?"

"No."

"Wasn't it your plan to cause the defendant to miss the foreclosure auction scheduled for the next day?"

"No, at the time I didn't have any idea who she was."

Sharon yelled, "You liar! I told you I was from the bank." Before she could say any more Trude used a hand to gag her. The judge pretended to ignore the interruption.

Heidi asked, "Isn't it true that you and Sven Olsen were the only ones at the auction, and because of this he was able to cancel his debt with a bid of only ten dollars?"

"Yes, but we didn't know that in advance. Both of us were surprised that no one from the bank was there."

Astrid sat in the witness chair with a smug expression, and Heidi knew it was hopeless to try to get her to change her story.

"No further questions, Your Honor."

"The witness is excused." The judge looked to Heidi. "Do you have any witnesses? Does the defendant wish to testify? Or has she already said what she had to say?"

Heidi ignored the sarcasm and called Sharon to the stand and she took the oath.

Heidi asked, "Were you drinking at the cafe or at any other time on the day you were arrested?"

"Absolutely not!"

"Did you buy the bottle of vodka found in your pocket?"

"No, I did not!"

"Did you tell Astrid Olsen that you were in town to represent the bank at the auction?"

"Yes I did!"

"If you weren't drinking, why do you think the blood test showed alcohol in your system?"

"It was put in my food by that waitress. I thought at the time that the chili tasted funny."

Heidi didn't have any more questions, and the District Attorney didn't bother to cross-examine. In his closing statement he just summarized the facts and the testimony. Heidi presented Sharon's conspiracy theory, but her heart wasn't in it.

The judge didn't leave the bench. He spent some time writing, and then he pronounced his verdict.

"I find the defendant guilty of all of the charges. For reckless driving the sentence is a fine of $200. For carrying an open container of alcohol in a vehicle a fine of $300 and 10 days in jail. For disturbing the peace a fine of $500 and 60 days in jail. For driving under the influence the sentence is a fine of $1500 and a year in jail. Finally, there is an additional sentence of 90 days for contempt of court. All of the jail sentences are to be served consecutively."

Sharon would be in jail for almost a year and a half. She was stunned. Heidi stood to protest, but the judge signaled for her to sit.

The judge addressed Sharon. "Now that I have your attention, I'm going to conditionally suspend all but thirty days of the jail sentence. During this time you will behave with exquisite politeness. Any foul language, any violent behavior, even any casual disrespect, will add to your incarceration, at a rate of one day per incident. The sheriff and whomever he designates will keep a tally of the time you will be in jail and add to it as appropriate."

"While you are in jail you will perform whatever tasks the sheriff assigns to you, and he is authorized to use any security measures he deems necessary, as long as they don't cause physical injury. Do you have anything to say?" Sharon shook her head. This was all a bad dream.

"I'm glad to see that you're capable of learning. Court is adjourned."

As Trude led her back to the jail Sharon kept saying to herself, 'This isn't possible. The judge can't do this. He must be joking'.

Trude started to plan the various ways she could make this bitch from the bank crawl. Back at the jail she said to Otto, "We've got a semi-permanent guest. The judge gave her almost a year and a half in jail if she doesn't behave."

Sharon started to recover from her shock. She demanded, "Take these handcuffs off of me. You hicks aren't going to get away with this. By the time I finish suing I'll own you and this whole fucking county."

Trude pushed Sharon into the empty cell block and closed the door. "You are a dumb bitch. The sheriff will appoint me as the scorekeeper, and if you piss me off you'll do the maximum time."

Sharon was really mad now. She shouted, "Fuck you and the bitch that whelped you!"

Trude went pale, and then red. She didn't tolerate insults directed at her mother. She locked Sharon in a cell and went back to the anteroom, where she collected a ball gag and a padlock. Then she went back to Sharon, and after a struggle stuffed the ball gag into Sharon's mouth and buckled it as tight as she could pull the straps.

Next she unlocked one ankle cuff, removed the connector chain, and relocked the cuff. The cell bars had a cross-brace even with the top of the door, and Trude tossed the connector chain over this and pulled up on Sharon's handcuffed wrists until she was bent over and standing on her toes with her arms almost vertical. Trude locked the chain in this position and left the cell block.

Trude said to Otto, "I'm teaching that bitch a lesson in manners. Go back there in ten minutes and let her down. Put the belly chains back on her. I've got to go back to the courthouse and tell the sheriff what happened at the trial."

"OK, Trude. Ten minutes it is." Otto leaned back in his chair, and two minutes later he was asleep.

Sharon screamed through the ball gag, but the muted sounds that penetrated the cell block door weren't loud enough to disturb Otto's slumbers. As time passed she grew more desperate. Her wrists were on fire where the cuffs were cutting into them, but her hands were numb. She stood on tiptoe as long as she could, but eventually had to lower her heels, adding to the pressure on her wracked shoulders. She was crying, and the tears and the drool formed a puddle on the floor below her face.

Sharon's nose was becoming stuffed and she couldn't get any air past the gag. She fought for breath; she knew that if she fainted her shoulders would be dislocated. Terror joined the excruciating pain as she realized how easily she could die in this jail.

Trude returned to the jail about two hours later. Erik was just getting out of his patrol car and they entered the jail together.

Trude said, "I talked to the sheriff, and he designated me as that bitch's keeper. I'll be the one who determines how long she has to stay in jail." She displayed a calendar covering the next two years. The first thirty days had been marked in red. "I'm going to post this where she can see it, and every time she mouths off I'll mark off another day."

"'That bitch'? You mean Inmate Green, don't you? I don't think the judge intended his sentence to be a way for you to get private revenge. Hey, Otto! Wake up."

"Huh? Oh, hello, Erik, Trude. Uh, oh. I never looked at the prisoner, Trude."

Trude gasped and ran into the cell block, followed by Erik. When he saw Sharon he ordered, "You take out the gag and I'll get her down."

Trude opened the cell, and Erik unlocked the handcuffs and supported Sharon as she collapsed. Trude pried out the ball gag, and they helped Sharon to the cot and put her on her back. Erik rubbed one of her purple hands while Trude rubbed the other. There were deep red grooves around her wrists, but there wasn't any blood. They watched her until she started to moan and stir, and then Erik and Trude went back to the anteroom.

Otto said, "I'm sorry Trude, I must'a fallen asleep. Is she OK?"

Erik replied, "It wasn't your fault, Otto. It's lunch time; why don't you go over to the cafe and eat and get the prisoner's lunch? Then let her rest as she is until supper. Put the belly chains back on after that."

When Otto had gone Erik let loose. "She might be dead now, what with that gag, and I'd be arresting you for murder. This was incredibly stupid of you, Trude."

"I didn't mean to leave her like that for more than a few minutes!"

"You shouldn't have left her like that at all. That was torture, and if the sheriff knew what happened you'd be fired in a minute."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to go on so long, but I hate drunk drivers, and when she insulted my mother I just lost it."

"I understand your feelings, but a law officer has to learn to control herself. I'm going to have to give you a severe reprimand."

Trude gasped and begged, "No, please no. Not a severe reprimand." She started to cry.

Erik kissed her. "You have to learn. I'll pick you up after work and we'll go to my house."

Back in her cell, Sharon gradually realized that she was on her cot and she could breathe. She was in a lot of pain, but she was able to move enough to convince herself that she hadn't been permanently crippled. She was very frightened. She didn't know that Trude had intended to release her after ten minutes; all she knew was that she had been tortured for hours. To have time added to her jail sentence if she misbehaved was an abstract punishment; the strappado had been intense and very real. She started to appreciate the seriousness of her situation.

Trude had no doubt about the seriousness of her situation. She spent the rest of the day in an increasing state of dread. She didn't know what Erik had planned, but she knew she wasn't going to enjoy it. A severe reprimand wasn't the same festival of endorphins and sex that she experienced with an ordinary reprimand; it was a real punishment. She wouldn't have been able to submit to it except that she knew she deserved to be punished, and because she needed to have Erik dominate her.

Erik drove Trude to his house. She was shaking with fright when he took her into his bedroom and ordered her to strip. When she was naked he used many turns of nylon rope to tie her hands behind her back, palm-to-palm. There was a hook in the ceiling, and he looped the rope over it and pulled until Trude was bent over with her arms almost vertical.

He said, "I thought this would be an appropriate punishment. I won't leave you like this as long as you left Sharon, but I'm going to add something else." He got a cane out of the closet and held it where Trude could see it.

She begged, "No, please, not the cane! It hurts so much."

"That's why it's a punishment. Do you want to be gagged?"

"Yes, please."

Erik cleave-gagged Trude with a bandanna. "I'm going to give you thirty strokes."

Trude begged and pleaded through the gag, but Erik ignored her. He wrapped more rope around her hips and tied it to another hook in the ceiling. He explained, "I don't want you to dislocate your arms if you faint."

Trude was whimpering with fright. Erik swung the cane and a red welt sprang up across her bottom. She screamed through the gag. He swung again and produced another line and another scream.

Erik told himself he didn't enjoy this, but he somehow managed to continue until the cane had embedded itself in Trude's bottom and thighs thirty times. Near the end she fainted; her knees buckled and the rope around her hips supported her until Erik could untie her hands.

Once he had removed all of the ropes and taken out the gag he placed Trude on his bed, face down. The welts were red and swollen, but the skin wasn't broken. When Erik was sure Trude was conscious and breathing normally he spread a light blanket over her and went to the kitchen. He made a meal for himself, but he knew that Trude wouldn't be able to eat. He watched television for the rest of the evening, checking on Trude every hour or so. When it was time for bed he gave her a sleeping pill. He spent the night on the couch in the living room.

The next morning Trude's backside was swollen and bruised from her waist to her knees. She was moaning with pain when Erik entered the bedroom.

He said, "We should have waited until Friday so you'd have the whole weekend to recover. Do you want to call in sick?"

"No, I want to go to work. I want to start punishing that bitch."

"If you talk like that people might get the impression that it's something personal. Why don't you say that you want to 'supervise Sharon's incarceration'. This whole arrangement is irregular enough as it is; we don't want to make it look like personal malice was a major element."

Trude forced herself to get out of bed and into the bathroom. She looked at the vivid colors that were starting to appear and said to herself, 'I must be crazy to submit to things like this. Why do I do it?' Erik moved behind her and gently stroked her welted bottom. She moaned with pleasure, and answered her own question.

* * *

The first thing Trude did when she got to the jail was to post the calendar on the door that led to the storeroom, where Sharon could easily see it from her cell.

"Get over here and look at this. Right now you're due to be released on December 28. The sheriff appointed me and Otto to be your keepers, and if you give me any trouble at all I'll add days to your sentence so fast that you might not be out by this time next year."

Sharon shuffled over to the bars, the leg iron chain jingling on the concrete floor. She had recovered from the fright she felt when she had been chained to the bars yesterday and nearly died. Otto had apologized for not releasing her, and now that she knew the life-threatening torture hadn't been deliberate her bravado returned. These hicks didn't dare to mess with her.

"You bozos aren't going to get away with this. Once I get a real lawyer I'll be out of here immediately, and I'm coming after you personally, bitch."

Sharon uncapped a red marker. "Insulting the court, insulting me, using bad language; that's four more days. No, I think five." She marked off five more days.

"You can't do that!"

"Yes I can." Trude marked off another day. "Just like that. In fact, I'll make it an even week." She marked it off. "Now your release date is January 4th. You're adding about a week for every minute we talk."

Sharon was appalled. It was so unfair to give all this power to a low-level jailer! She started to protest, but Trude interrupted her.

"In case you weren't paying attention in court, I'll remind you of what the judge said: You will behave with exquisite politeness. Any foul language or violent behavior will add to your time in jail. I am the one who decides how much time, so you had better try to please me. To start with, you will call me Ms. Olsen, or ma'am. You will stand when I approach, and you will show respect to everyone. Understand?"

"Yes." Sharon decided that her best tactic would be to play along for now.

"That's 'yes, ma'am'." Trude marked off another day. "You will show the same respect to every other person you meet."

Trude walked to another cell and unlocked the door. "How do you feel, Ole?"

"OK, I guess. The hangover is mostly gone."

"That's good. You're going to be a trusty, Ole. You'll supervise the work detail. Come over here and meet your worker." Ole walked over to Sharon's cell. "This is Sharon. Did you hear what I told her?"

"Yep."

"Sharon, say hello to Mr. Petersen."

Sharon choked back what she wanted to say and instead said, "Hello, Mr. Petersen."

"Very good, Sharon! I knew you could do it. Into the anteroom, and we'll get you ready."

Sharon was wearing a gray tee shirt and gray sweatpants. Trude removed the belly chains and had Sharon put on the denim skirt and a gray sweatshirt. It also had 'Jail Inmate' stenciled on the back. Woolen mittens were next, and then handcuffs, with a connecting chain slipped in place. The short leg irons were replaced by a standard set, with the elongated link at the end of the connecting chain fitted over a cuff before it was locked on Sharon's ankle. Trude found a worn pair of ankle-high shoes, and when they proved to be too big she improved the fit by giving Sharon another pair of white socks to pull over the ones she had on.

"Ole, let's do some cleanup around the courthouse before the snow arrives. Get the leaf rake and the plastic bags from the storeroom."

Trude led Sharon out of the jail and over towards the courthouse. The courthouse was surrounded by about a half-acre of brown grass, with many large trees randomly scattered about. All of the leaves had fallen, and they formed a thick layer that covered the ground.

"Get your worker to rake up all the leaves, Ole. You may have to help her get them into the bags. Take this paper, and keep a tally of the number of times she violates the rules or doesn't work fast enough. Otto will come get you at lunchtime."

"OK, Trude. But I could get more work out of her if you let me use the whip."

Sharon stared at him, and he winked and laughed. Trude went into the courthouse and Ole gave the rake to Sharon. She thought of refusing to take it, but then decided that she didn't have any better options at the moment. It took her a bit of fumbling before she was able to use the rake with the handcuffs on, but soon the work fell into a pattern. Sharon occupied her mind with thoughts of revenge.

Sharon did most of the work; Ole sat with his back against a tree until she had raked up a pile of leaves, and then he would hold a sack open so she could rake the leaves into it. The work wasn't hard, but Sharon was in plain view to anyone passing by, and she was deeply humiliated by being displayed in chains.

Most people only glanced at her, but some teen-age boys stared at her and discussed her among themselves. They made comments about her body, deliberately speaking loudly enough for her to hear. She grew more and more angry, but before she could explode Ole stepped in and told the boys to move along. They had to get back to school anyway so they left, careful to demonstrate that it was their own idea.

Sharon said, "Thank you, Mr. Petersen." She realized that losing her temper would have only humiliated her further, so she was grateful for Ole's intervention.

"Call me Ole. We're both in the same boat, so to speak. You done much jail time?"

"No I haven't! This is the first time I've been in this state, so I've never been railroaded into jail before."

"OK, OK, if you say you're innocent I'll believe you." Ole was familiar with denial, and if Sharon didn't want to admit she had a drinking problem he wasn't going to pressure her.

There were a lot of leaves, and by the time Otto appeared Sharon and Ole had filled over two dozen plastic bags. Otto took them back to the jail and locked Sharon in her cell.

When Otto brought in her lunch Sharon said, "I need to call my lawyer. Get me my cell phone."

Otto didn't say anything. He slid the lunch tray under the cell door and returned to the anteroom. He returned a few minutes later with the marker pen, and colored in four more days on the calendar.

Sharon was shocked. She demanded, "What was that for?"

"You didn't stand up, you didn't call me 'sir', you didn't say 'please', and I didn't like your tone." He colored in two more days. "You aren't standin' now, and you missed the 'sir' again."

Sharon leaped to her feet. "You're joking! You mean I'm expected to stay in jail for six more days just for that?"

"Now it's a week." Otto marked in another day.

Sharon couldn't really believe what was happening, but she decided to continue to play along for now. She'd get her revenge later. "Please, sir, may I use my cell phone to call my lawyer, sir?"

"OK." Otto got the cell phone and gave it to Sharon.

"Please, sir, may I sit on my cot, sir, so I can get the damn phone to my ear?"

"Yep, but it's another day for swearing."

Sharon seethed, but she managed to connect with Heidi's office. When Heidi picked up Sharon demanded, "How soon can you get me out of here? They've already added another two weeks to my sentence."

"I'm sorry, but I can't get you out. I checked the precedents and consulted with my partners, and there aren't any grounds for an appeal. In fact, a case similar to yours came up recently, and the sentence was upheld. The judge has complete discretion in determining how much time you spend in jail, as long as he doesn't exceed the statutory limits."

"Do you mean I could spend a year and a half in this hellhole?"

"I'm afraid so." Heidi added to herself, 'And with your attitude it's likely that you will, bitch'.

"Shit! Well, can you make them take these chains off?"

"I don't think so. The jail there is old and insecure, and you did assault a jailer and try to escape, so there are grounds for keeping you chained. The judge there already ruled on that, remember?" We can appeal, but you'd be out before it could be decided."

"Damn! Well, if I'm going to be here for a while I need somebody to handle things for me in Milwaukee. Call Richard and tell him to check on my apartment and pay my bills until I get back. Also, my rental car is still here. Take care of it for me."

"OK." Heidi hung up and marked down the time in her billing log. She had never discussed an hourly rate with Sharon, and now she decided to charge double her usual rate, just for the aggravation.

Otto took the cell phone, and marked off four more days on the calendar.

Sharon yelped, "What's that for? Sir."

"Swearin', and you weren't polite to Heidi. Hurry and finish your lunch. There are a lot more leaves to rake."

Sharon spent the daylight hours for the rest of the week raking leaves. When she wasn't outside she was alone in her cell, with absolutely nothing to do. On Saturday evening she was allowed to shower, and this was the only time she was free of all chains. Escape was not possible. While she was unchained and out of her cell Trude was always close by, and she carried a truncheon.

Sunday Sharon didn't have to work outside, so she was alone in her cell all day. She tried to occupy her time by composing an enemies list, but gave it up when she realized that it included everyone she had met in New Trondheim, except for the old lady who ran the boarding house and possibly Lena Olsen.

On Monday Sharon and Ole were still raking leaves. After lunch it was Trude who retrieved Sharon from her cell. They got into the cab of Trude's pickup truck and drove to the high school.

Sharon asked, "What are we doing here? Ms. Olsen."

"The school is having an assembly to promote driving safety. We don't want any of these kids to kill themselves over the holidays, especially by driving drunk."

"But why am I here?"

"You're going to be an object lesson."

Trude parked next to the gym and helped Sharon out of the truck. She took the rubber bit gag out of her pocket and held it up to Sharon's face. "Open up." Trude buckled the gag strap, and then recuffed Sharon's hands behind her back. She knew Sharon wasn't going to like what happened next.

Trude opened a door to the gym and pulled Sharon inside. All of the high school's students were seated in the bleachers on one side of the basketball court. There was a movie screen set up facing them, and the Principal and Deputy Petersen were seated next to it. Next to them there was a recessed ring set in the floor (normally used with a volleyball net) and Trude padlocked Sharon's leg irons to it.

The crowd noise dropped off as the assembled students noticed Sharon, and then it built to a crescendo. Sharon cringed as the full magnitude of her exposure registered. She looked around for a place to hide, and then sat on the floor and hid her face against her upraised knees. Her rage overwhelmed her humiliation and she screamed through her gag, but the sound was just one more mote in the chaos inside the gym.

The Principal started talking, and eventually the noise dropped. "Welcome to the safe driving assembly. This year the school, the sheriff, and the court are working together to prevent the tragedies that happen when teens and alcohol mix on the highway. First we will show you a film that illustrates what can happen if you drive drunk. Then Deputy Sheriff Petersen will discuss the enforcement program and what you can expect if you violate the law. Roll the film."

The projector started and a scratched and grainy image appeared on the screen. The audience groaned and shouted even before the title appeared. Everyone had seen the ancient black-and-white film at least twice; it was so old the Principal remembered it from his own days as a high school student. Some of the students had seen it so often that they knew the dialogue, and they recited it along with the actors on the screen.

Eventually the film was over, and the Principal introduced Erik. Erik motioned to Trude, and she pulled Sharon to her feet.

Erik said, "In the past the court has been lenient with people convicted of driving under the influence, but that time is over. This is Sharon. She was recently convicted of DUI and because of this she may be in jail for another year and a half. Some of you may have seen her working on the chain gang. If you drink and drive you may be working with her."

A boy shouted, "I wouldn't mind being chained to her!" The crowd roared with laughter. Even Sharon was amused.

The comment illustrated the attitude of the students. They were young and invulnerable. Nothing could happen to them. The Principal knew he was just going through the motions, but he had to do what the school board told him to do. Trude took Sharon back to the jail after the assembly, and she didn't have to do any more work that day. It was some consolation for the public humiliation.

Every morning Sharon was marched out in chains and put to work. Once she had raked up the leaves she did other odd jobs around the town. She had noted before how the downtown area showed none of the decay that was found in other towns; now she became part of the maintenance crew. She swept the sidewalks and picked up trash from the gutters. When another business failed and the store was boarded up she painted the plywood covering the door and windows.

Once Sharon became used to wearing chains in public she didn't mind the work; it gave her something to do and helped her to keep her thoughts occupied. It was the long hours in her cell that dragged interminably. She had nothing to do except plan ways to salvage her career at the bank and to revenge herself on the residents of New Trondheim. Her mental state was so unsettled that she had trouble sleeping, and this was aggravated by the discomfort caused by the chains that always confined her.

The weather got colder, but still no snow had fallen. Otto issued Sharon an old navy peacoat; the label said it was manufactured in 1956. A large white letter 'P' was painted on the back. She continued to work outside during the day, and she grew to like being out in the crisp air.

* * *

It was just after 5 a.m., and Sharon was supine on her cot. She was wearing her usual night-time attire of tee shirt, sweatsuit, white socks, leg irons, and belly chains. She was covered by three blankets and shivering violently. The chains interfered with her circulation just enough that her hands and feet were icy. The outside temperature had dropped way below zero and it wasn't much warmer inside the jail.

There was a loud crack, and the sound of running water. The lights went on and Otto appeared outside the cell. He looked at the water gushing from the broken pipe under the sink.

"Oh, darn, this ain't good."

He rushed out of the cell block and Sharon heard the outside door slam. She huddled on her cot, cold down to the core. It was quite a while before the water stopped running, and by that time a sheet of ice was covering the floor of her cell. Otto reappeared and unlocked the cell door.

"The furnace broke, and this ain't the only pipe that froze up. I'm moving you to the courthouse 'til the sheriff decides what to do." He cautiously walked into the cell. Sharon sat up on the cot and Otto helped her get her shoes on.

She complained, "I can't do much walking with this short chain between my ankles, sir."

Otto removed the leg irons. "OK, I guess you couldn't get far on a night this cold anyhow."

He helped Sharon to her feet and wrapped the blankets around her, and they managed to traverse the ice on the cell floor without falling. Then it was down the aisle and outside. The cold struck Sharon like a blow, and Otto had to steady her as they crossed the alley and went up the steps to the back door of the courthouse.

Once inside it was much warmer. Otto guided Sharon to the Sheriff's department. Ole was already there, asleep on a bench. Otto moved a chair next to a radiator and sat Sharon in it. He used the leg irons to lock her right ankle to the steam pipe coming out of the floor and tented the blankets over her body. Sharon huddled over the radiator. Finally she felt her body start to thaw out.

It was almost seven when the sheriff arrived. He was a tall, angular man in a black suit. His face held deep vertical creases, and he never smiled. Otto stood up when he entered the room; Trude entered right behind the sheriff and stood next to Otto. Sharon struggled to stand; she knew that Trude would add a day to her jail time if she didn't show the proper respect. Once everyone else entered the sheriff's private office Sharon sat back down and dozed.

The sheriff barked at Otto, "What happened?"

"The jail furnace broke and it got real cold inside. A lot of the pipes froze and there was water all over the place; it's ice now."

"Any chance of a quick repair of the furnace?"

"Nope. It's going to need replacing; it's so old I don't think we could get parts."

"Damn! I don't have money in my budget for that. How many prisoners do we have now?"

"Just Green and Ole. He'll finish his sentence at the end of the month."

"We can let Ole sleep at his brother's place and just work during the day. As for Green, we could send her to another county or to the state prison, but I haven't got the money for that, either. How much time has she got left?"

Trude spoke up, "Over a month, but she's adding time almost as fast as she serves it. She may be with us for more than a year." Trude thought fast. She didn't want to let Sharon escape her clutches. "We could keep her at my place, sir. There's a basement that would be reasonably secure. I'm sure my father would agree to it."

"That might work. Give him a call. We could pay you what we pay the cafe for food, but not more."

Trude quickly dialed and when Sven answered she explained the circumstances and asked if they could board Sharon.

"I don't like that idea, Trude. I don't want a convict living with us."

"She won't be living with us, Dad. She'll be in the basement at night, and out working for the county during the day. We'll get paid, and we won't have much in the way of costs. It would be a big help to the sheriff, too."

Sven thought for a moment. "All right, you can bring her here. But you'll have to take care of her." Sven smiled when he realized that he had said the exact same words to Trude when she was a little girl and wanted to bring home a puppy.

"Thanks, Dad." She hung up. "He agreed, Sheriff."

"Good. I'll talk to the judge and make sure it's OK with him. Remember though, you can't have her do any work on your farm; you'll have to bring her into town and keep her working on public jobs."

The sheriff left the office, and Trude said to Otto, "Where are you going to live?"

Otto cackled, "There are several widow ladies who want my body. I'll see which one makes the best offer."

"I'm very happy for you. If you'll watch Sharon I'll go over to the jail and get her stuff and the other chains. It's too cold to work outside, but there are a lot of restrooms in the courthouse that haven't been really cleaned in a long time. Let's put her to work on them."

As soon as she could Trude returned to her house and inspected the basement. It hadn't been converted to a living area; most of the concrete floor was covered with boxes of junk. The gas furnace was in one corner and a vent from it opened into the basement and kept it reasonably warm. A steel support pole was in the center of the space.

Trude spent a couple of hours removing and rearranging the junk until she had cleared everything away from the pole. She found an old mattress and put it and some worn blankets next to the pole. There wasn't any plumbing in the basement, so she added a plastic bucket with a lid and some plastic bottles full of water to the furnishings. She searched the barn and found an eight-foot length of heavy chain, and she bolted one end around the steel pole.

Sharon was tired and sore after a day of scrubbing restrooms in the courthouse. She had been forced to kneel on the tile floors as she scrubbed them, and her knees ached. Her hands were red and chafed. She was glad when Trude arrived to take her back to jail.

When Trude loaded her into the cab of a pickup truck instead of walking her across the alley she was surprised. "Where are we going, Ms. Olsen?"

"To my father's farm. The jail won't be habitable for quite a while, so the sheriff wants me to keep you at my place."

Sharon was glad; she figured that anything would be an improvement over the jail. She knew differently once Trude led her down into the basement and locked the heavy chain around her neck. The basement was bleak, with bare concrete walls and a bare concrete floor, but the worst part was the isolation. At the jail Ole was in the cell block, and Otto looked in on her regularly. Here she could be confined alone for fifteen hours a day.

Sharon protested, "This place is inhumane! And why do you have to chain my neck? I can't possibly escape. I'm not an animal; you can't treat me as though I were."

"You're worse than an animal; no animal would risk innocent people by driving drunk. I'm going to punish you for the rest of your sentence, which has just been lengthened by a week. If you say any more it will be a month."

Sharon forced herself to keep quiet. Protesting her innocence yet again would be futile, and she didn't want Trude to add any more jail time. Trude removed the handcuffs and leg irons, and once Sharon had removed her outdoor clothing the belly chains were locked in place. Trude pulled the waist chain as tight as she could before padlocking it, and she made the cuffs tight enough to hurt.

Sharon seethed with rage, but once she had been alone for a while the rage changed to despair. Trude had apparently 'forgotten' to bring her an evening meal, and this omission caused psychological pain as well as hunger. Sharon was used to being in charge of her life, and to be so dependent on the whim of another was breaking down her morale.

The next day the weather changed with the abruptness that characterizes the northern plains. The temperature rose from below freezing to the mid-forties and the winds were calm. Sharon was dressed in her outdoor clothing; a tee shirt, the gray sweatsuit under the jail's denim skirt, and the old blue peacoat with the large white 'P' on the back. A blue knitted watch cap was pulled down over her ears. Her hands were covered with woolen mittens, and Trude had locked the handcuffs over the top of the mittens so Sharon's wrists wouldn't be bruised by her day's work. The leg irons were similarly padded by the cuffs of the sweatsuit.

Trude loaded Sharon into her truck and drove to the courthouse, where she met Ole. They loaded a large orange trash barrel into the back of the truck and drove out of town on the main highway. About a mile north of the city limits Trude stopped the truck.

"Today you're going to be picking up trash, Sharon. Help me with the barrel, Ole."

Trude and Ole wrestled the trash barrel out of the truck and placed it upright on the shoulder of the road. It was made from an old 55 gallon steel drum, with wheels mounted on one side so it could be tilted and rolled. A forty-foot chain was welded to its side.

Trude wrapped the free end of the chain around Sharon's neck and padlocked it. She enjoyed the stricken look on Sharon's face. She was still determined to punish Sharon as much as she could, and chaining her neck to the trash barrel would be very cruel. Then Trude hesitated. She felt a twinge in her bottom as she remembered how Erik had reprimanded her after the last time she had been very cruel to Sharon, and what he had promised to do if she repeated the offense. She removed the chain from Sharon's neck and relocked it around her waist.

"OK, Sharon, you take this side of the road and Ole will take the other side. Keep walking north, picking up all of the trash as you go. I'll inspect what you did, and every piece of trash you miss will cost you another day in jail. See you down the road at lunchtime."

Sharon managed to contain her rage until the truck was out of sight, and then she screamed, "How much more humiliation do I have to endure? Why don't you just put a pillory in front of the courthouse and lock me in that?"

Ole answered, "That wouldn't get the roadside picked up. I suppose you're used to big city jails, where you sit in your cell or the drunk tank all day."

"I was never in jail until I visited this town! And I am not a drunk!"

"OK, OK. If you're not ready to get help I know there's nothing anyone can do. It's a shame, though. I'm an old man, and my life is already ruined. But you're a young woman, and if you got treatment you could have a future."

"My future will be fine, once this town is not part of it!"

"I'd like to believe that. Let's get to work. We have to finish this stretch of highway today, and I don't want to work out here after the sun goes down."

Sharon didn't want to do that either, so she climbed into the ditch and started tossing beer cans at the trash barrel. It was awkward to do this with her wrists chained together; she eventually managed a sort of double-underhand lob. The trash was on the ground, of course, and Sharon had to bend over to pick it up. It wasn't long before her back started to protest, and then to scream. This job was more than humiliation, it was becoming torture. She complained to Ole, and he assured her she would get used to it. This didn't offer much comfort.

Sharon had felt exposed when she was working in town, but it was worse out here. Every car and truck that passed slowed down, and some of the drivers honked and waved. She tried to ignore them. Every so often she forgot and bent over so her butt was facing the traffic, and the honking and yelling became a crescendo.

Sharon was struggling to roll the barrel farther along the road when a car stopped next to her and two young women got out. The car had a Quebec license plate and the women were speaking French. One of them spoke the Quebec dialect, but the other's accent was straight from Paris.

The Parisian said to her friend, "I've heard all of the stories about the brutal system of justice in the United States, but I never expected to see it displayed so openly! What was her crime, do you suppose?"

"I don't know, Anne-Marie. I'll ask her."

The Canadian woman spoke to Sharon in English. "Hello, can I ask you some questions?"

There was a flash as Anne-Marie took a photograph. This annoyed Sharon; she didn't want a picture of her in chains to be posted on somebody's website. Her long-suppressed sense of humor peeked out and she decided to see if she could both slander the town and gull the tourists with the same story.

Sharon said in French, "Please help me! I've been a prisoner here for months."

Anne-Marie asked in French, "What was your crime?"

"I didn't do anything! I was having lunch in a cafe and that old man over there came up to me and offered me $10,000 if I would be his sex slave for a month. I refused, of course. But when I left the cafe I was arrested on a false charge of drunken driving. I had a show trial and was sentenced to over a year in jail. Then I was delivered to his house."

"What does he do to you?"

"He makes me have sex with him two or three times a night. He's very demanding, and if I don't please him he punishes me. Making me work in chains out here on the highway is one of his favorite penalties, because it demonstrates his power over me to everyone in the county. I hate it, but it is better than being whipped."

"How terrible!"

"Yes, if it weren't for the orgasms I'd probably kill myself." Sharon smiled at Ole. "He told me that one woman wasn't enough for him and that he wants a harem. You two are exactly the type he likes. Escape while you can."

The French women looked at Ole, who was smiling at them. They jumped into their car and roared away.

Ole said, "Merci, ma cheriť." Sharon blushed and got back to work.

* * *

Sharon woke from an uneasy sleep when Trude arrived in the basement, and she scrambled to her feet. Trude gave her a bowl of oatmeal, and after she left the basement Sharon began the struggle to feed herself. She sat on the edge of her mattress and held the bowl between her knees. She hunched over to put the bowl, the spoon, and her mouth as close together as possible. The waist chain was still pulled tight, so it was a stretch to get the spoon into her mouth.

Sharon finished her oatmeal and waited for Trude to collect her for the day's work detail, but she never appeared. Several hours later Lena entered the basement and selected a jar of preserves from a shelf.

Sharon asked, "Excuse me, ma'am, but what happened to Trude? I'm usually at work by this time."

Lena was surprised by the question. "Today is Christmas. You and Trude have the day off."

"Oh. Thank you, I had lost track."

Lena left the basement, and Sharon stretched out on the mattress. She realized that this would be the fourth Christmas in a row that she had been alone; before that she had always visited one of her sisters for the holiday. She remembered what Christmas had been like when she was a girl. Her family had been far from affluent, but it had been close and loving and she had been very happy. Before she realized it tears were leaking out of her eyes.

A few hours later Lena returned to the basement. She was carrying a tray of food.

"I've brought you Christmas dinner. Please, sit down."

Sharon sat on the edge of her mattress and Lena handed her a plate. It was immediately obvious that she wouldn't be able to eat from it. She couldn't grip the plate with her knees, and the turkey would have to be cut with a knife and fork; an impossible task for Sharon, who could only use one hand at a time. Lena watched her for a few minutes as she struggled, and then took the plate and put it back on the tray.

Lena exclaimed, "This is too much! I have to talk to Trude."

Lena left the basement and went to the parlor, where Trude and Erik were entwined on the couch. A football game was on television, but they were engrossed in playing a game of their own.

Lena said, "Trude, that poor woman in the basement is chained so tightly that she can't even feed herself. I want you to take off those belly chains and the leg irons."

"They're necessary for security. She tried to escape."

"That chain you locked around her neck is all you need. It's heavy enough to hold an elephant."

"I'm the one that the sheriff appointed to watch her, not you. And I want her chained."

"You were appointed to be her jailer, not her torturer. You are being cruel, and if you don't remove the chains I'm going to talk to Judge Petersen."

Further objections from Trude were interrupted by Erik. "Lena's right. You are being cruel. Go take the chains off."

Trude went to the basement without another word. When the chains had been removed Sharon said, "Thank you! It's such a relief to be able to stretch."

"It'll only last as long as you behave."

Sharon nodded her agreement, and Trude left. Sharon happily ate her dinner, reveling in her ability to use both hands at once.

She was still happy when Trude returned to pick up the dishes. She gave Sharon a letter.

"Here. This came a few days ago, but it was delivered to the jail. I opened it to check for contraband, but I didn't read it."

This was only the second letter that Sharon had received since she had been in jail. The other had been a power of attorney that she had signed and returned to Richard; he needed it so he could use the money in her bank account to pay her bills.

This letter was from the bank. It had been sent to her apartment in Milwaukee and forwarded by Richard. Sharon expected it to be the usual announcement of her year-end bonus, so she was unprepared for what she read. It was a termination notice. She had been fired, effective at the end of the year. The severance pay was equal to two weeks' salary.

Sharon was stunned. She had expected that her career would suffer because of the botched foreclosure, but she had been plotting her comeback and she had been sure she could pull it off. Now it was too late; her enemies had stabbed her in the back, and she was finished. Her entire life had been dedicated to getting to the top of the heap at the bank. Without her job she had nothing and was nothing.

Sharon huddled on her mattress and went through the gamut of emotions associated with any great loss; starting with denial and ending in profound depression. Nothing mattered to her any more. Her life had no meaning. She cried most of the night.

The next day Sharon had recovered only slightly. She kept telling herself that it was just a job, and that she would find a better one elsewhere. But she didn't believe it. The banking industry was contracting and the economy was in a slump. She had been fired, so she wasn't going to get a good reference. The best she could look forward to was a poorer job at a lot less pay. Her depression deepened.

Trude noticed the change when she arrived to collect Sharon for the day's work detail. She always enjoyed the suppressed rage Sharon couldn't conceal when she responded to Trude's orders, especially when she held out her hands to be cuffed. Today was different; Sharon did as she was told without any emotional response. A zombie would seem exuberant compared to Sharon.

"Are you OK, Sharon? You didn't eat too much yesterday, did you? I know! You were so giddy over having the chains off that you danced all night. Is that it?"

"No, ma'am."

"You'll be back doing highway trash pickup today. You'll like that, won't you?" Trude knew that Sharon hated to work beside the highway while she was chained to the trash barrel. Often this question brought an insolent answer that would add several days to Sharon's sentence.

"Yes, ma'am." Sharon ignored the taunting; it was like she didn't even recognize it.

"It's not that time of month, is it? Do you need some equipment?"

"No, ma'am."

Trude shrugged. She didn't really care what was wrong. Sharon was suffering, and that was what she wanted. She put Sharon in her truck and they drove to the work site. The trash barrel was where they left it, and Trude locked the chain around Sharon's waist. She waited until Ole's brother dropped him off, and then she went to her job at the courthouse.

Ole was quick to notice the change in Sharon. The subdued, withdrawn woman facing him now was not the Sharon that he was used to. He had grown to like her strong personality. Her rage was never directed at him, so he could consider it to be performance art.

"What's the matter, Sharon? Are you sick?"

"I got a letter from the bank. I've been fired." Tears started to run down her face.

"Oh, is that all? Hell, I've been fired dozens of times."

"I know it doesn't sound that bad to you, but I spent the last twelve years just living to work. Now I find I've wasted the best years of my life. I don't have any friends and I've alienated my family, and all for nothing. I'm such a pathetic loser."

"No you're not! You're smart and you're pretty. Although your personality can be a little rough at times."

"You mean I'm a bitch on wheels. Thanks for trying to cheer me up, even if I don't believe what you said. It's all so futile. I just don't want to go on any longer."

Ole continued to talk, but Sharon withdrew deeper into depression. She just walked along the road, automatically picking up trash. She didn't even notice the traffic, although she still attracted plenty of attention.

At the end of the day she docilely obeyed all of Trude's orders. Once she was in the basement she spent hours on the mattress staring at the floor joists above her head. She looked for a way to fasten her neck chain to them, so she could end her miserable, worthless existence. Far in the back of her mind she could detect a small voice telling her that she wasn't thinking rationally, but her dark emotions dominated her behavior.

The weather remained dry, and Sharon spent the next few days picking up trash. Ole was relentlessly cheerful, and gradually her depression lifted until she no longer considered suicide to be a desirable option.

By the late afternoon of the last day of the year Sharon's mental state had improved enough that she could initiate a conversation. "This is the last day of your sentence, isn't it?"

"Yep. I'll be out of jail until I go on another bender."

"It'll be hard to work out here on the road without you."

Ole looked at the sky. "You won't be doing this much longer. I think it's going to snow, and about time, too."

Sharon looked up at the sky, and she didn't notice the pickup until it skidded to a stop next to her. Two men jumped out of the cab. One man stepped up to Sharon, and she had time to notice that his face was covered with a ski mask before he backhanded her and knocked her to the ground.

He rolled Sharon face down and used a short piece of rope to connect her elbows together behind her back. He pulled them together until the handcuffs cut into her wrists, and when she started to scream he forced a bandana into her mouth and knotted it behind her neck. He pulled the watch cap over her eyes to blindfold her.

When Ole saw Sharon go down he ran across the road, but the other man intercepted him and punched him in the stomach. He fell to his knees, retching. The man who subdued Sharon tossed her into the back of the pickup, and then the two men put the trash barrel in next to her. They got in the cab and sped north, away from town.

Sven was on his way home from work. Normally, he wasn't home until well after dark, but today the plant had closed early because of the holiday. He had to brake violently when a pickup truck made an abrupt left turn in front of him. He wondered where it was going in such a hurry, and why it was carrying an orange trash barrel.

A few miles down the road Sven was waved to a stop by a frantic Ole.

Ole shouted, "It's Sharon! Two men kidnapped her!"

"Were they driving an old green Dodge pickup?"

"Yeah. How'd you know?"

"They turned in front of me and I saw the trash barrel. Get in."

When Ole was in the cab Sven made a U-turn and drove north. He handed his cell phone to Ole. "Call the sheriff. Tell him the truck was heading west on Hilltop Lane."

Sharon was very frightened as she jounced along in the back of the truck. She struggled against the rope binding her elbows, but she knew she didn't have a chance to escape. All she could do was hope for a rescue. She prayed that Ole was all right.

The green pickup pulled into the yard of an abandoned farm and the men got out of the cab. They lifted out the trash barrel, and then one picked up Sharon and carried her to the porch of the farmhouse and dumped her on the worn boards. She thrashed and twisted as they stripped her. One of the men unbuttoned her peacoat and then pulled out a hunting knife and slit open her sweatshirt and tee shirt and peeled them back. She felt her nipples harden as the cold air struck them.

The other man pulled off her skirt and sweatpants. Sharon fought desperately but ineffectually as a hand stroked her thigh and fondled her pubes. She felt one of the men kneel between her legs while the other pinned her down with a hand on her throat.

"Hold on baby! You're gonna love this!"

"Wait a minute. You don't have a rubber."

"So what? You think she got the clap?"

"Haven't you heard of DNA, you dumbshit? You leave your cum in her it's just like a fingerprint, and the cops will get you for sure. There's rubbers in the truck. Get one for me, too."

"OK, but I still get to go first."

The farmhouse was on a little hillock, and the man looked back towards the highway, about a mile away, as he walked to the truck. He saw headlights on the road, and then he saw more headlights turn off the highway. He took a closer look and saw flashing blue lights.

He yelled to the man on the porch, "Shit! Here come the cops. Let's get out of here!"

The men scrambled into the truck and roared away. All was quiet except for Sharon's muffled sobs.

Sven had turned on his headlights just before he reached the turn onto the farm road. The sun had set, but it was still light enough to see that the road ahead was empty.

Ole said, "The dispatcher said there's a patrol car just behind us." He looked out of the rear window. "Yep, I see his lights."

"A truck just pulled out onto the road, and he's really moving. It looks like a green pickup. I'm going to check out the farm." Sven slowed and turned in the drive. He could see the trash barrel, and then he saw a body on the porch.

Sven hit the brake, and he was out of the cab as soon as the truck stopped moving. He ran to the porch, and gasped with relief when he heard Sharon's sobbing. He gasped again when he got close enough to see her clearly. He said to himself, 'What a body she's got!', and immediately felt guilty.

He knelt next to her. "It's OK now, Sharon. The men have gone." He pulled the watch cap off of her eyes, and he could see her body relax when she recognized him. He pulled her coat over her breasts and draped her skirt across her crotch.

Erik arrived at the porch. "How is she?", he asked.

"She's alive. I'll take her to Doc's if you want to go after the truck."

Ole said, "I'll go with you, Erik. I'll know the truck if I see it."

Sven said, "Give me a handcuff key before you go."

Erik pulled a key off his ring and tossed it to Sven. He and Ole got in the patrol car and resumed the pursuit.

Sven took out the gag and untied Sharon's elbows. When he removed the handcuffs she hugged his neck and cried with relief. He hugged her in return, very aware that her coat had opened and her bare breasts were pressing against his chest.

Sharon asked, "Is Ole OK?"

"Yes. He went after the truck with Erik." Sven gently disengaged Sharon's arms and removed the leg irons. "I don't have a key to the padlock, but I've got some bolt cutters in my truck."

While Sven was gone Sharon pulled up her sweatpants and put on her skirt. He cut the chain off of her waist and helped her stand up. She let her knees sag and when he picked her up she wrapped her arms around his neck.

Sven carried her to his truck. When he put her down and opened the truck door Sharon kissed his mouth. She breathed, "Thank you for saving me."

She released him and let him help her into the truck. Sven's emotions were scrambled; he was barely able to talk. "I didn't do much. Those men must have taken off when they saw my lights, and anyway Erik's patrol car was right behind me."

"You're very brave."

Sven closed the door and walked to the other side of the cab. Once they were back on the road Sharon asked, "Where are we going?"

"I'm taking you to Doc's. You've got a nasty bruise on your face." He didn't want to enquire about any other possible injuries, so he filled the time by using his cell phone to call Doc's office.

Doc and Bertha were waiting when Sven parked his truck in front of the office. They helped Sharon inside and into the treatment room, closing the door behind them. Sven found a seat in the empty waiting room. He called Trude's office. No one answered her phone, so he called her cell phone, and when she answered he explained what had happened.

Trude had been away from her office all afternoon, so she didn't know about the abduction until Sven called her. At the time he called she had been on her way to pick up Sharon and Ole, so it didn't take her long to reach Doc's office. A short while later Erik and Ole also arrived.

Sven asked, "Did you catch them?"

"No, they got away. I have a pretty good idea of who they were, but proving it may be tough. Ole said they both wore masks, and the truck's license plate was covered with mud."

Doc entered the waiting room. Erik asked, "How is she, Doc?" When Doc hesitated he added, "I need to know officially. Was she raped?"

"No. She said there was no penetration, and a physical examination confirms this. Except for the bruise on her face and some scrapes she's unhurt. She's free to go. So to speak."

"That's good news. Trude, you take Sharon back to your place. I want Doc to examine Ole, and then I'll take him home."

The three men entered the treatment room and Sharon emerged from it. Doc had kept the slashed shirts, so she made sure her coat was buttoned.

Sven said, "I'm glad you're not seriously hurt."

"Thank you, sir. If it wasn't for you and Ole it would have been a lot worse."

Trude asked Sven, "Where are the cuffs?"

"Back at the old farm. The trash barrel's there too."

"OK." Trude crossed Sharon's wrists behind her back and fastened them there with a plastic handcuff.

Sven protested, "There's no need for that. She's not going to escape."

Before Trude could reply Sharon spoke up. "Thank you for your concern, sir, but I don't mind. Ms. Olsen is just doing her job."

This was so unlike Sharon's previous attitude that all present were very surprised. Sharon was far more surprised than the others. She said to herself, 'I must be suffering from some sort of delayed shock'.

* * *

Sharon was correct about the delayed shock; she spent a restless night, with nightmares. She was glad that the next day was a holiday and she didn't have to work. She spent much of the day dozing, unable to really sleep.

One of the times she slept she had a vivid dream. She was a village maiden being sacrificed to a dragon. She was paralyzed with terror as the dragon advanced on the stake where she was chained. Just when she was about to be devoured a knight appeared and rescued her; the knight looked like Sven.

Sharon knew she had been lucky yesterday; rape was inevitable, and murder was possible, if Sven hadn't intervened when he did. Her close call made her even more aware of how she had wasted her life by subordinating it to her career at the bank. Her self-examination went deeper; she now recognized just how noxious her previous behavior had been, and she resolved to change it. Somehow, Ole had been able to ignore her poisonous personality, so he became her friend; the only friend she had had for years. His friendship made her realize what she had been missing in her life.

Changing her behavior would have the additional advantage of bringing her sentence to an end. She really wanted her freedom. Her imprisonment wasn't as bad as it had been; by now she was so used to being in chains that it no longer bothered her to wear them in public, but the work wasn't very challenging, to say the least. The long hours of solitary confinement in the basement were the worst part of her incarceration. She was alone with her thoughts, which were often focused on Sven. She knew that she couldn't ever have a relationship with him, and his proximity would break her heart if she wasn't careful.

Sven was also troubled by Sharon's presence. He couldn't forget the sight of her naked body, and he was constantly aware of her presence in the basement. Fantasies of seduction, or even of rape, occasionally bothered him. If she were gone he wouldn't be tempted.

Ole proved to be a good weather forecaster. Snow fell for the next three days, and Sharon worked at removing it from the courthouse steps and other public areas. It was too cold to work outside all day, so after a few hours of shovelling snow and spreading salt she worked inside the courthouse, cleaning and painting. She tried hard to be pleasant and cheerful with everyone she encountered.

Trude was the first person to notice the change in Sharon. She had mixed emotions; the professional part of her was glad that Sharon was being rehabilitated, but the personal part wanted her to suffer. But Trude was fair; she only assigned penalty days if they were warranted. As Sharon's behavior improved the time she still had to serve stopped increasing and started to decrease.

* * *

It was Saturday, and Trude and Sharon entered the house just as Lena was finishing a phone conversation.

Lena said, "That was Pastor Lundquist, Trude. He wants to know why he hasn't seen you at church."

"I'm sorry I haven't been there, but I can't leave Sharon alone."

Sharon interrupted, "Excuse me, Ms. Olsen, but couldn't you take me to church with you? I'd like to attend religious services; it would help rehabilitate me." It would also get her out of the basement for a few hours every week.

"Are you a Lutheran?" Trude had her suspicions of Sharon's motives, but it was politically difficult to keep a repentant prisoner from going to church. And she did want to attend herself.

"Yes, I am. I haven't gone to church for quite a while, but my family was Lutheran." Methodist, Lutheran; they weren't that different.

"You'll have to be chained. Won't that bother you?"

"There are more people in this town who have seen me chains than there are that have seen me out of them."

So next Sunday Sharon went to church. Trude waited until just before the service started, and then they entered and sat together in the back pew. Sharon had attended church regularly when she was a girl, but she lost her faith in high school, and she stopped all religious activities when she went away to college. Now, much to her surprise, she found that she enjoyed the services.

The part she liked best were the hymns. She remembered many of them from her childhood, and they brought back memories of happier times. Sharon had a very good voice, and often people seated near her would stop singing just so they could listen to her. The choir director asked her if she would like to join, but Trude vetoed the idea. Sharon pointed out that it would be difficult to wear a choir robe over the handcuffs.

Pastor Lundquist went out of his way to be welcoming; he obliquely mentioned Sharon in a sermon, and reminded the congregation that a church was primary a place where sinners came for redemption, not a place where saints displayed their perfection. A few people resented the presence of a convict, and a few fawned over Sharon, but most treated her as they would have treated any newcomer; with indifference.

After a few weeks Sharon and Trude began to stay after the services for the social hour, where the traditional coffee was served in the church basement. Sharon decided that the best way to deal with the chains was to pretend that they were caused by a temporary physical impairment. If she had broken her leg she would have crutches; she broke the law, so she had handcuffs and leg irons. It seemed to work; since she ignored the chains other people could also ignore them.

The only facet of attending church that was difficult for Sharon was that it increased her association with Sven. The physical attraction she had felt earlier when he rescued her had not gone away. When she was isolated in the basement she was able to convince herself that all she felt was lust, but the more she associated with him during the social hour at church the more lust changed to love. She could also imagine that he was attracted to her, because he was always close by, showing her kindness and providing her with emotional support.

Sharon had been cynical when she said she wanted to go to church because it would rehabilitate her, but she discovered that it was actually happening. She was meeting people in a social setting, something that she hadn't done for years. She really worked at modifying her behavior. She wanted to relate to these people she met as friends; in her previous life everyone had been either an enemy or a subordinate. Gradually pleasant behavior became automatic.

* * *

There had been a light snowfall the previous night, and Sharon had spent most of the day cleaning snow off of the downtown sidewalks. The temperature was crisp but not bitterly cold and the winds were calm, and she had enjoyed being outside. She wore her usual outdoor clothing; a tee shirt and a sweatsuit under the jail's denim skirt, and the old blue peacoat with the large white 'P' on the back.

Sharon was occupying the passenger seat of Trude's pickup. Trude drove into the farmyard and parked close to the back door. She said, "You can get out of the truck and go into the house."

Sharon deftly unfastened her seatbelt and opened the truck door. All the weeks of wearing handcuffs had made her adept at performing many tasks with her linked hands. She hopped to the ground, accompanied by the jingling of the connecting chain, and she automatically raised her hands so the chain between her ankles was clear of the ground as she shuffled to the back porch and up the steps.

Trude was holding the back door open, and Sharon thanked her as she stepped inside the mudroom. She looked to Trude, and when she got a nod she sat on a bench and removed her galoshes and shoes. Trude did the same, and then the two women moved through the kitchen and down the hall towards the basement door.

As they passed the door of Sven's office they heard a burst of mild profanity. Trude asked, "What's the matter, Dad? Has the computer crashed?"

"No, the computer is fine. I'm the problem. I've been working all day trying to figure out the best way to manage our operations, and I'm no closer now than when I started."

He stood up and came to the door. When he saw Sharon he said to her, "You were right when you said any fool could grow a crop, but it takes real management skill to run a successful farm business. It wasn't this complicated in my father's day. All we worried about then were drought and insects."

"Perhaps you would let me help you, sir. This is the sort of work I did at the bank, and my MBA thesis was on farm management." Sharon hoped he would let her help. She missed working on complicated financial plans; it was the only part of her job at the bank that she did miss.

"I don't know. It would be a help, but you're not supposed to work on the farm."

"Please, I'd like to do it. I don't have any other plans for the evening."

She smiled. The evenings alone in the basement were the longest hours of Sharon's sentence. Lena had loaned her some paperback romance novels and they were better than nothing, but not much. She still slept during most of the time she spent in the basement; twelve hours of sleep a night wasn't unusual for her. Then she realized that neither she nor Sven would have the final say. She turned to Trude and begged, "Would this be acceptable to you, Ms. Olsen?"

Trude decided to approve the request; her father did need the help. "All right, as long as everyone understands that this is strictly voluntary."

"Oh, thank you! When can I start?"

"How about after supper? But now we have to go to the basement."

Sharon went down the stairs in a happy mood. She would be doing the sort of work she enjoyed, and she would be doing it with Sven. Reality returned as they entered the gloomy basement. As always, Trude chained Sharon's neck to the support pole before she unlocked the handcuffs and leg irons so Sharon could remove her outdoor clothes. The heavy metal around her neck caused Sharon's euphoria to evaporate.

After supper Trude arrived to collect Sharon from the basement. She said, "If you're going to be out of the basement you'll have to be chained."

Sharon had expected nothing else. "Of course. But if I'm going to work on the computer it would be best if I wore the regular handcuffs instead of the belly chain."

"OK." Trude took Sharon's wrists and fastened them in the 'working' handcuffs. She also fitted the leg irons, but she didn't use the connector chain. Once the chains were locked on she grabbed Sharon by the arm and led her to the farm office.

Sven was already there, rummaging through a pile of papers. When the women entered the room he got up and moved another chair next to his so he and Sharon could sit side-by-side in front of the computer. He said, "I appreciate you helping me with this, Ms. Green. For all of my big talk I seem to be making a mess of the management side of the farm."

"It is a specialized field, Mr. Olsen. I've worked in financial management for many years, and I still have trouble sometimes." She nodded her thanks when Sven helped her into the chair. She requested, "Please call me Sharon."

"OK, but you have to call me Sven."

Sharon looked at Trude, who shook her head. "Thank you, Mr. Olsen, but the Judge wouldn't permit that. Let's get started, shall we? I'll set up a spreadsheet, and you can give me the numbers."

Her fingers moved across the keyboard. Sven was fascinated by the erotic movements of Sharon's chained wrists. He had never engaged in bondage activities, but now he could understand their appeal, and he felt himself becoming aroused. He fought down the sensations; Sharon was far from being a free agent, and he wasn't going to apply pressure that she might feel she didn't dare resist.

Sven and Sharon worked together for several hours. Sharon was careful to explain exactly what she was doing, but she didn't display even a trace of arrogance or patronization. When Sven praised her she thanked him with modesty and mild self-deprecation. But when he suggested some action that she knew was ill-considered she politely but firmly corrected him.

Sven was amazed by how much Sharon had changed over the past weeks. It was like her old personality had been a toxic shell that had melted away to reveal an inner person who was sweet and loveable. Loveable. A sudden realization hit him, and he said to himself, 'I love her. Damn, what do I do now?'.

After Trude had returned and taken her back to the basement for the night Sharon remained awake for some time. She thought about Sven, and how kind he had been to her, in spite of her lowly status. All of the other men she had ever known would have taken advantage of her in an instant. And he was so good looking, in a rugged way. She felt another stirring of lust. Life was so cruel; she had finally fallen in love with a decent man and he was unavailable. Just before she fell asleep her last, regretful thought was, 'Lena is a very lucky woman.'

* * *

More snow fell during the night. Trude delivered Sharon to Otto for snow-removal duty and went to her office. She was just about to leave at the end of the day when she had a visitor.

"Hi, Juan. What brings you here? Not a legal problem, I hope."

"No, I just want to say goodbye. I'm going back to Austin."

"Are you going to work in a restaurant there?"

"No, I've found a job as a software engineer. I can handle the work now. I've been going to AA meetings, and this time I'm staying off the booze." He took a pint bottle of vodka out of his pocket. "This is the bottle Astrid gave to me. Please give it back to her so she'll know I'm through drinking. She always tried to get me to quit."

"If she was trying to get you to quit why did she give you a bottle of vodka?"

"She used a bottle I had in the kitchen to play a joke on someone and this was the replacement."

Trude felt a cold chill run through her body. "When did this happen, Juan?"

"Around last Thanksgiving. Please tell Astrid goodbye. I'll miss both of you."

Juan and Trude hugged, and he left the office. Trude sat in stunned silence for a while, and then she called Erik.

"Erik, I need to see you at my house this evening. It's very important."

Trude was distracted as she drove Sharon back to the house, but Sharon didn't notice; all of her thoughts were on Sven and the work they had started last night. She said, "Your father and I didn't finish last night. Can I work with him after supper?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah, sure."

After supper Trude conducted Sharon to the office. Then she waited in the parlor until Erik arrived.

"Hi, Trude. What's so important?"

"It's a moral dilemma, Erik. We've got to talk to Astrid."

"A moral dilemma, eh? That will make an interesting change from talking about sex."

"This is serious, Erik. But before I can get you involved you've got to promise that you'll go along with whatever I decide, even if it bends the letter of the law. Can you trust me enough to do that?"

"I can't give you a blank check, but if it only involves your family I'll follow your lead."

Trude smiled her thanks and they went to Astrid's room and entered without knocking. Astrid was seated at her desk, reading a textbook.

"Well come on in! What do you two want?"

Trude replied, "Juan dropped by my office this afternoon to say goodbye. He's going back to Texas."

"Oh, that's great! He must have his drinking problem under control."

"Yes. He asked me to return this to you." She held out the vodka bottle.

Astrid blanched, but she tried to recover. "Return it to me? What did he mean by that?"

"He told me about the 'joke' you played. You lied at Sharon's trial, didn't you? She was telling the truth, and she didn't knowingly drive under the influence."

"I don't know what you mean. I didn't do anything."

"Admit it, Astrid. Juan told me about the joke, and Sharon was the victim, wasn't she?"

Astrid denied everything, but Trude kept up her verbal assault and finally Astrid confessed.

"Yes, you're right. But I didn't mean for things to go so far! All I wanted to do was make her miss the auction."

"Well, you're responsible for a lot more than that. What you did has totally devastated Sharon's life. And you duped me too; I've been punishing her for a crime she didn't commit. But what was far worse was sending her out on the road drunk. She could have killed somebody! Not only are you a criminal, but you're a stupid, uncaring criminal!"

"I'm sorry, I just didn't think it through. What are you going to do?" Astrid started to weep.

"Sharon is your main victim, so I'm going to let her decide. You are my flesh and blood, so I don't want to be the one who sends you to prison."

"Prison! What for?"

"You lied under oath, remember? Perjury is a serious crime."

Trude turned to Erik and ordered, "Put the cuffs on her. Let's go find Sharon, and if she wants to prosecute we can have Astrid join her in the basement."

* * *

Sharon and Sven finished the business plan, and while they were waiting for the printer to produce a hard copy they talked.

Sharon said, "You have a sound business here, sir. You'll have a good income, and not having to make a gigantic mortgage payment will make it much better. You can quit your outside job and eliminate that terrible commute."

"Thanks to you. You're the one who showed me the way to handle the business side of things." Sven paused as he planned what to say next. "Trude's calendar shows that in only a few more days you'll have completed your sentence. Do you plan to return to Milwaukee permanently?"

"I don't know. The only reason I lived there was because of my job at the bank, and without that there isn't any reason to stay. I suppose that eventually where I live will be determined by where I can find work. That could be anywhere; banking jobs are hard to find now, and picking a location is not usually an option. Having a criminal record won't be a help to me, either. I've got some savings to live on, which is a good thing, because finding a job may take awhile."

"Do you have any family to stay with?"

"I've got two sisters; one lives in St. Paul and the other is in Indianapolis. But they won't speak to me. We had a big fight at my mother's funeral three years ago, and I said some really nasty things. I'm going to try for a reconciliation. It was my fault, and I can only hope they'll accept my apologies."

"I'll be sorry when you're released."

Sven regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth. He had just said that he wanted Sharon to remain a convict.

She pretended not to notice. To change the subject she asked, "Can I use the Internet? I'd better arrange to transfer money so I can pay my fines."

Sharon arranged a wire transfer to Sven's account. Now that it was time to leave New Trondheim she was reluctant to do so. She had made friends here, and this was where she had gotten her life back into balance. Milwaukee had nothing but bad memories. What she wanted to do was stay with Sven, but that could never be. She would miss him so much. She started to cry.

"What's wrong, Sharon? You should be happy to be free again."

"I know. It's foolish of me to cry. But I'll miss you."

Sven took her in his arms and kissed her. She resisted for a moment and then kissed him back. Sven whispered into her ear, "I love you, Sharon. I want you to stay here with me always."

Sharon was thrilled when she heard this, but then she regretfully pushed away from Sven and shook her head. "I love you too. But what about Lena? I can't stay because I won't break up your marriage."

Sven was dumfounded. "Lena's not my wife, she's my sister!"

"You sister? But..."

"About four years ago my wife and Lena's husband were killed when a drunk driver hit his car. Lena and Astrid moved in here with me and Trude. Didn't you know this?

"No, I..."

"Now that we've cleared that up, will you marry me?"

"This is so sudden. You don't really know anything about me except that I'm a convict, a drunk driver, and before that the bitch from the bank who tried to take your farm. I love you and I'll marry you, but you're the one who's taking a chance. You're going to be living with me when I'm no longer forced to be polite by a judge's order."

Sven's reply was interrupted when Trude shoved Astrid into the room. Astrid's hands were cuffed behind her back, and Trude forced her to kneel. A moment later Erik ushered in Lena.

Trude ordered, "Say it, Astrid!"

"I lied at the trial. I put vodka in Ms. Green's food and then I called the sheriff and said she was driving drunk. I'm sorry."

Trude addressed Sharon. "You were the one who was harmed, so you get to determine what's going to happen to Astrid. She is my cousin, so I hope you can forgive her. But Astrid is guilty of perjury, and if you want her prosecuted Erik will arrest her right now."

Sharon glared at the wretched young woman kneeling before her. She let the tension build before she answered. "If I were a saint I would forgive you, Astrid. But I'm not, so I can't. At least not right away. However, I don't want my niece-to-be to go to prison."

There was a moment of silence, and then an uproar once this statement had been analyzed by all of those present. There was a babble of congratulations and comments.

Trude said, "I have to apologize as well. I've been very cruel to you, and it wasn't justified. I'm sorry."

"It's easier for me to forgive you. I understand now why you hate drunk drivers so much."

When everyone had calmed down a bit Erik said, "Sharon is being very magnanimous, but Astrid has behaved badly and it would not be just if she were to escape without any punishment. So I intend to reprimand her. Very severely."

Astrid had been worried, but now she relaxed. She was getting off easy. How bad could a very severe reprimand be, anyway?

The End

Story copyright© 2002 by Zack. All rights reserved. 022111
I welcome your comments. Email me at zack_writer@hotmail. com