To start at the beginning, use this link: Link to Chapter 1
Monica woke up when the lights came on, feeling more rested than she had been in days. Neither Ximena nor Mistress Calahan joined them as they all showered together and put on the appropriately colored clothing for the day. They were all eating their breakfast of corn flakes and melon slices when Mr. Ruiz entered the room, leading Ximena by the hand. Ximena was wearing a see-through black nightgown with a lacy black bra and panties underneath. Her face seemed to glow a little as she hurried through the kitchen to undress in the laundry area and then get her shower in time to join the others for breakfast. Mr. Ruiz left, and a few minutes later, Mistress Calahan came through. She was naked, and she took a quick shower and got dressed before joining the others.
“You’re wondering what happened last night, aren’t you?” Mistress Calahan asked Monica when breakfast was done.
“Well, I didn’t do my job to Mr. Ruiz’s satisfaction yesterday, so I had to spend the night shackled to my bed. Except for being allowed to talk, I obey the same rules as the rest of you.”
Monica had been wondering about Mistress Calahan, but even more she had wanted to know about Ximena. Not that she couldn’t guess what had happened. What she really wanted to know was why Ximena seemed pleased, and why some of the other women looked at her with envy. Weren’t they all prisoners here? How could someone feel good about being forced, even if it was done gently?
Monica was on laundry duty that day, along with Natalia. She was gradually connecting the names on the job board with faces as she saw what colors each woman was wearing and deduced who was who based on those whose names she had heard. Mistress Calahan’s instructions were simple that morning.
“Just follow Natalia and help her with the job. You’ll both have access to the appropriate rooms in case one has her hands full.”
They started in the laundry room, where they loaded one washer with white tights and another with leotards. The tights were run on a gentle cycle, and Natalia showed Monica where the laundry detergent was kept and how to set the washing machines. The delicate clothes worn by Ximena were placed in a sink to soak with some special gentle cleaner. Once everything was started, Natalia grabbed a large rolling laundry basket from its place up against the wall and beckoned for Monica to follow. She walked out of the harem into the main house and around the hallways to the back hall. Two guards were still standing by the same door that had been guarded the day before. Monica wondered what was behind that door. But Natalia led her to another door on the other side of the hallway. It opened to her thumbprint and she pushed the laundry basket inside. The room was bare and utilitarian, with no furnishings at all. Several piles of clothing lay heaped on the floor. Monica could see holes in the ceiling above the piles that were apparently the bottom end of chutes from the upstairs bedrooms.
Monica and Natalia picked up the clothes and put them into the laundry basket, then rolled it out of the room. Next Natalia led Monica down to the end of the back hallway. There was a door at the end of the hallway, but Natalia didn’t open it. Instead, she pressed her thumb to a spot on the wall beside the door. When she did, a section of the wall opened up, revealing a large hidden cabinet behind. The cabinet was filled with dirty clothes that Monica recognized as the guard’s uniforms. They piled the clothes into the basket, which was now quite full. After Natalia closed the cabinet door, Monica looked more closely at the wall and she could see how the thumb plate and the edges of the door had been hidden by the decorative lines in the wall paneling.
They returned to the laundry room and sorted all the clothes into piles, then put a couple of the piles into the remaining washing machines. Mr. Ruiz’s silk shirt was added to the sink with the clothes Ximena wore and Natalia worked on gently washing them. After she was done, Natalia hung the hand washed clothes from a clothes line in one corner of the room. Once the machines were all running and Natalia was done with the delicates, there was nothing to do but wait. Natalia came to stand beside Monica and hold her hand. The urge to talk was strong. Could she whisper in Natalia’s ear? Monica leaned over until her lips were almost touching Natalia’s ear, but before she could whisper a word, Natalia put a finger across her lips and shook her head. From the urgency of Natalia’s response, Monica deduced that whispering would be a bad idea. So she contented herself with standing beside Natalia, enjoying the human contact of holding hands.
Once the leotards and tights were dry, Natalia opened a drawer in a cabinet and pulled out a sheet of paper. It was a map of the harem, with a name on each bedroom and sizes listed under each name. She handed Monica a pile of clothes, then waved for her to follow. They went to each room in turn and put the clothes into the drawers. Natalia seemed to be pretty familiar with everyone’s sizes, so Monica just held the clothes while Natalia looked at the tags and pulled out the right ones for each woman. The next set of clothing to be done belonged to the guards. They folded the pants and shirts and then piled up the underwear and matched the socks, then stacked everything back into the rolling laundry basket. They took it back around the halls to the other end, and Natalia opened a second hidden cabinet beside the first. This one had open shelves and Monica could see through into a room on the other side. They stacked the clothing up on the shelves, sorted roughly by size. The last things they took were the lingerie and the clothes from the bedrooms. From the variety of sizes and styles, Monica guessed that the clothes belonged to about 6 different people. They carried the clothes up to the second floor of the main house and Natalia opened another cabinet in the wall of the back hallway. This one was not hidden and actually had a sign saying “Clean laundry” next to the door. They stacked up most of the clothing in neat piles on the shelves inside, but Natalia had Monica keep the lingerie and what must have been Mr. Ruiz’s clothes. They carried those down the hall and Natalia opened a door with her thumbprint. Beyond the door was a very luxurious bedroom with thick carpet on the floor and a king-sized bed. They carried the clothes into a large walk-in closet and Natalia hung up the shirt and pants in one side of the closet. The other half of the closet had lots of dresses in various sizes, colors, and styles hanging on a long rod. There were also large dressers, and Natalia opened a few drawers until she found the right one, then indicated that Monica should put the lacy lingerie worn by Ximena in it. She laid the clothing alongside several other sexy-looking outfits of the same size.
With the last of the clothing put where it belonged, their job was almost done for the day. Natalia led Monica back down to the laundry area and they quickly cleaned and organized it for the next day. Then Natalia indicated that they should go back to their rooms. Monica had yet to see a single clock in all of the rooms she had visited, so she didn’t know how long it would be until dinner. She tried to hold back and see if she could just stay in the central area with Natalia, but her fellow-prisoner would have none of it. She held Monica’s hand and walked with her to her room, then pointed at the door. Taking the hint, Monica went inside and sat on her lonely bed.
It wasn’t long before the lights in Monica’s room flashed. She got up and went to the kitchen for dinner. This time it was vegetable soup and a roll. Monica now knew that the woman standing next to her was named Andrea, based on her blue leotard and the fact that the other person listed as attendant that day was Maria, who had done Monica’s hair the day before. There were still two or three possibilities for the name of the woman on the other side. When they were done eating, Mistress Calahan gave them their evening assignments.
“Mr. Ruiz will be eating dinner in the mermaid room this evening. Tania, you and Monica will be serving him. Report directly to the mermaid room kitchen to help Chef Castillo. The rest of you have no extra duties this evening, so you will go to your rooms.”
“Yes ma’am.” Came the chorus of replies.
A very dark-complexioned woman in a pink leotard took Monica’s hand. She wore her jet black hair in two braids on the sides of her head. Monica filed away the name of Tania and followed her into the main house. They walked around to the back hallway and directly up to the guarded door. The two guards stepped to the side to let Tania press her thumb on the reader. Behind the door was a stairway to a lower level. They went down the stairs and passed through another door into a room that looked like a restaurant. There were several round tables scattered about the room, and the back wall was clear and bowed inward into the room. Behind the wall was a water-filled tank with a brightly colored mound of artificial coral in the middle. Monica thought she could see some people in the water behind the coral, but Tania led her through a pair of swinging doors on the other side of the room before she could get a good look at them. Behind the doors was a commercial kitchen with a man in a chef’s uniform standing in the middle of it.
“Ah, it is Tania this evening, along with a helper.” Said the chef. “Good. Tania, you I will have cutting vegetables. And you, new girl—stand over there and watch through the doors. Let me know when Mr. Ruiz arrives.”
Monica went where Chef Castillo indicated and found that she could see through a crack between the swinging doors. She watched dutifully for the arrival of Carlos, while listening to the chatter of the chef as he prepared the meal with Tania’s help. After perhaps 20 minutes of waiting, she saw Carlos enter the room and sit down at one of the tables. She turned and walked over to the chef.
“Ah—he must be here.” Said the chef. “Take that tray on the counter out to him and set his place at the table. Pour him a glass of wine and then come quickly back here.”
There was a tray all set up with a place setting, a basket with assorted bread, a small cup with butter, and a bottle of wine. From her time in the café, Monica knew what to do. She took the tray and went out into the restaurant-style room. She set the small plate, napkin, and silverware in front of Mr. Ruiz, then set the wine glass in place and filled it from the bottle. She put the bottle nearby on the table and went back into the kitchen. The chef handed her a plate with fresh garden vegetables artfully arranged in some kind of sauce.
“Serve Mr. Ruiz his vegetables and then stand behind his chair and freshen his drink when necessary.” I’ll signal you when the entrée is ready.”
Monica did as she was told, shifting the plate for bread to one side and replacing it with the vegetables. As she stood behind Mr. Ruiz’s chair, she looked over behind the clear wall into the pool. There were mermaids swimming in the pool! They swam back and forth in front of the window, their long hair streaming out behind them. Monica was surprised to see the variety in the mermaids. Their tails were brightly colored like the various kinds of fish you would see near a coral reef, and their bodies and hair varied as well, from a dark-skinned mermaid with kinky black hair to a redhead and a more standard blonde-haired mermaid. At first, Monica thought there were eight mermaids, but after a few minutes, she noticed two more who were on the back wall of the pool. Once she noticed the other two, she looked at them more closely and noticed that they were male. They were also different than the female mermaids because they didn’t appear to have arms. Instead, the fishy parts of their bodies extended all the way to their necks. Down near their waists, hands stuck out of their bodies where pectoral fins would be on a fish. Monica could see thick metal rings attaching the two mermen to the wall at their neck and ankles. She would have looked longer, but Mr. Ruiz finished the last of his vegetables and his wine was down below the halfway mark, so Monica refilled his glass and took the plate away. She carried the dirty plate back into the kitchen.
“What are you doing back here?” Asked the chef. Then he looked at the dirty plate in Monica’s hand. “He’s done with his vegetables I see. Well, you’re just in time. Let me finish plating the entrée and you can take it out.”
Chef Castillo finished arranging a few sprigs of parsley on the plate in front of him, then handed it to Monica. She took it out and set it in front of Mr. Ruiz, who seemed to be contentedly watching the mermaids. The entrée was some kind of fish with a crusty glaze and a side of wild rice. It looked and smelled delicious. Monica continued to watch the mermaids as she waited behind her patron’s chair. She knew that mermaids weren’t real, so these must be women in costumes. Their tails still bent at the knee and ankle, though the scales looked very realistic. And not once in the entire time Monica watched them did they go to the surface to breathe. In fact, as far as Monica could tell, the water went all the way up to the ceiling of the pool. How could they breathe underwater? Did it have something to do with the ring of scales around their necks?
Mr. Ruiz ate in silence, watching the mermaids idly between bites. When he was nearly done with his meal, the chef signaled to Monica from the kitchen. She went into the kitchen and found Tania there, holding out a bowl with ice cream and strawberries. She took the bowl back out and gave it to Mr. Ruiz, who thanked her and ate his dessert. When he was done, he put his napkin on his plate, got up, and left. Monica picked up his dirty dishes and carried them back to the kitchen, where she found Tania already washing a sink full of pots and pans. Chef Castillo showed her where the cleaning supplies were stored and had her clean the table and the area around it. Since one person didn’t make much of a mess, the cleaning was done in just a few minutes. Monica noticed that the mermaids had stopped swimming around and were all lining themselves up against the back wall, where metal collars closed around their necks and tails. What was their story? She wondered. Then Tania came out of the kitchen, done with her washing, and it was time to return to their bedrooms.
The next day Monica was assigned to work in the kitchen with Juana and Veronica. After eating their own breakfast, their next assignment was to take breakfast to the guards. Rather than the cereal and fruit that typified the harem breakfasts, Monica found that the guards were given huevos rancheros and toast, with milk and juice to drink. Monica quickly found out how the meals were prepared without the cooks being able to speak to one another, as Juana showed her a laminated instruction sheet. It had detailed instructions for three people, and they started their tasks by pointing at the section they would be doing. Veronica chose the huevos rancheros and Juana chose the toast, leaving the drinks to Monica. So all Monica had to do was open the large, restaurant-sized bags of milk and juice and pour them into pitchers. When she was done, Veronica waved to her and pointed to the large crate of eggs and a bowl. So Monica cracked eggs into the bowl while Veronica cut up onions and peppers. When Monica had finished with about half the crate of eggs, Veronica patted her on the back and then waved her finger to indicate she should stop. By that time, the chorizo was done cooking and Veronica added the vegetables and eggs to the large griddle. With deft motions of two spatulas, she stirred the eggs and the other ingredients until the eggs were cooked. Then it was a matter of loading the food into bowls and platters and putting them on a big rolling cart.
The three women took off their aprons and pushed the cart out into the hallway and around to the guard’s door. They opened the same cabinet that Monica had used the day before for laundry and put all of the food onto the shelves. The guards were obviously waiting on the other side, because the food was taken off the shelves from the back as fast as they loaded them. On a lower shelf was a stack with the empty bowls and pitchers from the night before. Monica and the others put the dirty dishes on their cart and then returned to the harem kitchen. Veronica was showing her how to load the dishes into the restaurant-style dishwasher when one of the women assigned as Mr. Ruiz’s attendants for the day came into the room. She had a hand-written paper with an order for breakfast for Mr. Ruiz. Apparently, Veronica liked to do the cooking, because she took the order and started making waffles. Juana and Monica finished loading the dishwasher, and then Juana indicated that Monica should follow her. They took the cart and went to the back entrance of the harem. Juana pushed a button next to the thumbprint scanner, and then went over to the rack of leashes hanging on the wall and took one down, then locked the collar around her own neck. She waved at Monica and pointed to the leashes. “I guess it’s better than letting one of the guards put the thing around my neck.” Thought Monica. Then she took one of the leashes down and locked the collar in place.
A minute or two later, the door opened and two guards came through. Juana handed the handle of her leash to one of them. Monica had let the end of her leash fall to the ground. The other guard pointed at the loop.
“Don’t just stand there.” He said. “Hand me the leash.”
Monica leaned down and picked up the end of the leash, then handed it to the guard. Then the two men led them out across the bridge, with the women pushing the cart ahead of them. They walked out and through the garage to the table near the doors. There was a hook mounted high up on the wall, and the guards slipped the loops of the leashes over the hook. They had to stand up on their toes to reach the hook, and since Monica and Juana were both considerably shorter than either man, it was unlikely they would be able to unhook their leashes without help. The guards sat down at the table, and one of them looked at his watch.
“They should be here in five minutes or so.”
Juana didn’t seem surprised. She just stood by the wall and reached out to take Monica’s hand. They waited there until they could hear the sound of a truck pulling up to the door. One of the guards went out through a pedestrian door and they could hear the sound of beeping as the truck outside backed up to the main garage door. Then that door opened and Monica could see the truck, which had the name of a local restaurant distributor on the side. One of the guards reached up to take the leashes down from the wall and then motioned toward the back of the truck.
“Time to get to work.” He said.
Juana walked to the back of the truck and pulled the door open, letting it roll up into the top of the truck. Then she pulled a ramp out of the back of the truck. She waved for Monica to bring the cart, so she pushed it up the ramp. The guard followed behind, holding both of their leashes. Juana led Monica toward the front of the truck, where there was a refrigerated section. She pointed to a pallet covered with boxes of frozen meat, and the two women started transferring the meat to the cart, struggling with the heavy boxes. Monica was frustrated to see the guard standing there watching the two women work without even offering to help lift the difficult loads, but it appeared that he was either unwilling or not allowed to do so. Once the cart was completely laden with frozen meat, the two women wheeled it carefully out of the truck, with Juana going down the ramp in front to make sure the cart didn’t get away on the slope. The other guard stood up and took Monica’s leash and then the two men followed the two women as they pushed the heavy cart back through the garage and into the back door of the harem. At the door, the guards handed each woman the end of her own leash, allowing them to proceed without escort. Juana looped her leash around her waist to keep it out of the way, and Monica followed suit when she saw what her partner was doing. They took the cart full of meat back to the kitchen and unloaded it into the large freezer there. Then they made two more trips out to the truck, bringing back boxes of produce and restaurant sized containers of drinks and sauces. When they re-entered the harem on the last trip, the guards unlocked their leashes and hung them back up on the wall by the door.
By the time all the food was put away, they needed to make lunch for the guards. Monica wondered if it was possible to sneak a bite or two while they were cooking, so she watched the other two women carefully. Even though the temptation must have been great, neither one so much as licked her fingers. Following their example, Monica prepared the food without giving in to the temptation to take a bite. After taking lunch to the guards and returning with the dirty breakfast dishes, they spent a little bit of time cleaning the kitchen before starting on their own dinner. Following the laminated recipe card, they made a noodle and hamburger casserole with a simple lettuce salad. When it was done, all of the women gathered in the kitchen and ate together. Two of the others were sent off to the mermaid room while Monica helped Veronica and Juana clean up the kitchen before returning to their own rooms for the night.
The next day, Monica was on cleaning duty again. This time she had a list of rooms on the second floor to clean. Several of them were guest bedrooms, nearly all of which were currently unoccupied. But Monica also cleaned two rooms that explained where Mistress Calahan and Nurse Sophia spent their days. She found Sophia in a small examining room with a paper-covered exam table and a small desk with a computer. The nurse gave her careful instructions in cleaning the room with the appropriate disinfectant cleaners. As she dusted the desk, Monica could see an order form on the computer with a list of food items to get from the distributor, so apparently part of Sophia’s job was ordering the food they all ate. Monica wondered if there was a way to use Sophia’s computer to send a message for help. Unfortunately, Monica had not had many chances to use computers growing up, so she had little idea about how she would go about sending such a message.
Mistress Calahan shared a room with one of the guards. The back wall of the room was covered with monitors, each showing a different part of the house and grounds. A control panel presumably allowed them to adjust what each monitor was showing or where a camera was pointed. Monica could see that the harem areas were well-covered, as she could see the women working in the kitchen and laundry areas. Some of the screens showed bedrooms in a greenish monochromatic hue. At first Monica didn’t understand why these were different, but then she realized they must be scenes from night vision cameras in dark rooms. It appeared that every part of the estate was well covered. The cameras must have been well-hidden, because Monica didn’t remember seeing any of them. Now she understood the other women’s reluctance to speak even when no one else was around, or the unwillingness to sneak an extra bite of food. Every act of every person on the estate was being monitored and recorded. And given what she had seen so far, any disobedience was swiftly noted and punished.