The paper in which the letter was written was brittle from so much use. Opened, closed, read, and reread again and again. Her green eyes tracked over the words, her red lips reading aloud, barely audible. It was an unconscious studious act. She was memorizing it, studying it, breaking it down, analyzing for clues, categorizing those clues, methodically experimenting various hypothesis.
“I thought I might find your crunching your notes!” called the voice loudly over her shoulder, compensating for the roar of the plane engines. The comment startled her, she visibly started, drawn out from her deep ponderings.
“Professor Anderson, I didn’t hear you there,” she called back, tucking stray locks of blonde hair back behind her ears that had fallen mischievously into her creamy face.
“It’s a surprise anybody could hear anything at all over these engines!” Mr. Anderson stated with a good-natured grin, while analyzing what the young girl was so engrossed in.
“It’s evident the ghastly tuition that our parents pay Ivy Ridge Prep Academy does not go toward more comfortable commercial airlines for our remote field trips,” joked the blonde girl, returning the good natured grin, and laughter in her green eyes.
“Nor my salary,” guffawed Professor Anderson in agreement. “Wouldn’t you say that stuff there is a little out of your experience level?” he added, indicating the documents in her lap that she had coyly veiled upon his arrival. Dawn Meadows was never known to be much for pleasantries, and he wasn’t falling for it now. She always had her mind on the case, and this would be no different.
The problem was, they were in a plane about to land on a remote island. It was the class journalism field trip where they were going to interview government officials for the local newspaper in a land not known for its appreciation for journalism. The government controlled the flow of information, and in turn, controlled the citizens. Professor Anderson was a lightning rod of a journalist before he landed his cozy gig at the Ivy Ridge Prep Academy for girls. While the most turbulent years of his career were behind him, the thrill of covering revolutions, and exposing corruption always remained near the surface. As a result, he used his experience and contacts in order to influence the Academy to allow him to take his budding sleuths to be, into the field. Due to logistical and legal constraints placed upon him by the administration, and the pressure of fearful parents, the field trips were always carefully plotted out. They were more like controlled experiments. Mr. Anderson got to take his girls out into the field to see the ‘real thing’ of investigative journalism, without any of the real danger.
This was usually the case, but every few years he would get a student like Dawn Meadows, who took more to sleuthing than the others. While her nose for news was born upon her porcelain face, she couldn’t keep her pretty blonde head out of trouble. More days than not, she was landing herself in hot water for sneaking infractions in the Ivy Ridge dress code, slipping her heels off in class, traipsing around the classroom in her stocking feet. All the incidents ended the same, a very sheepish Dawn slipping back into the confines of her shoes, after a careful inspection for runs on her soles, following Professor Anderson’s glare, and the threat of report to the administration.
Thus it was no surprise that her shoes were kicked off haphazardly next to her stocking feet, red painted toenails, wiggling beneath the barely black hosiery. Her pink cheeks filled in a deep crimson as she felt Mr. Anderson’s disapproving glare over her delicate shoulder.
“You trying to get yourself kicked out of Ivy Ridge, Miss Meadows? They’re not going to tolerate that up in the ivory offices of the Rose Tribune, and in order to prepare you to be the professional woman you aspire to become, we’re not going to tolerate in my journalism class,” scolded Anderson.
“But we’re not IN class, Mr. Anderson, we’re on a field assignment!” whined Dawn. She hated wearing the pantyhose, they were hot and itchy, and the heels pinched her poor feet. At least she could kick off the heels.
“Even more important to set a good example. Running around in your stocking feet makes you look like a junior high girl. Nobody takes them seriously, and for good reasons. They think tights are for playtime, and shoes are to be kicked off so they can wiggle their toes and dance around, playing with their hair frivolously. You want to be a serious reporter, you have to dress the part. You were born a lady, so you get stuck with that part in the professional world. That means blouses, skirts, heels, and yes, pantyhose. We’re about to land this plane, and do some serious reporting on a government who up until now, has blacked out the media to its people. Can you look the part and be a serious reporter, or are you going to let yourself get scooped by your classmate, Hannah Hoxley because you couldn’t handle the requirements of being a young lady?”
This schooling had the desired effect. Dawn sighed heavily, and groaned at the mention of her rival classmate, Hannah Hoxley scooping her over something as stupid as pantyhose. She would let the evil garment make her miserable, but she would not let them allow Hannah Hoxley to scoop her. Dawn searched around for her discarded heels with the tips of her stocking clad toes, snaking into them, and sliding her heel in with a pinch and a tiny wince.
“Much better, Miss Meadows. You’re an angelic young woman, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it will be a mighty asset to you in your pursuits in the investigative journalism field. I would have had to be a lot less creative in my days of adventure if I had come naturally equipped with a pair of smooth long legs dressed in room stopping nylons. The doors will open, the mouths won’t stop talking, and you’ll have your story,” chuckled Professor Anderson.
“That said, I can tell when you’ve only been half listening to me the whole time. You can forget about that other case you’re nursing. The little bit I could glean over your shoulder tells me enough that it’s way outside your experience bracket, which in a country like this could lead to you getting kidnapped, injured, or killed,” he added.
“But Professor Anderson, this story is important!” whined Dawn, stomping her heels petulantly, proving she still had some maturing to do.
“They’re all important, Miss Meadows. You can come back and hunt these bad guys when you’re the star reporter at the Rose Tribune. The important thing is making sure you survive that long to make it there. In order to achieve that, we’re going to stick to the field trip as outlined in our class preparation. We’re going to conduct the interviews of the government officials in a safe, and controlled environment where I can supervise the events at hand. It’s plenty of real world experience for a girl your age, and a whole lot safer than wandering around the bamboo jungles of the island. The gangs here would love to get their hands on a white blond girl like yourself. You would catch a fancy sum, only if they decide not to keep you for their own. And that’s only if you don’t wander yourself into a thirst induced expiration first, walking circles in a bamboo maze. If you don’t fancy wringing the sweat from your pantyhose onto your swollen tongue, desperate for any drink at all as you crawl through the heart of an endless bamboo maze, then you’ll be a good girl and stick with the assignment as I’ve detailed it,” warned Professor Anderson.
The plane landed soon after, and Professor Anderson had his hands full getting all the girls organized and rounded up to packed up in the bus to be transported to the capitol building where they would be setting up for the round of interviews. All the girls had their assignments, various officials they had been paired of with in advance by Professor Anderson. He would monitor the progress of the interviews by travelling from room to room and sitting, offering help or advice only when necessary. He wanted this to be a real world learning experience for the girls and the only way to do that would be to allow them to make mistakes and recover from them. In all the chaos, he failed to notice that Dawn Meadows was not on the bus with the rest of her classmates.
As the bus rolled away bumpily on the dirt road through a stretch of wilderness toward the city, Dawn crept out of her hiding spot. Dusting off the sleeves of her shirt and her skirt, she peered around, until she found the spot she was looking for. The small town police station was located at the end of the block.
A lazy ceiling fan twirled about on the ceiling doing its business to work to cool the insufferable humidity that was a daily threat in the village. The fan seemed to be doing its work for a very long time, so long that the blades turning in lazy circles were evidence that even the fan stopped caring. There was little to be done about the heat and humidity, hard working fan or no.
Dawn stood in the threshold of the small police office, noting that there were three officers on duty; one clearly in charge, the other two most likely, his lackeys. While they were all in uniforms, their scraggly appearance indicated a less than formal operation, and left a nefarious aftertaste to the eye. Despite being nervous at their rough appearance, Dawn summoned up her best posture, put on her best smile, and introduced herself.
“Hello… I’m Dawn Meadows… of the Ivy Ridge Prep Academy in New York. I’m here to investigate the drug trafficking story that has been reported in this town,” she began, timidly at first, but gaining in confidence. “I know what you’re thinking, that I’m just a high school girl, but I assure you officers, that I can be essential in cracking this case.”
The three officers all stared at her with a glazed look in their eye. She couldn’t tell if they were stunned by her confidence, or if it was the fact that they did not often get visits from squeaky clean, and primly dressed girls at playing detective. Either way, it was not the reception that she had hoped for. She was not to be deterred.
“If you will just take a look at the preliminary work that I have acquired on the case, you will see that I have come up with a new angle, something the police may have overlooked thus far. Don’t take my word for it though, it’s all right here in my file,” Dawn plowed onward, taking a timid step forward, and extended the folder, politely placing it on the head officer’s desk. The redness in her cheeks revealed that she was nervous about being so forward, but the smile on her face revealed how proud she was to bring this new lead to the local authorities.
The two lackeys maintained their glazed expressions, but at the sound of the folder smacking on his desk, the lead officer, scratched his chin, seemingly appraising this new information, then curiously picked up the folder, and began perusing its contents. Dawn folded her hands behind her back, and rocked on her heels, patient like a good little girl.
“Miss Meadows…” began the officer in charge slowly. Dawn’s green eyes beamed, awaiting his commendation for her due diligence in cracking the case where previously had met a dead end. “This is very interesting detective work. I’m impressed that you were able to piece together the details, filling in the gaps with highly thorough research, for such a young girl…” Dawn’s face burned a deeper red, the credit he was giving her embarrassed her, but her smile broadened. She couldn’t help but swell with pride at being taken seriously despite her age.
“But I’m afraid that I just don’t have the man power to allocate to this right now. Our resources are stretched very thin right now,” he spread his hands in apologetic explanation. Dawn felt like she had been on stage receiving the roaring praise of the crowd, only to have a trap door open beneath her feet. The spotlight went out, and she was left with a heavy feeling in her stomach.
“But…” Dawn stammered, wondering, calculating what were the right words. The three of them had just been sitting around in the police station before she arrived. They might as well have been contemplating when the fan had decided to give up its fight against the humidity. But she held her tongue. She was in their town, and her father had imbued her with a good sense for politics. She had to know there was a place for whining and tantrums, and this was certainly not one of them. Taking a breath, she smoothed her skirt, adjusted the cuffs on her sleeves, and smoothed her long blonde hair, gathering her poise.
“Then consider me at your departments dispose,” declared Dawn with confidence. “I will provide the extra manpower required to solve this case.”
The lead officer seemed to weigh her offer, tasting it, rolling it around on his tongue, pondering if he enjoyed the flavor, or if he just found it ridiculous. With a flick of his finger, he signaled his two lackeys to follow him to a cubicle located in the rear of the office. “Would you excuse us for but a moment, Miss Meadows?” he asked with a gracious yellow-toothed smile. She nodded as the officers leaned in for a private huddle, their whispers too low to be overheard.
The conversation was not long, most of the talking done by the lead officer, and the nods of understanding by the lackeys, followed by the occasional suspicious glance back toward Dawn. While she had no idea what they were discussing, she felt uncomfortable by their leers. A different outfit would have suited her just fine in this less than hospitable part of the world. After a short time, they broke their huddle and returned to the front desk.
“Thank you for your patience, Miss Meadows. I have discussed your willingness to help on the case with my officers, and we are in agreement that your assistance is just what we need to help break the case. One of my colleagues here has a map acquired by a recent raid conducted that shows a secret path through the bamboo jungles surrounding this village that leads to their secret hideout. It is this place, where the drugs are being exported for distribution,” he explained, handing Dawn a rolled up map. She took it into her hands with great wonder.
“Is this bamboo maze… dangerous?” asked Dawn, feeling some of her courage drain and sweat out her damp stockings.
“Only for those who get lost. You needn’t worry. With that map, you will be guided safely and quickly through the bamboo maze. Once you get the pictures we need documenting their distribution site, we will have the evidence we need to get clearance from the higher ups, to do a proper raid on the compound, and clean up the drug trafficking for good,” explained the officer with a reassuring smile.
“I won’t let you guys down!” beamed Dawn proudly.
“I trust you won’t, Miss Meadows. The village is counting on you.”
With that, Dawn headed out from the tiny police station with her trusty map in hand. As she headed for the edge of the village, a young boy came running up along side her.
“Hey pretty lady! Want to buy some stuff?” he asked eagerly as six of his friends joined in, surrounding Dawn. They seemed to materialize out of nowhere!
“Um, no thank you,” Dawn smiled, trying to sound as polite as possible. “I’m afraid that I’m working at the moment. “Perhaps another time?” she added with a guilty shrug.
“Please, pretty lady! We’ve got great stuff that a pretty lady like you would need. Plus it would help us a great deal to put food on the table. Couldn’t you just take a look?” he asked, while his friends chimed in with their own version.
“Well, I suppose I could take a look,” admitted Dawn, feeling guilty at their hard work. A couple of the boys opened burlap sacks and spread the contents on the ground. It was a hideous mismatch of items that seemed to have no specific connection. Some seemed to have no practicality at all. Dawn wrinkled her nose, trying to find something of value, while at the same time, reaching for her purse, which to her surprise, she found, was no longer there!
“Hey! My purse!” she exclaimed in alarm. “Where’s my purse?” she frantically looked around at her waist, at the ground, then at the boys, several of them were no longer around her. “One of you took my purse!” The remaining boys sat on their haunches around their product displays, staring at Dawn like she was a crazy woman. Their expressions were that of pity.
“What’s the problem over here?” a gruff looking villager asked as he made his way over to Dawn’s shouts. Seeing his menacing form, Dawn suddenly felt uncomfortably aware at how many of the villagers had stopped to listen to her hysterics. Their wary expressions did not fill her with confidence and safety. “Is there a problem?” the shady man asked again.
“No… there’s no problem. My purse, I must have misplaced it,” mumbled Dawn, trying to retract her recent outburst. The man grunted, seemed mollified by her murmurs, and went back to his own business.
“What would the pretty lady like? Here, how about these for the pretty lady from the big City?” asked one of the boys, seemingly undaunted by the events at hand. He rummaged through his pile of junk and proffered what appeared to be a pair of Legg’s nylons, straight out of the 1990’s. Dawn could not help but chuckle at the ridiculousness of finding them here in this village. They had to be the only pair within 100 miles that weren’t already on her legs. She could only surmise how they managed to end up in this boy’s pile of goods. Despite his proud offer, the LAST thing Dawn needed in a place this hot and muggy was another pair of hosiery.
“Thank you, but I’m afraid that I don’t have any money for those,” she declined as politely as possible.
“How about that?” asked the boy, excitedly pointing at her water bottle.
“This?” replied Dawn, shocked. “Oh no, I need this for… in case I get thirsty. I’m taking a… hike,” covered Dawn quickly, noticing that she was again attracting the attention of the menacing looking man and the other villagers.
“But the pretty lady has a map, that will make sure her trip is fast, real fast, won’t need the water like we do in the village. Bottle water real nice, better than money! Pretty lady from the Big City can have tights, like the pretty ladies on TV,” smiled the boy convincingly.
Dawn realized the stupidity of trading her only bottle of water for a 20year old pair of stockings, moments before heading into a bamboo forest, but the pressure from surrounding villagers felt strangely dangerous. It was fast becoming obvious that she was far from home and feeling very vulnerable all of a sudden. Staying behind from the rest of the field trip was starting to seem like a really bad idea. Survival instincts told her to take the young boy up on his trade. After all, she did have the map. With any luck, she could quench her thirst at the compound.
Nodding her head, she exchanged her precious bottle of water, for the pair of nylons that were older than she was. Mr. Anderson had told her that if she wanted to be a star reporter she had to start by dressing the part. Well, now she at least had a backup pair of hosiery. Isn’t that what every working girl comes prepared with? The boys packed up their junk in their burlap sacks, and disappeared back into the shadows of the village as fast as they had appeared. While Dawn had certainly purchased the public’s peace with her exchange, she still felt their eyes on her warily. She was a beautiful blonde teenage girl from the Big City, groomed and scrubbed to perfection, dressed to imply her means. Why their looks to her were laced with a subtle hostility was beyond her. After all, wasn’t she about to clean up the drug trafficking problem that was plaguing their village? No matter, she would save the day, then ride up on their shoulders in a heroes parade, kicking her long and slender stocking clad legs. Heck, maybe she would even break out the 20 year old pantyhose for the occasion. Either way, this was going to do FAR more for her burgeoning journalism career than some cookie cutter field trip, under the strict control of Mr. Anderson. Suddenly, staying back from the rest of the class suddenly felt like a good idea again.
As Dawn reached the edge of the village, she consulted her map, and continued on the path outlined. True to the map’s indicators, she soon came upon the opening of the bamboo maze. The sight that greeted her was not inspiring. A wooden plank was nailed to a signpost, hammed into the rich soil. In crudely painted letters was a warning: “Caution! Extreme heat and humidity ahead!”
Dawn regarded the warning warily. Dressed in her school uniform of a blue collared sweater, blue skirt, sheer black pantyhose, and black flats, she contemplated the appropriateness of her attire for the dangerous path ahead. Clearly she was overdressed for the occasion, and having traded her water for additional nylons, she suddenly felt ill stocked with the correct items for survival in the bamboo forest. She did have the map, and the police officer assured her that it would guide her on a quick and safe path through the maze. As long as she followed the map, she would be okay. Convincing herself that everything was going to be fine, she plunged forward into the choked entrance of the bamboo maze, reading the map carefully in the slender shafts of light that cascaded through the canopy roof of the tall reeds.
Before she started the journey, Dawn admittedly thought the idea of the bamboo forest being a maze was an exaggeration, but now that she was in the thick of it, she realized that she had vastly underestimated it. It was aptly named. Even with the map, Dawn felt herself second-guessing herself. Each turn seemed to lead to something that followed the map’s indications less and less. With a groan of frustration, Dawn lowered the map, to peer at the aisle of choking green reeds ahead of her, then raised it up again to consult the clearly mixed directions. This map was not easy to read. Certainly not user friendly, and what she was looking at in front of her versus what was indicated on her map was conflicted. The weight and texture of the humidity was not helping things, clearly conflicting with the long sleeves of her sweater, her hair was sticking to her red cheeks and the back of her neck, her shoes were making a squishing sound with each step she took because her nylons had absorbed as much moisture as they could manage, the rest was pooling at her feet, and the buzzing insect in her ear was another irritant she could certainly do without.
“Argh!” screamed Dawn in frustration, throwing down the map. The police officer obviously gave her a bogus map because he didn’t want her to ever make it through the bamboo forest alive, because the cops are on the take with the drug traffickers, and the thought of some upstart city girl prancing in to ruin the flow of money was something nobody could afford. The best scenario would be to let her think she’s helping by sending her off into the jungle where she would become hopelessly lost and never been heard from again. To add insult to injury, the townspeople had to swindle her out of her only bottle of water because they too depend on the money of the drug exports. They must be laughing what precious few teeth they have out of their heads about the stupid Big City girl that swapped her glistening cool water bottle for a pair of crusty old pantyhose on her way into the sweltering bamboo maze! And Dawn Meadows, naïve teenage sleuth that she is, willingly walked right into their trap, blinded by her big plans to be the next star reporter of the Rose Tribune.
The sudden realization filled her empty stomach like a lead weight. She peered around for some sign of inspiration, but in every direction were tight tall walls of green bamboo reeds opening in diverging paths. It all looked the same. Every turn she took, felt like one she had taken before, but never revealed an exit, never led to a cool flowing stream. Dawn looked around for the map that she had discarded in her frustration, but she had kept walking, and now she couldn’t remember which turns she had taken, or even which way was truly back. The foliage had a way of disorienting her, and now she couldn’t even determine her direction.
As she struggled to keep a lid on her panic, she failed to control her temper from boiling over. The stifling heat made the long sleeves of her sweater unbearable, and it itched so horribly against her back and stomach, that she lost control of herself, and frantically stretched and tugged at the sleeves, and squirmed it up over her torso, over her head, making a mess of her matted blonde hair that pasted itself to her overheated red cheeks and the back of her neck. She held the sweater there, dangling from her delicate fingers, it swept the ground, getting soiled as her posture began to sag. She panted like an overheated dog, stepping out of her black flats, placing her stocking feet on the jungle earth. It was just too hot to stay in those dress shoes a minute longer. The truth was, she was just so thirsty, and there was no sign of water anywhere. The thought occurred to her was unbearable, but she would give anything for a drink.
Not even aware, her sweater slipped off the tips of her fingers, forgotten on the jungle floor as she slumped down onto her stocking clad knees. Panting desperately, she licked around her lips, her tongue desperate for moisture, taking it from anywhere her body would give. She reached around pleadingly with her hands, finely manicured nails searching until they found her shoes. Weakly picking them up, she closed her green eyes in disgust and raised the back of the shoe to her parched red lips, tipping it back. A small stream of moisture, freshly squeezed from her saturated pantyhose, flowed over her swollen tongue and down her barren throat. She gagged and coughed. It was a poor substitute for nice, clean bottled water.
Dawn looked down at herself in horror. She was covered by the sheen of perspiration. It pasted her lovely hair to shoulders and bare back. It travelled in small rivers down her neck and between the curves of breasts beneath her soiled white bra. Her flat tummy and back were slick with it, dripping and disappearing beneath the waist of her skirt, and the choking band of her pantyhose, which refused to hold another drop of moisture. She could wring them out and squeeze them dry over her begging open mouth but it did not matter. She might has well have been made of swiss cheese. She was hemorrhaging moisture faster than she could put it back in her body. Droplets of sweat rolled down the lengths of her slender arms as they quivered to hold her body up from toppling over.
Desperate for any reprieve of the choking heat, Dawn reached back, and unzipped the rear of her skirt. The act spent a precious amount of strength and moisture of which she had precious little left. She slumped forward onto her belly, then slithered forth like a snake out of the confines of her blue skirt, leaving her in just her bra and pantyhose. Clawing at the damp earth with her finely chiseled nails, Dawn hoped against hope that she could shed the wretched nylons from her long lean legs before they cooked her for good, alas the vengeful undergarments would not give her up. They hugged her slick long legs, hips, and rear the way her bra made it difficult to draw breath (she never remembered it feeling so tight), the way her hair pasted the bare flesh of her back, shoulders, neck, and cheeks, and forehead. Dawn crawled away, but she could not escape from her hosiery, her panties, her bra, her hair.
The sweat stung her green eyes, and she found it difficult to keep them open. She wiped away at them with fingernails now caked underneath by dirt as she pulled herself along the bamboo jungle floor. Each limb tried to do it’s part, arm, leg, arm, leg, each trying to do its best when the other couldn’t do enough. It was futile, and without knowing where she was going in the bamboo maze, Dawn’s limbs seemed to decide upon what she could not with her pretty blonde head in a haze of delirious thirst. She needed a cool drink of water that didn’t come from the bottom of her shoe. She needed to dress more appropriately for these little outings of hers. She needed to learn to not be so trusting of the locals, especially when they’re all in the pockets of the very drug traffickers she’s trying to take down. She needed to remember that a bottle of water for a pair of vintage nylons is NOT a fair trade when getting ready to head into a deadly bamboo maze. She needed to figure out why her thirsty delirium was causing her to have such strange hallucinations!
Dawn had precious little time to ponder the foolishness of some of her most recent decisions that brought an abrupt end to her young career of sleuthing. As she transferred her final fluids to her greedy soiled pantyhose, her body gave out a dehydrated parch.
…Months later the skeleton of a teenage girl was found face down in depths of the bamboo jungle. She was on her stomach in mid-crawl. Stranger still was she was still dressed loosely in a white bra with matching panties, and a soiled and wrinkled pair of sheer black pantyhose, loosely stretched up over the bony legs.
The drug trafficking was continuing on with splendid success, thanks the combined efforts of the local police and villages in thwarting the nosy meddling of very naïve and stupid girl from the Big City.