Grand Facade

by Fool

Read the previous part by clicking here.

Chapter Eight

The machine was an outdated one. Years ago, G. Limited had gone into the business of making mannequins, and under the direction of its founder Oberon Fip, the company had developed a wide variety of methods of transforming its subjects before finally adopting one standard practice. The advantage of that method was its flexibility, both literal and figuratively. Latter-day G. Limited mannequins retained some degree of their former mobility, though naturally not under their own power. Not only could they could be posed easily without the need of installing complex pivot points, which did away with the necessity of disassembling the figures into modular components, but they could also be utilized for other, more libidinous purposes. As soon as the process was standardized, the earlier methods were retired, and their equipment put into storage.

The retirement, though, was not taken as a condemnation. While one method did ultimately prevail, the others did have their own particular rewards, which is why the equipment was left in storage and not simply junked.

One never knew when something might come in handy, after all.

Two porcelain toyboys carried in a struggling Gregor Andolin while a third followed closely behind. They had taken the older machine out of storage the previous day and gone over it to make sure it still worked properly. It had originally been built by the Prodigal, however, so the automatons knew they were dealing with quality, and they were proven right. Thirty years of disuse had hardly affected the device at all. It was just a little dusty. The toyboys in front held Gregor helplessly in the air while their companion set the mannequin-makerís controls. It was a large, bulky machine, resembling in a way the kind of automotive vehicle crusher one sometimes finds in junkyards. Squarish in design, with numerous controls and pressure valves on the sides, the machine was hinged in two, with both the upper and lower portions indented with rough humanoid outlines in their flat inner surfaces. Screaming, crying for mercy, the automatons pulled Gregorís yellow robe away from him and placed him naked into the bottom outline. Using built-in straps, they bound his wrists, ankles, and head into place. The top half of the machine hovered above the former casino manager threateningly.

"No! Nooo!. I swear . . . it was all Violaís fault! Please, let me go!"

The smooth, emotionless faces of Paddockís toyboys were unaffected by Gregorís screaming. The automaton at the controls adjusted the set of dials in front of him determining measurements. As his cold hand turned one indicator, Gregor saw the outline above him shrink slightly and felt the one he was trapped in move to match it. The material surrounding the outlines was supple, extremely elastic. Gregor felt it tighten around him, pressing closer and closer against his flesh. Gradually, the fit became awkward; the outline had gone from a rough approximation of the human form to one very precisely feminine. The automaton worked from pre-determined parameters: 36D-22-36, with a height of about 5í7". Gregor didnít fit this shape at all; while the top outline looked good, he was uncomfortably squeezed in the bottom half and still overflowed out of most of it. When everything was finally ready, a lever was pulled, and the machine began to swing closed. Gregorís screams could be heard right up until the last moment the mannequin-maker sandwiched shut.

Gregor was immediately enclosed in a tight, suffocating darkness. Pressure was on all sides of him, and for a moment he couldnít breathe. Then the full outlined bubble he was in ballooned outward again to match his greater size, and the fit became more comfortable. A rubbery texture still covered every inch of his skin, though, and it was impossible to move. He felt like he was cocooned.

Outside, one of the toyboys twisted a knob of a release valve. The sound of liquids flowing filled the air. Another set of controls was adjusted.

A sudden pressure built against Gregorís mouth. A tube bulged inward and forced itself past his lips. He choked, but oxygen was still coming in from somewhere. A similar pressure began under his butt, and a moment later another tube was inserting itself into Gregorís anus. The equipment was lubricated, but it was still mildly painful. Fluids began pumping their way into his body. Another liquid began seeping in through the walls of the surrounding bubble, too, dampening Gregorís skin and soaking in. The fit was so tight he couldnít even struggle. He couldnít budge an inch.

On a screen on the outside of the machine, two animated outlines appeared side-by-side. One matched the specifications the toyboy had dialed into the device earlier. The other matched the general contours of Gregorís overweight, masculine frame. The automaton at the controls watched a meter showing fluid intake of the subject. As soon as they began reaching capacity, he began turning a large dial underneath the screen. Slowly, marginally at first, the second outline began to mold itself to the proportions of the first.

Inside, the pressure on all sides of Gregor subtly increased. It was especially prevalent around his hips and chest. The material felt like it was shrinking, wrapping itself even tighter against his body. Oddly, though, it wasnít at all painful. In fact, almost all of the discomfort Gregor had been feeling had gone away. He was being squeezed, crushed even, into a shape that wasnít his own, but all he felt was a warmth, both inside and out. The liquid on the outside and the liquid on the inside had kind of counter-balanced against each other. Gregor felt like a jellyfish, in a way, with fluid both inside and out and his body flowing according to their combined movements. Even the fear had gone away. He suspected the various chemicals had a tranquilizing effect.

He felt very dreamy.

Another pressure built between Gregorís legs, and he felt something wrapping itself around his equipment down there. They were pushed ever tighter against his body, and, as other portions of Gregorís body expanded, so these parts slowly shrank.

The re-shaping took about forty minutes. While the process was going on, the other two toyboys readied the vat. They carried it over and put it next to the machine. This had been part of the problem with the original set-up. It was too bulky, and multiple stages had to be employed. Later G. Limited methods had been more streamlined.

They could not, however, have so completely transformed Gregor. Mrs. Paddockís specifications had been clear. She wanted a female mannequin, and no other.

By the time the automatons had finished filling the tub up with plasticizing agent, Gregor was ready to come out. The third toyboy pulled back the main lever, and the machine sandwiched open again. The molding outlines had returned to the 36D-22-36 measurements earlier programmed into the device, but now Gregor fit those proportions perfectly. Two round, lovely breasts bloomed in the center of his chest, his waist was nicely snug, and his hips were smooth and lovely. A blank, featureless skin-colored plate covered his diminished sex and blended superbly with the natural indentation formed there. Even Gregorís face had been rendered more feminine, and only the complete lack of hair anywhere on his body would have kept him from being confused for a woman.

His eyes stared forward in a blind gaze.

Someone looking at Gregor would immediately think of a mannequin, but that process wasnít complete yet. The toyboys picked him up and gently carried him over to the vat. The chemicals for it had been stored along with everything else. The top was open, and they slid the reshaped figure past it, allowing Gregor to sink into the unearthly fluid naturally. He bounced gently against the bottom and drifted like a float toy.

They watched him bob up and down impassively. The fluid was a yellowish substance, and it would wash off their porcelain exteriors easily. With Gregor, however, it soaked in, slightly dying his skin an unnatural hue and hardening it considerably. When they pulled him out after a few minutes, he glistened like a glazed ham.

The automatons carried him over to a worktable and laid him flat against it. Gregor dried quickly and developed a very artificial sheen. When one of the toyboys tested his new texture by tapping against his breasts, the sound produced was the same one tapping against any other hard plastic surface would make. All Gregor continued to feel, though, was an extremely comforting sense of warmth. He was totally at peace.

The equipment had been laid out in advance. The toyboys used their drills and saws with expert precision. Within minutes they had Gregor completely disassembled in front of them. The quartering did nothing to disturb the mannequinís cozy mood. They installed the mechanical joints, reattached the limbs, and tested their mobility. The automatons were satisfied, and inside of an hour Gregor was ready to be sent to the shop.



"Come in, Gail. Come in." Craig beckoned from inside his office, and Gail, standing in the doorway to the suite, felt a by-now familiar pulse from her Controllers. She followed their direction and sat down in the seat in front of his desk. It was littered with papers.

"I apologize for not taking a more personal interest in your stay here, Gail," Craig said, his eyes lingering along the fishnet nylons of her waitress uniform, "but itís been an unusually eventful past couple of days." He gestured at the papers in front of him. "I havenít even started on all the stuff Gregor left behind." He shook his head and clicked his tongue in mild exasperation. "And I have a meeting later, too."

"Yes, sir," Gail replied softly. It seemed appropriate that she say something demure. It was the right thing to do, and the Controllers rewarded her with the start of another long, slow wave of pleasure. Her breath quickened slightly in anticipation.

Craig put his hands down on the armrests of his chair and stretched his elbows out. "Anyway, itís time we take of you." He leaned back and relaxed, appraising her. He studied her for a long moment, then said matter-of-factly, "Weíre going to let you go, Gail. Weíll have a car here to take you home in just a few minutes."

She started. "What? You canít . . . I mean . . . ." She paused, her thoughts racing ahead of the Controllers for once. "Tha . . thank you?" She was bewildered.

They were going to let her go? After all that she had seen . . . after all they had done to her? Craig waved a hand, distracting her.

"No problem. Itís something of a policy here at the casino with potential employees." He laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back even further in the chair. There was a smug expression on his face. "Tell me, howíd you liked your stay here at the Grand Facade? Tell me the truth."

Pulse. "Itís . . . itís hard to describe, sir." It took all of Gailís willpower to keep her hands away from her crotch. She gently bit her lip. "You . . . kidnapped me, but . . I . . . I . . feel so good now." She had to say it; she had to tell the truth. "What youíve done to me . . . itís wrong, but . . . it feels so good." Gail closed her eyes. "And I hate you."

Craig nodded. He had expected something like that. "Why do you hate me?"

"I . . ." Pulse. She had to respond. "I . . never used to feel this way. I . . canít go back."

He looked at her, waiting.

Gail opened her eyes, pleading. "You . . . youíre sending me home?"

Craig laughed softly and reached over to pat Gail on the hand. "There, there, donít worry about it. Most of the people we recruit feel the same way." He stood up and came around the side of the desk. "What we do here ruins a lot of people for freedom."

He sat at the side of the desk and looked out momentarily at the casino beyond the floor length window behind his chair. It showed the usual frenzied scene. Up until a few minutes ago Gail had been down there serving drinks.

"Do you like working here, Gail?" he asked.

"Yes . . no . . I . . ." She had to collect her thoughts, they were moving so fast.

"Canít make up your mind?" Craig took her hand again and petted it. Each stroke generated a reciprocal pulse from the Controllers, and she moaned slightly. "Well, thatís why weíre sending you home. Itíll give you time to think about it."

He gently pulled Gail to her feet. He looked her straight in the eye, suddenly uncompromising.

"No one will believe anything you say against the Grand Facade, you must know that, so donít even bother. What I want you to do is think about your future here with us."

She opened her mouth to say something, and Craig put a finger to her soft lips.

"Shhh. Listen. Weíll give you a week. If you donít want to come back, thatís fine." He put his hand under her chin and lifted it up condescendingly. "But if you do come back, thatís it, you have to know. Youíll be our property to do with as we please."

Gail shuddered, frightened, though unsure of the source of her fear. She wanted to go home, didnít she? Didnít she?

"Do you understand?" he asked. "Youíre free . . . totally free. But if you come back, your ours, then and forever." He let go of her and laughed again. He pressed a button on his intercom. "Gail will be leaving us this afternoon," he said into it. "Have someone take her uniform, get her some clothes, and take her home, please."

Gail began to moan slightly. She didnít know why.

"Do you understand, Gail?" He waited until she nodded, fitfully. "Then you can go, Gail. Shut the door on your way out, please." Craig returned to his desk, picked up a pen, and began looking for someplace to wade in. The pulses from the Controllers had faded, Gail realized as she left. At about just the same time as Craig had told her she was free, the pleasure pulses from her special underwear had stopped.

Completely, utterly, they had stopped.

The door slammed hard, but just before it did, Craig was sure he heard the girl crying.



Barbara waited, strapped down to the table, and trembled.

Sami had escorted her down the labyrinthine corridors of the Facade to a white-tiled laboratory. It had been outfitted like a surgical suite - operating table, trays of wicked looking metal instruments, gas canisters, and other similar ware. In a bright but somehow lackingly cheerful voice that Barbara remembered from a life before the casino, Sami had Barbara hop up onto the table and wait motionlessly as she tied her down. Only after she was firmly held did her sister remove the control collar.

"The Prodigal will be with you in a moment, maíam," Sami had said, smiling blankly. She had turned to go, but Barbara called out to her one last time.

"Sami, wait . . . please. You canít do this to me!"

The maid had just looked at Barbara. "Is there something I can do for you, maíam?"

"Yes, please . . . let me go." In her mind, Barbara could see this closed door, seemingly at the end of a long and dark corridor. If she could only open it, everything would be all right again. If she could only get her to remember, it would all be over.

"Iím afraid I canít do that, maíam. I have my orders." A vacant smiled flashed.

"But Iím your sister! Please, youíve got to remember."

Sami had turned her head quizzically to the side. "Sister, maíam? My sisterís name is Sasha. We both serve Mr. Lockridge." She straightened up then, her eyes frighteningly blank and beautiful. "Will that be all, maíam?"

"Sami! Sami!"

The maid had left then without waiting for an answer, and Barbara had begun sobbing. She pulled at the restraints holding her down, but like every other implement of confinement at the Grand Facade, they were unbreakable. She was firmly trapped.

Within minutes pounding footsteps started coming down the hall. Barbara tensed, anticipating only horror, and horror came. The door to the laboratory opened suddenly, and a monstrously huge creature stumbled into the room, hooting and drooling like a madman. Barbara screamed and tried to pull away, and the Prodigal put his pudgy hands to his small, almost invisible ears, hidden as they were beneath vast mounds of flesh. He was dressed in a parody of surgical scrubs, complete even to the mask covering the bottom portion of his face. His beady little eyes bounced around the room randomly.

"Noise bad," the beast muttered in a surprisingly high and girlish voice. "Voice wrong."

His eyes finally settled on one of the gas canisters. The Prodigal went over to it and wheeled the contraption closer to the table. Barbara kept screaming uncontrollably, caught in a complete panic at the sight of the huge monster whom Stan had contracted to work on her. Images of what had been done to Viola filled her mind. At the same time, the Prodigal had all the proportions of a gorilla, and he fumbled around the room like a bull. The thought of him holding a scalpel and cutting into her was unthinkable, like being operated on by a chimpanzee. Finally, though, Barbara screamed because that was all she could do. Hers was a shout of terror built up from the first moment she and Alicia had been grabbed by the Andolinsís maids. It was primal, all-consuming.

She could feel her sanity cracking.

The Prodigal clumsily attached a transparent plastic mask to the tube running from the canister. He twisted the knob at the top of it, and put the mask over Barbaraís nose and mouth. He had to grab her hair to hold her still long enough to do it. The gas was cold and soothing. Despite her fear, Barbaraís struggles slowed down and finally ceased. Her panic faded. Her eyes began to grow heavy. The Prodigal leaned over her and turned Barbaraís face side to side, examining her features. He hooted and grunted incoherently.

"Work ready, work ready," Barbara dimly heard. The operating room was already turning dark. "Best work, finish work. Youíll see . . . youíll see."

Barbara went to sleep. The escape door dominated her dreams.

When he was sure she was completely out, the Prodigal picked up the first surgical instrument on the tray next to him. There was a lot of work to be done.

He had a job to finish.

Bent forward and hooting lightly, the Prodigal brought his scalpel up and began.



Like many of the casinos in Las Vegas, the Grand Facade had its own share of in-house stores. Considering the scale of the resort, these particular shops were very prominent in their respective fields, including outlets seen previously only on Rodeo Drive in the real Hollywood. Gregor was sent to one of the fancy dress salons.

The visual merchandiser on duty was completely unaware of the true nature of his employers. He was therefore equally unaware of the nature of the subject he was working with. This was deliberate; if the VM failed to recognize Gregor as someone who had recently been mannequinized, then probably no one else would either. On the other hand, if he did, then there would still be time to make adjustments . . . only then the store would have two new mannequins instead of just the one.

The first thing the merchandiser did was prepare the industrial-strength cosmetics Gregor would need in his new position with the casino, which were closer to paint than they were to real makeup. Gregorís lips were painted a light red with a thin brush, and a touch of mascara was added around his (her?) eyes. A hint of blush was used to bring out the mannequinís prominent cheekbones. The brunette wig later glued to the top of Gregorís bald scalp went even further in adding dimension to her transformation. Tied back in a tight bun, with large-framed and attractive glasses put into one hand, Gregor successfully made the leap from corporate bigwig of one type to corporate power-broker of quite another.

Being a mannequin feels very nice, Gregor thought. It was difficult to frame her (his) mind around that idea, though, everything being so warm and comfortable, and soon she gave up. Thinking was unimportant anyway.

Mrs. Paddock came by the store window display later in the day to see the changes she had had wrought. The new mannequin was seated casually at a small desk, an empty coffee cup placed nearby. One hand held up the attractive glasses to her face while the other rested casually at the desk surface. Her nyloned legs were modestly crossed and prominently displayed the designer shoes she wore. She displayed just the right combination of style and serious corporate attitude.

Warmth . . . comfort.

In the old womanís opinion, Gregor had never looked better.



Stan sat on his suiteís balcony and looked out over the Las Vegas skyline. He sipped whiskey and thought back about how his life had changed. A friend of a friend years ago had given him a G. Limited business card. That was how it had all started. "Call these guys," he had said. "They do things no one else can." And boy, was he ever right.

Sami came out onto the balcony holding a tray. "May I freshen your drink, sir?" she asked politely. She wore only the panties and fishnet stockings of her maidís uniform. Her skin and hair, beautiful before, now virtually glowed since she had been treated. He could almost see the Controllers throbbing inside her, constantly reinforcing his dominance of her. He had enjoyed seeing her put them on.

He stood up, and Sami put the tray down. Stan reached around her and cupped his maidís tight bottom in his hands, squeezing hard. He pulled her against his chest, and she wrapped her silken arms around his neck. Her bare breasts pushed up against him, deliciously warm and firm. They kissed, and he could hear her moaning with muted desire.

Stan looked his property in the eyes.

"You love being my slave, donít you?" He chuckled, reveling in his power.

"Yes, sir." Her every thought - not that she had many of them now - centered on him.

"Call me master."

"Yes, master." She licked at his lips and pressed herself tighter against him. He began pushing her forward, and still in each otherís arms, they left the balcony for the privacy of his suite.



Craig nervously clenched and unclenched his free hand. Despite the chill in the air provided by the museumís powerful air conditioners, his palms were still very damp. He walked down the middle aisle of the displays, his eyes trailing the frozen figures and attempting unsuccessfully to tell the real statues from the transformed subjects.

He stood in front of a display showing a scene from West Side Story. At a guess, Craig supposed the wax figures of George Chakiris and Rita Moreno were real, but the ones of all the other dancers he wasnít as sure about. They were all so amazingly lifelike, if he hadnít known better Craig would have thought all of the statues had once been human beings. Mrs. Paddock took a great deal of pride in her work, in her love of wax, and there was no easy way to tell the difference between the statues she had made from scratch and those she had transformed into a like material. The manager wiped his hand against his trousers and shifted the briefcase from one to the other.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Cleopatra . . . he was sure they were just dummies, but what about all those other half-naked slaveboys and slavegirls surrounding them? Craig thought he recognized one of the faces.

"What does you think of me work?"

Craig jumped, turned around, and saw Mrs. Paddock standing next to him. For a moment he thought it had been Liz speaking to him. "Uh . . I like it," he said lamely. "Itís . . itís really real." He smiled and wiped his sweating hands against his pants again.

"Ha," Mrs. Paddock croaked. "Youse young persons haves no respects for traditions. Waxworksíre very old, very fines. I know." She looked up at Craig suddenly, adjusting her glasses. She reached out a bony hand and gripped him by the jaw, lifting his face up.

"Youse has a nice profiles, Misters. Lots and lots of possibilities." She smiled wickedly.

"Ahhh . . . here are those papers you wanted to see, maíam," Craig said haltingly, fumbling through his briefcase. He had turned very pale and was trembling.

Paddock let go of Craigís face, looked him up and down speculatively, then turned and started walking down the museum aisle. "Letís talks in the living room." Craig nervously followed into the small antique room. "Sits downs while I gets us somethinís to drink."

"Yes, maíam." He looked around, spotted a section of the couch that wasnít overflowing with trashy ornaments, and sat down there. The room was tiny and looked like it had been dragged wholescale from another time and country. It had a polished wood floor, oriental carpets, and a whole set of dishes, figurines, and other collectibles scattered around on shelves and small tables. The place was so crowded Craig felt that if he sneezed he might knock something over . . . and he didnít think that would be a very good thing for his future. Paddock came back after a minute with a tea tray and set it down on the coffee table. "Howíds yous takes your tea? One lumps or three?"

She cackled at the wit of her rhyme.

"Uh . . ah, one, please, maíam." Craig eyed the sugar cubes and tea suspiciously, praying that something extra hadnít been added to it. His teeth chattered.

Paddock took her own cup and sat back in the antique rocking chair set in the middle of the cluttered chamber. She cackled again, her voice as dry and desolate as a salt flat.

"You canís drinks, Craig. Itís safes." She took a sip of her own tea to satisfy him. "I couldna used you in the display anyways. Youse too thin."

"Tha . . thank you, maíam." Craig still took a hesitant sip of his drink, still half-expecting to feel a frozen warmth settling into his bones. The cup chattered in his hands, and he tried with all his might not to stain anything.

"Besides . . . lotís aí new subjects will be arriviní soon." She laughed madly.

"Re . . . ah, really?"

It took a moment for the old woman to settle down. "Letís gets down to the brass tacks," Mrs. Paddock said, not answering his question but waiting until he put his cup down. "Gives me the rundowns." She took up the needlework from beside her.

"Yes, maíam." Craig cleared his throat and went through the list of papers in his hands. "First off, the important properties are now all in your name. You are now officially the head of G. Limited, Aegean Fragrances, and the Bellisar Theatrics Company. Uh . . the majority of the stock in Facade Enterprises is yours, too." Craig shuffled further through the documents. They would never be seen in any real public office, but it was the form that was important, not the substance. "I have a list of all the Club members separated by country and indexed according to their previous purchases. Everything is itemized."

Paddock grunted her acknowledgment. Her fingers pulled at the strings of yarn.

"Uh . . all together, the net of the umbrella organizations, including Club purchases over the last one hundred years, is just over four billion dollars." Craig cleared his throat again. "Ah, I can have an exact figure for you in a few hours."

The old woman waved a negligent hand. "The moneyís nots importants. Nevers has been. Tells me abouts the others."

Craig turned to his notepad. "The Avatar and Dire families have each pledged their loyalties. Albert Avatar is still nominally running G. Limited in the absence of Mr. Fip. Should we do anything about that?" Craig hoped not; he liked Albert.

Paddock shrugged, and so Craig took that as a no. He plunged on.

"We have been unable to contact any of the names you requested. These, ah, other Dancers seem to have disappeared along with the doctor." He hesitated a moment, then plunged in. It had to be said. "Maíam . . . are you sure itís wise to be making all these changes without checking with your, uh, fellows?"

He was afraid she would stop and snap at him (One of the hazards of conducting a board meeting with crazy people, he thought), but surprisingly Paddock didnít stop her knitting, and her voice was calm when she replied. "The Spokesmanís not cominís back, at least nots in your lifetimes, but if he does, weíll haves the times to deals with it. As for the others, well, theyílls jumps on boards just as soons as they sees what weíre doiní here."

He looked at her questioningly.

She shrugged. "Or nots. It doesníts matter eithers way." She paused momentarily and drifted her hand over a teak chest next to her. "I haves me insurances."

"Yes, maíam."

Without looking up at him, Paddock continued to talk to her assistant. "Dids you drops by the storeís window today? Donít Gregor look fine?"

"Uh, yes, ah, I wouldnít have recognized him." He closed his notebook.

"His positionís up and open now, isnít it?" Paddock asked innocently.

"Yes, maíam."

"Does youse have any recommendations for the jobs, Craig?"

"Ah, well . . . that is . . . ." He pulled at the tie around his throat, it suddenly seeming to tighten up.

Paddock laughed and stopped her knitting and rocking. She met Craigís gaze. "Itís is yours, if youse wants it." She held out a bony claw. "Welcomes to the Cirque."

Craig blushed and gripped Paddockís hand, hating the feel of her desiccated flesh. He tried not to let it show. "I wonít let you down."

She gave him an evil glance, and the roses on his cheeks faded almost as fast as they had appeared. "Youse better nots, Craig. Youse better nots. Remembers Gregor, after alls."

She began to cackle again like a Shakespearean witch.

"I wonít let the casino down maíam," he repeated while she laughed. He was very earnest. "I promise." His hands bunched together almost as if they were in prayer.

And all Mrs. Paddock did was laugh and laugh and laugh.



Early evening darkened the Las Vegas skyline, and Stan returned to the balcony to watch the neon lights come on. From where he was standing, he could see almost the entire Strip, from the MGM lion to the pirates of Treasure Island.

God, he loved Las Vegas.

He called back behind him. "Sami, bring me another drink." Stan turned to the streets below him and watched all the little people going on about their lives. They had no idea what was coming. Paddock had shared some of her plans with him when they had been discussing the Andolins a few days ago, and he was looking forward to seeing them play out. He had already made an investment in her future, and if things worked out the way he thought they would, he would have his pick of maids, slaves, and statues for the rest of his life . . . a very, very long life. And Barbara . . . although he couldnít keep Viola, Barbara would make a dutiful little ballerina all for him. Owning all three Carter sisters would be a dream come true.

And to think . . . it all stemmed from making one simple telephone call just a few short years ago. It sure put things into perspective.

He heard Sami open up the screen door behind him and step out onto the balcony. She was a wonderful girl, and she made for a very pleasant afternoon.

Stan started to turn around, and thatís when the cold, snub-nosed pistol rammed itself up against his nose. A hand grabbed him by the back of his neck and pushed his face down to the guardrail. He heard a loud click as the hammer of the pistol was drawn back.

"Hi Stan," Hiram Cross said, looking down at him. "Remember me?"

The detective didnít look very happy.



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