Note from the author : The base of this story is real, at the 1996 Brussels motorshow, Ford used a sexy crash test dummy for its publicity. Most of the publicity was made with either drawn versions of Claudia (standees) or a puppet used for the TV commercial. But at the motorshow itself, a woman in a costume was used. Due to the heat and the fact that the backing garment was a diver's wetsuit, she collapsed from heat exhaustion.


By Rotwang

Kathy entered the great hall left of the main complex of pavilions. She entered the world of Ford cars. As she passed the doors, she looked upon a few dozen gleaming cars spread out inside. She was greeted by Peter and the main representative, Mrs Maele, and followed her backstage. On a table to her left she saw Claudia's smiling orange head. She dropped her little dark blue backpack and looked at the representative produce the rest of the costume.

"It's pretty warm in here." She remarked.

"It gets a lot warmer when the people come streaming in. During the press review everybody was sweaty. I'm glad I'm not having to wear that suit."

Kathy smiled and sighed slightly. "At least I get a free sauna."

"I'll leave you to get dressed."

Kathy removed her coat and popped off her shoes. She pulled the sweater over her medium length blonde hair and unbuttoned her jeans. Peter handed her the wetsuit. The girl struggled into the tight orange suit and zipped it up, all the way to her neck. It fitted snugly, tailored to a woman's body. She tied her hair back and fitted a small hairnet over it and then put on the black and silver neckpiece, which looked and felt like a neck-brace. Then followed the waistpiece, which fitted nicely to her sides, tucking in her belly, like a corset. Then followed the hip-piece, like a pair of stiff plastic shorts, overlapping with the waist-piece. The chest-piece with the small breasts followed, also overlapping with the waist. Kathy felt a bit restricted by it. Then followed the leg pieces, all carefully clicked into place snugly, except for where the screw-holes, dug slightly in her skin. Peter smiled as he fitted an arm piece. "Feel Okay ?"

"Fine !", she smiled.

After fitting the mitten-like gloves, Peter picked up the head on the table and opened it. The upper rim of the jointed neck fitted under the edge of the mask, which hinged at the top, closed over her head.

Kathy bent through the knees and turned the head from side to side. Inside the mask was a small mechanism which enabled Kathy to open and close the black and white chequered eyes, giving the illusion of a blink.

Sitting in the corner of the room, Kathy's dummy double remained impassive as Kathy walked around.

Mrs Maele walked into the back-room and saw no-one there. Neither Kathy or Peter to be seen. She looked near the back of the room and looked into the adjacent corridor. She turned round and noticed Claudia sitting in a chair. She approached the mannequin, but then veered off to the exit again. Suddenly she could heat Peter calling her from the corridor she had just looked in. She opened the door again and looked to see. She walked all the way to the back and felt at the other door. It was locked. Then she heard him again behind the door. The woman turned round and saw the orange mannequin just behind her shouting "boo !"

After about an hour she could laugh with the prank, but Kathy couldn't. The heat in the hall and the nature of the costume began to take their toil. Sweating profusely under the mask she did her best to entertain the guests, demonstrating the various security features of the car she was sitting in over and over again. The end of the demonstration was the worst part, where the half-open car would simulate a car-crash. The car would tilt forward, projecting her forward and an airbag would blow up in her face. Luckily the mask had a permanent smile.

The constant parading round the show and the sweaty heat gave Kathy an intense headache. She could not drink much because it would mean removing the costume later to got to the toilet. The background noise, dulled by the mask to a constant droning and the children and curious adults flocking round her suddenly gave way to total darkness...

As she came by most of the people were gone somehow. In fact, there was no-one around her. She could still hear the faint droning of conversation somewhere in the distance. As she rolled to her side to get up she noticed something peculiar. She stroked the carpeting with her mitten-hand and noticed she could feel the texture through the glove, in fact her entire body could somehow feel the texture underneath. She rubbed her hand against her thigh and felt a hard plastic surface. She got up rather more easily than she had imagined. The costume did not feel as stiff as a suit of armour like it had done all day. She looked round the cars but could see no-one.

She walked backstage and entered the back room. Someone had put the dummy back into the chair. Suddenly, much to her surprise, it moved and she could see blonde locks slip out of the mask. As the smiling mannequin head opened, it revealed a familiar face. Kathy could barely contain a cry of stupor. She stared back at her own face, who smiled back at her. "Had a busy day Claudia ? It was so hot in there I thought I would pass out."

Kathy watched as her double slip out of the costume with ease and began putting on her clothes.

"What are you doing ?" She asked, at the same time she suddenly noticed that her mask's lips were moving with the words.

"I'm getting dressed and I'm going home to take a shower." With these words the double smiled at her and picked up the blue backpack.

"See you tomorrow." She said over her shoulder.

Kathy began twitching her hands, looking for a way to remove the gloves, but she couldn't. Then she tried to find the latch that locked her mask. As she struggled to remove the mask she turned to the mirror. Finally the catch let go and she slipped off the mask. But instead of a face and blonde hair, she saw a mechanism which animated the eyes and the lips, besides that there was nothing else but a void. No place where the rest of her head would fit. The chequered eyes blinked and saw nothing human about herself. She cut the air around the frail mechanism in the vain hope of touching a somehow invisible face. Suddenly she began prying underneath her chestpiece and with a desperate tug yanked it loose. Inside the chest area was little more than empty space and the ball and socket joints of the arms and legs, and some electronics to animate the head. Plastic lips with a white line for teeth, frozen in a permanent smile let go an agonising scream.

"How do you feel ?" The voice was deep and soothing. The grey haired man she saw towering above her, removed the stethoscope from round his neck and looked back at the people surrounding them.

"She'll be fine. The heat and this contraption were too much for her." He said tapping her chest. "I would strongly advise against using it any longer. Look at the inside of it, it's drenched with sweat. Poor girl, you must be dehydrated."

Kathy watched as Mrs Maele tried to apologise. "We'll prepare the dummy for your presentation, and we'll post you at the entrance where you can distribute leaflets. I don't think the doctor would object to that ?"

The man shook his head. "Just as long as she gets plenty of fluids.

"With those gloves she could barely pick up a brick, let alone distribute leaflets." Peter objected.

"Can you modify the costume ?"

"I could spray-paint some washing-up gloves, that should do the trick."

"Fine ! Do you still feel up to the task Kathy ?"

"I feel a lot better now. I'll manage."

"Can you imagine seeing yourself like that in the mirror ?" Kathy looked at her reflection in the windscreen as if to make sure everything was all right.

"Look, Kathy you take a good night's sleep and we'll work something out tomorrow."

"I just wasn't prepared. That's all."

"No it's my fault, I shouldn't have taken a surfing outfit for it, I should've used a ballet-outfit or something light."

"No, I think the suit actually gives it a better overall look."

"Don't bother, next time, I'll make it better."

"Next time I won't wear it !" Kathy laughed.

She thanked Peter for dropping her off at her place and breathed in the fresh evening air. Once inside, she dropped her bag and kneeled as her cat walked in. She began petting it and picked it up and held it in her arms. "Let's see what we can cook up, okay kitty ?"

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed something move behind her, as she looked back, she saw nothing. She resumed caressing the purring cat and kissed it.

As she opened the fridge door she suddenly saw an orange arm reach out and grab her throat. It squeezed hard and began to choke her. Dropping the protesting cat, she struggled against the arm. She slipped out of its grasp and shut the door, throwing all her weight against it. As she looked up she stared straight into Claudia's chequered eyes. She reached out with a paddle-like hand and made a step closer to her. Kathy screamed and ran away, ducking under the mannequin's grasp. She jumped into the bedroom where a plastic woman, kneeling on the bed, was busy stroking the purring cat. Claudia seemed to stare at Kathy. She screamed again and ran through the corridor where she saw another mannequin which suddenly grabbed her.

Kathy pulled open the door of the bathroom and saw that there was no floor. Behind the door there was nothing but darkness which engulfed her.

That morning Kathy couldn't take her mind off the events of last night. She stood on the steps of the pavilion distributing leaflets. At least she felt some of the cool air rushing in through the breathing holes in her mask. Again people flocked round her to see the odd orange robot-like woman. Suddenly she heard shouting behind her and looked back to see the boss himself, followed by Peter and Nadia Maele and half a dozen burly looking men. Before she realised what was going on she was grabbed by the men and hauled to the pavilion. Somehow the inside of the pavilion looked very different since she had prepared herself that early morning. Nothing but empty space, save for one single car. Struggling and protesting, she was strapped forcibly into the passenger seat. She tried to undo the seatbelt, but couldn't release it. Then she sensed the car's forward motion. Faintly at first, but the car gained pace and headed straight for a wall. She screamed out and raised her arms to her face as the wall filled her limited field of vision. Again as if fused with the costume, she felt everything in the impact. The top of her head smashed into the windshield and her face impacted on the dashboard. The rest of the car crumpled up and the motor compartment collapsed inward, crushing her legs and pushing her back into the seat, which itself dislodged with the shock. Stunned and unable to move, she looked back at the people watching. Suddenly she realised she had been thrown onto the hood and tried to pull herself out, but as she looked down the length of her body, she saw the bloody smear and the bloody remains of her hips, severed and crushed. Her body amputated just beneath her ribcage, bled profusely, dangling her entrails. She looked back at the people observing the test-crash and noticed a mirror. Underneath the heavily damaged mask she couldn't see her own face in the glaring light of the projectors overhead.

"Can I have the leaflet please ?" The voice sounded a bit angry and Kathy looked at the man holding out his hand expecting something. Stunned, Kathy let go of the piece of paper and walked as quickly as she could back to the pavilion and into the dressing room. She removed the orange washing-up gloves and opened the smiling mask. Sweat dripped from her forehead and her eyes were swelling with tears. But then a sudden tug on her hair from behind made her jump. The flesh on her face slipped and revealed the smiling Claudia face again. The perpetual smiling lips let go a horrible scream as she watched Peter folding her face into a small suitcase. She reached out and grabbed it. In total horror she stared at her own wrinkled face and she wished her chequered eyes could produce tears. Suddenly she pulled the mask back over her orange face and began dressing herself. She ran to the metro station and jumped into a wagon. As the doors closed before her, she turned to see an empty compartment. Looking in the glass of the fire-extinguisher case, she smoothed out the wrinkles in her rubber face. All the time, she clenched the bar besides as if her life depended on it. Arrived in the grand Central Station, she went to the ticket salesman, but to discover in her horror a robot-woman behind the counter. She ran down the stairs to the nearest platform and jumped on a train, direction home.

Suddenly she noticed the man before her, staring at her, together with the woman besides him and all the people round her. She turned to her right and saw her reflection in the window. Then she looked at her hands and noticed they were orange as the face she had just seen. Cautiously, she stood up and went to the toilet. She stared at Claudia's face in the mirror. She looked down and noticed she had hastily put her clothes on over her dummy costume. She began to undress and sat on the toilet seat, staring at the happy dummy in the mirror. Utterly afraid, she opened the mask and saw with relief her own familiar face underneath. She probed her face to see if everything was allright and let go a sigh of relief. She removed the rubber gloves and put her clothes back on over the costume, left the toilet and went to sit the next compartment.

At home, she undressed herself and threw the costume in a pile in the corner of her bedroom. She collapsed onto her bed and stared at the ceiling. After and undetermined amount of time she crawled out of bed and walked over to the wash-basin. Her swollen eyes and wrinkled face looked as if she had aged twenty years. She plunged her head into the basin and shook her head in the soothing freshness of the water. But the moment when she pulled out her head and stared at Claudia's face in the mirror, she paused for what seemed an eternity. Then, slowly she closed her eyes, turned round and stared down at her body. She looked straight at the black and white sticker between her orange breasts; She ran into her bedroom and saw the pile of orange bodyparts on the floor. She turned round and walked to the door of the bathroom and watched Claudia in the mirror again. Desperate, she slumped into the chair and stared into the distance. The scene of the bedroom suddenly gave way to the backstage area of the exposition hall. Before her she could see Peter talk to Kathy. She had so wanted to be Kathy, but she wasn't, she was only an orange publicity mannequin nicknamed Claudia...

Peter walked into the backstage are, wondering where Kathy was. He saw something odd. He saw Claudia and her human double sitting opposite each other. Claudia was wearing Kathy's clothes, while Kathy sat slumped on her stool in the corner, immobile like Claudia. He called her name, but there was no response. He waved his hand in front of the black and white eyes, but she did not react. He opened the mask and saw Kathy staring in the distance, lethargic, smiling like the mannequin.

"She's somehow convinced she's a mannequin. When asked what she looks like, she told the psychiatrist she was made from orange plastic and had black and white chequered eyes."

"Mr Van Meire, did you see anyone suspect near the dressing-room when you left her there ?"

Peter shook his head. I merely left to go to the toilet, and when I came back she was completely stunned. Only later did I hear that her drink had been spiked with a huge dose of LSD."

The police officer looked down at the report. "Did she have any enemies that you know ?"

"I barely knew her, she was hired by Ford as a model. It was her first real job and she seemed to feel quite happy about it."

The hair in her face suddenly jerked Kathy back to reality. As if she woke from a dream she slowly reached for it and examined it. Then she began examining her hand, expecting an orange hand, she saw one made of flesh. Instantly she felt intense relief, and apprehension. She looked around her and noticed she was sitting on a terrace high above the city. Behind her she heard a voice call her.

"Where am I ?" She asked the nurse who had come to check on her.

Surprised the nurse crouched besides her. "How do you feel ?"

"I feel okay, I guess, what happened ?" She asked still confused.

"You're at the hospital, you OD'd on LSD. You had some pretty wild hallucinations."

"I remember all the trouble with that costume. So it's not real ?"

"No, you're plain Kathy." The nurse smiled reassuringly. "I'm Claudia !" She suddenly exclaimed and ripped her face off, revealing the orange face underneath.

Kathy woke up in her bed, drenched in sweat. Two weeks after the events she still had nightmares about it, every night.

The next morning she rang at Peter's door. "Hi, Kathy, come in, I was having breakfast." He said while hesitating slightly.

"I came to you for a favour." She paused. "It's about ... "

"I know what you mean, but I have some bad news. Someone broke in last night, and stole the costume and the mannequin."

Kathy felt an anxiety attack coming up. "No ! Please, it's not true ! This will kill me if I don't ..."

"There's nothing I could do, I was away and when I returned the plastic foil you see there was a broken window. It's the only thing they took, they didn't touch the VCR or the money."

She slammed her hands on the table. "I must know !"

Peter saw the transition from abject fear to rage. "What are you going to do ? The police found no fingerprints or anything else."

He stood up and crossed his arms, wandering the room. "Do you know anyone who would do this to you ? Anyone ?"

She shook her head, pursing her lips. "No one."

"Let's think motive here. Why would someone try to make you mad ?"

"Beats me !"

"Do you have any inheritance coming to you, or some property ?"

"No, only my parent's house, but there's no problem there."

"Somebody puts LSD in your drink and ..." Peter suddenly paused and looked at Kathy.

"What ?"

"I don't remember giving you water, I had no water with me."

"So someone planted the water to make it look like a hallucination. Now it comes together, I didn't see you personally the second day. I was late and I saw you standing near the pavilion, distributing leaflets. How did you get dressed ?"

"I don't remember."

"I only saw you that evening, when you had freaked out. You looked drugged or something."

"They did find some LSD in me."

"Just enough to warp reality into a nightmare. We'll have to track down where you went."

"The first place we can check is your home, where you had your first hallucination."

"I remember coming home, looking for food for my cat and ... "

"Something wrong ?"

"Yeah, I usually have to let the cat in before I go home and she was in already."

"What did you do next ?"

"I ran away and left the fridge for what it was ... " She paused and then said. "Something's wrong ! I remember watching TV that night !"

"But they attacked you right when you came in ?"

"No I was watching a sit-com. I always watch it on Tuesdays. I'm positive, I had seen the episode before, and there was this smell ..."

"Smell ?"

"I remember now, there was a smell, something peculiar. It's like a sensation of Déja-Vu."

"Describe the smell."

"I don't know, it was like medical or something, not perfume."

"Could be chloroform ?"

"You mean someone drugged me ?"

"Perhaps your hallucinations were more real than you think."

"I know nobody who would do this to me, and why ?"

"Look, get a good night's rest and I'll pick you up tomorrow morning, at ten ?"

"Yeah, we can backtrack everything. I'll go home now. See you tomorrow."

Kathy just finished opening the door when she heard a meow and an embarrassed throat clearing.

"I think this cat's yours, right ?"

Kathy looked to see her cat held at arms length by a smiling young man.

"What were you up to, you little rascal ?"

"He ate most of my dinner, actually."

"Oh, I'm so sorry ! I'll pay you back ..."

"No problem, I don't like frozen dinners really, and this is an opportunity to meet you."

"You're my new neighbour right ?"

"Yeah, Philip Roevens, I'm a computer specialist."

"Kathy Verlinde, Actress, model, dancer ..."

"Pleased to meet you. Can I ... perhaps, ... invite you ... to eat somewhere; since the cat is full of mine and it's getting kinda late to start cooking."

"Trying to get a date ?"

"Forget it, I shouldn't have asked it. My fault really."

"No, don't, you were trying to be nice."

"I'm not really good with women, and the words just ran out of my mouth, before I realised they had escaped." He said while miming the words escaping his mouth.

She smiled warmly. "Have any suggestions on a good place ?"

"And so I finally did computing. Liked it, made some good money with it, and here I am, on my own finally."

"So you do computer graphics now ?"

"Yeah, for commercials, TV and stuff. The thing is it costs at lot less than hiring actors, building sets and filming the whole thing. Besides you can use anything as a character, a car, a table or even a robot or something."

Kathy suddenly paled.

"Is there something wrong ?"

"No, I feel a little tired, that's all."

"I'm boring you, I'm talk, talk, talk and no fun at all."

"No, No, you were very nice, and you've got a good sense of humour."

"I hear this all the time that women like the underdogs, the funny guys, the cute ones, but I usually see them with the big, sporty type guys."

"You're not an underdog !"

"Should've seen me two years ago. Massively overweight, and completely unable to address such a nice girl like you. I'm socially handicapped, actually."

"Socially handicapped ?"

"Kinda, like the movie : "Je suis timide, mais je me soigne", you know, with Pierre Richard ?"

"Yeah, and "Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire." Brilliant movies."

"And then the scene with the globe, where he bounces it on his "bottom", and then it pops like a dream. Brilliant !"

"Thanks for a wonderful evening, I really enjoyed it."

"And thank you for helping me exercise my social skills."

"You should really be more assertive, you're like a little frightened mouse. Get out there or you'll never get to the cheese."

"Thanks, Kathy."

And then she kissed him on the cheek, and shifted towards his mouth.

"So you were standing here ?"

"And they came to get me. I was unable to get away when they strapped me into the car, and sent me crashing into the wall."

Kathy looked apprehensively at the pavilion before her.

"It looked a lot more like the inside of a factory than the exposition hall."

"And then ?"

"I woke up and a man asked me for a leaflet, I went back into the pavilion and then you came as I undressed and you pulled my face off like it was a mask. I snatched it back and panicked. Then, I fled to the underground station to grand central."

"That's where you saw the mannequin behind the counter ?"

"Yes." She swallowed painfully.

"Let's go to the station then."

They walked and descended the steps to the station and waited for the next underground train.

"This is not right, I was in an underground station !"

"What ?"

"Yeah, it was dark and underground, not here."

"But if you finished at six, it would've been dark outside."

"No it was underground I'm sure."

"You could me mistaken. In your state it may have been one more illusion."

"I don't know, Peter, I just want to go home, I don't feel too good."

"Hi, Kathy, how are you ?"

Philip nodded to her as he opened the door to his apartment.

"Look, I don't feel too good and I ..."

Kathy looked inside and suddenly dropped everything and began to scream. Philip rushed to her side to see a life-size poster of an orange female crash-test dummy.

"Take it away ! Take it away !" She screamed hysterically.

Philip grabbed the poster hung inside the door and crumpled it up.

"Take it away !" She continued screaming.

He took it and stuffed it in his wastebasket, put it on the kitchen table and dropped a few burning matches in it. Soon a yellow flame erupted over the edge.

"Calm down, it's only a picture, nothing special."

"It's her ! She's here, she ..."

Kathy could no longer speak and Philip held her and hushed her for a long time.

"Feel better yet ?" He asked, standing near her bed.

She dropped her limp arm on her forehead and looked at him. "I'm sorry, I've been under a lot of pressure lately."

"You freaked out when you saw the drawing, something wrong ?"

"Yeah, I've had some terrible experiences because of it."

"I used to be afraid of clowns when I was little, and there was this doll, which terrified me. And it was nothing really special or odd."

"But that was when you were little. Ever since I was hired by Ford to do a demonstration dressed like it, I've had wild hallucinations ever since. For a while I was going mad."

"A friend of mine freaks out when he sees dolls and stuff. He once saw people dressed like old porcelain dolls when he was little and he's still scared of it. There's no shame in being afraid. I can imagine that costumes like that are like suits of armour, restrict your movements and make you claustrophobic."

"No, it's not that, someone drugged me. They found LSD in my water."

"Who would do something like that ?"

"That's the whole problem, nobody I know would do that, and I can't think of a reason why."

"Sherlock Holmes once said that if you take away all the possibilities, what is left, must be the absolute truth, however unplausibe it may be. Or something along that line."

"Peter is already helping me."

"The guy who waved you goodbye in the elevator ?"

"Yes, he's the make-up artist who designed the costume."

"He's a good friend then ?"

"I don't know him that well, but he offered to help me."

"Want any breakfast ?"

"And then the last hallucination was on the roof of the hospital, since then, nothing."

"Could it be revenge from your employer, that Van-thingy woman ?"

"Why ?"

"You almost gave her a heart attack."

"That's hard to swallow."

"Yeah, it would be like blowing up a candy factory for one bad sweet out of a few million."

"Perhaps people saw you on the train. You remember taking the train, perhaps if we find out when you took it, the controller may certainly remember you, if you were still wearing the costume then."

"But why didn't he ask my ticket then ?"

"Perhaps Mannequins can ride for free ?"

Philip and Kathy stood before a ticket vendor at the train station.

"Four controllers were on the line that day, not including those from the NS."

"Could we have their phone numbers or something ?"

"I'm not here to give information like that, perhaps if you asked the chief ?"

Philip knocked on the door of the station master and heard the reply: "Come in."

"Hello, We're looking for the controllers who served on the line from here to Brussels on the 14th of January."

"Why would you want to know ?"

"The girl you see here needs to know."

"Did anyone mention seeing an orange mannequin in a train that day ?"

The man looked at them and frowned. "Yes, Frank told me he had seen something like that, but I can't give you his phone number. By the way, this is not a prank or something ?"

"It's a very sick joke actually, she was at the car-show in Brussels and was supposed to play that mannequin. But someone drugged her and is trying to make her mad; Ask the police."

"If it's that serious, I could perhaps tell you where to find him. A moment please."

The master went away and a few moments later came back with a sheet with a complicated roster on it.

"Looks like you just missed him. But he'll be back in about three hours."

Frank scratched his head under his cap and nodded. "Yes, I remember seeing her, she had an orange face and looked like those dummies they use to test cars with."

"Didn't you ask her ticket ?"

"No, because a man told me she was with him, and his train-ticket was okay."

Kathy looked at Philip, who smiled back at her."

"What did he look like ?"

"I think he had a beard, and a leather jacket I think."

"Anyone you know ?"

"Besides from an old teacher of mine, I can't think of anyone."

"Now we need to know who was behind the counter when you looked for a ticket."

The grey haired man rubbed his moustache and took another draft from his pipe.

"If the roster's right, it was Michelle's shift."

"Where is she ?"

"I'm afraid she's on vacation."

"Could you please give us a phone number or an address ?"

"If the Antwerp station master vouches for you, I could give it to you."

The man went to a filing cabinet and pulled out some brown folders and noted down something on a note-pad.

"Here, good luck with your investigation."

The older, Brussels townhouse with its chipped paint looked cheerful with all the nice drapes at the window and the vines climbing along its walls.

"Mrs Vandeputte ?"

"Yes, What is it ?"

"We wanted to know if you noticed something special at your job, on the 5th of January ?"

"No, I didn't ... What for ?"

"Did you see a woman, wearing a mask, possibly orange, like a robot or something ?"

"Yes there was this woman, who like wore a mask, but it was flesh coloured, though you could see some orange." She paused to think. "Her eyes were not normal ! That's right, not normal."

"Did you see a man with a beard ? or anything else ?"

"Why, is this for Television or something ?"

"No, someone is trying to drive Kathy here insane ?"

"Poor girl, that's all I know. Sorry, but my children are asking for their lunch !"

Philip began twisting his glass round and looked at Kathy, finishing her coffee. "We've got a bearded guy, who pays the ticket for me. Why ?"

"To make sure you get where he wants you to go. Possibly he doesn't want you to get in any trouble with the police or something."

"He may have followed you from the underground."

"Yeah, but from what station ?"

"Almost all of them are underground, not like the one near the Heyzel."

"You don't remember going to the Heyzel, that morning ?"

"No, it's all a blank !"

"Enough thinking today, let's go back and take a break."

Kathy checked the answerphone as soon as she got back home.

"Hello ? Peter here, where are you ? I thought we were solving the mystery together ? Call me."

Kathy picked up the phone and dialled his number.

"Hello, Peter ?"

"Kathy ... ?"

"Yes, sorry I didn't tell you, but my neighbour has been helping me. We discovered that some guy paid for me on the train, isn't that odd ?"

"Yes ... It is, he could be the ..."

"Yes, Philip has been wonderful, almost as nice as you."

"Thanks, Kathy. But I've got some work and I'm afraid I'll have to hang up."

"Okay, see you !"

"Indeed !"

Later that night a sudden knock at the door startled Kathy. She looked through the spyhole, but saw no-one and then a second knock. Not really a knock, rather a hard bump. She carefully unlocked the door and peered into the hall, just as she thought she had seen no-one did she look down on the floor to see Philip on the floor, bleeding.

"He says he wanted to go into the elevator and was attacked by some masked man with a knife. That's all. But he did not take his money." The police officer closed his notepad. "That's all we got now. But later, when he's better, will we know more."

Kathy kicked at imaginary dirt.

"Did he mention a beard or something ?"

"No beard, the man wore a ski-mask, nothing to be seen."

"Did you find out something about my case ?"

"We interrogated some suspects but nothing. Perhaps it was a prank ?"

"That was no prank !"

Kathy walked away from the policeman and went to the doctor. "Can I speak to him ?"

"He's still drowsy from narcosis."

"I have to see him !"

"Are you married or engaged ?"

"Yes ... No, but I need to see him !"

"I'll give you a minute, okay ?"

As she stood besides him, he opened his eyes.

"Worse than my appendsss ..." He said drowsily.

"Do you remember something ?"

"Perfume !" he moaned.

Kathy watched every corner in the block before entering her apartment. She walked to the door of the terrace to let the cat in when suddenly she hear a voice.

"Hello Kathy !"

She turned to see Peter sitting in the couch.

"Oh Peter, Philip was stabbed this evening. Probably the bearded man ..."

"This beard and this knife." The switchblade clanged on the glass tabletop.

Kathy gasped. "It was you !"

"Remember her ?" Peter nodded behind her.

Kathy turned to see in her horror Claudia behind her. But then she noticed it was the dummy, attached to a chariot, advancing slowly. But as the thought entered her mind, Peter was upon her, holding a handkerchief with Chloroform to her face. A brief struggle and she went limp.

When she came by, Kathy felt the handcuffs holding her to an old pipe in what looked like an abandoned factory. She scanned her surroundings. It was day again and in the distance she could see the car she had been in the crash with, the mannequins still in it. Then she heard a door creak and saw Claudia enter the hall. Kathy didn't feel afraid anymore. The plastic woman stopped before her and removed her mask. Kathy stared into Peter's smiling face.

"You don't realise how happy I was when they called me to do this job. As soon as I had conferred with the artist, I made three copies, one dummy, one costume for you and this one for me. The moment I saw you, I knew you were perfect."

Peter began removing the costume and reached for a small box. "You know what this is ?"

Kathy shook her head.

"It's a drug used in Psychiatry. In certain doses it can cure you of madness, but in larger doses, it makes you more susceptible to suggestion. Combined with hypnosis and the proper conditioning, it's very effective."

"You orchestrated all this, no ?" She said coldly.

Peter smiled. "I hired a girl to take your place the second day, while I drove you mad in here."

"What for ?" Kathy struggled with the cuffs again.

"You see, I'm in love, not with normal women, but with more special ones. I like mine artificial, smooth, inhuman, yet feminine and beautiful. For a while I collected everything I could find about robot-women, I then began sculpting them, and I began making costumes, but no woman was crazy enough to wear my costumes, so I had to wear them myself. I wanted to see them move, be alive..."

"You're sick !" She lashed out.

"Am I sicker than a man who clothes himself or a woman in tight rubber and ties her up and whips her ?"

"I'm through with you, I'll never do what you want !"

"You did it for a while. And you will do it again."

Having fully undressed, he picked up a syringe and poked it in the little bottle. He pushed out the liquid and walked over to the struggling Kathy.

"Sit still or I will hurt you !"

Peter grabbed her arm and stabbed in the needle. Kathy soon began to feel drowsy and her head went limp.

Peter took the unconscious Kathy and laid her on the table. He picked up a electric shaver and began shaving her blonde hair. After most of the hair had been removed, he produced a can of shaving foam and applied the white cream to the head and with a sharp razor, shaved her head smooth. Then he began cleaning her face and head and squirted some transparent liquid over her face. Then he began applying a mask to her face. The silver and plastic hodgepodge of wiring and circuits glued in place carefully, every feature covered in plastic and metal, as if her face was a crude pile of machinery. Then he glued in a neck-piece. He removed all her clothes and cleaned her completely, then with care and attention he stuffed her in a silver body-stocking made of silvery foil, covering every inch of her body, including the fingers and toes. Carefully he rubbed her body, smoothing out all the wrinkles He turned her over and slipped something which looked like a corset over her body, he glued and tied it as hard as he could behind her back. It covered all of her trunk, except for her vagina.

Then he began to dress her in what looked like a futuristic suit of armour. Finally he dropped silver contact lenses in her eyes and finished off all the small details. Finally he applied the facemask, that of an angular robotic woman. Then, in a hole on her arm, he inserted a hypodermic needle in her arm and waited for her to wake up.

"I need to adjust something, hold on Futura."

Peter stood behind the robot-woman, who sat before him, staring immobile in the mirror. He pushed a screwdriver deep into the skull and began twisting it.

"Feels good huh ?" He asked.

"I'm ..."

"What, Futura ?" Peter looked at the robot.

"I'm not Futura, I'm ..."

Peter laughed and nodded his head. "No, you're Futura, you're a robot, remember ?"

"I'm Kathy !" She replied lethargically.

"Perhaps if I remove your face you will see Kathy ?"

Peter popped off the mask, revealing the mass of blinking circuits and lights.

"Is this a human face ?" he asked angrily.

There was no answer.

"Is it ?" He shouted.

The sudden noise of the doorbell startled Peter. He picked up the mask and put it back on her face.

"Go into the closet and go into sleep-mode. When I snap my fingers, you will sleep !"

The robot stood up and walked into the closet, where Peter snapped his finger and the metallic head dropped limply. He closed it and rushed to the door just after the second ringing.

"Hello, perhaps you don't know me, I'm Philip. I'm looking for news of Kathy."

"All I know is that she left for the south of France for some job and to get some rest."

"She left a note on my answering machine, but she sounded odd, as if something was wrong."

"How so ?"

"She sounded distant, almost as if she was ill or something."

"Perhaps she caught a cold, with those temperature changes, the last few days ..."

"I thought I heard speaking before I came in."

"Must've been the radio."

Philip glanced at the radio and suddenly noticed that it was unplugged.

"So, doing something interesting lately ?"

"Nothing much, a lot of cosmetic stuff, nothing important really."

Philip began noticing that Peter looked nervous and seemed to pay much attention to the closet next to him. In fact, Peter had remained quite near it during the conversation.

"I think Kathy may have been kidnapped."

"Really ? The bearded man ?"

"Probably, I also discovered he hired a girl to take Kathy's place the second day. The woman from the agency remembers the one who hired her quite well, because she had to look exactly like a picture he had shown her."

"Does the police know this ?"

"It's they who discovered it."

Peter looked increasingly nervous.

"They discovered, the man didn't have a beard then."

"A false beard, easy trick."

"And who else but a specialist to make it look convincing ?"

Peter left his position towards a pile of rolled up cardboard and paper. Then, suddenly he pulled out a baseball bat and prepared to charge Philip, but stopped as he heard the click of the gun being cocked.

"I've got nine rounds of 10mm ammo in this baby ! Pretty bad stuff if you ask me. And at this range, I don't miss. Put the bat down and hand over the phone."

Peter dropped the bat and picked up the phone, and suddenly threw it hard in Philip's direction. The sudden attack caught him unaware and before he could recover, Peter was upon him. A hard punch on the barely healed stabwound sent him to the floor. Peter picked up the gun and held it to his face. "Who's got who now ?" Peter gave him a venomous grin.

"Futura ! wake up and come here !"

The door of the closet opened and a shiny silver robot-woman stepped out.

"Do you recognise her ? It's the bearded man that wanted to destroy you ! Kill him !"

Philip, still stunned by Peter's blow, watched helpless as the robot walked towards him. Then she paused before him.

"All you have to do is squeeze his neck !"

Philip drew all the air he could in his lungs. "Kathy, please, snap out of it !"

Suddenly the metal face looked up, somehow looking angry.

"Kill him ! that's an order !"

Kathy stepped over Philip in the direction of Peter.

He closed his eyes and squeezed the trigger. But instead of the loud bang he had expected, a loud pop and a slight ping where the little plastic pellet struck the outer shell of Futura.

Peter looked at the gun and pulled the trigger repeatedly, but nothing happened. He pulled the slide back and fired and another plastic pellet at Kathy. As if he could see the full anger from behind the metal mask, Peter felt fear. The sharp nails on the intricate gauntlets reflected the low light of winter sun through the large windows behind Peter.

"I will cut your throat !" The inhuman voice spoke from behind the mask.

Aware of the sharp talons, Peter made one step back and knocked against the edge of the window sill, just at the knee joint, causing Peter to fall back, through the window, four stories down.

Later the police discovered hundreds of drawings, books, models and masks of female mannequins, robots and androids. After an hour, the make-up specialist finally removed the last parts of the costume. Kathy smiled weakly as she went over the stubble on her head. Besides her, Philip grimaced as the doctor applied a new dressing to his wound.

"I hoped the BB-gun would scare him, it looks very real. He did believe it was real." Said Philip as the policeman showed him the gun.

"How do you feel ?" Philip asked Kathy.

"A lot better. She gave Claudia's head a last look and tossed it into the fire.

"You could have kept it as a momento."

"No way, I never want to hear anything about this again."

As they both walked away from the burning costumes, Philip felt her grab him and putting her head on his shoulder.

"You know, my social skills have much improved."

Kathy looked up at him. "So ?"

"I'm dating someone."

Kathy looked surprised at him. "Who ?" She cried out outraged.

"Claudia !"

Kathy stopped dead in her tracks.

"Claudia Shiffer !" Philip smiled.

A second later Philip followed Kathy, holding his upper arm, where she had punched him with all her might.