(a sequel to Not On A Bet)
The bright overhead lights shone directly into the girl’s blankly gazing eyes. She tried to blink but could not seem to move at all. Her eyelids, along with every other muscle in her body, seemed frozen into stone. Posed stiffly in position, she tried to remember a time when she was not an immobilized figure, when she might have simply turned away from the light but her memories had faded like a photograph left out in the summer sun. The girl knew there had been such a time somehow, just as she knew she had once had a name, though that existence was not real to her any more. Her entire world had become contained within the boundaries of her motionless body. There was not other reality than her pose and her costume while she was on display.
Something had changed, however, to bring her thoughts alive. Enough of a consciousness remained for the girl to wonder about that. It was not the lights, for they continued to glare into her empty pupils in exactly the same position as they had always seemed to. It was not her pose, since she could tell that the fixed stance of her rigid figure was unchanged and that the feel of her costume where it touched her stiffened skin was identical to how it had always seemed. The tightness of the boned corset around her waist, the feathery film of sheer nylon that coated her legs, and the smooth embrace of the opera gloves that she somehow knew covered her arms up past her elbows. All were unchanged and unchanging, even the sense of standing on tip-toe that came from the extremely high heeled shoes she wore.
Then something new, a gossamer hint of warmth along one of her thighs which moved to her outstretched hand. A touch that the rigid girl would have returned in an instant if she had been capable of the tiniest, slightest motion. Her body remained locked in place as she tried to remember how to move but could not.
A voice: "Where’s My Mommy?" Young, high-pitched, and trembling with anxiety. "She’s lost…"
The girl continued to stare blankly ahead, unable to look down to see the child who was speaking to her. She felt a stronger squeeze on her finger. "Pretty Lady, can you help me?" the voice pleaded, but the immobilized girl was unable to respond in any way.
Off to her right, a new voice called out, "Heather.. Don’t ever go wandering off like that again!" The voice came closer and suddenly the image of an attractive young woman appeared before her fixed eyes and remained there for an instant before dipping down towards the sound of the child’s voice.
"I’m sorry, mommy. The pretty lady didn’t know…" she said before her mother cut her off.
"That isn’t a lady, pumpkin. It’s just a statue that looks very real." The woman’s face appeared in front of the girl once more and looked deep into the motionless eyes with some uncertainty about her statement.
"But I can see her breathing. A little bit." The child said.
"Nonsense!" A moment later the woman had hoisted her child up so they both looked into the girl’s face. "See? She’s only fiberglass, a piece of sculpture." With that the woman rapped her knuckles against the hardened flesh of the girl’s cheek and produced a solid ‘thunk-thunk’ sound. "Here, you touch her," she continued as she brought the wide-eyed little girl closer. Her warm fingers rubbed gently across the cool stiff skin of the figure, then moved upward to brush the long eyelashes which sprung rigidly back into position. There was not the slightest reaction, the tiniest change in the figure’s frozen expression.
The motionless girl was trying with all her resolve to raise an eyebrow or so something to put lie to the mother’s pronouncement. Part of her was thankful that the two of them were blocking the glare of the lights as another part of her struggled to be noticed. A renewed burst of light marked another failure.
"Come on, pumpkin, let’s go get some ice cream!" The young woman said as she turned away.
"Bye, pretty lady….." the child said as she looked back over her mother’s shoulder.
The blazing overhead lights shone straight into the girl’s vacant eyes. She tried again to blink but could not seem to move at all. Her eyelids, along with every other muscle in her body, were as rigid as marble. Posed stiffly in position, she tried to recall a time when she had not been merely an exquisite statue.
Seconds or minutes later, the memories of an earlier unreal time flooded
back and she could almost taste the cool tartness of the wine as she sipped
it, the flush of the potion as it coursed through her bloodstream. A fateful
encounter that played out again and again in her mind like a familiar movie
plot; she knew what was going to happen but the title character always
remained blissfully unaware until it was much too late. Watching powerlessly
once more as the victim sipped daintily from the goblet, raised her glass
high, and then paused. She observed clearly as the girl – herself! – froze
stiffly into position while recalling the odd sense of not being able to
move. When she had first realized that she WAS that motionless sultry smiling
girl in the mirror and that the rigid arm holding the glass aloft was hers,
a deep sense of helplessness and embarrassment washed over her. She had
been far too trusting! The face of a man she could not recognize passed
in front of her rigid gaze for an instant, then she felt the wineglass
being removed from her cradling fingers. She tried to relax her hand but
it would not obey her efforts as it remained stiffly poised in front of
her as if she were making a point in a presentation. His voice sounded
so familiar as she heard him making jokes about her static condition; that
she never should have made that bet in the first place; that now she was
going to find out what kind of artist he really was. His hands moved
to her blouse and started to undo the buttons. She understood what was
happening but could not make the slightest movement to prevent it. Slowly,
carefully, he removed each garment from her as if he were undressing a
mannequin. After a few moments she noticed another odd, and not unpleasant,
feeling as his hands brushed her exposed skin. It was as if her sense of
touch had become solidified along with her body; each caress of cloth or
gentle fondling inspired an erotic warmth in her body that did not seem
to fade over time. Quickly these sensations grew from light tickles to
titillation on into luxuriantly passionate arousal. She felt her whole
being come sexually alive as if for the first time. The fact that she could
not respond – once she had wanted to – only magnified the intense almost
painful throbbing in her loins. As the number of layers quickly dwindled
away into a pool of fabric at her feet it seemed as if he was now touching
her everywhere at once. She stood before him, totally naked, being sexually
stimulated now even by the light breezes that wafted through the room.
Then he kissed her, and her rigid frozen world exploded into an enduring
ecstasy that consumed her soul. Even now, an vague interval later, she
basked in the suntan-warm glow of the memory that cloaked her still figure
and provided a stimulating distraction from the seemingly perpetual glare
of the lights which shone into her blank and staring eyes.
Elsewhere in the mall, two young ladies were engaged in an animated conversation as they strolled leisurely along the main concourse. They appeared to be in their mid-twenties, quite attractive, though the shorter one was dressed fractionally more conservatively. Both carried several boxes and plastic bags filled with parcels. Oblivious to the looks the passersby, mostly male, gave them they continued to chatter.
"This is SO bogus, Erin," the taller dark-haired girl exclaimed, "we can’t just keep visiting every shopping center in town hoping she’ll turn up!" She is dressed casually in athletic shorts and a ribbed Lycra tank-top.
"Chill out. This has only been the second time this month we’ve been here." The short redhead lifted one of her bags to show the other the printed logo of the upscale department store. "And look at the cool stuff we’ve found so far. You bought something at the Billington’s flash sale too…"
"That WAS a major coup, wasn’t it? Who would have thought anyone would mark down Versace." She patted her own advertising-bedecked package. "Now I have that evening formal from the Style layout."
"Bummer that Wendy isn’t here to enjoy this spree." Erin said, dejectedly. "That kicky minidress we saw in the window would have been just right for her. She has the legs for it."
"Yah; you know at first I thought that blonde mannequin in the display WAS her. Something about the way she looked so perfect posed there. Wendy always manages – managed – to look beautiful and sexy."
"Like a tramp you mean, Melissa. With her too-short skirts and too-tight blouses! Dressing like that isn’t, well, appropriate nowadays."
"Aren’t you the Miss Fancy Pants all of a sudden! You’re just absolutely green…"
"No way, that’s silly."
"WAY. Admit it."
"Well, you’d like to get the attention she does too. For sure." Erin looked into a store window they were passing. "Hey, look, these are on sale!" she cheered, pointing to a pair of low-topped white boots.
"Wow! I wonder if they have my size….?" Melissa mused.
Their brief argument forgotten, the two friends entered the shop. A few minutes later they emerged, both carrying another new parcel. Making their way over to a circular recessed seating area, they sat down and began looking over their purchases. A few minutes later they were joined on the opposite side of the nook by a mother and her daughter. The child held the remains of an ice-cream cone that had dripped most of its contents on her dress. Mom was trying, unsuccessfully, to clean up the sticky mess.
"I don’t know how you can get so dirty in such a short time! That’s a new outfit of yours, too." The woman seemed more concerned about the child’s clothes than anything else.
The little girl’s face was clouding up and it looked as if tears were about to gusher forth. "I sorry…"
"Oh, that’s OK, Heather," the woman said when she noticed the reaction from the child. Concluding her scrubbing by saying "this stain should come out in the wash," her voice held a tone of doubt and concern. "So, what was your favorite thing here today, precious?"
"Riding the merry-go-round!" the little girl beamed, "and talking to that pretty lady…"
"Heather, I told you that lady was only a statue, didn’t I? That was in the art gallery. She wasn’t real."
"Yes, Mommy, but she was so pretty…"
"Never mind, honey, let’s get going." They stood and hurried off, not noticing the two young ladies on the other bench had turned and were staring at them intently as they walked away.
"You don’t suppose…." Melissa said wonderingly.
"There’s only one way to be sure!" Erin replied, starting for the mall’s
Fifteen minutes later they reached the entrance to the Wingate Gallery, an upscale wood-paneled glass storefront with subdued overhead lights highlighting the works, mostly paintings, that were displayed.
"You know, I don’t think my credit rating’s good enough for this place."
"Just try not to break anything…" Melissa said as the entered the salon. She had never been much of a fan of classical art but managed to recognize a Picasso print by its astronomical price tag. Her tastes ran more to landscapes and sports posters. Mounted over her refrigerator was an image of a total buffed body-builder that she looked on as inspiration when she was about to take that second helping of ice cream split.
Erin had separated, going a different path through the maze-like partitions, now she returned almost at a run looking as if she had seen a ghost; in some sense, she had.
"Holy Shit, Melissa, she’s HERE!" Her wide-eyed gaze held a mixture of surprise and fear.
"No, you twit, The Wicked Witch of the West!! Of COURSE Wendy – who else have we been looking for all this time? Duh!"
"Well, excuuuuse me."
"Follow me; she’s in back. We never would have found her otherwise." Erin threaded her way among the randomly placed, frame-covered walls; past the Cubist Room, bypassing a display of pastoral scenes that her friend might have stopped at, towards a more open area where three-dimensional works of art were presented. There, standing alone on a low pedestal within a nimbus of halogen lights was a strikingly beautiful female figure.
Wendy. The statue was dressed provocatively in a satiny snow-white two-piece panty-and-bustier ensemble which showed off her firm breasts nicely. Frilly garters stretched down to hold up the white nylon stockings that sheathed her slim, shapely legs. She was posed in high-heels, standing in a classic boudoir stance with her weight on one leg and her hips tilted jauntily. One long-gloved hand rested at her waist, drawing attention to the narrow hourglass shape that swelled into curvaceous hips. The other arm was held just inches from her puffy, stiff, hairdo and this hand was composed in a graceful curve that seemed to be almost mussing her platinum blonde curls. The expression frozen on her face was one of haughty triumph and barely-concealed lust. There was a small framed placard on the base of the pedestal that titled the piece "Private Showing"
"Are you sure it’s her?" Melissa asked. For some reason she was whispering. This figure looked more gorgeous than she had ever remembered her friend being. Perhaps it was something about the lighting or the different style of makeup the figure wore that made it seem so dazzling. Or the motionlessness.
"I think so." Erin approached the standing figure hesitantly, not entirely sure herself. If it was their friend, she was stiff as a board and showed absolutely no sign of recognition. This might have been a colossal wild goose chase. There was no doubt the curvaceous statue was an excellent likeness of their missing friend; that was for certain. But had she merely posed for the sculptor and then jetted off to the Caribbean to spend her windfall modeling fee? Up close, the level of detail in the face was nothing short of astounding. Erin could see the individual pores in the skin of the cheeks and the tiny wrinkles around the edges of her eyes. The full lips had also been captured superbly, along with the whitened chiclet teeth of her seductive smile. Even the azure irises of her eyes were rendered beautifully with the flecks of green and those slightly darker edges that Wendy had always claimed made them look larger and more enticing. The statue looked precisely like her, down to every last detail.
Melissa was also examining the exquisitely rendered figure from all angles and had just waved her hand in front of the statue’s frozen gaze (and gotten no reaction) when she suddenly brightened. "Remember the Tijuana trip?" she blurted, startling the contemplative Erin.
"Yeah?" And then she went wide-eyed as the same idea occurred to her. "D’oh! The Tattoo Bender."
Melissa only nodded. Almost two years ago they had pooled their funds and booked a week in Mexico; one mostly oblivious evening had been spent in the infamous border town. Upon waking to epic hangovers the next morning, each of the girls discovered they were now the proud owners of a discreet tattoo located somewhere on their anatomy. Erin’s had been a butterfly on her left buttock cheek; Melissa had opted for a tiny celtic swirl right underneath her navel. But where had Wendy gotten her design? They remembered it had been a surprisingly cautious choice for her, a single rose along the side of her neck. At least from the standpoint of searching it hadn’t been on her breast or crotch. That would have been too eerie to look for.
"Yup," her friend replied, "go see…." The tattoo would be in a location now covered by the expansive hairstyle, just behind the figure’s rigid gloved hand.
"Uh-unnh. You look." Melissa already felt wierded out by being so close to this stiff statue that might be their friend but touching it – her – was just too bizarre. "It was your idea," she goaded.
"As if!" Erin rejoined. "OK, scaredy-cat, you keep an eye out for people." Truthfully she felt strange too but was not willing to admit it.
"Don’t take all day," Melissa said as she tried to look nonchalant.
Erin reached over to the motionless figure and hesitantly pushed back the edge of the blonde hair, which was also quite stiff and felt lacquered into position like a wig. Almost. Her fingers brushed the skin of the figure’s neck which felt firm, but resilient. Not hard at all. While wondering about what materials could have that feel she realized what she was looking at. A small red rose curled at the base of the earlobe, almost lost behind the garish silver-and-rhinestone earrings the figure wore. "Ohhh, My GOD!" leaked from her lips.
"Lessee!" Melissa suddenly was right next to Erin, staring at the proof that their greatest fear had been realized: Wendy had been turned into this statue! "It IS her," she gasped. "Wendy, can you hear me??"
The light touch of Erin’s finger was enough to have interrupted the frozen girl’s reverie. She recognized the voices but could not remember who they had belonged to. It seemed so long ago. When the tall one spoke her name it was as if a light had gone on in the dusty warehouse of her memories. Wendy – my name is Wendy. Far Out... She would have jumped up and hugged her friend ______ but of course she could not lift a finger or bat an eye. Even so, she was happy to know her own name again.
"Wendy, who did this to you?" This other, huskier, voice was from another unplaceable friend whose short reddish hair was blocking the glare of the lights once more. "We have to find out and release you from the paralysis." Who - - - I can’t remember his name… Wendy thought, but the question had triggered additional hidden memories and dormant emotions.
"Ahh— hem!!?" A different voice sounded from behind them and the two girls spun around to confront the frowning visage of an older, maybe 30-ish, woman with a brass nametag: D. Hyland. She wore a pin-striped business suit, ruffled blouse, and a skirt that was slightly shorter than propriety normally allowed. Her slim, curvaceous legs were displayed in suntan-hued pantyhose and her high heels augmented her own petite stature so that her considerable cleavage was even with Erin’s chest. "You know, touching the artworks is strictly forbidden."
"Um we weren’t really touching her," Melissa’s attempt at an excuse fell flat because Wendy’s stiffened coiffure had stayed pulled back. She hoped this harridan would not see the tattoo that seemed so obvious.
"Of course not," Ms.Hyland said sardonically as she walked to the statue and made a show of smoothing the errant strands back into position. Then she brushed back and shook out her own loose chestnut brown curls, a flamboyant action that seemed out of place in comparison to her businesslike demeanor but that broke the tension of the moment. Realizing she might be hectoring some potential customers, she smiled while questioning, "Are you interested in acquiring this piece?"
"Er.. Yes, we are," Erin improvised, "this a a truly outstanding example of… of…. "
"Hyper-realist Revival?" supplied the saleswoman.
"Yeah, that’s it." She floundered, "You see, this figure looks precisely like—"
"Like one of the better representations of post-deAndrea technique," Melissa interjected. "The artist? It does not appear to be the work of Sijian, or Hanson. I must say I’m intrigued," she concluded.
The saleswoman turned to face her but kept Erin and the statue of Wendy carefully in sight. "Ah, then you are familiar with the contemporary genres?"
"Yes, my major in school was the arts; I studied under Kleinpilz." Melissa spoke the truth, but the details of how closely they had collaborated back then was not something she wanted to talk about right now. Her late professor’s fascination with mythological iconic art, especially life-size gilded figurines, was a secret they both held closely.
"Then you can appreciate the genius of the fresh new artisan who crafted this magnificent figure! He has fused the finest techniques of hyper-actuality with nostalgic representations of pre-feminist stereotypes."
"Exactly," Melissa agreed, though she had no idea what this woman was babbling about. "Have Wingate Galleries placed his work previously?" She noticed the woman kept saying ‘he’. Was this the man Wendy had met at that party she had talked about?
"We are negotiating with the artist for a private showing in the near future; presently we represent his works exclusively on a consignment basis." (Translation: too avant-garde for the store to buy outright) "This figure is presently being offered for only thirty-five thousand dollars," Ms.Hyland said with a conspiratorial tone that implied they were being given a tremendous bargain.
Melissa struggled to keep her composure. The price was outside anything they could hope to pay out. Time for a bold bluff. "Excellent; then how may we contact him? Speaking for my associate, we are both highly interested in acquiring this or other works in the same style." At the word ‘associate’ Erin turned her full attention to the saleslady. Up until then she had been watching Wendy intently, looking for any sign or movement or life.
"I have his numbers on file; come with me and you can jot them down. However, he is planning on being present here this coming Thursday to discuss his work and the upcoming exhibition. Follow me, please." She led the way back towards the office area in the front of the gallery, her heels ‘click’ing on the marble tile. Erin followed close behind, but Melissa lagged for a moment. Placing her hand on the statue’s rigid shoulder, she spoke to her friend trapped inside. "Wendy, we’ll get you free somehow. Just be patient a little while longer. Don’t get sold on us in the meantime!" Then she hurried off to catch up with Ms.Hyland and Erin.
I will be waiting, thought Wendy, as if there was anything
else I could do…. The overhead lights glared into her eyes once more
and she turned her thoughts inward to the latest memory that the words
"who did this to you" had unlocked. He turned me into a … statue
she at last comprehended and the vividness of her experience flowed back
to her awareness. Easiest to summon were the tactile sensations, the feel
of his hands on her body as he undressed and posed her exactly the way
he had wanted. Due to her heightened sense of touch, Wendy’s experience
as a passive, motionless, model had been punctuated by multiple extended
orgasms. She remembered the tightness encircling her waist and torso as
he laced her into the corset-like garment, the trouble she had then even
taking short breaths, and his glib way of saying ‘this outfit will make
you even more of a knockout.’ He had once pressed his crotch close up against
the cheeks of her ass while fastening her necklace and she had imagined
what it would be like to have him pleasure her right then and there which
unleashed another even more potent climax. Minutes or hours later she was
able to concentrate again. Noticing that she was now wearing nylons and
high-heeled pumps she was slightly disappointed she had missed the intervening
experience. He was working on her makeup now; the dust or smell of the
blusher was making her nose itch but she could not sneeze to relieve the
tickling. Painting her face as if she was some sort of living canvas, he
added lipstick, gloss, mascara, eyeliner, and finally false eyelashes.
At intervals he would hold a small mirror up to Wendy’s fixed gaze so she
could see how her transformation into a work of art was proceeding, though
of course she could not comment on the results. Finally he slipped long
stretchy opera gloves over her hands and arms; they reached almost to her
shoulder. "Just about finished; let’s get you mounted on the stand" he
had said. Wendy had just long enough to wonder what that had meant before
she found herself lifted vertically and set down a few feet away where
there was an odd smell she later guessed had been adhesive. Her thoughts
were centered on how tiny her waist had felt when he circled it with his
strong hands and the orgasm the sensation caused; not on her predicament.
As she stood there, still as stone, glued firmly to the display stand,
Wendy tried one last time to lift a finger or blink or do anything to prove
to herself at least that she was a living being and not some exotic sculpture.
But she could not budge. What was truly ‘reality’ became blurred in her
mind until she was not really certain of anything. A statue – she was a
statue – that was her only purpose. Falling into a dreamy erotic rapture,
time ceased to have a meaning. The interim spent in the studio and her
transport to the gallery had become a hazy sensual fog and by the point
she noticed anything had changed, it was the glare of the overhead lights
that shone, and were still brilliantly shining, into her glassy frozen
eyes. Wendy stared, and waited, for there was nothing else to do.
Melissa could hardly stay calm as she joined up with Erin and the saleslady, received the information about the mysterious artist (no name was provided), and then casually strolled out of the gallery. She had been about ready to scream at Erin when she paused and contemplated an abstract painting of overlapping squares. Wendy was back there! They had to DO something! Eventually the two emerged from the dark gallery, out into the comparative gaudiness and din of the mall atrium.
Erin walked silently past several stores before addressing her friend. "Well, that’s something you don’t see every day," she began. "I guess we should have believed her yarn about being stuck in the window…"
"No shit, but too late to think about that now – we have to DO something!!" Melissa blurted.
"Shhh; you’re making a scene. The last thing we want to be right now is noticed. We’ve got some more shopping to do. I have an idea…"
"Shopping? How can you go shopping while she’s frozen stiff back there?" Melissa made to turn around.
"No, not yet. Wendy’s not in any danger, and neither of us can plunk down our VISA cards for that kind of dollars. Right? So we have to play it smart. Right?"
"Yeah, right." Melissa turned back, reluctantly.
"OK, then, where was that Wolfords located?" Erin started off towards the directory
followed by Melissa.
The saleslady watched the two young women carefully as the left the store and began talking animatedly with each other. She waited until they had passed out of earshot, then wound her way back to the office and dialed the telephone. After what seemed to be a long time, someone answered and she spoke to him.
"Hello? This is Dian Hyland over at Wingate. Yes, we are expecting you this Thursday; yes. However, that is not why I called. Remember those two girls you told me to watch out for? Well, they were just here. Yes, exactly. They took a long time in the gallery and may have even disturbed your sculpture before I reached them. No, nothing appears to be damaged. I gave them your numbers as you instructed. Yes. Well, you’re very welcome, sir! I’m looking forward to seeing you later this week. Good-bye…"
She hung up the phone after a few seconds and wondered about the call
before going back to cruising the floor. Having worked with a number of
artists, she knew they all had quirks, but this one seemed unusually possessive
of his lifelike sculptures. Had he even given that one a name? She flounced
her hair once more and put the whole conversation out of her mind.
Later that same evening, as the mall was shutting down for the night, two workers entered carrying several five-gallon cans of drywall ‘mud’ on a handtruck. The guards gave them no more than a passing glance, since night workers were commonplace in these kinds of facilities. No one wanted to interrupt the flow of people during normal business hours. There was just too much profit to be made, even on a Sunday. The workers passed others bustling about their jobs and smelled the crisp, sweet aroma of lacquer thinner and paint. Eventually they made their way into one of the service corridors leading to the bathrooms.
"The gallery is right over there." Erin whispered to her friend. "Leave the cart here; we’ll get it later."
"Are you sure this is going to work?" Melissa whined, "I feel so absurd in these clothes." She pulled at the baggy one-piece coverall she wore. Her hair was bunched underneath a grubby baseball cap that had once belonged to a boyfriend of hers. She hoped that it had hid her extravagantly made up face and eyes well enough. Erin was similarly disguised but had tied her coppery curls into a ponytail which poked out of the adjustment gap in her hat. Her pockets, and those of her friend, were stuffed with objects which made odd-shaped lumps in the coarse fabric.
"Just Cool It." Erin hissed. "Everything will be fine. I saw this once." She pushed on the door marked with the skirted symbol and smiled as it opened. "Let’s go."
"Saw it? In a MOVIE!?" You’re crazy, Erin…" Melissa shook her head from side to side, but followed her friend into the brightly-lit lavatory. All was quiet and clean; the custodial crew had already done their work. Things were going absolutely perfectly, but Melissa could not believe she had gone along with it.
Erin pointed up at the suspended ceiling tile above the stalls. Carefully, quietly, she stepped up on one of the water closets and raised the square upward revealing a dark shadowy space higher still. The plenum. She climbed back down, but left the tile ajar, then motioned to Melissa. "Go ahead and climb up there, then pull me up too."
"You’re taller, silly."
Melissa shrugged, then ascended, her tennis shoes squeaking softly on the white porcelain. She was tall enough so her head poked into the plenum space when she stood where Erin had barely reached. With a practiced gymnast’s move, she hopped up and supported herself with stiff arms as if she were mounting a parallel bar. After a second’s pause to be sure the grid would support her weight, she swung first one leg, then the other up. Erin got just a glimpse of the smooth, shiny fabric that sheathed her friend’s legs under the coverall before she vanished into the shadowy overhead space. Like an apparition, her two arms then appeared, accompanied by an admonishing voice: "Hurry up Erin, before someone comes in!"
"Nobody is going to be around," she replied, just before two voices in the corridor mocked her statement. Quickly she jumped onto the toilet, almost slipping, and grasped Melissa’s outstretched hands. Erin had just scrambled up into the plenum and swung the tile into place when she heard the door open and a man’s voice said ‘Anyone in there, ladies?’ Through a gap in the tile, she could see the cleaning man enter with his feather duster and cart. Whistling, he leisurely dusted the sinks and polished the glass of the mirrors. Then he started on the stalls, cleaning and sweeping; polishing and dusting.
Crouched on the grid of the suspended ceiling, Erin felt the edges of the metal press into her shins; they were beginning to fall asleep. Melissa somehow had gotten on her feet before the cleaning man entered and stood, balancing herself by hanging onto the maze of support wires. Erin tried to shift her weight and get some of the blood flowing but stopped the instant she heard the metal creak. Below, the whistling had stopped too. After a few agonizingly long seconds, it resumed, and seemed to be coming closer. The man entered the very stall underneath where they were hiding and brushed a few particles of ceiling tile dust off the toilet seat. He paused, thinking maybe, then emitted a horrendously long belch that echoed off the walls of the small bathroom. Erin almost jumped out of her socks, if she had been wearing any, and she tried to stay quiet and ignore the soft snickering of Melissa’s voice above her.
After what seemed an eternity, the man and his cart finally wound their way out of the bathroom and it was quiet once more. Just to be sure, they waited for a few minutes more. Erin glanced up at Melissa but could not see her even though she was standing right nearby. The darkness had seemed to swallow her friend up and it was closing in on Erin, too, smothering her. Erin began to shiver uncontrollably in fear. "Have to get out of here," she gasped. "Can’t do this." Her legs seemed to have turned to putty.
"What do you mean, can’t do it?" Melissa sounded far away. "This was YOUR crazy idea."
"Sorry," Erin responded weakly, "we should have done this caper in the daytime." She rocked back and forth to restore circulation to her legs and winced as the pins-and-needles feeling shot down to her toes. Within a minute or so she had enough strength back to shift her position but she felt too wobbly to stand. "You’ll have to do this part on your own. I’ll meet you at the back door."
"No way, girl. You know the way; I don’t. I never wanted to do this, anyway," came the reply from the darkness.
"It’s just forty feet or so, straight that way." Erin had lifted the tile up once more so Melissa could see her pointing finger. "Think of Wendy for a second, please. I don’t WANT to bail on you; it’s just that I…"
The mention of their statued friend gave Melissa a reason to hold her tongue. She remembered how still and alone Wendy had looked; her own impassioned plea to Erin only a few hours before. "All right, then, scaredy-cat, but if I get caught you’ll have to bail me out of jail too."
"We’re not gonna get caught." Erin could see down into the lighted bathroom and her unreasoning terror had subsided somewhat, though she still craved to be out of this dark void. Carefully, she slipped down to touch the top of the toilet with her feet. "Besides," she grinned, "I have the car keys!"
"Great!" came the echoing whisper from above. "Give me about ten minutes, will you? I don’t want to crash down on anyone’s head you know."
"Okay. You ready?" Erin was now able to slide the tile back into place, sealing Melissa into the ceiling.
"Yeah. The things we do for our friends. Wendy owes us, bigtime!"
"I’m sure she’d do the same for us." Erin smiled up at her friend. "And, thanks."
"Remember you said that when they lock me up and throw away the key. This was your…" Melissa managed to say before the tile muffled her last words. Erin could barely hear the faint sounds of footsteps as her friend picked her way across the overhead lattice. The sound faded and she realized that Melissa might be almost there already, or had stopped to take a peek below.
Melissa paused again, trying to get her bearings. In the plenum, all the ceilings looked the same. By tipping up one of the tiles and looking out she was able to see that she was still in the corridor. Move, peek again. This time the shop below looked like a florist, then she remembered there was one just before the art gallery. Cursing Erin under her breath for underestimating the distance, then flaking out on her, she slowly made her way along the gridwork. Three or four more stops later, she finally could see shadowy walls with framed pictures on them. The Wingate Gallery! Closing her eyes, trying to recall the layout of the maze-like rooms, she moved a few feet to her right and was rewarded with a birds-eye view of a blonde statue dressed only in white lingerie. She breathed a sigh of relief; ‘thank goodness she’s still here’ she thought. Not wanting to come down right on top of her frozen friend, Melissa crept over to where the shipping area should be, located right near the corridor service door. She had reached her goal.
Lifting the tile and lowering herself stealthily into the darkened gallery, Melissa was able to pull the tile back into place just before she noticed the small bright red indicator light and the wall-mounted box it was attached to. Melissa stopped, stock-still out of surprise, and the light blinked out. Had Erin forgotten to check for security alarms! As soon as she moved towards the door the light blinked on again, then off a few seconds later after she stopped once more. A motion sensor, to top it off. She remembered back to another movie, maybe the same one Erin had seen, and raised her hand in slow-motion to touch her face. The red light stayed out. Melissa wondered if anyone had seen the indicator. No big deal if they had.
A tapping sounded on the other side of the door to the corridor. Erin must have gotten impatient. Slowly, like swimming through molasses, Melissa made her way to the entry while the sensor light stayed off. Trying not to move too quickly, she called to her friend outside.
Erin could barely hear Melissa’s voice, but understood the urgency of the ‘wait a couple of minutes’ that filtered though to her ears. The time seemed to drag past; Erin felt so exposed, so naked standing in the empty corridor. Had this really been her idea? Now it seemed to be as crazy as Melissa had said. She was also embarrassed at being afraid earlier entering the plenum. Hundreds of problems, real and imagined, came to mind as the sluggish seconds ticked.
Inside, Melissa was gradually removing her outer clothes, sliding the zippered front closure of the coverall open and revealing the smooth, shiny black Lycra catsuit she wore underneath. Slowly she stepped out of the coverall, shivering for a moment in the cooler air of the gallery. She had not realized how much she had been perspiring. Removing spike heels from one of her pockets, she kicked off her tennies and slipped them on. A quick glance at the motion sensor showed no light. Next was her hat, which she removed very carefully so her springy hairdo would not trigger any movement. Disrobing seemed to be taking forever.
At the security office, two guards were bending over the left bank of annunciators and tapping on the bulbs. Three times in the past five minutes there was had been a positive signal, enough to trigger a display on the map of the mall locations. A sensor just inside Wingate. The security officer was unsure; normally a motion indicator stayed on longer that that, but they were fussy devices and occasionally sent a false reading. Or something inside, like a waving price tag, could trigger them occasionally. The watch commander, the one who had been tapping on the light, was more doubtful. He had years of experience, and this smelled wrong.
Suddenly the perimeter door alarm sounded, followed by a flashing beacon. Right outside Wingate’s!
"Get two men down there on the double! Clancy, Frosh; move it!!" the commander barked.
"Hurry UP!" Melissa had yelled as she threw the door open, startling a drowsy-looking Erin. "They’ll be here any second." Erin jumped at the sound, then ran inside, throwing off her hat into a plastic popcorn-filled box. Dancing out of her coverall as quickly she could, she tossed the garment aside and pulled on her own high heeled pumps. They seemed strange after walking around most of the day in cross-trainers.
"Almost ready, where is she?" Erin gasped, smoothing the stretchy fabric over her body and straightening the wide leather belt that cinched her waist. A quick look in a mirror confirmed her lavish makeup was also okay. They looked like a couple of showgirls, or hookers out for night’s work. Just as planned.
"Over this way – NO, wait! The wig!" Melissa yelled. Erin had almost forgotten the darker fall of hair that was part of her disguise. They had quibbled for almost ten minutes at the store before she had picked one that she liked. It was still in the overcoat. Seconds were passing, quickly. Through the bars of the security barrier at the front of the store she could hear footsteps, running.
"Forget it, let’s go," Erin shot back as she pulled the clasp from her natural mane and shook out the long coppery strands that she had tried so hard to hide before. They settled into a layered ‘Rachel cut’ that just reached her level shoulders. It was a good thing, she thought to herself, walking quickly behind Melissa, that I at least put on a layer of soft hold spray.
Now their heels clicked on the tiled section of the gallery as the rigid figure of Wendy came into view. She seemed to be exactly the same as before, a beautiful statue. Melissa did not have time to say anything to her as they rushed past and got into position themselves. There was barely enough time to place the small sign and assume the stance and pose they had practiced. With a ‘clack’ of relays, all the lights in the gallery came on at once, including the overhead spotlights that highlighted the three sculptured females.
Erin struggled to remain absolutely still and breathe shallowly, though she felt like she was going to pass out. She could feel her heart racing in her chest and the adrenaline pounding in her bloodstream. Willing herself to stay calm, she tried to image what it would feel like to be a motionless mannequin standing in a window, thinking serenely rigid thoughts, trying not to move a muscle, trying not to blink an eye; nothing. Where her hands held Melissa’s arm and waist she could feel nervous quivering and wondered if her friend could be able to simulate immobility well enough. Melissa, in turn, was marveling at the shorter redhead’s aptitude at mimicking a statue though she wished her chest would stop expanding and contracting so much. She herself had only to think of Wendy standing so close by and imagine how it must feel to have every muscle locked in place, stiff as plastic, not being able to move even if she had wanted to. Melissa focused her eyes on the tip of a rusted metal melange that sat on a small pillar by the far wall. She blinked once, then held very still, for she had just heard the sound of the rear door opening and several excited voices.
"No forced entry, Sarge," one of them said. Despite the lights being on they had their flashlight torches on too and shone them into every little crack and corner. For a second one of the beams lit on the edge of a coverall poking out of a shipping box, but not one of the guards noticed it. They fanned out and looked throughout the entire gallery. Everything seemed to be in place, though a full inventory would have to be done in the morning. The sound of a wolf-whistle brought the other officers together in the sculpture wing.
An older guard, sporting a beer-belly and ill-fitting slacks, was ogling a gorgeous female figure that stood upon a low pedestal. The babe was a blonde, done up in flimsy lingerie, and she looked so real he expected her to plant a big kiss on his lips any second. He held back from touching her, but her boobs called out to him – and that sweet ass! The other sculpture was different, but no less striking. In this one, two honeys clad in glistening tight black spandex were locked in a very intimate embrace gazing into each other’s eyes. The taller, dark-haired statue had her hand on the smaller one’s breast while they hugged. The shorter one also was more voluptuous and had lovely green eyes. The guard thought about the artist who had created such visions of pulchritude and wondered once more if he was in the wrong profession.
"Hey Frosh, gonna strip-search ‘em?" his superior jibed. "They’re not missing any parts that I can see!"
He reddened, because that very thought had been rattling around in his head. "No, Clancy, but I may need a cold shower later on…" Savoring the pair with a long look, he followed the rest of the guards up to the front of the gallery where they were checking the barred grate and finding it locked solidly. No sign of a break-in here either. Slightly disappointed, they retreated to the back door, turned off the lights, punched in the alarm code, and locked up. Suddenly it was dark and quiet and still within the gallery once more.
In the sculpture section, three statues stood rigidly; one alone, the other two held in a sensual embrace. After a couple of minutes the taller one let out a gasp of relief. "Whew, that was close!" Melissa whispered. Erin blinked, then started to untwine her hands, too quickly. "Stop!" Melissa warned.
"Why?" Erin went back to holding still. Truth be told, she sort of liked the feeling.
"There are motion sensors all through this place! Move too rapidly and you’ll set them off."
"But, we want to do that, to…"
"Not yet, though," Melissa countered, "give them some more time to get settled in." In slow motion, she walked over to one of the pedestals and leaned against it. "If you have to move, don’t go any faster than I just did. It seems weird but it works."
"Right; I saw that in a movie someplace." At an equally leisurely pace, Erin tiptoed across the floor and was soon perched next to her friend. A glance at the rigid statue of Wendy showed that at least SHE had no trouble standing still.
After about five or ten minutes, Erin broke the silence with "Ready for Act Two?" She slowly stood up, as Melissa nodded and followed her sleek figure back towards the shipping area. She thought of the image they must be creating for any lucky voyeur and smiled: Two Lycra-coated bimbos slinking along on high heels through an art gallery at midnight, in slow-mo no less. She could imagine herself as some super-heroine or villain – Catwoman maybe – on her way to a jewel heist. The tight garment made her feel sexier, more bold, somehow as did the absurd situation they had gotten themselves into.
Reaching the door, Melissa waved her arms wildly and was rewarded with a glowing red light. "Now, wait a minute or so," she said as she turned the knob on the inside deadbolt to release it. "OK…NOW!" Erin crowed as she pushed the door open and triggered the motion sensors once more. She knew what kind of commotion this second intrusion would provoke. "Back to our places, now, don’t need to run," she said while hurrying anyway.
To their credit the guards responded more quickly this time, but the result was the same. They searched the entire store and everything was exactly as it had been. Even the three gorgeous female statues were posed precisely in the same location. They could not have seen Erin at the last second brush a strand of hair away from her face before freezing again into stillness.
"Alright, guys, this is the second time tonight" Clancy shook his head "And nothin’s missin’! "
"Could be equipment malf," volunteered the older guard. "Or birds?"
"You see any birds, genius?" mocked the Sergeant. "Something’s fishy here. I’m gonna shut the alarm off and you stand guard."
"But Sarge," Frosh began.
"No but Sarge me; you plant yourself out front and watch for anything suspicious. Clancy will come by as relief in two hours. Get going!" The superior turned without saying anything more and was gone.
"Awwww…." Frosh said to the silence. He rooted around the office area and found a comfy roll-around chair that he moved to the front of the store. Planting his considerable behind into it he began looking for something odd, not knowing that the ‘something’ was already lurking behind him.
Five minutes passed; then ten. Back in the statuary hall the two figures breathed another sigh and relaxed their static poses. "Wow," Melissa whispered, "that was even longer than before. I’m getting to be really good as a living statue…"
"Me, too," Erin said more loudly before she heard a noise.
"Huh? Whazzat…" came the voice of the guard at the front of the gallery, talking to himself. The two girls could hear the sound of a chair squeaking followed by footsteps on carpet.
"Back in position!" whispered a wide-eyed Erin as she encircled Melissa’s waist with her hand and prepared her mind to become very still once more. By the time Frosh reached their section of the store the two were again locked in their enduring embrace. Then the errant strand of hair flopped down and fell over Erin’s cheek. It tickled her slightly, more of an itch really, but she could not move it back because that guard was right there. He seemed to be paying attention mostly to Wendy, which was understandable in a way given her more explicitly inviting attire.
Without his superiors around, he had gotten over any inhibitions and had placed his hands on her chest, judging from the words he was saying softly to the statue. Things like ‘that’s quite a pair you have’ and ‘why don’t you let me lick them clean for you’ as he ran his fingers down into the crevice between her firm breasts. Lingering around her, he caressed her smooth tiny waist and felt up her derriere. It was a good thing, Melissa later said, that Wendy had been attached to her stand otherwise that guard would have had her stretched out on the floor. He must have realized this too, for it was then that he turned his attention to the other sculpture nearby, the pair entitled "Sisterly Love"
Erin saw him approach and could only grip Melissa’s waist tighter by way of warning before his salami-and-onion-scented breath washed over their faces.
"What do we have here" he mused, "a twosome? I never could figger out what you lesbo-s see in other broads." His hand touched Erin’s hip and it took every ounce of her self control not to flinch or scream out at that instant. The touch continued up her torso to rest casually on the breast that Melissa’s hand was not on. "You’re usually such pretty girls too, except for the butch ones." He circled around to face Melissa, gazing straight into her brown eyes. She was concentrating on that iron whatzit, trying remain rigid and not to blink or scrunch up her nose at the pungent aroma from his mouth. "What you need is a good man, to show you how it’s s’pose to be done…" Switching his hand to Melissa’s chest he began fondling her firm but pliable breasts. Try as she may, good at standing absolutely still as she was, Melissa could not control her involuntary urges and felt her nipples swell and harden under his touch. It was only a matter of seconds until he felt them too and the game would be up….
A rasp of static in the belt-mounted radio resolved itself into a voice: "Four-squaak-five, report in. Repeat; -squawk- four-oh-five, rep-squakk-n."
The guard pulled away from Melissa and removed the radio from its holster. Clearing his throat, he said "This is four-zero-five, checking in. All clear here, sir. No…" There was a series of louder squawks from the other party that sounded like yelling. "Yes, sir. Right now, sir. Four-zero-five, out." Signing off, he replaced the radio and started to turn away but said to them, "You stay right there, ladies, I’ll be back in a little while. Don’t move an inch!" Then he chuckled, as if that was his own unique little funny. Walking away, he began checking each section of the gallery carefully.
Erin and Melissa remained in position, holding absolutely still, for they had no idea where the guard had gone off to, nor from which direction he might return. Every now and then they would risk a blink but any other movement could give them away. Gazing into Melissa’s heavily made up face, Erin studied the way her friend had applied the eyeliner to make her lids appear more elongated and exotic and how a little dab of lip gloss made her whole face look more artificial, which was exactly the effect they were trying to have. She wondered about her own makeup; her experience was far less than either of her two friends and should Melissa have done her entire face instead of just a touchup afterward. Letting her mind wander somehow made it easier to stand without moving at all though she could feel the strain in her leg muscles from keeping them locked for so long. The rhythm of her friend’s breathing had become so leisurely that she seemed to be sleeping, yet she continued to gaze just past Erin’s eyes to somewhere off in the distance.
Melissa kept repeating a phrase in her mind, a mantra of sorts that guided her thoughts while the minutes of stillness passed. ‘My body is solid granite, from my head to my toes. Movement is impossible; though the seasons move around me. I have always been a statue. My body is solid granite from my head down to my toes. All movement is impossible while the seasons move around me. I have always been a statue’.
Over and over she mentally spoke it to herself, letting the sound and cadence of the words penetrate and reinforce her being. After a few minutes she had fallen into a light self-hypnotic trance and began to actually believe what she kept saying to herself over and over. Erin had noticed the change first, when her friend’s breathing had slowed, now she could feel Melissa’s body seem to stiffen in her arms and the interval between her blinks become longer and longer. Not knowing where the guard was, she was not sure what she could do or whether she wanted to. They might have to stay in position for quite a while longer.
It was then that Erin heard a simple sound which was music to her ears: The slow, sonorous buzzing of a snore coming from the front of the gallery. The guard had fallen asleep! Though she had no idea how long they had before he woke up or when he might get another radio call, Erin knew the time to act was now. "Melissa, let’s get out of here!" she whispered to her friend, but there was no answer or change in her blank stare. Slowly, Erin removed her hands from around Melissa’s body and still she remained motionless, even when Erin waved her hand in front of her eyes. "Snap OUT of it!" Erin said sternly, which was difficult to do without becoming too noisy. There was no effect. ‘This is too weird,’ she thought, ‘now I have TWO statues to contend with!’ Melissa continued to remain upright and balanced, which was fortunate, for now, though she looked strange with her hand outstretched to touch a companion who was no longer there.
Creeping towards the back on tiptoes Erin wondered, and then tried to forget, what the guard would think if he woke up and resumed his rounds. Once she had reached the carpet she was able to move quickly to the shipping area, where she had to walk gingerly again on the bare concrete. Working rapidly and as quietly as she could, Erin dressed herself in the coverall and her tennies once more. Pulling the baseball cap from a cardboard box, she shook it out and then pulled it over her own reddish locks, tucking the long strands completely underneath the hat. Her heels went back into pockets and she looked like a dowdy mall worker again. After taking a deep breath and gathering her thoughts, she was ready to sneak back into the sculpture section and rescue her friends.
They made an odd pair of statues standing there, dressed in black Lycra and white satin, dark-haired and blonde, ‘artificial’ and ‘real’. Erin poked Melissa’s figure again, harder, and this time she wobbled in place for a couple of seconds before finally providing a response. Melissa blinked once, then seemed to slowly thaw from her frozen position starting with her arms. She licked her lips before saying "Wha…?"
"Shh!" Erin hushed her. "You were really out to lunch for a while there; had me worried. We have to work fast – the guard’s asleep," she explained quickly.
Melissa shook her head to clear it, then glanced around. Somehow Erin had gotten her clothes changed super fast. Or something else had happened. "Uhh, I was kinda dreaming I was a granite statue…"
"You sure were, for a short while at least!" Erin turned towards the enduringly still form of Wendy. "Hurry now, let’s get her disguise on and get out of here before something else goes wrong."
"Sorry, I guess I kind of got carried away."
"It’s OK. You almost became part of the exhibit, but don’t worry about that now. Help me get this over her." Erin was threading a short wrap-dress around Wendy’s stiff arms and down over her torso to cover the conspicuous undergarments. If the next part of their plan was to succeed the statue of their friend had to look a lot different than she did in the gallery. Once the dress was in place and tied in back, Erin added a thin snakeskin belt from one of her seemingly bottomless pockets and hid the figure’s eyes with a pair of dark glasses. She finished off the costume with a brassy blonde wig cut in a pageboy style that looked so fake it might have come from a display window. Stripping Wendy’s long gloves from her arms, Melissa replaced them with some costume jewelry bracelets. Now their frozen friend looked more like an everyday display mannequin than an enticing erotic artwork. This plan might actually work.
Wendy’s hazy consciousness noticed something was different at the first touch of Erin’s hand on her arm. She registered a wordless surprise, first because those familiar voices had returned, but more so because the renewed touches on her motionless body were reawakening the arousal she had experienced much earlier during her transformation. Then a shadow fell across her eyes and the lights did not glare so brightly anymore. Wendy was pleased.
Erin stepped back and admired their rapid camouflage efforts, along with Melissa. The change was remarkable; Wendy could have come out of any display window in the mall. "Time to get this freak show on the road!" She reached into a pocket and handed Melissa a pair of white oblong objects. "Oh, here are your shoes – they’re a lot quieter on the tile than those heels…" Her friend thanked her with a smile while she swapped footgear.
"I’ll take the front. Easy now, tipping her over!" Melissa grasped the rigid Wendy at her shoulders and waited for Erin to get her hands around her ankles. "Ready all together now; lift!" Simultaneously they raised the platform and the attached lifelike statue that was their friend a few inches off the polished floor.
"Ooof – she must have gained some weight," Erin complained.
"Quiet, it must be the base. Easy now." Slowly, they rotated the statue to a horizontal position while keeping the edges of platform from hitting the floor. Wendy of course remained completely rigid the whole time. Taking short, light, steps they began to carry her stiffened figure slowly towards the exit door. Setting her back upright momentarily, they prepared their escape. Melissa quickly shrugged into her own coverall and replaced her hat. Cleaning up every bit of evidence that they had been inside, the girls quickly jumbled the shipping boxes and made sure the ceiling tile was back in place. At the last moment, Erin remembered the placard that had titled their performance and returned to the sculpture area to retrieve it. Seeing how empty the spot on the floor where Wendy had stood had become, she slid a couple of the other abstract carvings closer together to cover the gap. Behind her, the snores of the sleeping guard provided a positive encouragement.
Back at the entry door they rehearsed their next steps, lifted Wendy vertically, and with a prayer for luck, opened the door that led into the corridor. Sweet silence continued; there had been no alarm. Gingerly they allowed the door to close and snick locked. Erin brought over the handtruck from where she had left it and they were able to slide the tongue of it under Wendy’s base plate. A short length of webbing secured the stiff figure in place. Now she really looked like a mannequin being transported. So far, so good.
Trying to look like two bored workers replacing a display dummy, Melissa and Erin wheeled the statue of Wendy slowly down the service corridor, across the open dark atrium, towards the exit where they had parked Erin’s car. Melissa attempted to whistle nonchalantly, but her mouth was too dry. The had a brief moment of sheer terror as one of the prowling guards appeared from behind a custodial cart and surprised them. He gave them a cursory glance but did not really look, which was fortunate for the workers who had pulled their caps down to hide their showgirl faces. "G’nite, guys," was all he said and received a grunt and a ‘gruff yeah’ as an answer. After that, he thought nothing more of the encounter.
"Whooo-eee" Melissa gasped, "THAT was close!" Erin could only nod. Without
further incident they reached the car and were able to carefully place their
rigid friend horizontally on the carpeted area formed when the rear seats were
folded down. Melissa congratulated Erin on having a vehicle with enough room;
they would never have been able to pull this off using her motor scooter. Leisurely,
trying to look like they were getting paid by the hour, they got into the car
and drove away. For the first few blocks, Erin’s eyes were glued on the rear-view
mirror, expecting to see swarms of guards appear. It did not take too much imagination
to conjure up multitudes of police cars chasing them. After a few minutes the
dread feeling passed and she was finally able to let out a deep breath of release.
They were out. Soon they were several blocks from the mall and everything was
working to plan.
"We made it!" Erin proclaimed. "We actually did it – and you doubted the plan would work? Ha!"
The blare of an amplified voice behind them startled both girls. "Pull over please, right here." Glancing back into the mirror Erin saw a genuine police cruiser this time, lights ablaze, instead of an imaginary one.
"Oh god, NO!" she wailed. It took her a few moment to realize she had to park the car; there was no way they could outrun the cops. Shaking, she opened the window and waited for the officer to approach. Waited for their doom.
Their doom looked surprisingly like a healthy young baldwin as he approached the stopped car and its two calm occupants. He smiled when he saw two good looking young ladies inside. "License and Registration, please?" he asked. The driver, a pretty redhead, handed it over quietly. He glanced at the papers; they appeared to be all in order. She was twenty-three, and lived locally. "Miss Rossovich, do you know why I stopped you?"
"No, sir," Erin replied, batting her ravishing eyes at him. They seemed large and she had very long lashes; one could almost get lost deep in those emerald orbs.
"Uh, Miss, you were going forty-two miles an hour in a thirty-five zone. You also have a taillight out. The left one." In truth she had been moving a bit faster than that, but he decided to give her a break.
"Oh, My," she gasped, raising her hand to cover her open mouth. "I did not realize it; I’m soo sorry, officer. I’ll take care of that taillight right away, sir."
The policeman flipped open his book and began to write out a citation, noting the license, time of day, all the pertinent details. This took about five minutes while the ladies fidgeted in their seats. He flipped the book closed and handed the form to the driver, Erin.
"Here you are, Miss. Seeing as it is late, I’m going to let the speeding go. But you take care of that tail light right away, otherwise there will be a fine.
"Thank You, officer," she beamed with a very pleasant smile. "I’ll get it fixed tomorrow, for sure."
"You do that. Goodnight, Miss Rossovich." He bent down to see the other passenger more clearly. She was also very beautiful, though dressed like the driver in baggy work clothes. Then he noticed there was a third occupant. "One, moment, Miss. Who’s your friend in back?" There was another reclining figure. When he shined his flashlight on that young lady, she did not move.
"Wendy" answered the passenger, with an impish grin.
"Uh, that’s just a mannequin, officer, said the driver. We gave it a name because it’s going to pose at a bachelor party and that’s the name of his girlfriend. Uh, fiancée." Erin smiled again. "It’s a surprise…." She quickly volunteered.
"Actually, she’s real; we just sprinkled her with pixie dust to turn her into a mannequin," the passenger said spontaneously with a wide smile. This earned her a glaring look from the driver.
"Have either of you young ladies been drinking tonight?" the police officer said suspiciously.
"No, officer," the driver quickly replied. She sounded sober.
"Drive carefully then, and please call a cab if that party involves alcohol, Miss."
"Thank you, officer." Erin smiled one last time at him as he strolled back to his cruiser. She started the engine and pulled out into the lane, signaling carefully. The rest of the trip she stayed well below the limit. A mile or so down the road she turned to her passenger. "I was ready to kill you back there, Melissa! How could you SAY such a thing? Pixie dust, as if!!"
"Chill out, Erin. I was just having some fun flirting with the cop. He was cute, or didn’t you notice?"
"Yes, I noticed," she said, settling down a bit, "and I think he noticed me, too. That’s bad."
"Eventually someone is going to put two and two together about what happened to our purloined friend in the back. By then I want that cop to forget all about me and you and especially Wendy."
"Um humm," Melissa agreed. "So what now, we lay low?"
"You got it. Remember Wendy said that the potion she drank before which immobilized her just wore off after a few days. We’re going to just wait a while and she’ll come out of it. I hope."
"I dunno, she said that was only a couple of days then, and how long has it been this time? Weeks?"
"Maybe they gave her a bigger dose," Erin offered. "How should I know?"
"Hey, you passed your apartment!" Melissa looked back as Erin drove on.
"That’s because Wendy is going to stay with you for a while…"
"No way. My building has covenants, and nosy neighbors, and…."
"and the police don’t know you from Madonna. They just wrote down my name and license number!" Erin waved the ticket she had just gotten to emphasize her point.
"Oh, all right," Melissa conceded. "You’ll help me move her in?"
"Of course. And then I have to get some sleep too. Work tomorrow, you know…."
Reclining on the cargo floor, Wendy was doubly pleased. Not only did
she know the names of her friends (how could she have forgotten them?)
but she was going to a different place, a new gallery. She did not grasp
the part of the conversation where they talked about the potion wearing
off. Wendy did not recall any potion, and she certainly did not want that
warm sensual feeling in her body of being caressed all over to ever end.
Wherever she was going to, Wendy knew she would be an excellent statue
there as well.
Several days later a late-model sports car pulls up to a gated driveway in a posh section of the suburbs. The saleslady from the Wingate Gallery, clad again in her trademark tightly cut suit and daringly short miniskirt, gives her name to the voice at the intercom and drives into the compound as soon as the gates ease open. Parking along the circular path in front of the main mansion – there are several additional buildings inside the gate – and ascends the stone steps to a massive oak door. As she approaches, the sounds of a lock being thrown precedes the opening of the huge slab just as she reaches it. Her footsteps echo on the hard floor as she steps into the vaulted marble entrance atrium. In front of her rises a curving double-staircase of dark polished wood.
"Welcome to Haverwhills, Ms. Hyland." The speaker is a trim middle-aged man clothed in a casual polo shirt, khaki slacks, and topsiders.
"Dian; call me Dian," she glowed, "you’ve been expecting me."
"Of course. I felt it most appropriate to meet you myself after what has happened. Come with me to my studio and we can discuss the matter." He did not leave it as a question and immediately turned and began walking away.
Dian Hyland followed beside him, after catching up the first few steps, as the walked up the staircase to the second floor. Standing at intervals in alcoves set into the wall were sculptures, busts on pedestals, and other works of art that she recognized as being almost priceless. This artisan was also an accomplished collector as well. She walked along in silence, thinking about what she was going to say and how he might react to the news.
They reached the studio, a large room at the rear of the mansion that was capped by a north-facing wall-length skylight. Daylight streaming in from overhead cast long, linear shadows on the parquet wood floor. Scattered about the room were large blocks of white stone – alabaster or marble – and some short wood platforms. The walls were decorated with art and paintings from several different ages but the theme remained consistent: Faultless feminine beauty. Dian recognized some of d’Andrea’s work there as well as pieces from Raphael, Limoges, and even a Leonardo sketch, carefully framed in an argon-filled case. More modern works showed the female form in more explicit style and included originals from Vallejo, Gibson, deBerardinis, and the novel upstart Soryama.
She turned at the sound of a chair scraping on the floor and saw that he had arranged two of them around a small circular stone table-height pillar that was probably also a posing dais.
"Please sit." He indicated one of the chairs. "Can I offer you some coffee, or tea?"
"No, not right now. I must admit I admire your collection here; you have a refined taste," she gushed.
"Pah! This is a trifle, merely some inspirations and references. Sometime I will show you my entire collection and you will be speechless, I can assure you."
"I’m looking forward to that time." She clasped her hands on the table and looked at him seriously. "Now, to the matter of the recent burglary…"
"Yes. What can you tell me?"
"The break-in was two days ago, on a Sunday night. Your sculpted figure, alone, was taken; nothing else. Police suspect an inside job since none of the doors were jimmied and there was even a guard present."
"I know; I have read the report. As you must have, as well. Don’t you feel there are some very unusual things about that night?"
Dian flushed; when she had first read the report she had thought it was preposterous. Now she was only embarrassed by the incompetency of the security guards. Buffoons and idiots they must have been. "You mean the second sculpture that they described…"
"Yes, most unusual. Two women, posed like perfect statues in a close embrace?" he paused for a moment, closed his eyes, and savored the vision in his mind. That could be the theme of his next masterpiece. "More than one guard described the work precisely in blind questioning: A brunette and a redhead, dressed in black form-fitting jumpsuits. The sculpture was observed by several guards, multiple times, across a few hours?"
"Actually, only about ninety minutes are accounted for, from the time the first alarm tripped to when…"
"…that miserable excuse for a security officer fell asleep!" he finished.
"He has been dealt with, severely," she replied.
"Never mind that. I wanted to ask you to think back. Remembering those descriptions, did you meet anyone in the past few days that would match the descriptions of the ladies in that deceptive sculpture?"
"No, I’m not sure," she said while reviewing her memories. "Wait a minute! Those two girls I called you about. One of them was a redhead, certainly. I can’t recall the other one, but she did say she was a student of Kleinpilz. Do you think it was them?"
"Most probably. I can see where they could never afford a work like the one stolen but this crime has elements of brilliance in its execution. Truly inspired; posing as statues…." He closed his eyes again.
"The insurance claim has already been filed; if the artwork does not appear in thirty days time you will be receiving a check for the full amount."
"That is only money; another triviality. The true loss is of the statue; the figure itself. She may never again see the light of day."
"I understand," Hyland said, comforting him.
"No, you DON’T!" he shouted, standing up so abruptly the chair fell over backwards. "That figure was UNIQUE – one of a kind. Utterly irreplaceable!" For the first time there was anger in his eyes.
"You have the mold, the maquette…?" she ventured, standing also to be at his level.
"Nothing! It is my technique; what drives me to seek perfection in my craft."
"Surely the original model must be still in the area somewhere? Perhaps you might seek her out and begin anew." To break the tension, she decided to take a walk around the studio and distract him. It was a ploy she knew well and used often to her advantage. Emphasizing the sway of her hips, she took the stately, pointy-toed, steps that she knew would draw his eyes to her fine long legs, her best asset.
"That also is not possible," he said with genuine sorrow. Hearing the click of her footsteps, he looked up and saw her prancing about his studio. An idea occurred to him; something that should have been obvious from the first time they had met. Walking casually over to a worktable, he palmed a small container in his hand and then walked back to where she stood, gazing at the framed artworks on the wall. "Lovely, aren’t they?" he said. "What would you give to become a work of art yourself? To achieve eternal beauty?"
She didn’t catch the edge in his hypothetical questions, his jibes. "Not my part of the business," she threw back jauntily, "I peddle bubblegum art to tasteless yuppies in the mall, not pose for it." She turned back to face him, an arms-length away. "I’m flattered, to be sure, but that’s not my thing." Sensing something, she decided it was time to end the meeting. A quick obvious glance at her watch, then, "Well, I really must be running along now." She had already taken a half-step towards the door.
He placed his hand casually on her shoulder, just for a moment, as he replied, "No, you must stay and model for me. I insist!" he then removed his hand, cupping the microinjector capsule in his fingers.
"I….." was the final word she said before instantly freezing into position with her mouth open. She had felt a pinprick on her skin the moment before and had not had time to think about it before her muscles locked solid, holding her body stiffly in place. Her thoughts raced, but there was nothing she could say or do. Standing immobilized in the studio, she suddenly understood where his amazing sculptures had come from just before the fast-acting drug reached her mind and her very thoughts solidified in place as well.
"Much better. I can see you are going to be an excellent model, Dian, better even than that bimbo Wendy you allowed to be taken from me. In a way it is very fitting that you will become her replacement!"
Slowly, very dexterously, he began to disrobe her, cutting the fabric
from her rigid form. Creating new sculptures was always his favorite form
of artistic expression; today he felt energized, almost inspired, by the
serendipity of the moment. As her lush body came into full view, he imagined
what sort of poses she would look best in. He gazed appreciatively at her
long, shapely legs still clad in shimmery pantyhose. Without question,
they were her most excellent feature. Humming happily, the artisan set
to work on completing his newest masterpiece.
The following days were quiet, perhaps too much so. Erin and Melissa returned to their jobs and avoided saying anything about their past weekend or the strange fate of their friend, Wendy. When her name came up, they both said she was ‘on vacation somewhere,’ which was correct in the strictest sense of the words although no one would ever have guessed the far stranger truth of her new existence as a lifelike statue.
Sundays, like clockwork, the two met for brunch at ‘their’ sidewalk café, sipping their lattés, watching the people taking their weekend strolls, and trying to not talk about their escapades or their still frozen friend. As of the end of last week she had shown not the slightest sign of reviving on her own, Melissa had noted then. Erin was looking forward to their meeting today but the other young woman was a few minutes late.
Erin was thinking about what might have delayed her when a middle-aged man approached the table and sat down before asking "Mind if I join you?" For a weekend he was overdressed in a rumpled suit and topcoat. An old fedora perched on his no doubt balding head. She had never seen him before, ever.
"I’d rather be alone for now, if you don’t mind." She said dismissively, hoping the guy would take a hint.
"Oh, I won’t be long," he said elliptically, "besides, there is a matter of mutual interest we really must discuss." Making no move to leave, he signaled the waiter. "Perhaps you would like a refill?"
"No, nothing." Erin was getting upset, but did not want to cause a scene. "Please leave. My friend is meeting me here in a few minutes and..."
"Ah, so much the better; what I have to say concerns her as well." He turned to the waitperson who had arrived and nonchalantly requested a plain coffee. No mocha, no whipped cream, just coffee. Black.
"Look mister, I don’t know who you are or what you want, but this conversation is over. Good-bye." Erin seethed when the attendant had left and she made to stand up.
"Perhaps we have a mutual interest in a particular work of art," he said, as coolly as he had ordered his refreshment. Reaching into an inside pocket, he withdrew a glossy photograph and placed it on the glass tabletop in front of Erin. The picture showed a sculpture of a beautiful woman clothed only in lingerie in front, back, and side views. Though of poor quality, the subject in the photo was unmistakably Wendy.
Erin sat back down.
"Now then, let us discuss the Wingate Gallery and your whereabouts a
few weeks ago like two civilized people. Are you sure now that you would
not like to have your drink warmed up?" He smiled coolly.
That evening Erin arrives at Melissa’s apartment complex in a highly agitated state. Quickly she bolts up to the second-story landing of the building and pushes the lighted doorbell button anxiously. After several tries without a response, she begins to pound on the door with her fists. There is still no answer. Turning away before someone complains, she has almost reached the stairs when a single door opens slowly behind her. Melissa’s door. Her friend’s dark-haired head appears, peering from behind the door panel, sounding slightly groggy.
"Oh. Hi, Erin. Wanna come in?" Melissa says, dully, looking sleepy.
"Of course – I haven’t been banging on your door for the past five minutes for nothing!" the trim young redhead fumed.
"That was you? Oh, sorry… Well, come on inside now." Melissa removes the security chain leaves the door to swing open, and walks back into her apartment, followed by Erin who shuts, latches, and deadbolts the door behind her. Both sit on the couch, facing the inactive TV set and an equally impassive figure of Wendy which stands rigidly in the living area at the entry to the kitchen. Her outer transport ‘costume’ has been removed, revealing the silky white lingerie she had originally been dressed in. The statue continues to wear sunglasses and now has a wide-brimmed sunhat is perched at a jaunty angle atop her blonde hairstyle.
"Melissa, we have to talk. I just had this entirely weird conversation…" Erin’s voice trailed off as she finally took a good look at her spacey friend and the shiny, black, form-fitting garment she wore. "Uh, why are you wearing that catsuit? I thought we both agreed to destroy them after that night." She scolded, referring to the night they had posed as a sculpture in those catsuits, then absconded with their frozen friend.
"Aw, I kind of like the way it feels. The way it hugs my body." Melissa caressed herself then, running her fingers down the smooth slippery surface her waist and hips had become. "Seemed a shame to throw it out after just one wearing…" In truth she had also been using the sensation of the sleek Lycra, along with her own immobility mantra, to relive that same night when she had stood rigid as a living statue with Erin. In the weeks since she had often spent a goodly part of her evenings standing motionless next to or posing with Wendy. The feeling of serene contentment it brought had become very pleasant to her.
"You can buy another one in a different color afterward," Erin said dismissively. "I don’t want to have anything else around that ties us to that theft. Speaking of, that’s why I have to talk to you. I’ve been trying to phone you all day – and most of the evening – but you don’t pick up."
"Uhh, I must have been taking a shower…" Melissa offered. Actually tonight she had been deep in the rhythm of her granite-statue hypnotic state and simply had not been aware of the sound. Besides, a statue cannot move from her fixed pose to merely answer a telephone.
"Right. Whatever." Erin seemed exasperated. "Anyway, today I got a visit from an insurance detective, a Mr. Latimer. Smarmy kind of fellow. He is investigating the burglary claim for a certain piece of artwork," she nodded her head towards Wendy, "and thinks that we may be involved. Imagine that..."
"Oh. Shit. Why does he suspect us?" For the first time tonight she seemed to be paying attention.
"Well, for starters he has the tapes from the security cameras at the mall; video of us arriving with a dolly full of paint and leaving with a dolly full of… dolly, er, mannequin." She repeated Latimer’s glib phrasing; it had sounded a lot cooler when he had said it. "I mean, Wendy." She shook her head. "You can’t make out our faces, but it’s clearly a brunette and a redhead under those coveralls and hats. Next time, let’s use the wigs like I suggested. OK?"
"Next time? I didn’t know there was going to be a next time…" Melissa was listening intently now.
"That’s not important right now. Back to the investigator. It gets worse. Turns out one of his buddies on the police force is a certain youngish traffic officer who drew the night shift a while back."
"Not the same one who…"
"The very same. Turns out they meet for breakfast every now and then and the cop had to tell him this story about a couple of ditzy bimbos he stopped – those are his words – and the mannequin they sprinkled pixie dust on!" Erin glared at her friend and fumed for a few seconds longer. "It’s a good thing he knows nothing about you or he would have found Wendy by now. As it is, I expect him to come by with a search warrant any day now for my apartment and car."
"Bogus; extreme global bummer. So, what do we do?"
"Well, this shamus is not interested in anything but that insurance payout. If the gallery drops the claim, going after us and Wendy is not something he cares about in the least. The cops on the other hand…"
"Wait a minute!" Melissa brightened. "Rescuing Wendy from that place isn’t a theft; it’s an intervention. She was already kidnapped by that artist guy and turned into a statue. That’s the person they should be going after, not us. We’re the good guys here, Erin!"
"Why should this guy believe us? Wendy’s too good of a statue, even now. It will take more than a tattoo to prove that she’s a real person who’s been immobilized and not some fiberglass facsimile. Remember, we once thought the same thing."
"True, you have a good point." Melissa shrugged. "So, what do we do?"
"The only way out of this I see is to produce a living, breathing, Wendy girl who can point a finger at that artist and get him arrested as her abductor. If that happens, there is no way the insurance company could honor a claim on her!" She stood up and walked over towards their patient, stiff, friend. "Speaking of, have you seen any hint she is ever going to come out of it?"
"Not a blink, yet." Melissa confirmed.
Erin waved her hand, then snapped her fingers in front of Wendy’s static visage and shook her rigid shoulders. There was no reaction whatsoever from the immobilized girl. "He must have filled her full of some powerful stuff to keep her stock-still this long. I hate to say it, but I wonder if she’s even alive inside there…?" Erin removed the sunglasses; Wendy’s vacant eyes seemed made of glass too and her firm flesh was cooler than normal body temperature. She seemed exactly the same as she had standing in the gallery those many days ago. Nothing at all had changed in the statue’s appearance.
Hello, Erin, the statue’s thoughts formed. You look like you need a hug. Sadness colored her emotions as Wendy realized she could not hug her friend, lift a finger, or budge at all from her fixed position.
"She’s alive; I know it." Melissa immediately chimed in. She had also come up alongside the unmoving figure and was stroking Wendy’s upper arm absently. The long gloves had never been replaced.
"How do you know?" Erin demanded.
"I just do." Melissa volunteered feebly. There was no way she could tell Erin that when she was near the frozen body of Wendy, standing motionless herself, that she could sense something emanating from the statue. Not a thought exactly, more of a glimmering of an emotion; a delicately empathic feeling of joy. Wendy liked to be touched; it gave her intense and enduring pleasure. That pleasure radiated to whoever was nearby and brought them an echo of happiness as well. Whatever, however it was happening, Melissa had experienced that joy firsthand and so she was caressing their stiffened friend. "Trust me."
"Okay. If the potion won’t wear off, then we’re going to have to find something – an antidote – that will reanimate her. I mean, we can’t just let her stay as a statue forever."
"Hey, she’s a lot less trouble this way," Melissa jibed. "She’s not going to upstage you at parties now, or lure your boyfriends away…"
"Don’t talk like that. Wendy can be a pain in the behind sometimes, but she is our friend."
"Just kidding, Erin; take a chill pill!"
"I know, it’s just that private eye has me shook up, along with thinking about what we are going to have to do next. I don’t like the idea; it scares me."
"We must locate the ‘artist’ who did this to Wendy and then see if we can obtain some potion from him to revive her."
"Very carefully. We’ve got his number; with your art background you can probably sweet-talk your way by posing as a critic or rich patron of the arts. We go there, grab the stuff, and leave. Simple." Erin frowned, for the plan was anything but simple and she knew it.
"You forgot ‘not getting caught’," Melissa added with a pale smile.
"Yes; that is the tricky part isn’t it?" She took a moment to touch Wendy’s lovely rigid face as she put back the sunglasses and just for a moment felt a little impression of joy or pleasure from their friend. "Besides, if we were stuck frozen in her place, she’d do the same for us, Right?" Erin suggested.
"Right!" Melissa agreed. "Alrighty then; I’ll call the artist up and then we go out there tomorrow morning and DO IT! Free Wendy – Yah!" She was really getting herself worked up. "Do you hear that?" She addressed the still figure, "You're going to be moving around again real soon." The mannequin of course said nothing.
"Yes, at the crack of dawn we’ll confront the evil sorcerer in his lair – but this time we need to have a lot more convincing costumes….and wigs." Erin suggested.
"OK, pushy, you can have your wigs, but I’ve got my eye on that slinky little cocktail dress you drooled over a few days ago. As a rich bitch, I’ll have to look the part."
"Just so long as you don’t get typecast in that role…" She kidded, finally relaxing somewhat.
"Oh, you wait – I’m getting you back for that one!" Melissa laughed too, and started giggling.
Wendy experienced at least a small part of the joy and excitement her two good friends were radiating though of course she could not move a muscle to join in. She was content to stand tranquilly to one side as her two friends found some wine and toasted their newest adventure in giddy camaraderie. Glowing also from being touched, she was, at least for the moment, content.
Outside the apartment, concealed in the bushes, the detective listening
over the parabolic dish mike was not sure what he had just heard was true,
or even credible. It was one hell of a tall tale in his opinion, but one
thing was very clear. These two young women were either very brave or very
foolish. Likely both.
"OK, then, this is could be really touchy!" Erin declared as she guided the car along the gravel path leading to the mansion. She sensed a pall of gloom surrounding the place, a foreboding, which the dark rainy day did nothing to dispel.
The appointment had been suspiciously easy to obtain; Melissa had introduced herself under an alias and, using her impressive background in the arts along with some of Ms.Hyland’s mannered circumlocutions, expressed a keen interest in viewing and obtaining one of the hyper-realistic sculptures. She carefully dodged any mention of the burglary but noted that the figure ‘Private Showing’ represented exactly the style of artwork she was seeking.
In return the artist had come across as forthcoming and not at all the aloof auteur that Wendy had once described him as. They chatted for some time on the realist genre and the prominent artists and their work. He expressed humility at his own ‘crude renderings’ as he had called them and seemed gratified that others were taking an interest in his works. No, he did not have any items on public exhibition – he noted the cancellation of a planned show at Wingate with some dismay – but, yes, they were welcome to call on his studio to view his private collection and works-in-progress. A date was settled on right then and there.
He now watched intently via the sentry cameras as the late-model sports wagon threaded its way along the approach road and settled into one of the marked places instead of simply stopping directly in front of the building. Two young women emerged and walked the short distance to the entrance foyer. The driver was rather petite and clad in a crisp pantsuit which flattered her trim figure but hid any view of her legs. On the other hand, the passenger shamelessly displayed more than sufficient thigh for both of them. The blue D&G slip dress – he instantly recognized the designer – embraced a lithe and lovely figure while exposing enough bare skin and leg to get her arrested in many parts of the country. Jewels gleamed sparkling highlights from her necklace and earrings. She carried a tiny Gucci hand purse that looked to be extremely expensive. This elegant woman certainly seemed to be the sort of patron he was seeking: Rich, young, astute. Following her and her companion with the camera, there was something which however did not seem quite right. It was not only the way the two chattered together; more than an employer would normally talk to their employee. Something else he could not put his finger on, just yet.
"D’you see that?" Melissa whispered to Erin. "A TV camera, up there. NO, don’t look!"
"Then why did you say anything?" she hissed. "This is so creepy, being watched like that."
"For Sure," her friend affirmed as they ascended the stairs. The steps were high enough to cause her short skirt to ride high up on her nyloned legs and she held her hands discreetly to each side of the hem to push the thin fabric back into place.
This caught the eye of the watching artist, who realized that the elegant young woman did not move like a high-society lady should. She seemed oddly preoccupied with what others might be thinking about her appearance; most of the jet-setters he knew could have cared not a whit. He reflected that it did not matter much anyway, because soon she would not be moving at all. Stepping away from the bank of monitors, he moved towards the steps and his waiting guests.
Standing outside the massive doors, Erin and Melissa fidgeted. Coming here was most likely a mistake, Erin conceded, they probably should have gone to the police. Who would have believed them, though? From the evidence she had seen there was an open-and-shut case against them. No, she reminded herself, this was the best way. While waiting, she tried to recall the scant information they had been able to find out about the mysterious artist and this estate he lived on. Old money had built Haverwhills, the net had revealed, and once the previous generation had passed on, the ownership fell to a younger sibling after his older sisters had enigmatically vanished. He lived here alone and was something of a recluse. The sound of a lock being opened jogged her thoughts back to the here and now. She prepared herself to meet the man who had abducted Wendy.
The person who opened the door looked nothing like Dr. Frankenstein, Gomez, or any other ghoulish visions Melissa had imagined. Instead, this smiling tanned fellow looked a lot like her dentist. And about as menacing, she thought to herself as she extended one white-gloved hand. He took it gently, kissed it eloquently, then said, "Welcome to HaverWhill, Miss Erickson. Allow me a moment to introduce myself," he continued, showing them the way into the mansion, "I am Amos Wickwire the Fifth, and this is my humble abode," he said the last with false modesty, for the residence was truly stunning in its opulence.
"Charming, Amos, simply chaaarming. Can I call you Amos?" Melissa gushed.
"Of course, though I must admit you place me at a disadvantage, Miss Erickson….."
"Oh: Katrina," Melissa fibbed, "though my friends call me Kat."
"Splendid; a lovely name for an even more lovely lady!" He spread the flattery pretty thick, and she seemed to be lapping it up. "And how should I address your fetching associate?"
"My, where have my manners gone?" Melissa gasped theatrically, playing the moment for all it was worth. "Miss Pyewacket has been in my service for almost a year now, but I cannot recall ever hearing her given name. She smiled ingenuously. "After all, there are so many staff to keep straight…" Casting her eyes in Erin’s direction she sidestepped the other’s withering scowl before asking, "Miss P?"
"My friends call me Heather," she said simply, while curtseying slightly. Good God; Pyewacket!? That’s the last time I’ll let Melissa pick the names…
"Well, now that we have all been introduced," the artist continued, ignoring the frosty glances between the two women, "let me introduce you now to some of my collection. This way to the gallery," he continued while offering the crook of his elbow to Melissa who accepted after a moment’s confusion. Erin trailed as they slowly strolled up the grand staircase. She could not overhear the hushed conversation between Amos Wickwire and Melissa though from the way she pointed at the contents of the alcoves they were talking art. Her body language was having an altogether different discussion as she clung to his arm and bumped her tush into his hip all too often. Had she forgotten who she was flirting with? Erin had no such blindness.
"In that direction is my studio," he said with a casual wave of his hand. "Possibly you would like to see it as well, once we have concluded our business."
"Certainly, I’d be delighted," replied Melissa as he led the way in a different direction, towards a large set of sliding doors inlaid with gold filigrees surrounding what had to be the ancestral crest. A single small key unlocked the entry, initiated the motors that slid the panels into their wall pockets, and activated the lighting. The gallery was vast and high-vaulted, with different sections given over to particular themes.
"Welcome, ladies, to the Wickwire Collection," the artist intoned, with only a small hint of sarcasm in his voice. Images of beauty, almost exclusively women, covered the walls and stood in statuesque repose at intervals around the floor. Occasionally there were multiple groupings, friezes, or frescoes. Some were very familiar to Erin from history texts; others were completely unknown. That seemed to be the point, as she gathered from the conversation between Amos and Melissa that many of the artworks had been found on expeditions and archaeological digs financed by the artist from his vast resources. Most were unique.
Melissa had skipped on ahead to gaze at a full-sized figure in a tight purple satin corset-like garment with matching rabbit ears, dark hose, and white cuffs and collar perched on a low pedestal. "This looks like one of Hanson’s Bunny series, but I’ve never seen this particular one in any of the catalogues," she said in a tone of wonder.
"That is because she comes direct from his private collection to mine. Duane had told me that this figure was modeled by a particularly close friend of his that eventually demurred from having her lovely likeness put on public display." He walked up beside Melissa and regarded the statue closely. "In a way, that is a pity, for she is a true goddess. However, his loss is my gain, for she will always brighten this collection." He led the way again, towards a nude figure reclining on an oblong raised block of granite which brought her up level with Erin. "Here, too, is a little-seen d’Andrea, but a masterpiece." Hovering around the figure, he pointed out a seemingly unremarkable elbow. "See here, the way he has layered the polychrome finish to lend an appearance of translucence to the skin tone. Genius!"
Melissa was playing along, or perhaps she really did understand what Wickwire was nattering on about. All the small talk was only making Erin more nervous, but in her role as ‘Kat’s assistant, she could only wait for her friend to steer the conversation as they had previously agreed.
Which she presently did. "These works are striking examples of the preceding state of the art, a fitting introduction to your seeming transcendence of those earlier artisans." Melissa delivered the statement with a straight face, but to Erin the BS was getting very thick in the air. "It is your own proficiency, after all, which brought such extraordinary essays of the female form to my attention."
"Forgive me," he said in mock humility, "it is so seldom that I discover someone who can appreciate the nuances of form and technique that I must admit I have neglected the purpose of this engagement." Bowing slightly to Melissa, he again offered his arm to her. "Please, this way, my lady Kat; we shall not tarry any longer." Together they walked farther into the depths of the huge gallery.
Erin followed along behind again, thinking this might be a good time to slip away but somehow compelled to remain by a salacious curiosity to see the artist’s latest creation. Soon they approached a solitary figure obscured by a circular white drapery that was suspended from far above.
"Please, stand here." He motioned them very close to the shrouded figure. "Indulge me in a modicum of showmanship as I present to you my latest meager accomplishment. Behold: "The Domestic’." Pressing a button on a hidden control, the three watched as the shroud was quickly whisked away into the air.
Erin gasped briefly before realizing it was terribly inapropos, then simply regarded the statue with wide-eyed astonishment.
Posed there, as stiff and motionless as Wendy had ever been, was the woman Erin and Melissa instantly recognized as the saleslady from the Wingate Gallery. She had been costumed as a French Maid, complete with white apron and a little lace ruffle that had been placed in her pageboy-styled hair. Her long legs were now sheathed in the repeating gridwork pattern of black fishnet stockings. The minuscule skirt barely covered the curve of her derriere, revealing the black lace panties the figure wore. Posed with both feet together, leaning forward to display ample cleavage, she seemed ready to apply the feathery plume of her duster to the knickknacks on some imaginary shelf. Her other arm was held behind her, as if for balance and her fingers with their long nails formed an elegant counterpoint. The figure’s red-hued lips were pursed as if saying "Oooh" and her eyes held a hint of surprise as if she had been frozen just after someone had pinched her on the ass.
Melissa was likewise speechless for a few seconds as she gazed at the rigid statue. Try as she had during the visit to treat the artist objectively, seeing another paralyzed woman put his casual villainy in perspective. Despite all her efforts to convince herself that this urbane fellow could not have been the same man who had abducted Wendy, the truth was terribly shocking when it was posed just inches away. After a few empty breaths, she managed to say, "This statue is magnificent! Your new technique far surpasses anything I have ever seen before…" She pulled the glove off one hand and reached up to touch the rigid face of the figure. "This texture is unbelievable, so realistic that it almost seems that she were alive…"
Watch it, Erin thought and looked daggers at her overawed friend, then stepped back into the shadows as if she too wanted to take a better look at the resplendent statues.
The artist picked up on the misstep too, registering the telltale words with a quick glance at Melissa that Erin noticed but she herself did not. He explained "That is because my figures are modeled from life, Kat, and thereby capture all of the detail of the living person from which it was taken." He edged behind the figure and pointed to the left hand. "Look here how the tiny folds in the skin over her knuckles are clearly reproduced, and the cuticles around the nails." He was hoping to distract this woman long enough to palm the microinjector that weighted down his pocket. There was no doubt in his mind that these two were the other girl’s – Wendy’s – friends and that they could not ever be allowed to leave.
Erin was pacing quickly yet quietly out of the gallery. She hoped that Melissa would be able to distract the artist long enough for her to accomplish her mission and return undetected, but she had her doubts. Seeing Ms.Hyland frozen like that, immobilized into another of Wickwire’s erotic artworks, had shaken her resolve and any hope that their plan would succeed. Putting the uncertainty out of her mind, she tried to focus on finding the studio and the antidote to the potion which had turned these women into helpless statues.
At the end of a long hallway was a likely-looking door. Locked. Trying another door which opened into blackness she heard, rather than saw, that this room was what she was looking for just as a flash of lightning threw the large, echoey studio into sudden relief. Blinded for a second, she slipped inside and tried to remember what she had seen in that instant. Pillars, platforms, and a wall full of paintings. The darkness tried to smother her as it had back in the mall ceiling, but Erin steeled herself and pressed on. Picking her way among the obstacles, Erin swore under her breath when she banged a shin on one of the short stone pedestals. Damn, she thought, rubbing her aching leg, I probably got a run in my stockings too! Making it almost all the way across to the workbench before remembering the small flashlight she had slipped into her pocket, she blinked at the sudden bright beam when she turned it on. Waving it around her, pushing back the darkness, she was glad that there were no other frozen women in the studio. That would have really freaked me out, she thought as she began rifling through the drawers. They held nothing of consequence, though she saw resting in one deep file drawer an object that looked like Wendy’s purse.
Back in the gallery, Melissa was doing her best to stall but was running out of ideas. "Your refinement in adding feathered highlights via airbrushed gouache is nothing short of phenomenal," she ventured, without seeing that the artist had begun looking at her in an entirely new light – as a blank canvas – and he was already thinking of the possibilities.
He cut her off by saying "Enough about my creations; tell me something of yourself, lovely Katrina." Coming up very close to Melissa, he whispered in her ear, "If you were to commission a perfect statue of yourself, what sort of pose would you choose to assume?" Before she could answer, he placed his hand on her shoulder and pressed down, lightly. "Take some time and think about that, if you will; I have to go off and locate your associate now…" Melissa said nothing as he walked away but remained gazing intently at the statue of the maid.
Erin was about out of options, too. She had searched the workbench, the cabinets, a four-drawer filing cabinet, and a janitorial closet without turning up anything like what she was looking for. Although she was not sure what that was, her intuition told her it had to be here somewhere. Then she heard an almost inaudible ‘click’ and a faint ‘whirr’. If she had been any farther away she would not have made it out. Guided by the sound, she quickly located the small refrigerator and a tray of syringes on the second shelf.
"Jackpot," she said to herself quietly, then inspected the labels: ‘Fort L2’, ‘Fort L3’, ‘Quick Fort’ then ‘Anima 2’, ‘Anima 1’ and so on. In addition to the needles were small bottles of liquid similarly tagged. Thinking quickly, she tried to figure out what the effects might be and came up short. Then she heard the sound of footsteps in the hall and realized she had run out of time. Grabbing a handful of syringes, Erin doused her light and crept out a side door just as Wickwire was entering the studio.
He caught the last movement of the closing door just as he turned on the overhead work lights. No matter, he thought to himself, for he knew where she was going. He took a handful of ‘QF’ ampoules that were tipped with long needles and prepared to go statue hunting.
Erin had gotten herself quickly lost in the maze of hallways and was about to give up and double back when another flash of lightning splashed long, rigid-people-shaped, shadows onto the floor. Moving in the same direction she soon reached the private gallery. It now seemed darker here, too, but she was able to make her way across the floor to where the maid statue was. She could see Melissa waiting close by.
"I’ve got the potion, let’s get out of here!" she whispered to her quiet friend, but got no answer. Fearing the worst, she came right up to Melissa and nudged her like she had when they were posing before. There was still no response, but her body seemed even more rigid than before. "Come ON!" Erin almost yelled in her friend’s ear. Nothing. Turning on her flashlight and shining it across Melissa’s blank, staring eyes and stiffened expression confirmed what she had suspected: Her friend had been turned into a statue, too!
Random thoughts flew through Erin’s mind; where was the artist?; how am I going to escape now?; why hadn’t we told someone before we came here?; what is Wendy going to think? Erin brought herself back to reality right after reflecting that with that extravagant outfit on, Melissa would make a superb mannequin. Stop – and think – before you go mad! she commanded herself and suddenly her course of action was clear.
Just then the lights brightened, followed by the sneering voice of Wickwire at the door, "There is no escape, Miss Heather Pyewacket – or whatever your real name is!" His voice sounded like it was getting closer. "Your stiff friend found that out already, as you have seen. But I think that you are the smart one, the one who liberated ‘Private Showing’ from the mall, the one who is behind this daring subterfuge…."
"What if I am?" Erin yelled, keeping her back to his voice and fumbling as quietly as she could with the syringes.
"You cannot leave; none of my artworks can ever leave. I will offer you something of meaning however, a privilege I have never before extended. Give up now, and you can select the exact pose and costume in which you will spend the rest of eternity." He sounded quite close now.
Spinning around, Erin screamed "Fuck You!" at the artist and threw a handful of syringes at his face. While he ducked, she turned and ran the other way, into the private gallery. The glass tubes shattered on the hard floor, forming little puddles of potion that were quite slippery.
She heard the ‘chuff’ of an air-powered gun and glimpsed the shadow of a fast-moving dart before it vanished into the shadows. Erin had not seen a gun before, and tried even harder now to keep under cover. Squatting low behind some of the pillar-mounted busts, she could hear the artist relentlessly pursing her.
"So that’s the way you want it, huh?" The artist did not sound so urbane, now. "I have many clients who would relish seeing a young filly like you posing in a more lascivious tableaux, say in an explicitly intimate moment with your friend over there, or even as part of a threesome!"
Erin held her breath, trying not to pant as she hid behind the motionless figure of Melissa. Trying to gauge where the artist was from his last outburst, she waited until the very last moment before springing for the door. There was another ‘chuff’ and a dart embedded itself in Melissa’s shoulder. The frozen girl did not budge an inch but her body wobbled slightly in place from the force of the projectile.
Erin was within fifteen feet of the door when she realized that the panels were moving towards each other faster than she was reaching them. She would be trapped! Damn that remote control, she thought, lunging for a side door with a push-bar lock on it. That must be the exit! Erin had almost reached the fire door when she heard a third ‘chuff’ followed by a sharp sting in her right buttock. I’m hit! Instantly her body became very heavy and sluggish though her momentum carried her closer and closer to freedom. She felt as if she were swimming through motor oil, then molasses, then black tar. One part of her mind wondered why the antidote she had injected herself with was not working while another part felt grim regret at having failed her friends. Closer and more slowly she approached the door until her hands were on the bar. One more push, and I’ll be free, she urged her leaden, unresponsive limbs. Erin heard the ‘click’ of the exit mechanism spring and felt the door move barely outward just as her muscles locked completely solid and she became, to all outward appearances, another incredibly lifelike statue.
She continued to see, though the view of the door panel was unchanging. She could hear as Wickwire came closer in triumph. However, she could not move a millimeter as he spun her stiff figure around so that it faced him. Her arms were still extended, pushing on a release bar that no longer held any freedom. Completely powerless, she gazed at her captor with glassy eyes as he crowed over his latest acquisition.
"I told you, Missy, you’d never get away. Gave you a chance to surrender, but you thought you could escape your destiny. Ha!" He held the gun up to her fixed stare, showed her the next chambered QF dart. "But what am I talking to you for?" Wickwire mused, "Your mind is as frozen as your body is now, held perfectly suspended in the final realization of your utter failure."
Than why can I hear him? Erin thought, motionlessly.
"You and your leggy friend are going to become a very pretty couple for me – I can picture just the pose I’m going to use!" He circled around behind Erin and, humming happily, placing his hands around her slim waist, carried her rigid form towards his studio.
She could see the overhead lights passing in front of her fixed eyes
as her stiffened figure was being conveyed along. She found herself getting
sleepy at last and formed one last question before passing completely into
a cataleptic stasis: So, now what?
So, now what? Erin thought, and realized that she was awake once more. Time had passed – she had no idea how long – and her view had changed, though she still could not shift her gaze or move in the least bit. She recognized the interior of the studio. Standing upright, Erin was a stiffened motionless figure facing a wall of beautiful images of women. The closest one to her was a gilt-framed painting of a red-haired hussy pleasuring herself done in the flashy exaggerated-reality style of a DeBerardinis or Soryama. Everything about the rendering was so impeccable it could not be real; from the polish on the patent leather pumps so brilliant they looked wet to the shine of the long, dark, garterless stockings the figure wore, to the full pink aureoles and firm nipples capping her perfect breasts, to the golden highlights in the coppery strands of a gleaming too-even ‘flip’-style hairdo that framed her square jawline, the image was of an impossible ideal. Then, in an abrupt reversal of perspective, Erin realized that the painting she had been staring at was really a mirror and that the unrealizably flawless femme fatale depicted within was – herself!
From the chilly drafts of air she could feel all over her exposed skin Erin had suspected, correctly, that she was almost completely unclothed. The figure in the mirror wore a short bustier that revealed her breasts but left her hips, derriere, and sex exhibited for all too see. Paradoxically, she was not cold; a dreamy comfortable glow radiating out from her inner sex reminded her of her most sensational multiple orgasm. Suddenly something touched her down there and triggered another rippling climax that was made all the more intense by her utter immobility. Erin was astonished at the focusing of the erogenous stimulation by her inability to react. A girl could get used to this treatment, she thought.
The sound of someone behind her humming brought her attention back to her present precarious situation, eclipsing the pleasure in her loins for a moment. Then the sensation resolved itself into the touch of the artist’s hand as he caressed her tush after just fingering her pussy. It felt like he was adjusting something back there and Erin savored a few light tugs on the lingerie that sent shivers up her spine. Almost slipping into another orgasm, she forced herself to concentrate and not succumb to the addictive sensuality of the endless stimulation. Although, she wondered, what good will resisting do? Erin realized she was being turned into a perpetually paralyzed work of art and she could not even lift as much as a finger to stop him!
The artist edged into the static field of her vision, obscuring Erin’s view of the ‘painting’. He seemed to be enjoying his work from the smile on his face as he studied her motionless features. Taking up a soft camel hair brush, he applied another light touch of blusher to her cheeks. "It is sad that you never will actually know how gorgeous you look right now; an enduring beauty that will take people’s breath away when they gaze upon my latest masterpiece. Take heart, lovely Erin, for soon your beauty will become truly eternal."
Guiding her hands, he shifted their position so that her right hand was behind her head and her left hand barely touched her exposed breast. As soon as her released his grip she remained stiffly in position there like some absurd articulated doll. In a similar way her tipped her head backward slightly and to the side, then carefully lowered her eyelids so she seemed deep in the throes of passion. "Much better, my lovely; now it is time to add another element to this tender tableaux. I’ll be right back." Wickwire moved away, behind her where she could only hear bustling noises.
What next? Erin thought quizzically. Through her sleepy eyes she could barely see her sexy, explicitly posed image reflected in the mirror. Her frozen expression of bliss seemed to match the warm satisfaction that permeated her rigid body like a summer tan. Minutes passed; her attention began to drift away as she imagined how eternity as a statue would feel and wondered if stasis would seem any different to her at all without realizing she was entering that timeless limbo state already. As she traced along the curves of her lovely figure in her mind once again she mused, I wonder what ever happened to Melissa…
Wickwire suddenly appeared in front of Erin, pushing a four-wheeled flatbed cart in front of him. Posed kneeling on the bare metal was the motionless figure of her friend, looking quite stunning in a wanton way. She was wearing a lacy white catsuit and white heels that had dark leather soles and heel caps. Her eyes were closed and she had been posed with her head thrown back and her tongue extended. Her arms were posed in front of her, raised partway on either side of her torso.
"Time to get up close and personal with your friend, Kat," that artist sneered. "I hope you’ll enjoy her pose as much as I do!" He put his arms around Melissa’s waist, and lifted. Erin glimpsed for a second the deep V of the cleavage and the wide belt of her friend’s revealing costume before the artist lowered her to the platform on the floor. Kneeling the way she was, Melissa’s head should be just about level with….
NOOOoooo! Erin was finally able to comprehend the artist’s intent the instant before Melissa’s rigidly extended tongue touched Erin’s rigidly exposed sex, then all she could think for several seconds or minutes afterward was OOOOOOOoooooohhhhhhhhhhh! Yesssss!!! Another rapid, profound, climax followed and Erin lost track of her thoughts in the gratification and delight the erotic sensations were having on her stiff and unmoving body. The tiniest vibration between the two figures renewed the enchanting pressure of Melissa’s probing tongue on Erin’s tender labia and reinforced her state of now almost constant arousal. The symphony of pleasure threatened to overwhelm her; she was becoming lost in the unending ecstasy.
The artist, well aware of the emotional hurricane raging inside Erin’s motionless body, continued to work diligently on Melissa’s erotic pose, making sure that she was making good penetration and massaging her expression so she looked like she was enjoying herself. He posed both her hands alongside Erin’s thighs, lightly touching Erin, holding the standing figure closer to her probing tongue. The catsuit Melissa wore was crotchless and so the artist took time to slowly caress her moist sex and bring to the kneeling figure her own motionlessly potent orgasms which he would soon eternify. Taking up a syringe marked ‘Petrifa-VI plus’, he shook out the bubbles and prepared to inject the full contents into Melissa’s shapely rump.
Erin saw the glint of the needle and realized she was running out of time to do anything. Pulling herself back from the lotus-land of pleasure, she tried to think of something that she could do and came up empty. If only I could move, she pleaded, then maybe I could… could… A tingling, feeling began building in her torso and for a moment she thought it was another orgasm, but this sensation was different. Could the antidote be starting to take effect? The renewed hope of escape swelled in her consciousness only to be dashed by her enduring immobility.
With a practiced motion, the artist plunged the needle into her friend, injected the entire contents, and removed the empty syringe in the seconds that Erin had taken to make her silent pleas. During the whole process she had stood there like the statue she was about to become. NO – I’m too late!! she despaired.
Taking up the fresh syringe, he held it up to Erin’s blank eyes so she could easily glimpse the evil-looking greenish fluid within as he prepared to inject into her. Looking down, he began searching for a spot on her leg that would be covered up by the opaque top of her hose.
Goodbye, Melissa, she mentally cried, goodbye Wendy; try to forgive me for failing you…
A chime as low-pitched and sonorous as the hour gong on Big Ben sounded, very softly and discreetly. "Rats," Wickwire muttered, standing upright and taking his hands off Erin’s thigh, "must be another one of those splinter cult groups. Always looking for money…" He carefully placed the ready syringe back on the worktable, started for the door, then turned back towards the living sculpture he was on the verge of completing. "I’ll be right back, ladies…"
She wished again, futilely, that at least she should be able to blink. Then she did blink, a slow motion action that took several seconds. What!! She wondered, Am I dreaming? Her next blink came a little faster. Then she began to feel a tingling in her motionless limbs, as if some nerve had been pinched. Alright – the antidote’s finally working! She exulted. Slowly her rigid body was becoming reanimated. Swaying ever so slightly toward Melissa created a starburst of orgasmic fire so intense Erin’s knees almost felt like they would buckle. She was on the verge of crying out in frustration, since blinking was still the only thing she could really do yet and time was running out for her and her already petrified friends, but any sound remained quiet and still on her lips.
The sound of footsteps over by the door, accompanied by voices, signaled the return of the artist and Erin tried now not to blink, though her eyes felt itchy. She wished that she could see over towards the entry to the studio but her eyes remained locked on the mirror.
"This is my studio; the source of my amazing sculptures. Right now I am just about to complete my latest grouping. This piece is so new I have not yet even named them yet, though of course there are many possibilities." The artist led the way into the studio.
"Yes, I can see that." The second voice was a man’s also, and Erin thought she had heard it somewhere before. "You certainly have a distinctive visual style. May I take a closer look?" He asked.
"By all means, sir," the artist urged. "Each figure is an attempt to capture the nuance, the very heart and soul, of feminine beauty more precisely than it has ever been rendered before."
"You certainly have succeeded with these two!" A man came between Erin and her view into the mirror. He wore a tan overcoat and a rumpled suit, though it took a few seconds for her to recognize his face.
Detective Latimer! She tried to say, but could not, Remember me? From the mall – the café? For some reason she was unable to blink again now as he stared directly into her unmoving face for several seconds. This is me, Erin Rossovich!! She tried to say, but her frozen expression did not change in the least.
"These statues must take a long time to create…?" Latimer said, looking down appreciatively at her trim body; then he reached up to touch Erin’s exposed breast.
"Yes, Yes they do – Oh, pardon – the color has not quite set up on that figure yet. You don’t want to smudge her, ah, skin."
"Of course." The detective replied, taking his finger away. He thought for a moment that the statue had blinked, but that must have been his imagination.
"Where was I? Oh, yes, to create a likeness such as this one requires several months at least. Taking a life cast; preparing the mold, making sure the resin replica is flawless. Then more time to recreate the skin tone and color, attach the hair. Finally, costuming and posing. It’s a technique that has taken me years to perfect. You can see the considerable value I place on my statues is more than justified."
"Of course. The figure that was stolen, ‘Private…?"
"Private Showing. Yes." The artist winced visibly. "Pardon me, the loss affects me sometimes."
"Understandable, given the circumstances." As he talked, Latimer circled the frozen tableaux, examining the two figures closely. "My job is not to assign values, Mr.Wickwire, it is merely to investigate the claim and the circumstances for which it was filed."
"Then you need to talk to someone at Wingate’s; their office manager certainly. A woman, Ms. …"
"Hyland. Yes, I spoke to her earlier, but she has been absent the last few weeks. You wouldn’t know her whereabouts, would you?" Latimer looked directly at the artist as he asked this question.
"Uh, no. I have no idea. You don’t suppose she’s involved in the theft, do you?" Wickwire was uneasy.
"Too early to tell. Having her disappear right after the artwork is most suspicious though." The detective was back in front of Erin, looking at her face and figure but mostly her face. "You said that some of your models for these figures are from around here?"
"Regional models? If they have the right ‘look’, yes."
"This one?" Latimer pointed at Erin. "She’s a local girl, right?"
Yah, go for it! Erin thought gleefully, you’re almost there…
"She – yes, I, ah, believe the model was from this city," the artist waffled, "though I would have to check the legal release to be certain."
"And you have been working on this particular sculpture for ‘several months’ you said." Latimer queried.
"Yes, though I don’t recall the exact time I started on it. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, nothing in particular," the detective evaded. He looked over at Wickwire again and asked, in the same casual tone of voice, "Do you know a young lady named Erin Rossovich?"
You bet! Erin crowed, tingling with excitement.
"Well, no, actually," the artist lied smoothly, without a trace of recognition. "Should I?"
"You tell me." Latimer said. "The lady in question vanished a few weeks ago, immediately after I had spoken to her about this case. She bears a certain – resemblance – to this sculpture."
That’s because it’s ME standing here, Erin thought motionlessly. Oh, if only I could move….
"Come to think of it, that may have been the name of the model." It was the artist’s turn to look at Latimer suspiciously. "But, what does that have to do with the recovery of my lost artwork?"
"Nothing, yet." Latimer said ambiguously.
The low sound of the door chime sounded again, and the artist seemed almost relieved. "Well, I have a business appointment scheduled. So, if there is nothing else, please take your leave now." He raised his arm to indicate the studio door.
"Nothing more, for now," the detective said, though it sounded like he wanted to say something else.
"Good day, then. Let me show you out." They both started for the door, then Latimer snuck a last look back at the motionless tableaux.
Do it, now, Erin thought, focusing her entire force of will to one point in her body. Now – unhhh! Slowly, her right eyelid closed and then opened in a very leisurely wink. It’s me. I’m trapped in here!
Latimer caught the wink, from the way his own eyes widened, but he continued to walk away with the artist, as if nothing had happened. They reached the entry to the studio and then departed.
Wait! Erin thought, Don’t leave me stuck here… By the time you get back I’ll be a total statue!
Only seconds after the door closed, her anxiety faded and the prior tingling in her limbs returned, along with another curious feeling: mobility. Her left hand slowly relaxed from its rigid position and started to slip downward. Fantastic – I can move again! She rejoiced, then realized her arm was stiffening up once more. Huh? Ohh…not…now. Move, dammit! Struggling against the stiffness, she felt her body become even more rigid. Erin realized that for some reason – adrenaline? – the antidote did not work when she was agitated; which in itself was frustrating enough to freeze her solidly in place. It’s not fair – if I’m excited, my body stiffens up! To be ready, she would have to stay calm and maintain herself in position lest the artist find out that she had become fully reanimated. She would have to be very patient and tranquil until the moment was right, then jump him really abruptly or something…
Calming her racing thoughts, Erin was soon able to flex enough to relax briefly out of her rigid pose, leaning carefully back from her kneeling friend who continued to lick at the vacant air. The girls had both been positioned on a large plastic base; Erin was thankful they had not been glued down yet. She thought about making a run for it straight away, then thought better of it. With her costume she was likely to be picked up for Public Indecency, or solicitation! But she could not stay either, and be turned into an art object. Leaving her friends to that fate would not let her sleep at night either, so Erin decided that something had to be done about the artist, to stop him once and for all. While she dithered, he had answered the door and she could hear him returning. Judging from the multiple voices, he had more guests than before.
Quickly she stepped into position and gingerly edged up against Melissa, dreading and welcoming the pleasure that soon returned. Remembering how her hands had been positioned, she carefully rejoined the erotic tableaux. She had just enough time to grasp the irony of having to remain still now that she could move on her own again. Now, she told herself, the only thing I have to do is think motionless thoughts…
"This way, please," the voice of the Wickwire in his ‘artiste’ style of speaking, ushered his guests into the studio. They were an elderly couple, he with a walking stick, his grandmotherly companion moving with a limp. Both ambled quite slowly, however, and the artist had reached Erin and Michelle’s position before the guests had walked even halfway into the room. "Here is the sculpture I was describing to you. It is not complete yet, only a few more particulars to tidy up, but you must agree that even now it is one of my most striking works…"
"Yes, I must say so," the man said, "and more than a little bit naughty. I am not sure Mother approves" He turned his head to hear his wife’s answer.
She smiled enigmatically before responding, "Oh, pish. Father, you are always so behind the times!" Reaching the posed duo, she circled the life-size sculpture leisurely. "This is what young people are doing these days, breaking down old taboos, exploring their own sexuality in exhilarating ways." She extended her glance to the older man. "Amos, here, is only slightly more avant-garde than most. We, too must learn to adapt to these trends."
"Well put, Mother; however let me say that I am not as sure as you about adding a sculpture such as this to our current collection." He seemed to be gazing at Erin’s crotch and the brownish-red pubic hair which Melissa’s wet tongue was endlessly probing. "The other girls would seem out of place, you know?"
"The world is changing, Father, and tides of fashion change faster still. Our girls are popular not only because of their verisimilitude but also for their embodiment of contemporary styles and poses. For once, let us set a course and not merely be content to follow one." She also looked at the frozen pair to indicate which trend she was referring to.
Oh, God, Erin whined to herself, won’t they ever shut up? Her feet were beginning to feel numb, and she was worried that she might begin to sway. Steadying herself by leaning closer to Melissa helped a little, but that led to a different sort of obstacle to staying still; the stimulation was driving her to climax. Oh My!
"Very well," the man said. "While I continue to have reservations about placing scenes such as this one into our usual series of display mannequins, creating a audition stance or two as an experiment does not seem that out of the question. Given the ‘one of a kind’ nature of our figures, the risk is low. I should imagine boutiques may also be willing to ‘push the envelope’ as young people say." The old man seemed a bit troubled, whether by the conversation or the explicit pose of the frozen figures it was impossible to tell. "We are decided, then, Mother?" he concluded. The older woman affirmed with a nod.
Ohh… Oh – Oh noo! distracted by the discussion, Erin had aroused herself enough to overpower the antidote and her whole body was stiffening up again as she pressed up against Melissa. Not now…
After a moment’s deliberation he turned back towards the artist, who had stayed out of the interchange. "Mr. Wickwire, we have chosen to acquire ‘Private Showing’ at this time. Notify us upon your completion of this latest sculpture, or any others with this theme, and we can ascertain our choices again at that point."
"Excellent. Payment will be in the usual manner?"
"The funds will be transferred by this evening, pending a speedy delivery, you understand."
"I plan to arrange the transport personally. After all, one does not simply throw a unique artwork like that into the back seat of a car and drive away. There is packing to consider, and insurance, and…"
"We trust she will arrive in the best of condition, sir, and at that time you shall receive your complete remuneration," the old woman said. "Let us not tarry any longer, Father. There are three models scheduled this afternoon for their test photographs; I am hoping that at least one of them will have the look that our clients have been searching for. Hindsgaul has been giving us considerable competition lately…"
"Let us not bore Mr. Wickwire here any further with our business matters, Mother," the man said, trying to finish off the conversation. We should be going now. Much to do, you know."
"Take all the time you need, sir; madam. I am not in any rush – sculpting is a leisurely passion for me."
Hurry UP… Erin begged them mentally, thinking enough tranquil thoughts after her latest orgasm to restore a measure of mobility. Overall, she had held her static pose for almost thirty minutes. Torn for the moment between continuing to excite herself to another climax and the need to escape, she was held in place now only by her own indecision.
"You are very kind. Nevertheless, we must take our leave." The old man started for the door to the studio, leaving the woman to catch up. The artist accompanied them as well, making small talk about one of the finer points of his technique and never, ever, contradicting his patrons.
Erin sagged even before the door had closed completely. At least, she thought, the pain in my legs was almost enough of a distraction. She took a few small steps to restore blood flow to her feet, then stretched languidly. Her body felt warm, satisfied. Reminding herself there was not much time, she went quickly over to the refrigerator and rearranged the contents slightly. Moving back to the display platform, she picked up the full syringe in her right hand before resuming her pose. This should be the last time, she encouraged herself while carefully resuming the rigidly passionate stance that, by now, she knew well. Edging between Melissa’s outstretched hands, Erin could tell that her friend’s body had gotten colder and stiffer in only the short time that had elapsed from the injection. Wow, that must be powerful stuff!!
Hiding the syringe behind her head in her clenched fist, careful not to prick her skin with the venomous needle, Erin again posed rigidly as a statue to avoid becoming one forever. Wendy had succumbed, and now Melissa; it was up to her now to keep them all from joining Wickwire’s body of work – permanently.
The artist returned to the studio, after getting involved in a longer than necessary discussion with the older couple as he was showing them out the door. It had been seemingly pointless and turgid; something to do with mythology. He could not even remember how it had started. Well, that was behind him now, and an easy 50K should be in his accounts tomorrow. Turning his thoughts back to his interrupted task, he locked the studio door to forestall any other intrusions and approached the posed figures of the two busybodies. They were composed beautifully, he reflected, with enough of the explicit erotic detail hidden until the observer was quite close. In a way, he reflected, it was too kind a fate for this pair of women that had caused him such consternation. Even so, his compulsion to preserve beauty won out over simple revenge.
Here goes nothing, Erin thought, steeling her resolve while keeping her thoughts serenely Zen-like. She did not want to stiffen up right before she was going to try and jump him, One-thousand-one, Two-thousand….
Approaching the tableaux, he reached for the syringe on the table, but it was gone. Somewhere. The used needle remained; perhaps the other one had fallen off onto the floor. No, it was not there either. Maybe he had left it over by the kneeling figure, but he did not remember doing so. He came up very close to the two motionless women. The syringe was not there either. A glimmer of suspicion entered his mind and he looked up at the standing redhead and stared directly into her stunning face. Could it be…..?
Now!! Erin winked at him a split-instant before bringing her right arm down and striking him violently in the back. Ramming the needle in before he could react, she pressed down on the plunger until it bottomed out. Got Him! She cried as she realized she did not have to be quiet any longer "Gotcha!" she screamed.
"Aahhh," the artist howled, in pain. He stepped back, tripping over the rigid squatting figure of Melissa who toppled stiffly over to one side and lay there. "You bitch! I’ll get you for this – you’ll end up out in the fountain coated in cement like Felicity and Chastity did!!" Reaching behind his back, he pulled out the stub of the bent syringe, leaving the rest of the needle stuck in his body. Glancing at the label, he laughed. "Stupid bimbo – this fortifier is slow-acting, unlike what I’m going to fill you with in a few seconds."
Erin had backed away and ran for the side door. It would not budge! Unlike the gallery, there was no emergency exit visible. The only quick way out seemed to be the windows behind where Wickwire stood at the work counter. She was trapped! Have to do something, she seethed, seeing that her plan was failing. Sudden stiffness in her legs alerted her that she was getting too excited, which of course excited her more.
He opened the small refrigerator and pulled out the first syringe of ‘Anima 2’ he came across; that would be enough to reverse the effects of what she had injected him with. Tapping it out, he injected himself in his leg without delay. Picking up the airgun, he looked up to find out where his lively statue was, which was not difficult. She was fixed right in front of him.
With effort, Erin had picked up one of the heavy wood chairs and raised it above her, hoping to crash it over the head of the artist while he was bent over. However, she had become so agitated by her attack on him and by running that her body was stiffening once more; at the worst possible time. Aargh – not again! Now, as he confidently picked up the gun, she continued to hold the chair rigidly out in front of her like a wax figure of a lion tamer. All I need is a whip and I can be an X-rated Clyde Beaty, she thought ironically while trying to calm her thoughts as quick as she could and restore her mobility..
The artist planted his feet and took careful aim at the center of her stomach; he wanted to be sure of a hit. "Say hello to eternity, Miss Rossovich, you’re going to be standing that way for a very long time!!" Then he paused.
Erin tried to flinch, expecting to hear the ‘chuff’ of the dart that would turn her into a statue forever, but the climactic moment stretched on.
Wickwire said only "Urk…." And then was silent as the ‘Fort 3’ that he had injected into himself finally took hold. His finger was frozen on the trigger, just beginning to pull it back. The tense scene continued for several seconds, both figures standing immobile in place. His expression held both anger and fear.
"Whew!" Erin finally said, relaxing. "Am I glad that’s over…" Her trick of switching the labels on the syringes had worked after all. She started to lower the heavy chair just as she heard a ‘pahhf’ sound and the slight tremor of a dart hitting the bottom of the seat. Looking over at Wickwire, she saw that he was still rigid; getting the shot off must have been his last act of desperation before turning completely solid.
In his pocket was a ring of keys. Erin realized that now she had time
at last. Time to free her friends, time to decide what to do afterward,
now that there was an afterward. But first, she was going to increase her
dosage of the antidote, then seek out the undoubtedly opulent master bedroom
suite and treat herself to a long, hot bath. Her immobilized friends weren’t
going anywhere. She had earned it!
Months later, Erin was able to recall that final confrontation without shaking all over, though it did give her pause. Opening her eyes, she sipped on the mimosa on the table in front of her, and said ineffectively "It was really really intense," realizing that mere words could not capture the full tension and emotion.
"Far Out!" Wendy sat wide-eyed beside her friend with an identically-filled orange goblet in front of her. "You actually outsmarted the guy. That’s SO cool!!" She took a moment to reflect and looked upon the bustling city street. The sidewalk scene was utterly different than the shadowy mansion they had narrowly escaped from. Here it was sunny and warm, and people were going about their business happily and actively. Wendy thought back to how she might have been spending this day, and every day, otherwise. "Where was it you found me, then? How did I look as a statue? Was I like…" Wendy held herself still in a fair imitation of her pose when she had been suspended. She did seem very natural that way.
"You were on display in his private gallery, standing stiffly right next to Dian Hyland – that saleslady from the mall – who had been frozen too." Erin shook her head, wondering how Wendy could worry about something like her appearance when she had almost spent the rest of her existence as a sculpture. "You were gorgeous, though, like a life-size pin-up girl. Think of the picture I showed you; just like that."
"That’s good. I wouldn’t think the artist would have done a bad job on me; he told me before that I was his very favorite one…" She smiled with a faraway, dreamy look. "He was going to make me immortal."
"Yes, I imagine so." Erin shook her head slowly, then glanced off into the distance, recognizing a familiar silhouette at last. A stylish lady walking quickly towards the café resolved into someone Erin had been expecting. Her arrival came at an excellent time to take Erin’s mind off the bubbleheaded Wendy.
The approaching woman wore a crisply cut two-piece red/gold dress with a very short skirt. Her shapely legs were shown off well by the suntan-hued pantyhose she wore. "Hi, Kids!" she greeted them from a few yards away, before sitting down at the table. She ran her fingers through her now shorter hairstyle, settling her chestnut-hued curls back into place.
"Hello, Ms.Hyland," Erin responded. Wendy did not know this lady, even though she had stood next to her as a fellow statue in Wickwire’s depraved gallery, and became confused; a normal condition for her.
"Oh, call me Dian," the woman said, "after all we’ve been through together, we should at least stay on a first-name basis." She bent over, leaning towards the center of the table, and voiced in conspiratorially hushed tones, "Guess what I just received?"
"I have no idea," Wendy murmured back. "Why are we whispering?"
The woman ignored her question. Noticing someone was missing from their trio at the table, she asked "Say, your other friend Melissa should be here too today. Is she coming?"
"Ah, let’s just say she enjoyed being an unmoving figure a bit longer than the rest of us," Erin said, which earned her a quizzical look from Wendy. The redhead continued, "She’s going to be spending the next couple of weeks posed in the display window over at a department store where Wendy works. She seemed to think she’d enjoy becoming an elegant mannequin for a while." Thinking about the erotic effects of her own recent experience with the fortifier potion, Erin grinned at Hyland’s play on words, She’ll be coming for the whole time, if she’s lucky...
"She’s doing Sportswear," Wendy added, "in the Tennis Time diorama. I dressed her figure myself." Wendy expressed a private smile. "After what she did for me it’s the least I could do. Besides,…"
"I see," Dian said, "well you can give her the good news when she’s moving around again: Here is the check for the sale of ‘Huntsman’. One hundred thou!" She pulled a slip of paper from her handbag and laid it on the table, pausing for a moment to let the amount sink in. "Less the twenty percent commission the gallery takes, that leaves us a cool twenty thou each."
"Wow," Erin said, "I didn’t think you’d actually do it." Turning Wickwire into one of his own statues...
"Totally tubular," squealed Wendy.
"It gets better." Smiled Dian Hyland, "Acting on an anonymous tip, the police have just discovered some remains hidden on the estate grounds – our fiendish artist is now wanted for the murder of his own sisters. The cops think he has fled the country and it could be years before he is found, if ever."
"If ever," affirmed Erin. "Who purchased ‘Huntsman’? A foreign collector?"
"No one knows," the saleslady said with a shrug. "It was done through a proxy. All I know is that it was a very exclusive collection, identity not to be revealed. That stipulation was in the contract."
"I’ve got more dish for you," Erin added. "I heard last week at the firm that the feds are planning to seize Haverwhills lock, stock, and barrel to cover Wickwire’s back taxes. Guess who will likely be appointed to auction off the contents?"
"Wingate Galleries." Ms.Hyland said. It was not a question.
"Exactly," Erin continued, "although since there was no prior inventory it will be difficult to know precisely how many paintings, sculptures, and other works of art there really are in his possession. Not to mention the furnishings and additional valuables." Erin leaned close to the table also. "I’ve set aside some of the best works for ourselves…." Taking the artist’s remaining supply of ‘fortifier’ potion and formulas had been one of Erin’s first actions before leaving the mansion. Hyland did not need to know that though.
"Seeing as we almost ended up as part of that inventory, I think Mr.Wickwire owes us all one or two." Wendy said smugly.
"Don’t bring that up!" Dian said with a little shiver, "the very idea still spooks me; how close we came to…" She closed her eyes and remembered how it had felt to be frozen in place, standing on that little pedestal in that humiliating maids uniform. To be seen as only a beautiful figure. Helpless. Objectified. Yet there remained some pleasant parts to her memories; a warm glow that echoed throughout her body.
"…to being eternally statues?" Erin completed. "Yeah; it gets to me as well, sometimes." She, too, recalled her experience. And I know where the potion is kept…
"Oh, come on now, Erin," Wendy put in. "You told me earlier you were thinking about trying a day or two in the store window too…." Wendy added with a smile. Dian merely arched her eyebrows.
"A day or so maybe, but… forever? As if! No Way." Erin shook her head ‘no’ emphatically. Well…
"Well, we’ll just have to be really careful in the future when a stranger offers us a ‘good stiff drink’!" Wendy concluded with a sly smile.
"I’ll drink to that!" said Erin and Dian almost simultaneously before
all three giggled uncontrollably.
- end (for now) -