Loren Smith emerged from the dressing trailer, escorted by a petite blonde carrying an ominous-looking machine pistol. Loren's appearance was strikingly different than the elegant congresswoman who had entered there just minutes before. Gone was the stylishly cut tunic and slacks outfit that she had arrived in.
Now Loren had been costumed in the flashy regalia of a showgirl: A tight, low-cut rhinestone-encrusted silvery leotard that embellished the sensuous curves of her trim, tanned figure. Her long slim legs were now sheathed in flesh-tone fishnet stockings which emphasized her lissome musculature. High-heeled dancer's pumps transformed her usually purposeful stride into a very seductive saunter. Long white silk opera gloves sheathed her arms and hands; a wide rhinestone choker necklace completed the fetching ensemble. She sparkled as she walked along, a dazzling ornament to beauty. Loren's arms were again bound behind her back; this time with a dark velvet sash so soft as to leave no marks on her skin.
There was a small group of people nearby in the otherwise deserted midway, standing in front of a curtained exhibit. Earlier, she had browsed through this same spot with Dirk. Loren only recognized von Solitz, though she had seen the others sometime not long ago. They were typical goons; muscle for hire. The Baron caught sight of her, and his eyes lit up with thinly veiled lust as he gazed at her scintillating exposure of feminine pulchritude. He had been smug and secretive ever since capturing her at his villa; now he was positively gloating.
"My dear Miss Smith, I must say you look ravishing! This latest guise certainly suits you splendidly; much better than your usual unimaginative choices."
Loren hissed back, "You snake! I hope you go blind. You can force me to dress up like this, but don't expect me to take part in your demented plans. Do you think I'm going to be some kind of prize for you to ogle? You're a pathetic pig."
"Ach, such strong words from such a lovely lady. As much as I delight in your luscious appearance on its own merits," he paused to stare at her figure once more, "that particular costume is a necessary element in keeping you 'hidden' during your upcoming stay with us. Your Mr. Pitt has somehow discovered my whereabouts and is bound to pay us an unwelcome visit. He is a most persistent character."
"Dirk is coming -- here?" she brightened, and some of her confidence returned. "You'll never get away with this kidnapping now!"
"Oh, but I already have, my dear!"
He signaled with a wave of his hand and one of his bodyguards pulled a rope which opened the curtain in front of a small stage. Within was a tableaux; a diorama scene occupied by motionless figures of a magician on stage with his female helpers and an unfortunate volunteer about to be sawed in two. A placard in the foreground titled the scene as 'The Great Zamanzini' But there was a difference from when Loren saw this same display earlier; something had subtly changed. Von Solitz resumed, "Have you ever heard of the story A purloined letter ?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Hiding. In plain view, my dear Miss Smith."
The blonde who had assisted Loren while she was changing clothes came up to face her. She looked familiar, somehow, with the kind of perfectly made-up face and petite, svelte figure that gave her an almost doll-like appearance. Another living, breathing 'Barbie Doll'... She briskly performed a model's runway pivot, then held a static pose for a lingering few seconds.
"Do you recognize Anke, now. Hmm?" The Baron was frustratingly vague.
"No, not at all," she blustered. But there was doubt in Loren's eyes.
"Come now. Think back to the weekend, to when you first toured this arcade. Anke was standing right... there," He pointed into the diorama, at an empty place where once...
"The other magician's assistant!" Loren gasped as the blonde's identity came clear, "But that was only a waxwork figure..."
"Not precisely. Anke is quite animate now, as you can see. Only a brief while ago, however," He swept his hand across the display to indicate the still, rigid figures. "There is your hiding place. All that remains is to complete your disguise; Pitt will look straight at you within that tableaux and see only another motionless effigy."
"You mean that they," she glanced at the figures, "aren't made of wax?"
"No more so than Anke was earlier. I think it is time to perform a brief but edifying demonstration. You, too, can become a quite magnificent display figure."
"If you expect me to cooperate with you, Baron, you're completely out of your mind!" Loren seethed, "There is no way I'm going up into that display. None."
"Ach, again with insinuations. I assure you that I'm perfectly sane. As for your cooperation, let's just say you won't be able to lift a finger to stop me!
While the bodyguards held the struggling Loren, the blonde produced a small black pouch. Within were a gaudy silver ring, a hypodermic syringe and a tiny vial of amethyst-colored liquid. With practiced movements, Anke extracted and measured out an injection while the Baron prattled on.
"Here is the essence of all those flawless crimes I have performed. This single compound, in a way, is the key to my entire financial empire. With this potion I have created a virtual cloak of invisibility! My agents can go anywhere, do almost anything, completely unnoticed. It was discovered quite serendipitously by a lucky researcher trying to relieve juvenile hyper-activity. She ended up with something quite the opposite. Quite..." He continued, "What I now call my Medusa drug's effects are swift and extraordinary. Put very simply, it brings about an enduring state of aphasic catatonia and complete suspension of animation. Like in the legend of its namesake gorgon, a living person is turned as still as stone. Just like my enduring colleagues there are now..." He looked again at the tableaux.
"Noooo, not THAT!" Loren had finally put it all together and realized at last what bizarre fate the Baron had planned for her - why she had been forced to put on the assistant's costume. They were going to turn her into some sort of petrified statue! Fear crept into her voice, but she kept her defiant tone. "It's monstrous! You'll never get away with it. I am a United States congresswoman!"
Von Solitz ignored her outburst. "Anke, you may now ready your stand-in..."
The blonde had finished filling the syringe to the mark, tapped it expertly, and squirted out the air bubbles. The bodyguards held their captive in a vise-like grip as Anke approached the struggling Loren and plunged the extended silver needle deep into her shapely derriere. The full amount took a few seconds to be injected. At first, Loren felt no adverse effects. Then, a bit of dizziness intruded followed by a creeping numbness, a sort of tightness starting to spread up through her torso.
"Relax, Miss Smith," the Baron soothed, "Anke says the sensation is rather unique, if highly addictive, and she has had considerable experience with Medusa. You may have seen her before— posed in a display window or modeling priceless jewelry in an art gallery! Anke can easily make herself up to look like a flawless display mannequin figure or exquisite waxwork, and nobody ever suspects she can come alive in a minute..."
Loren started to glance back towards the blonde, but her body didn't respond as quickly as it should have. Things seemed to be happening in slow motion.
The Baron turned to the bodyguards, "Release her bonds. It has been long enough." The velvet cloth vanished from Loren's wrists and they stepped back, observant. Was she truly being set free, or was the evil von Solitz merely toying with her?
Feeling a bit light-headed, Loren took one step, seemed to teeter a bit, and paused. Her intention was to have made a run for the door, but she was coming under the influence of the potion. There was no next step. She was stuck firmly in place.
"I - I can't move my feet at all! My fingers, they're getting numb..." protested Loren, her voice not affected at the moment. She could feel her body stiffening with every passing second. First her legs, now her arms and hands were being quickly drained of vitality; she could not budge them either from their position. "Please, no. NO!... Don't do this to me!"
"Do not fight it, Miss Smith. Your rather static role in my plans is inescapable. That massive dose of Medusa is enough to keep you still as a statue indefinitely. You are a very statuesque woman, so it is only appropriate for you to share that rare attribute with my patrons as a member of my tableaux . Ach! It is pointless to try and resist me. Try not to scowl so much; extreme grimaces are difficult to compose properly afterwards. Remember, you will retain that same expression for quite a long time..."
"Never! I won't stand for this," Loren strained to say,. Her speech had started to turn sluggish also: "My governm" she slowed down and stopped finally in mid-word like a wind-up toy. Loren's mouth remained open, an unvoiced "eh" still on her lips. It seemed the only movement she had left was to blink her eyes, and that quickly slipped away as the Baron and his entourage watched in silence:
Blink - blink.Her final 'b...l.....i......n.....k' slowed and stopped just as her eyes were fully open, leaving her looking surprised and very still.(five seconds) Blink.(ten seconds) B l i n k.(thirty seconds)
Anke approached the transfixed figure and began posing her as if she were a
life-sized marionette. She raised Loren's right arm above her head and placed
her left hand just touching her hip, assuming the classic showgirl 's pageant
stance that Anke herself knew from experience. It was elegant and easy to retain.
The one step that Loren had been able to take before freezing in place had given
her suspended stance excellent balance. By this time the Medusa drug's
dose was having a greater effect, quickly diffusing through her motionless body.
She remained exactly as posed as if she had become some perfectly crafted mannequin.
In a very real sense, that was precisely what had happened.
Loren could not move at all. Her eyes were frozen looking straight ahead and she knew the blonde was positioning her even though she could not fight it in any manner. It felt strange to be able to feel the warm touch of Anke's hands and the light breeze of the midway on her nyloned legs but not be able to budge a millimeter.
She could feel the skintight Lycra sheath gripping to her torso; stretching taut with each deep slow breath she took. She felt the pinch of the too-small high-heel shoes on her feet as she stood motionlessly in place, but she could not wiggle her toes to lessen the discomfort. She knew the tightness around her throat was the gaudy necklace.But her muscles were locked; she could not move her arms, lift a finger, utter a sound or even blink an eye. Loren was now rooted solidly in place, completely helpless, imprisoned in solitary confinement inside her own rigid body— watching powerlessly as she was turned into a statue. It was surreal and deeply frightening at the same instant.
Anke continued to work on the catatonic victim, composing her facial expression. Loren was very pretty; it was not difficult to coax a smile from her full lips and crinkle the corners of her wide eyes into a wooden look of pleasure. Extracting some lipstick, mascara, and blusher from the makeup kit, Anke gave the stiffened woman a slightly more showy appearance with long dark eyelashes, rosy cheeks and vibrant scarlet lips. It was much more makeup than Loren herself would ever use on her own; she looked like a completely different individual.
Anke then applied a heavy coat of a lacquery hair spray appropriately labeled "Freeze & Set" and with a quick brush styled Loren's cinnamon-hued tresses into a glossy hardened flip that heightened the waxwork effect. The coppery strands of her coiffure now looked synthetic, wig-like; they were so lustrous, rigid and as unyielding as the rest of her.
With a light fog of the same hair spray on Loren's exposed skin and face, Anke quickly added additional highlights to her curvaceous figure, giving it a satiny, almost painted cast. This was all a calculated part of the overall masquerade.
Anke knew that display figures always appeared more elegant than a living model; there were many telltale clues: posture, expression, makeup, and hairstyle to name only a few. She had discovered them all, having tried out most of the innovative cosmetic techniques on herself — even finding a few new ones — such as the double layer of ivory-hued pantyhose underneath fishnet stockings that gave Loren's legs the smooth, even, tone of enamel on a fiberglass surface. Anke was a meticulous master of mimicking an artificial display figure using a living subject; Loren being the latest stylish masterpiece. The cosmetics and costume, along with the static, regal bearing of her pose, had turned Loren into an ravishingly beautiful mannequin figure.
As the drug relentlessly permeated to the core of Loren's mannequinized body over the course of the posing and makeup session, she had become totally stiff and rigid. The amazing effects of the Medusa potion extended beyond simple paralysis to actually crystallize her entire body. Her smooth skin had now turned unnaturally hard and solid; her limbs could not be moved at all. Incredibly, she was hard as rock.
Within her mind, any hope of escape had vanished long ago. She had come to the conclusion that Dirk would have to find her in the tableaux. But would he? Loren tried to think of ways to alert him and always ran back into the inevitable reality:
I cannot move... or speak. I cannot even blink my eyes.. I've become a statue!!
Von Solitz had come up to close to Loren. She could smell the wine on his breath. He regarded her present unmoving condition against her earlier flippant remark with keen irony, "Oh, but you are standing for it my dear. Standing still is all you can possibly ever do from now on, Miss Smith. Ha, that is really rather ironic, isn't it.You have just become the latest addition to my collection of lovely living statues!"
He reached up and caressed her smooth firm cheek. There was no reaction, no hint of movement from Loren whatsoever. Her glassy-eyed, vacant stare was a million miles away. There was not the slightest flutter of her long butterfly-wing eyelashes. Her lips were held rigid in a theatrical smile, perfectly posed for her new character. All animation had been suspended flawlessly. Loren was a superb showgirl figure.
For a professional business woman, he reflected, she really was in excellent shape. Her belly was flat and well defined, probably the result of long hours in the gym. She had a narrow waist, a lovely accent to the flare of her trim hips. Loren's best feature was her long, shapely legs which were well displayed in this open pose. The skintight embrace of the spandex costume molded and emphasized her modest bosom, producing very pleasing cleavage.
Von Solitz realized then that one of the best things about these lovely unchanging female figures was being able to gaze at them anytime he desired. His own private sculpture gallery - each modeled perfectly from life! Anke was a jewel, but now she had competition. Yes, he thought, Loren Smith had a place here. Permanently?
The Baron abruptly snapped his fingers directly just a few centimeters from her unblinking eyes, testing for a reaction from the immobilized captive. There was nothing in response; she was totally lifeless. Within, Loren raged silently at her predicament she was being held captive within her own body, unable to counteract the paralytic effects of the drug. She tried in vain to run or shout or somehow protest her improbable situation, but remained absolutely motionless, frozen in her tracks.
Von Solitz held up a large ring with an immense pearl setting for her unmoving eyes to gaze at. "This is how you'll stay concealed and unable to escape. With the delicate concentration of the Medusa drug now in your body, it now only takes a tiny amount to maintain the full petrifying effect indefinitely. A bit of anti-Medusa drug injected into your blood and you will revive at almost a moment's notice. Anke wears one of these rings at all times. There are two reservoirs for the drug and the antidote inside along with a tiny radio receiver, timing device and needle. Everything is completely automatic, but I can change the program at any time."
He slipped the ring on one of her slender gloved fingers and pressed the setting down; there was a click and Loren felt a brief twinge of pain as the prongs of the insidious device pierced her skin. Her implausible prison was at last complete. Even if the Baron was captured she would remain frozen in place in the tableaux, a flawless showgirl figure. Loren was totally helpless, and she knew it.
Von Solitz held up the control device to her unblinking eyes. It looked a bit like a TV remote selector, with many tiny buttons covering the face,. "Here is the key to your future existance! Until I change the timer schedule, every few hours you'll get a new boost of Medusa and stay just as you are now - forever! There will always be a place for your alluring presence in my humble sideshow. It would truly be an honor for you to remain here; being a splendidly stiffened ornament really does become you."
"What does it feel like to be a statue? He pressed one of the buttons and she felt more Medusa being injected into her veins. "To stand there stiff as a board, solid, knowing you can never move a muscle ever again? To be silent, when all the world is a cacophany of noise and activity? To surrender yourself to permanent tranquilty?" He caressed her stiff cheek and ran his hand along the curve of her rigid form.
"You're nothing more than a display figure now, Loren Smith, a waxwork, a pretty mannequin for my sideshow! Just another lovely painted face and exquisite body to decorate my tableaux; a showpiece for the enjoyment of my patrons. Don't wait for your Pygmalion, he won't save you. This is your only future now; right here."
The Baron had finally stopped pushing the control, but a doubly massive dose of the Medusa drug had been injected into the already catatonic Loren. It had started to affect her mind. She almost welcomed the change, just to escape the blatherings of this madman. He was rambling on: "How long before you crave the feeling of being immobilized like Anke does now?"
While remaining conscious, she had entered a kind of bemused trance that left her mind in an uncaring, timeless state. Somehow the word fragment '...nothing more than a display figure ...a pretty mannequin...' echoed across her memory, over and over. Loren watched the blonde and the Baron cross her rigid field of vision frequently but it did not seem to matter. She knew she had become a mannequin, and nothing else mattered to her than to stand there exactly like she had been posed. This had become her one true purpose, her life's meaning. To remain a motionless, perfect statue. It was so easy for her now. Loren's thoughts were going into limbo, too. There was nothing else to think about than what she was: A display figure... a gorgeous showgirl mannequin.
The wind came up, blowing the leaves and papers around the empty midway , emphasizing the complete immobility of the newly crafted waxwork of the fiesty congresswoman. This one won't be giving me any more trouble, he concluded, turning back to his henchmen. "She's fully suspended now go ahead and put her into the display," the Baron finally pronounced.
He watched as the bodyguards lifted the stiff-as-a-board figure of Loren and carried her horizontally between them. She did not bend at all and remained utterly rigid. Carrying the mannequinized figure into the diorama and carefully placing her in the previous location was an easy task. There were clips attached to the floor to help hold the model securely in position; however Loren's feet did not line up to where Anke had stood so only one clip could be used. Even though the paralyzed lady had retained excellent balance, Anke braced the new figure with a web of clear monofilament striking lines running from several points on her costume and gloves to anchor points on the floor. This would prevent the stiff figure of Loren from toppling over like a wooden indian when the exhibit was being moved. Then Anke carefully added the remaining parts of the flashy assistant's costume: A long white ostrich-feathered crown and matching tail fan; the crowning glories of a showgirl. Now Loren looked almost identical to the other waxwork figures in the diorama.
Anke stepped back to admire her work. The dazzling Loren was now completely 'in character'. Her pose was elegant but suitably contrived, her frozen expression matched that of the other bored assistants perfectly, the light reflected off her lustrous hair and body in just the right way to make her look as if she was only made of wax..
Another exquisite job of deception completed. No-one, not even Pitt, would recognize her.
Within the diorama, Loren was patiently petrified. To her, subjective time had stopped; she felt no need to move or speak or blink. Loren's breathing had slowed along with her metabolism until there was barely any sign that she was actually alive. Even when the curtain finally closed, leaving her alone among the other waxworks, it seemed perfectly natural to her to be a statue.
Loren felt totally fulfilled and content to remain posed there, unchanging, forever.
And she just might stay that way....