United States Military Reservation
South Western United States
"Lieutenant Michael MacDonnaugh reporting for duty as ordered, Sir."
General Thornton returned my salute and then motioned me to one of the empty seats near the foot of the conference table behind which he stood. There was another half dozen people, some in uniform, some obviously civilian, already seated. They all were giving me appraising looks.
"Very well MacDonnaugh. Take a seat and I'll introduce you around."
I complied, trying not to return some of the stares I was getting. The General continued.
"Gentlemen, this is Second Lieutenant Michael MacDonnaugh. He's the man who's going to make or break this operation. You all already know his impressive background and credentials in the field of physics, particularly fusion mechanics."
Well, at least that was a hopeful note. I guess my reputation had preceded me. It was a reputation I was proud of, had worked hard for. I'd spent . . . let me see now . . . was it really seven years of postgraduate work? Where did the time go? That's how I'd gotten roped into the Army. I'd had to let Uncle Sam pay for a lot of my tuition and now they'd called in the marker and activated my reserve commission. Well, at least I didn't have to worry about that 'one month a year' of National Guard active duty this year.
"You can also see that he's the ideal physical type for the job."
Now what the hell did that mean? And why was that little balding wimp mid-way down the right side of the table suddenly nodding and smiling at me?
"As for your introductions MacDonnaugh . . . " He first gestured to a dark, Latino-type sitting near the head of the table. "This is Marco Perez. He's from the 'intelligence community'. It was . . . his . . . Agency . . . that first discovered what Cardoza was doing. He will be your liaison and your intel support during your mission."
Perhaps it was the academic in me. I raised my hand. "Excuse me sir. 'Cardoza'? 'Mission'?"
First breach of etiquette; lower-than-pond-scum second lieutenants do NOT interrupt a one star General in the middle of his briefing. The glare I got quickly reminded me of that.
"We'll be getting to that MacDonnaugh. If I may proceed?"
"Of course Sir . . . sorry Sir."
A very distinguished looking white haired patrician next got the General's nod. "And this is Professor Holtzman. I expect your recognize that name."
Did I ever! I jumped to my feet and offered my hand. "Herr Professor! What an honor! I'm . . . Wow! . . . I think I've been using your texts as my Bible for . . . What an honor!"
The Professor made my week by taking my hand in his and smiling. "And you young man. I have read your works as well. Your paper on 'Strategies for Propagation of Electrons in Fluid Media' vas most interesting. I would like an opportunity to discuss some of your points some time."
I was just about speechless. I didn't even mind the General's growled "If we might continue? The Professor won't be too deeply involved in this mission, but he will be looking over your shoulder when you send in your data."
I sat down trying to wipe the goofy grin off my face.
Last, the General pointed at the little balding guy. There was an odd note of distaste in Thornton's voice when he said, "And this is Sketch. His talents are going to be crucial to your mission as well."
The little guy nodded and grinned and in the broadest Australian accent I've heard since Paul Hogan said, "G'day mate! 's a pleasure." I nodded back. Now what kind of 'talents' could he have that were crucial to a military mission?
The General sat down and began to warm to his topic.
"MacDonnaugh, you've been selected as uniquely qualified for a very important mission. I'll let these other gentlemen fill you in on the details." Then he nodded to the C.I.A. man, Marco.
When he spoke, it was with a noticeable, though not especially heavy Spanish accent.
"Nine months ago it came to our attention that an individual named Hector Cardoza had become interested in hiring the services of scientists and specialists in the field of nuclear fusion. He had made it known that he was particularly willing to pay top dollar for people with expertise in cold fusion research."
Since this was just a civilian, I wasn't so timid about sticking my oar in again. "Who is this Hector Cardoza?"
Marco grimaced. "He's one of the most powerful drug lords in all of Central and South America. He avoids the publicity of the more notorious types, but make no mistake. Just because you haven't heard his name, don't think he isn't every bit as wealthy and powerful. He's also every bit as ruthless as the very worst of that lot."
"Why would a South American drug lord be interested in cold fusion?"
"Cardoza is an opportunist. He never passes up an opportunity to turn a profit and he's not shy about trying new things. We've learned that nine months ago Cardoza was approached by one Doctor Igor Velnikov. Is that name familiar to you?"
I nodded and exchanged a look with Professor Holtzman. "Yeah. I know that name. Everybody in physics knows about that charlatan. He has enough training, enough knowledge, but mostly enough savvy to make his ideas sound good, but he rarely comes up with anything useful or important. Mostly, he's just a con-man."
The Professor's expression was grave. "That may not be the case this time Michael. We have been hearing alarming rumors that Velnikov has in fact managed to produce a sustainable cold fusion reaction in the laboratory Cardoza has provided for him."
I sat back in my chair. "If that's true, it's . . . well, it's one of the most important breakthroughs in the Twentieth Century! Cold fusion represents . . . " I was almost speechless at the implications. Cold fusion had been the Holy Grail for all physicists since the 70's.
The General picked up the ball again. "You seem to be missing the most significant point MacDonnaugh. Cold fusion is great . . . but what would it mean if someone as evil as Hector Cardoza possessed it before anyone else?"
Marco spoke up. "Think of the economic impact alone. The person who could sell cold fusion to the world could name his price and get it. He would become a significant factor in all the world's financial markets. He could become so powerful as to control whole currencies . . . and thereby whole nations."
The Professor; "He could control the course of further inquiries. He could shape the path of scientific study for several years to come."
The General; "And then there's the military angle. Remember that a nuclear warhead is nothing more than an unchained fusion reaction. I'm told that a cold fusion weapon could be every bit as destructive as our largest nukes, while being much smaller and easier to produce. Unless the technology is tightly controlled, pretty soon every piss-ant banana republic tyrant would be lobbing them at the dictator next door . . . and maybe at us too."
By this point I was waving my hand in surrender. "You've sold me. I completely agree that cold fusion is something to be controlled and harnessed by the right people for the benefit of everyone, not to elevate some sludge like this Cardoza person to the state of 'ruler of the world'."
The General nodded, apparently pleased by my response. "We're glad you see things that way Lieutenant because you may play a very important role in ensuring that 'the right people' do control the technology."
"I'm not sure I follow, Sir."
"Ever want to be James Bond, Lieutenant?"
"Uh . . . are you suggesting that I be . . . what? . . . some kind of secret agent?"
Again the General nodded. "That's exactly what we're suggesting. We don't yet know for certain if this Velnikov character has managed to produce this reaction or what ever you call it. We only know that last week Cardoza put out some quiet offers to some very 'wrong' people offering the secret of cold fusion for sale. We have reason to believe that he'll be meeting with these Buyers sometime in the next month."
The light began to dawn. "Oh, I get it. You want me to infiltrate Velnikov's lab and see if the claims are legit. And then . . . like . . . steal the formula or something?"
It was Marco, the C.I.A. man who took up the tale. "No. We tried on several occasions to infiltrate Velnikov's lab, all with no success. Cardoza is very good at internal security. Apparently Velnikov hand-picked his own team and no outsiders were allowed anywhere near the experiments."
"I don't suppose you could just 'snatch' Velnikov and grill him for the secrets?"
Marco shook his head, his features grim. "They discovered Velnikov's body in the trunk of a car abandoned near the Russian embassy in Barranquilla . . . Cardoza's Venezuelan home city. He'd been shot twice in the back of the head. Classic execution style. The very same day, Velnikov's lab burned to the ground. Perhaps it was an accidental fire . . . perhaps . . ." An expressive shrug.
I was getting lost. "I don't get it. I can't help you interrogate Velnikov . . . I can't infiltrate a lab that doesn't exist anymore . . . What do you want me to do for you?"
There was an uncomfortable silence as everyone looked at everyone else. I got the distinct feeling that there was a wordless 'you tell him . . . no you' going on. Finally the General bit the bullet.
"We know that Cardoza has to have stored the formula or what ever you call it somewhere. We know that he has a fairly expensive and sophisticated computer system installed in his mansion. We've looked around and are pretty certain that if the formula exists at all, it has to be in that computer. What we need is someone who can penetrate Cardoza's security, get a look at the stored files and then make the decision as to whether or not the threat is real. If it's not, then we just walk away. If it is . . ." Again, there were exchanged glances. "Well . . . you don't need to know about that."
I really didn't like the way this was going.
"Excuse me Sir. I . . . I think you must have the wrong person for this. Granted, I believe if you could show me Velnikov's data, I could pretty quickly tell you if it was genuine or not. But I'm not any kind of spy. I . . . I don't know how to sneak into a heavily guarded fortress."
Thornton held up a hand to still me. "We doubt that even a highly trained agent would have much luck trying an opposed entry into Cardoza's estate. It's just too heavily guarded. No. We need to insert someone through subterfuge."
I tried to put a good face on it. "Yes Sir. But again, I don't think I'm the man for the job. It sounds like you're looking for some kind of master of disguise now. That certainly isn't me."
All eyes turned to that little Australian wimp. He nodded and smiled. " 's all right mate. Turns out I am. 's gonna be my job ta make it so's ya gets in ta do yer creep and peep bit."
This ugly little troll was a master of disguise?
"Uh . . . I . . . uh . . . What are you going to disguise me as? I mean . . . am I supposed to be one of the servants . . ." A thought occurred to me. "Or one of the Buyer's perhaps? I think I could pull that off."
It was C.I.A. Marco who answered. "No. Again, Cardoza's security would prevent something as obvious as a turn-coat servant. Since we are not certain just exactly who has been invited to bid on the formula, we can't predict what kind of disguise would permit entry that way."
Thornton again; "They've looked at this thing from top and bottom and every side they can think of . . . son. And it's been decided that there's really only one way in, in the time we have left."
I looked from face to face. Nobody seemed willing to fill me in on the secret so I had to ask. "So . . . what? . . . What am I going to be?"
It was Sketch, the balding, Australian, Master of Disguise who answered me.
"Well mate . . . somebody said 'James Bond'. That's not quite right though. I guess Mata Hari would be closer to the mark."
United States Military Reservation
Special Products Facility
9:03 AM PST
The first thing you learn in your military career is the truth behind the truism "Hurry up and wait." You get orders to report to a certain place at a certain time, you bend every effort to be where you're told to be at the appointed hour. When you get there, invariably, you wind up standing around for an hour or two until what ever is supposed to happen finally happens.
The only exception to this is the one time you figure 'Ha, well, I've figured this out! I'll just do something else for an hour and then when I get there, I'll actually be right on time.' In that instance, the entire military-industrial complex has been waiting on you for a whole hour and some General lets you know about it in no uncertain terms.
So, when I got orders first thing on the morning after my briefing to report to room 109 at precisely 9:00 AM, I made sure I was there at precisely 9:00 AM. Of course, I then waited around for a good twenty minutes before anyone else showed up. I spent that twenty minutes building an increasing anxiety.
It was obvious what was going to go on in this room. It was about the size of a common dining room. The walls were all lined with mirrors. There were waist-high counters along each wall with a sink centered in each. I could see various cosmetics and makeup set out. In the middle of the room was what looked for all the world like a dentist's couch.
I guess this was where they were going to try to work whatever magic they thought they could work on me. Needless to say, I thought their chances were pretty slim. Visions of movies like "Some Like It Hot" and "Tootsie" had been circling in my mind since the briefing. I'd seen what Hollywood considered a 'convincing' job of turning a man into a woman, and I already knew; I wasn't going to make a very believable female. My only real hope was that I'd make such a miserable 'faux femme' the whole plan would have to be scrapped. If Sketch actually managed to make me 'somewhat passable' though . . .
There was a very real chance that my life hung in the balance of what would go on in this room in the very near future.
As I say, I'd been standing around for about twenty minutes, examining the makeup and trying to soothe my increasingly jangled nerves when the door opened. I turned, expecting to see Sketch walking through the door.
Even in my agitated state, I couldn't help but feel a little thrill when not Sketch, but an absolutely stunning woman strode into the room. She was twenty-ish about five feet six, with short straw blonde hair. She was wearing a kind of . . . oh . . . beautician's smock or nurse's uniform or something like that that came to about mid-thigh on her. She had long, luscious legs and the cutest little ass. But best of all, pressing against her uniform were a pair of tits that simply took your breath away. She set a kind of tackle box looking thing down on one of the counters and then finally turned and faced me with a sunny smile.
"Hi! I'm Lisa. I'm Sketch's assistant."
Her voice was what I call a "female tenor". You know, one of those kind of husky, smoky voices that can be so sexy. I always think of the actress Holly Hunter when I think of that kind of voice. It also had just the slightest hint of 'Valley Girl' giggle to it.
"Hi. I'm Mike . . . Mike MacDonnaugh." I was wondering if I was supposed to shake her hand when she saved me the decision by sticking her own hand out, that perky little smile growing wider.
"Hi Mike. I'm really pleased to meet you. Sketch will be along in a while. He had some finishing touches to put on one of the appliances. While I've got you alone, I wanted to say how excited I am about all the fun we're going to have the next few days."
I took the offered hand and gave it a polite little squeeze. She surprised me by returning a firm (though not excessive) grip with her own slender fingers. "I'm pleased to meet you too Lisa. And since we are alone, I might as well be blunt and admit that I wish I could share your enthusiasm."
She released my hand and leaned back against the counter, her expression now one of gentle concern, her arms crossed beneath those astonishing boobs. "Why? What's wrong?"
"Well, don't misunderstand. I'm sure that you and Sketch are really wonderful makeup artists. I'm sure that you're both going to do your absolute best. But . . .well . . . I don't know if they've told you why we're doing this . . ."
"I know it's for a mission of some kind. Sketch and I have done this kind of thing for the government before."
"Really? Well, then you know . . . this isn't just community theatre or something. This is very serious. I mean, lives might just hang in the balance here."
"And you're afraid you're gonna look like something out of "Charlie's Aunt", right?"
I nodded. A more moderate form of that smile returned to her full lips. "Don't worry, 'kay? You haven't seen Sketch at work. Or . . .well, you probably have. You just didn't realize it. If I weren't under contract limitation I could tell you about how some of the things you've seen on the movie screen and on TV weren't really anything like what they appeared to be."
That gave me pause for a moment. In any event, this discussion was all academic. I was committed to the attempt at least. I tried to match Lisa's smile. "Okay. I'm putty in your hands." Lisa giggled unfolding her arms putting them behind her, her hands grasping the edge of the counter. She thrust that chest forward just a bit, lowered her long lashes and I got a second little tingle when she cooed. "Oooo . . . just the way I like men!"
I chuckled along with her wondering if there was a bit more in that exchange than just polite by-play. "Uh . . .If we're gonna do this, shouldn't we get started?"
She nodded and that moment of sexual tension passed. "Um hmm. Have a seat." She indicated the dentist's couch. I tried to get as comfortable as possible while she rummaged in that tackle box. She finally came up with a small aerosol spray can. "Hold out your hand please." I complied and she sprayed a little blob of foam on the inside of my wrist.
"It's a depilatory. I've got to check to make sure that you're not going to have a reaction to the chemicals. We're gonna be using a lot of this stuff on you and we can't be sending you off on a secret mission with a really bad case of diaper rash all over your body, now can we?"
"No, I don't suppose so. Did you say 'all over my body'? I thought that you guys were going to use some kind of latex . . . something or other that covered me."
She was examining my wrist closely and it was a bit distracting to have those long fingers gently stroking my wrist, those full voluptuous breasts just millimeters away from my fingertips. "We are going to be using appliances, yes. But they don't cover all that much skin area. That would defeat the purpose if we're trying for a really 'believable' illusion. After all Michael, nothing mimics human flesh as well as human flesh, right?"
"I guess that makes sense."
"Sure! So, we'll be adding some nice little boobs and a cute little ass and . . . well . . ." I got a hot, sexy leer from her that almost started me sweating. " . . . some other 'things'. But for the most part, it's gonna be the same skin you were born with that makes up most of the illusion."
"So, no body hair."
"No body hair. On one hand, it would interfere with the adhesion of the appliances. On the other, who likes a hairy chick? Huh?"
"Good!" I got a little wink. "I shaved just last night." There definitely was something going on here besides polite conversation. I was beginning to wonder what kind of an assistant Lisa was to Sketch . . . when they weren't working.
Lisa giggled then looked at my wrist one last time. "Great! No reaction. You might still get a little bit of a rash in your more sensitive areas, but I'm sure we can take care of that with baby powder." She wiped the little blob of foam off, tossed the used tissue into the trash and then give me another of those sunny smiles. "Okay, Mike. Time to get this show on the road. Why don't you stand up and take those clothes off?"
A lump rose in my throat. It seemed that I was at the threshold now, that I was about to take an irrevocable step forward into what could be a very dangerous mission. Not only that, here was a gorgeous woman whom I'd just met, telling me to take off my clothes.
I admit it. I hesitated.
Lisa must have sensed my discomfort because she again leaned back against the counter, still smiling. "Shy Michael? Don't be. I've done this lots of time with other men." She gestured to the surgical scrubs I was wearing. "I can tell you've got a good body under there. Nice and slender. Lot's of women think that's sexy you know. It's nothing to be ashamed of."
If that was supposed to help, it wasn't working. If anything, I was even more embarrassed knowing that she was aware of my body and was hinting that she found it sexy. "Lisa . . . I'm sorry . . . you'll have to bear with me a bit here. You may have done this before, but I haven't."
She nodded, that sympathy I'd seen earlier again making her face winsome and beautiful. "Oh Michael, I understand. Please don't feel badly. Here! I have an idea that might help!"
And with that, before I could really even express alarm or exception, Lisa had begun to unbutton her uniform.
"What . . . ? Lisa, what are you . . . ? Wait!"
"It's all right. Don't worry. This will help, you'll see." The final button came unfastened and she very casually slid the dress off both shoulders letting it fall around her ankles. She then stepped out of it and stood, arms at her sides, smiling at me with that same sunny grin.
She was wearing a skimpy little lilac colored bra that wasn't much more than two triangular pieces of lace against which those full, pouting breasts strained for release. I could see two bumps where a pair of pert nipples pressed against the fabric. Her briefs were a matching lilac color, again not much more than a strategically placed bit of shimmering fabric and a narrow waistband of lace. A little lilac bow rode above her sex, matching a little bow that nestled between her breasts. Her skin was a flawless light bronze with no hint of a 'tan line' to be seen. Evidently, Lisa sun-bathed in the nude.
"There, see? Now . . . your turn."
I swallowed. I didn't know what to do. The last thing I wanted was to start getting naked! If I hadn't been embarrassed before, I certainly was now! But how did I say 'no'? I think my rational mind was so locked in the seeking a solution, that my subconscious managed to get my jersey top off before I realized I was doing it.
She looked me up and down, and I could see a fire beginning to burn in her eyes. This was no longer 'professional'. Her gaze was becoming predatory. "Oooh, yeah. Now we're getting somewhere." She reached behind herself and unhooked her bra. Before it could drop away, she quickly crossed her arms in front of herself, her hands on opposite shoulders, her elbows holding the bra against her breasts for a moment longer. She gazed right into my eyes, her own eyes smoldering, and then slowly, teasingly she slid her hands down her shoulders and upper arms, slipping off the straps of the bra in the process. It finally slid off her arms and fell at her feet.
I could only stand there and stare.
Her left hand slowly traced the inner curve of her left breast while her right rested low on her taut little belly. She had closed her eyes, turning her head slightly to the left and down. If that turning of her head was modesty, it was beguiling. If it was a calculated pose, intended to inflame me even more, it was working. Her breasts were everything I'd imagined they'd be . . . and more. She was one of those women with large, pink areola. Her nipples left no doubt that she was feeling the passion too. They were fully erect. She softly murmured "Please, Michael . . . your turn again. Okay?"
I struggled for a moment with the drawstring but finally managed to drop my pants and kick them away. She raised her head and opened her eyes, which were huge and luminous. "Oh, Michael . . ." She stepped forward and gently pressed me back down into the dentist's chair. Her hands stroked my chest . . . my sides . . . as she stood over me. That already smoky voice was now a throaty growl. "You're going to make such a hot little bitch. I can tell. You and I will have so much fun." She took both of my hands in hers and pressed them against her breasts. They filled my hands with silky softness, rock hard nipples pressing against my palms. "It's not too late to make some changes. I can get Sketch to use me as the model for your appliances. Would you like that? Would you like to be able to just reach up under your blouse . . . to slip your hand into your panties . . . and touch me anytime you wanted . . . anywhere you wanted? We can do that for you Michael. All you have to do is trust us."
I could only lie there, truly putty in her hands at this point. I'd long ago ceased to question this bizarre opportunity for sex. Frankly, I'd long ago stopped thinking at all. She'd already kicked off the plain white flats she was wearing. Now she slipped her fingers into the lace waistband of her panties and wiggled out of them. Her sex was beautiful and golden and ready for me. Before I could pull my own briefs off, she had climbed onto the chair with me, straddling me, her knees outside my own, the tops of her feet caressing my shins, her hands pressing down on my chest. She lowered her face to mine, her eyes shut, teasing me with a kiss that never came.
"Michael . . . before we do it. There's something I have to know, and something you have to understand."
I managed an inarticulate croak to indicate I was trying to focus on whatever question she needed answered. Again, she tempted me with an undelivered kiss. Her voice was a soft, urgent whisper.
"Michael . . . do you want me? Really want me?"
I finally found enough voice to gasp. "Of course!"
"That's good. It's important that you want me." To my great dismay, she pulled away a bit and gazed down into my eyes. "And I really wish we could. But you see . . . what you have to understand is . . ."
And then my heart just about exploded . . .
. . . As 'Lisa's' fake Valley Girl voice vanished and Sketch informed me in that broad Australian drawl ". . . though we can make it look good as you can see, bugger all if we can figure out a way to actually make it work."
The door didn't have any identifier on it other than the number "223".
It was twenty minutes later. I was once again dressed in those surgical scrubs. I was a bit early for my appointment, but I didn't care at this point.
My head was still spinning.
Sketch had climbed off me and once more leaned back against the edge of the counter. I just lay in the dentist's chair, gasping like a fish out of water.
"Sorry mate." His voice carried a genuine note of apology and remorse. "It's not personal and it's not to be cruel. There's a reason for this. Get your togs back on. You've got an appointment with The Doctor and she don't like ta be kept waitin'. We won't be doin' any more today, you an' me."
I finally managed to get my head together enough to climb out of the chair and stand there, staring at the "Lisa Illusion". The anger started to rise. I think my fists balled up of their own accord.
Sketch just stood there, arms akimbo, gazing at me with a soft, sad smile. Then 'Lisa' murmured. "Could you really do that to me Michael?" Her tone wasn't taunting. It was just a quiet, simple question.
And I found . . . I couldn't.
My fists opened and I just stood there with a cold lump of ashes in my throat. I knew it was really Sketch, that balding little wimp from yesterday and not a beautiful, fragile woman standing before me. But I still couldn't hit her.
Lisa's smile softened a bit, widened a bit. "Thank you Michael. Don't be ashamed that you can't. It means that at heart, you're a good, gentle person, just like The Doctor said. Now it's time for you to meet her. Upstairs. Room 223. Be there in half an hour."
Then she and I ignored each other as we got dressed. I finished before her and left the "Transformation Room" without a backward glance.
I debated knocking on the door, but I guess that there was still enough anger left for me to just reach down, twist the knob and stride in.
It was a small, nicely decorated space, the kind you'd find in any doctor's office. There was a couch, a pair of comfortable looking chairs in intimate closeness to a handsome rosewood desk. Seated behind it was a pleasant looking middle-aged woman with dark chestnut hair, just starting to go white at the temples. She looked up from an open file as I entered. Her smile was warm and genuine.
"Michael. Welcome. Please, come in."
I just stood in the doorway, my hand still on the knob.
She folded her hands on the desk before her and nodded, that smile becoming an echo of 'Lisa's' last expression for me. "You're angry and confused. You're being pushed around and deceived and you don't know what's going on. You don't like it. You're thinking 'I'll be damned if I let somebody else take a shot at me.' Right?"
There was a rather ugly note of sarcasm in my voice. "Let me guess. You're The Doctor, right? And in your case, 'Doctor' would mean Psychiatrist, right?"
"Clinical psychologist actually, though I do have an M.D. Please. Come in and sit down. You and I really do need to talk. I'll try and explain a lot more of what's going on. And as a show of good faith, which I think we owe you at this point, I'll make you this bargain. If I ever try to lie to you or deceive you, you can walk away from this whole project, no questions asked. Is that a deal?"
My curiosity and my need to understand finally overrode my anger and I closed the door behind me, taking a seat before her desk.
She nodded and smiled. "Let me get the ball rolling. My name is Ruth Langerhaus. As I said, I'm a clinical psychologist under contract to the Department of Defense. I do studies in human behavior for their Psychological Warfare programs. If that brings up visions of sinister scientists sticking needles of truth serum into folks arms or of nefarious men in black suits planning propaganda campaigns, please let me assure you that's not what I do. Mostly, I just watch folks and try to figure out how they'll react in different situations."
"Is that what was going on down there a few minutes ago? Were you trying to figure out how I would react?"
Her smile became a bit shy and she looked down. "Frankly? A little. That wasn't the principal reason though." She met my eyes again. "I've already studied your profile, what the Army has on you from your interviews and from your biographical materials."
"Great! In other words, you've already shrunk my head."
She laughed. It was a pleasant, earthy sound. "Sorry. My poison tipped darts and my blowgun are out for repairs. No head-shrinking this week. No. I read some open access files and made a few educated guesses about you Michael. Nothing more. I needed to understand you to be able to help you succeed in this mission. That was the motivation for and the extent of my intrusion on your privacy."
I was finding it harder and harder to maintain my anger at this open, forthright woman. "So, you admit that what you, what all of you are doing is an invasion of my privacy."
She nodded. "Yes. I do admit that. Your anger over that is both understandable and justified. But what's done is done. I can't undo it or alter the past actions of others or myself. I can only ask your forgiveness and promise that from here on out you will know every step, every action that we take."
"And that makes it right?"
It was like trying to grab a blob of Jell-O. My attempts at anger just slid off her. "You're manipulating me right now, aren't you? You're making it impossible for me to stay mad at you."
She nodded. "Yes. See Michael? I won't lie to you."
Her smile became one of gentle compassion, an offer of friendship. "Rather broad question, that. Can you be a bit more specific?"
"Why are you doing this to me?"
"Why am I 'manipulating' you now? I'm behaving in a way that I intend to reduce your anger towards me. Anger prevents the type of relationship you and I need to forge, a relationship of mutual understanding and trust."
"TRUST?! You take part in what happened to me down there with Sketch, and you can talk to me about trust?"
"Yes I can, because that little exercise with Sketch was about trust too. Very much about trust."
I was dumbfounded. "How do you figure that was about trust? I've never been lied to so badly in all my life."
She leaned back in her chair making a steeple of her fingers in front of her lips. "On one level, yes. It was a deception. You were led to believe that what you saw was a beautiful woman offering you a chance at some really marvelous sex. If we'd continued the deception beyond what we did, that would have been cruel and unnecessary."
I broke in. "It seems you managed 'cruel and unnecessary' and then some!"
"Michael, consider. What were your initial thoughts while we made you wait in the Transformation Room?"
I was getting my anger back. I just folded my arms and looked away.
"You were thinking, 'This isn't going to work. I'm not going to be able to deceive anyone. Sketch is just going to glue some fake boobs to my chest, plop a blonde wig on my head and I'm going to be sent into harm's way looking like a reject from La Cage Aux Folle.'"
I mumbled "Some Like it Hot".
Ruth grinned. "I love Jack Lemon! Anyway. Object lessons are the best lessons. We didn't just tell you that we could work miracles. We showed you. We showed you that it's quite possible to work the deception that you'll need to work to accomplish your mission."
"That deception being?"
"Using Sketch's amazing skills, we can make it possible for you to be attractive enough a woman to seduce a man, to make yourself irresistibly desirable to him."
"All right. Granted. I guess I can see why the charade. But knowing now what it is you want of me, or at least part of what you want of me, I'm back to thinking it won't work. Yes, Sketch suckered me completely. But I'm not Sketch! He can act like a woman, sound like a woman. I can't. What he does has to be the result of years of training."
"Actually, it's a whole lifetime that you're seeing in Sketch. Let me digress for just a minute Michael, and tell you a little about Sketch. It's important that you know about him so you can understand him and trust him too."
"I wouldn't press my luck if I were you Doctor."
For the first time, I detected just a hint of anger in her voice. "Don't judge too swiftly. Sketch is a remarkable person and a close friend. He's also . . . he's also been a patient of mine for over nine years."
"Sketch is fucking crazy?! Why doesn't that surprise me?"
Her eyes had grown cold. "When you put it that way, 'crazy' doesn't sound like such a nice description, does it? I assure you that Sketch is not . . . crazy . . . at least not in the way you seem to imply. For a psychologist, insanity means that state of mental disorder such that the patient can not function in a meaningful way within society. Sketch is very functional. In fact Michael, Sketch's life is a story of triumph over disability, and for that reason alone, he's worthy of your respect."
"So, what's wrong with him? Is he a split personality or something?"
"Actually, no. He's rather the opposite. True M.P.D., "Multiple Personality Disorder" is the shattering of one personality into many, distinct and disintegrated fragments. It's a very rare disorder. Few psychologists ever see it in its true form. Sketch on the other hand is much rarer still. His disorder hasn't even been categorized officially. We estimate that there may be no more than a dozen people with this disorder in any generation. Sketch has one . . . 'foundation psyche' . . . for want of a better term. It is always there, always in command, fully integrated and whole. But for some reason which we've never been able to deduce, that psyche lost the means to find expression for itself. In most cases, this leads to withdrawal and catatonia. And for many years of his early life Sketch was in just such a vegetative mental state. Then, somehow, though some mechanism we don't yet understand, he began to learn to create artificial 'personae'. These personae became his bridge to the outside world. And before you start thinking that it's just some form of schizophrenia, let me assure you it isn't. Sketch is fully in touch with the reality around him. Once he has one of his personas in place, he's a very well adjusted individual. He's even aware of and can lucidly discuss his situation. In other words, he's more 'normal' than a lot of people you'd never think of as 'fucking crazy.' The only thing that sets him apart is; he's spent his whole life 'becoming' various individuals so he can experience the interaction that we all desperately need to be whole people. That's his miracle. Needless to say, over a lifetime of practice, he's become very adept at creating his 'selves'.
"I'll attest to that. But this is making it even worse! You're telling me that to be as believable as Sketch, I'm going to have to be just as . . ."
I paused for a moment searching for some polite alternative to 'crazy'.
" . . . as 'challenged' as he is."
Ruth's anger evaporated and she smiled at me again. "No. There are other ways for you to accomplish intentionally what Sketch does from necessity. That's the second part of my function here. Let's move on to my functions. This seems like a good place to do that. As I say, I'm here to perform two functions. First: I AM going to 'shrink the head' of your target for you Michael. I'm going to tell you just exactly what you need to do, step by step and point by point so that at the end, you'll have him groveling at your feet."
She gave me an intimate, wicked little grin that I found difficult not to join.
"Won't that be fun? Come on, admit it Michael. Won't it be just a little amusing to get some payback for all the times we evil women have worked our nefarious wiles on you? To get a chance to play for 'the other team' for just a bit? Don't be embarrassed to say 'yes'. It's a perfectly normal desire. Women experience jealousy of men and men envy women."
"If this was just for fun, I might say 'yes', but this is deadly serious."
Her playful grin smoothed into a business-like expression. "Of course. Your deception must be sophisticated and completely believable, as you well know. Sketch can give you the 'look', but you're mature enough to know that there's more to being feminine than just outward appearance. That's the second part of my function here Michael. I'm going to give you access to a 'female psyche' of your own. One that you can call on and use. One specifically tailored for your task at hand."
I leaned back in my chair. "Why am I suddenly remembering your disclaimer of 'brainwashing'?"
That earned me another earthy laugh. "There really isn't any such a thing, did you know that? Or at least, there really isn't any such a thing as so over-riding a person's will that they loose all control over their actions."
"I'd always thought that that was what happened to prisoners of war . . . in Korea and the like."
"No. Not really. I'll give you a specific example. I'm going to be using a lot of hypnosis on you Michael. That's how I'm going to create your 'female alter ego', through hypnotic suggestion."
"Oh wonderful. Will I quack like a duck on command too?"
She grinned. "Not if you don't want to. See? That's the key. The popular concept of hypnosis is; the hypnotist's will over-rides the subject's. They, the subjects, loose all ability to carry out independent acts, to exercise their own will. But that is never the case. The fundamental truth of hypnotism is; you can't make anyone do something they don't want to do. They did a study once of hypnotism subjects in a theatre setting. You know, got some people who thought that they were being 'put under' by a stage performer. The hypnotist had them barking like dogs and, as you say, quacking like ducks and generally making fools of themselves, when somebody started yelling 'Fire!'."
"And all the 'hypnotized' folks ran just like everyone else."
"Sure. See the point?"
"So, you're saying that I have to subconsciously want to be a female, if this is going to work?"
"No. I'm saying that you have to want your mission to succeed, which I think you're dedicated enough that we can assume, and you're going to have to believe in yours and our abilities. That's all."
"And that comes back to trust?"
"And that comes back to trust."
I sat there for a while. I thought about the implications of Cardoza's possession of cold fusion. Of what that would mean to so many people, of the suffering and harm that I could prevent, if I could fulfill my mission, whatever it might be.
I wanted to succeed.
I looked at Ruth. She sat in her chair, her smile gentle, her eyes bright.
I wanted to trust her.
"I'm game to try."
Her voice was soft, gentle . . . and . . . I don't know . . . I think I caught more than just a glimmer of that affection I'd seen when she was speaking about Sketch.
"Thank you Michael."
"What's 'sexy' Michael?"
Doctor Langerhaus and I were walking a concrete footpath that wound along the crest of a bluff overlooking the ocean. We'd talked for a few more minutes in her office, but she'd professed a need to get outside into the beautiful spring day and I'd cheerfully followed.
I thought about the question for a while as we casually strolled along.
"You mean what do I find sexy? Specifically?"
"No. More generally. Define 'sexy' for me."
I thought some more. Ruth was the kind of person it was very easy to talk to, (probably a good trait in a psychologist) and I wanted to give her a frank answer.
"I don't know if I have a set definition. I guess it's like that old line about fine art; 'I don't know art, but I know what I like.'"
She nodded, arms folded behind her back, her head down, looking at the path. " 'I'll know it when I see it', right?"
"Would you stipulate then that something that subjective is different for different people?"
"Oh, sure. Lots of times I've had friends who went ga-ga over some woman who left me flat, and I'd drool over some chick that they thought completely lame."
"What does this have to do with the project?"
"I mention it so you'll understand that the 'female psyche' I'm going to build for you probably isn't one that you'll find particularly attractive. At least that would be my assumption given my understanding of your own personality."
That thought didn't thrill me, but it didn't alarm me all that much. "I guess that's all right. I'd like to think that any woman that could get Hector Cardoza's motor running shouldn't light my fire. If Cardoza is as much of a slimeball as they say, anyway."
Ruth walked on for a bit, seemingly lost in thought. I got the impression I'd touched a nerve, but I didn't see how. Finally she looked up and then nodded to a small park bench with a spectacular view of the curve of the bay. "Let's sit down for a moment, shall we?"
I sat beside her and again she seemed lost in thought. The she sighed. "We were talking about building relationships based on trust. One of the ways to do that is to get all 'the bad stuff' out in the open early so there aren't any little landmines to trip us up later. So . . . here's a little 'bad stuff' for you. You aren't going to be seducing Hector Cardoza."
I didn't see how my not having to cuddle up to slime like him was 'bad' and I said so.
She just looked off toward the horizon. "Michael, you have a strongly developed sense of morality and fair play. That's apparent from you files. Based on that, I bet Sketch that you wouldn't attack him this morning once you'd found about the deception. I won five dollars off your admirable honor."
"And Sketch didn't get his face rearranged in a more permanent manner so I guess he won too."
Ruth smiled at me. "Don't be too sure about that. Among his many talents, Sketch is also a third 'dan' black belt in akido.
That rocked me. Ruth turned back to the ocean.
"For your mission to succeed, you've got to achieve a quick intimacy with the target of your seduction. This is because time is limited. Yet, we have to proceed slowly here, at first, so that you can be properly prepared to carry out the seduction with any chance of success."
"And . . .?"
"And to do that, to succeed in your seduction in the shortest time possible . . . Michael . . . you're going to have to pull some really 'dirty tricks'."
I looked down at my hands. "Hell, Ruth. I don't know what you'd call this whole scheme if not one big 'dirty trick'. I've figured out that we won't exactly be 'playing by Hoyle'."
She nodded again. "Of course. But there are dirty tricks and dirty tricks. You're thinking that you're going to be some kind of cliché seductress and that's already allowing you to build some 'distance' in your mind. I'm afraid that's not the role you're going to get to play, and that's 'the bad stuff'. The role that we've cast you in is one that's going to hit close to home for you Michael. It's going to run squarely against your sense of 'fair play'. As a result, it's going to cause you some real grief."
I was silent for a long time, looking first at my hands, then out at the sea.
"In what way?"
"Hector Cardoza is an evil, dark-hearted man. The type of sexuality we could use against him would not lead to the intimacy, the trust, that would allow you any kind of useful access. Hector is simply no longer capable of forming that kind of relationship with a woman."
"So who will I be seducing?"
"Hector's twenty five year old son, Jame'."
"What kind of a person is this Jame'."
Ruth sighed again. "There's the problem. As so often happens, the amoral, monstrous father has produced a basically good son . . . a decent and honorable young man. The seduction we're planning uses this young man's more noble instincts against him. Basically, we're going to take frightful advantage of Jame's better nature to perpetrate a really shitty trick on his father."
I didn't even know the specifics and already I knew that Ruth was right. This was going to cause me some grief.
She laid a gentle hand on my arm. "In reality, I have three functions in this mission Michael. I've told you the first two. The third is to be here for you, both before and after your mission. You're going to need someone Michael. I hope you'll let it be me."
8:58 AM PST
Room 109, the "Transformation Room" again.
I arrived at precisely nine o'clock. I walked in, expecting the room to be empty, and stopped short when I saw that it was already occupied by a tall, slender blonde. She turned at the sound of my entrance and gave me an appraising stare. She was statuesque, approaching six feet, and attractive though not a 'knock out' by any stretch. She was wearing loose white cotton shorts and a frantically wild Hawaiian print shirt. Her hair was straw blonde and pageboy short.
Apparently satisfied by her inspection she stuck out her right hand.
"Hi, I'm Lisa. I'm Sketch's assistant."
I think I actually took a step backwards.
That earned me a small grin. "Let me rephrase. I'm Lisa Hobie . . . the 'real' Lisa. I'm genuine girl through and through. I intend to prove it by not taking off a stitch of clothing in your presence and by assuring you that sex is out of the question until you've bought me at least three expensive dinners."
"You know about . . . about . . . what went on in here yesterday?"
She nodded. Then she folded her arms under an acceptable, though unremarkable set of breasts and leaned back against the counter. The gesture was so close to the 'Faux Lisa's' posture of yesterday that I had to shake my head to make the image go away.
"And you don't mind that Sketch . . .?"
"Why should I mind? Didn't Doctor Ruth explain to you about Sketch?" ('Doctor Ruth'? Is that really what they called her?)
"She told me a little. Why does that make it all right for him to use you to . . . to . . ."
"Apparently, she didn't tell you the whole story. Sketch creates a lot of his characters 'from scratch' as it were. But sometimes he 'copies' people he's really fond of or whom he admires. The fact that I'm one of the people he copies when he wants to be a sexy woman . . . I find that to be a really sweet compliment."
I could see now that the 'Fake Lisa' was an idealized impression of the woman standing before me. Still, that didn't explain why she was so nonchalant about the deception and her part in it (albeit by proxy). "I guess I don't understand."
"That's because you don't really know Sketch. If you're lucky, you might get to before this is all over." She turned back to the counter. "Okay Mike. We really need to get started. Why don't you strip and I'll start with the depilatory."
I had the jersey top and the pants of my scrub suit off and my boxers down around my knees before I started to chuckle. "Plays me like a fiddle" I muttered.
Lisa looked over her shoulder. "Excuse me?"
I pulled the boxers off the rest of the way. "Doctor Ruth. She plays me like a fiddle. I just figured out another reason for the charade yesterday."
To my relief, Lisa evidenced no sexual interest in my nude form. She just nodded at the dentist's chair, a large can of depilatory in her hand. "And what would that be?"
I hopped into the chair and Lisa began spraying the gunk on my legs. "She knows I'm a basically shy fellow. I had a lot of trouble in basic training getting naked with the rest of the guys. So she throws me into a situation that magnifies that shyness a thousand times, then hits me with something else that blows the shyness right out of my mind. The upshot is; I'm sitting here buck naked, with a total stranger, a woman no less, rubbing lather on my legs and I'm only just now getting around to realizing that I ought to be blushing. And of course, now it's way too late."
Lisa grinned and kept working. "That's our Doctor Ruth. She pretends to be just a simple woman, but don't believe it. She's a real bruja . . . a real sorceress. She knows what you're gonna think long before you do."
I just relaxed and enjoyed the pleasant sensation of having a pretty girl rub foam on my legs.
My reverie was shattered and my embarrassment at sitting here naked came crashing back when a plump, matronly woman came bustling into the room carrying several large . . . they looked like those one-foot square Tupperware containers. She was probably about sixty with salt and pepper black hair (heavy on the salt) tied back in a bun. She was wearing a print dress, thick support hose and 'sensible' shoes. A pair of coke-bottle glasses perched on a button nose magnifying a pair of sparkling blue eyes that twinkled at me from a fine net of wrinkles. Her voice had the slightest of Irish accent to it. "Good morning my dears!"
Dear Lord! It was like having your Grandmother walk in while you were sitting on the toilet.
Except this lovely little granny was a complete stranger! I was frantically searching for something to conceal my masculinity when Lisa glanced up, said "Morning, Sketch" and calmly went back to work.
I wanted to reach up and slap my forehead. I should have guessed.
'Granny Sketch' set the plastic containers on the counter and then turned to Lisa. "Dear, would you mind going down to the Lab and watching the buttock appliances through the last curing cycle? I'll finish up here."
Lisa straightened up, wiped her hands on a towel and then nodded. "Sure Sketch. How long on the cycle?"
"Two hours, love. Thank you."
And I was alone again with Sketch.
As soon as Lisa was gone, he gave me a conspiratorial little wink. "Actually Michael, for some of the things we need to do this morning, I thought you'd prefer it be 'just us boys'."
I sat there, my right hand over my mouth, my eyebrows just about crawling off the top of my head. "Do you know how . . . how . . . unusual that statement is?"
Sketch had set about finishing 'lathering up' my legs. He'd worked his way up to my thighs. (Score another one for Doctor Ruth. I later realized that I was so nonplused by this . . . outrageous . . . situation I never thought to be worried about some man rubbing my naked thighs.)
Sketch just looked up and winked, that same little smile playing around his disguised lips. "You can say 'crazy' Michael. I'm not nearly so sensitive about some things as poor Ruth."
"Fine! This is really crazy!"
"Of course it is dear. Sheer madness. Best just surrender to it." She held out the can of depilatory. "Here love, do your own chest. All the way from your waist to your shoulders, mind. But you can leave your pubic hair."
I complied, searching for a way to even begin to enunciate my thoughts on the whole matter.
Soon, I was a head perched atop a mass of soft white lather. Sketch turned from puttering with something inside one of the Tupperware containers.
"Good! Now, stand up and let me get a look at your back."
Again, I just complied as the course of least resistance.
"Wonderful! You've a lovely smooth and hairless back. I think we'll just do a little . . . " I felt some of the foam around my shoulders and, embarrassingly around my tush. (I'd already gotten under my arms. I could figure that one out for myself.) Sketch consulted a small pendant watch that hung around 'her' neck by a silk ribbon. "We'll let that 'brew' for a few minutes, then you can wipe it right off. I do so wish they'd thought to put a shower in here."
I sighed and just stood there. There was little else to do at this point. Sketch went back to fiddling with what ever it was he was working on.
"I take it we're going to begin the actual 'transformation' today?"
"Yes, love. We should pretty well finish the 'gross' . . . and by that I mean 'less subtle', not 'disgusting' . . . nothing we'll do is 'disgusting'! . . . elements. That would allow us to get down to the really fun bits, the real 'artwork' tomorrow."
"You mean it's going to take more than one day just to do the . . . transformation . . . or what ever you call it?"
"Well . . . how does that work then? I mean, we do the 'gross' stuff. I take it off. We come back tomorrow and . . . "
And then it dawned on me.
"I don't take it off, do I?"
"No dear. Once we start, you stay 'en femme' till the end of the mission. Too many good reasons for that to go into now."
"That's the spirit! And you will be too! You'll see!" Sketch checked his watch again. "All done! Here, some lovely soft towels for you."
It took a few minutes to get rid of all the hair-eating gunk. The flesh that was revealed looked rather pale and vulnerable and not in the least sexy. Sketch gave me a thorough inspection, 'touching up' some areas that still displayed a remnant of my masculine pelt. He finally pronounced me "new as a baby's bottom!" and sat me back in the chair.
In a strange parody of the 'Fake Lisa' of yesterday, 'Granny Sketch' now leaned against the counter. 'Her' voice took on a quiet, business-like tone. "Now then Michael. Here's one of the places where I thought it should be just you and me. Of all we're going to do, this is the most 'intimate'. Doctor Ruth talked to you yesterday about 'trust'. Well, I hope you'll trust me now."
"Don't build up the suspense Sketch. Let's just do what we need to do."
Sketch nodded, still all business. "Quite right Michael." He turned to the container he'd been fiddling with and brought something out cradled in both hands. I leaned forward, got a look at what he was holding and promptly blushed. There in Sketch's hands was what I knew would become, probably in very short order, the indisputable 'badge' of my assumed gender; a triangular slab of pale 'flesh' surmounted by a little bush of light brown fur. . . all surrounding a disturbingly lifelike fake vagina. It was small relief to note that apparently, I wasn't going to be in a constant state of 'heightened passion' as 'Lisa' had been yesterday.
I blew a deep breath between my slightly parted lips. "Okay. Let's do it if we're going to do it."
To my surprise, Sketch set the fake pussy back into the box. "Well, there's a preparatory step to be undertaken first Michael. That's the hard bit. Since the prosthesis is semi-permanent . . . that is, you'll be wearing it for several days at least . . . and since it might be necessary, though God knows why, for you to . . . well . . . be convincing in this part of the role too . . . "
"I'm going to catheterize you Michael. That will allow me to 'hook up' the prosthesis in such a way that you can 'go' with the best of the ladies."
It wasn't pleasant.
But as Nietzsche said, "That which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger."
Sketch handled it, the 'procedure', very professionally and skillfully. He must have had practice. That made me wonder just how 'intricate' his own impersonations had to be for his satisfaction. Did he actually have to do this kind of thing to himself to make it 'work'?
After the "procedure" was over we got started on the transformation. We started out with a rather unusual 'device'.
Sketch opened another of his Tupperware boxes and pulled out what looked like a high-waisted pair of . . . well . . . boxer shorts in a pale flesh tone.
"Finally Michael. Slip into these and at least you won't have to start looking for a newspaper to fold over your lap every time someone comes into the room. Be very careful with that catheter. There's a little slot in the front that you can just pass it through."
I struggled for a moment.
"Man. These things are tight! Are you sure this is my size?"
Sketch gave me a maternal chuckle. "That's the point Michael. It soon will be. 'Your size' I mean."
"Oh, I get it. Ow . . . man . . . okay. Just through the slot and let it hang?"
"Slit up the backside I see. I can figure that one out. Wow! . . . Jeeze! . . . I can't breathe! I thought Lisa . . . I thought you said yesterday that you wouldn't cover much flesh. This thing's got me clear up to my rib cage!"
"It's a question of physiology Michael. This is the one part of your physique that is simply fundamental different from a woman's. Fortunately, a woman is both smaller in areas that we can easily compress, and larger in areas we can easily pad."
I was still struggling to breathe. "Define 'easily compress'. What the hell is this made out of anyway? Tensile steel?"
"Dense-weave Spandex. 'The mature woman's best friend.' Step over here for just a moment."
Sketch had a small aerosol spray can. He examined the fit of my . . . 'new size' . . . and nodded. "Oh, that's just fine. Very nice line." Then he carefully rolled down what would be the waistband if it weren't just under my ribs and sprayed a little of what was in the bottle around my entire circumference. It was cold, both in temperature and in . . . well, the way that alcohol is when you put it on your flesh. A kind of "chemical cold".
"It's an exfoliant. It removes all the dead skin so we have a good surface for the adhesive. You'll see a lot of this too, I'm afraid."
"Hmm. So this thing glues on? Cripes! I'd think that with the death grip it has on me that wouldn't be a concern."
Sketch was busily rubbing the exfoliant off with a tissue, closely studying his work. "That's because you've never worn a girdle dear. Bend over a few times and the pesky things have the most awful habit of rolling them selves into a lovely little inner tube around your waist. Bad enough when it simply ruins the line of your dress and you have to escape to the ladies' room for repairs. In this case, if this foundation rolled, why, it would take a lot of very carefully applied 'magic' with it and that would be the end of the illusion. There. Finished."
"That's not so bad. It burns a little."
"That passes in just a minute. You're being a very good sport."
"Not much choice. This thing is just a foundation right? I mean, it doesn't look anything like skin. Something goes over it, right?"
"Oh yes dear. It doesn't even need to be flesh tone really. I just used skin tone latex as the sheathe for the spandex because that was the color I had handy."
"Hmm. Were you wearing one of these yesterday?"
Sketch looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes. "Goodness yes!" He patted a very matronly set of hips. "You don't think I could get an hour-glass shape like that without a little help, do you?" Then he rummaged for a moment in the 'tackle box' for another small aerosol spray.
"I never would have guessed. I mean, from the ribs down . . . it was all fake? You even had, you know . . . like fine hair on your skin. And an 'innie'."
Sketch paused and smiled over his shoulder. "Oh, Michael. What a lovely compliment! Thank you dear. I do strive for detail." He turned back to his work. "Women aren't hairless you know. They have hair in most of the same places as men. It's just very fine. You'd notice it if it weren't there. But it's very difficult and laborious to duplicate. Now then." He held up the new spray bottle. "This is the adhesive we'll be using. It's a cyano-acrylic."
He nodded. "A form of it, yes. This is a medical formulation, specifically designed to bond skin to latex. And it doesn't come off, not without a solvent. The good news is; you can bathe, go swimming, sweat . . . anything you want. I guarantee, no embarrassing 'sudden mastectomies' or the like. Nothing will fall off. The bad news is; if you try to remove a part without the solvent, the layer of skin beneath it will come off too."
"I'll bear that in mind."
We spent a few minutes gluing the foundation in place.
I hadn't been aware of the passage of time but two hours must have come and gone. Lisa came through the door carrying another of those Tupperware boxes.
"Ah, Lisa! Perfect timing a usual."
She set the box beside the others and then gave me a quick appraisal. "Nice waist."
"Isn't it? I knew the CAD said it would be, but isn't it nice to see it proven?"
"CAD? As in Computer Aided Design?"
"Yes Michael. Isn't technology marvelous? We already know exactly what you'll look like." I got just a glint of that sexy leer from yesterday. "You already know my opinion."
I think I blushed. Lisa chuckled. "Better sex through science!"
Sketch turned to Lisa and their suddenly professional tone reminded me of a doctor talking to a skilled nurse or assistant. But Sketch still spoke in that 'lovable granny' voice.
"I want to move right on to the vaginal set. I think we can meld the fascia into the line later. I really want to get that catheter tied down."
Lisa nodded. "Okay." She turned to me. "Hop up in the chair Mike." I complied. Sketch was doing something with one of the boxes. "Sit forward. Swing your legs over the side. Give me a nice big 'sexy spread'."
Sketch didn't look up. His voice had a semi-playful growl to it. "Lisa . . . behave."
I was actually getting into the spirit of things now that the "bad stuff" seemed to be mostly over. Besides, I was more or less clothed now and lots of my embarrassment had faded. I dropped one leg over each side of the footrest part of the chair producing what would indeed have been a very lascivious posture for a woman. I winked at Lisa and grinned. My voice is a light tenor so I tried for a falsetto (that didn't really work). "Oooh baby . . . you know what I want."
Sketch still didn't look up. "Michael. You too. And that voice . . . " He made 'tsk tsk' sound that was an exact duplicate of my maternal grandmother's. "Lots of work to be done there I see."
For a few minutes I really couldn't see what was going on as Sketch and Lisa worked shoulder to shoulder, effectively blocking my view of my own crotch. There were muttered commands of "Take that for a second", and "A touch more glue there". I could feel that they were very gently manipulating the catheter. I got a little lump in my throat when Sketch asked for a pair of "scissors, the ones with the flat blades" and there followed a distinct 'snipping' sound. There were several more moments of effort then both of them straightened to admire their handiwork.
Sketch fairly purred. "Oh yes. Very nice. What a good beginning!"
With a strange sense of trepidation I looked down between my legs.
It still took a great deal of imagination. The artificiality of the 'foundation', the fact that my legs were still very neuter, the fact that I was looking down over my own recognizably flat chest . . . there was no question of me being 'fooled' yet.
Still . . . one small part of my anatomy . . . just a few square inches really . . .
. . . were now definitely, undeniably female.
"Just let your thoughts float Michael. Don't try to fasten on any one image. Just accept each, look at it, and move on. Your arms are so pleasantly heavy now. That same 'heavy tired' as your chest, your stomach, your legs . . . Tired, but in a such a good, drowsy way."
I was in Dr. Ruth's office. This was the first session of hypnosis.
The images did float through my mind as Ruth's soft voice droned on, and as she directed, I examined each and then let it float away.
It had taken till a little after four in the afternoon, but the 'gross work' on my transformation was done. Beneath my surgical scrubs I was a crazy-quilt patchwork of a half dozen more-or-less skin tones. Some of the shades were my own natural beige. Some were almost white. Some were reminiscent of 'Lisa's' golden tan from yesterday. Sketch kept repeating, every time I glanced at one of the omnipresent mirrors, "primer coat, Michael . . . this is just the primer coat".
It was still disappointing. I kept remembering 'Lisa'. I just couldn't believe that we'd go from this . . . apparition in the mirror to her amazing beauty. I couldn't see how the transformation would happen.
I had all the 'parts' . . . breasts (nice size and shape, they might be real 'man-killers' when they were fully detailed, but featureless at the moment and almost snow white), narrow waist (still almost impossible to take a really deep breath), sensuously rounded hips, a lovely, firm little butt . . .
And the crowning glory . . . my silky, sexy little pussy. Of all the 'appliances', Sketch had explained that that 'part' had had to be fully detailed from the outset. There was a question of finishing each item of 'detail work' as the whole was 'assembled'. That's why, of all the illusion so far, that was the one thing that looked now as it would look at the end, when the transformation was complete.
It was rather hard to keep my hands away from it. I wanted to reach down and touch it, to feel its 'reality'. But that seemed kind of . . . 'rude' . . . if you can believe it, so I kept my hands to myself.
I contented myself with occasionally squinting my eyes into 'soft focus' and examining the work in progress in one of the mirrors.
It just didn't work. It was just me being transformed into something still too amorphous to visualize.
Until, that is, Sketch announced that it was time to 'knock off for today, my dears', and I climbed back into my surgical scrubs.
And the clothing didn't fit as it had. The jersey top that had been baggy all over was now positively tent-like over my waist, but . . . there was 'something' pressing it outward in front, pressing the fabric in back against my shoulders. Contrarily, when I pulled the drawstring tight on the pants (much further than I'd had to before to get the waistband snug), it was suddenly very snug against my posterior.
I looked up into the mirror.
My head, my arms, my hands . . .
. . . her body . . . only partially concealed by the bagginess of the 'scrubs'.
"Michael? Come on. Snap out of it kiddo."
"Oh hell . . . Ruth. I'm sorry. I guess I was daydreaming."
Without even asking, I sat up and looked over at her sitting behind her desk. She was smiling that pleasant, open smile.
I was truly disappointed. "I really hope this doesn't mean we're going to have trouble with this hypnosis thing. I know that it's crucial to the mission but that there are some people you can't hypnotize."
Still she just smiled. "That's true Michael." There was a bemused chuckle in her voice as she shook her head in amused wonderment. "But you aren't one of them. You're one of the best subjects I've ever had. I'm very encouraged."
"What do you mean?"
"Passion's sea Michael."
"I said you're a very easy subject to work with, you take suggestion very well."
"No, before that. You said . . . what did you say?"
"Look down at your right hand."
I did. I was 'counting' my fingers with my thumb. You know, that thing the cops have you do when they're checking to see if you're drunk. You touch your thumb to each of your fingertips, in order, index to pinky, then back again. I was doing that . . . quickly . . . furiously. I immediately stopped, clenching my fist.
Ruth just grinned.
I looked up, stunned. "You mean . . . you actually . . . "
"Quack . . .quack, Michael."
"Oh . . . my God . . ."
Last night had been an odd one.
I'd chatted with Ruth for a while longer. She was positively ecstatic over the ease with which I took hypnotic suggestion. She told me about all the studies that had been done trying to figure out just exactly what hypnotism was. Finally, she'd admitted that to this day, nobody really knew exactly. She did point out, (kind of as a salve to my self-esteem I think), that the ease with which someone was 'put under' had nothing to do with will power. In fact, there were several studies that suggested that the more strong-willed a person, the easier they were to hyptonize.
It was getting to be dinner time and the session ended when my stomach growled loudly enough for Ruth to hear.
The base was a sprawling affair and I had several options as to where I was going to get something to eat. I started to rise, to go, when Ruth cleared her throat. I looked over at her.
"What were your plans for dinner, Michael?"
At first, I took that as a tentative prelude to an offer of a 'date'. I smiled and shrugged.
That shrug, as the front of my jersey shifted a few times, my 'breasts' jiggling beneath the fabric, together with Ruth's grin, told me the real reason for her question.
I think she read the realization of my predicament on my face. She tried to keep her tone light. "Were you going to go down to the Mess Hall? Drop by MacDonald's?"
"Hmm . . . no, I guess not. Boy . . . I'm kind of stuck midway between 'fish' and 'fowl' aren't I?"
Her tone was definitely ironic. "I'd say so. You'll be happy to know therefore, that we planned for this situation. There's a room for you up on the third floor. Number 331C. It's not much, but it has a bed and a bathroom . . . and Cable. You'll be staying there for the rest of your prep phase. They'll be sending up meals."
"You know, I just realized that I walked up here from '109' and didn't even think about what I must have looked like to anyone. I don't remember anyone gawking at me though."
"You needn't worry about that Michael. This building has seen far stranger 'projects' than yours. The people who work here are used to some . . . 'unusual' . . . sights. You won't ever get more than a politely curious glance, I assure you."
I couldn't help clearing my throat. "Uh . . . yeah."
She smiled warmly. "Okay. We've worked you enough for one day. Off you go. Get some sleep. Long day tomorrow."
My new room was pretty Spartan, just as Ruth had said. But I was used to such things by now. In fact, it wasn't really all that different from the BOQ I'd just vacated. I did notice a large, full length mirror against one wall. It didn't take any stretch of imagination to guess what that was for. Obviously, I was being encouraged to examine my new form, to get used to it.
That sparked a thought. I opened the closet, wondering if I had a new wardrobe to match my new figure. I didn't. The only thing hanging in there was another, clean, set of scrubs. Same for the small dresser, just two pairs of clean jockey briefs in my size, OD green and three pairs of socks.
I was actually a bit disappointed.
Dinner arrived almost as soon as I did, served by a young soldier who, as promised, just gave me a curious glance, handed me the tray, said "Bon appetite, sir", and walked away.
I surfed the cable channels for a while, but it was a case of "sixty-four channels and nothing on". By seven thirty, I was indeed feeling a bit drowsy. I debated taking a shower for a moment, but decided against it. I hadn't been told not to, but then again, nobody had said it was all right either. Better to error on the conservative side.
I brushed my teeth, used the toilet . . . third time as a 'woman' . . . still a rather strange experience, then shed my scrubs, turned out the lights and crawled into bed.
All day long, I'd been reluctant to . . . 'explore' . . . my new 'gender'. It just didn't seem proper for me to be pawing myself in public. I know that sounds strange, but it's the feeling I had.
But now I was alone, in the dark, beneath the covers of my bed.
I still had a guilty sense of doing something 'nasty'. I still wondered if 'they' weren't watching me through some hidden camera or something. I submit, given my unusual circumstance, that last bit of paranoia wasn't too far-fetched.
Still . . . I just had to know. My hands slid up my newly-sleek sides and onto my chest.
There was a woman in bed with me.
She had soft breasts, neither particularly large nor particularly small, that molded themselves to fit my gentle caress. Small, pert nipples demanded my attention. I gently rubbed the tip of one with my index finger, remembering past chances to do that with other partners. I recalled the sigh of pleasure it always provoked, from both of us. My hands slid down the gentle curve of her belly, circling around what I was sure was an absolutely adorable little navel . . . another 'innie'.
I grinned when the words echoed in my head. "Would you like to be able to just reach up under your blouse . . . to slip your hand into your panties . . . and touch me anytime you wanted . . . anywhere you wanted?
My fingers insinuated themselves beneath the coarse cloth of her male briefs . . . (Why was Lisa wearing my briefs? How kinky!). The tips of my fingers slid over the curly, silky ruff of her pubic hair . . . tentatively touching, then caressing, then oh-so-gently entering her . . . stroking her . . . probing her . . .
I jerked my fingers out of 'Lisa' and grabbed my crotch in agony. I was suddenly . . . FORCEFULLY . . . reminded of my catheter.
I could only lie there for a moment waiting for the sudden burning sensation to pass. Well. There was one item that'd I'd not need to worry about. My 'illusion' wouldn't ever be spoiled, the 'line' of my skirt would never be ruined, by the sight of a pretty girl. I just hoped I'd never have to explain to anyone why my female alter ego suddenly doubled over in pain when a sexy chick slinked by.
I woke up the next morning fairly early. I still don't sleep well in 'strange' beds even after a year of military life.
I was groggy as hell, as I usually am before at least two cups of coffee. I staggered into the bathroom, flipped up the toilet seat, reached into my briefs . . .
. . . and of course, got the surprise of my life.
Well, at least I didn't need any coffee this morning. I was sure as hell awake now!
I made it down to "Transformation 109" at my usual time of nine o'clock. As with yesterday, Lisa had beat me in. Today she'd replaced that Hawaiian riot with a white tee shirt. I could just see "The Tasmanian Devil" from the old Warner cartoons snarling at me over the top of her funky bib overalls.
"Morning Mike! Ready to start finding out how the other half lives?"
I grinned, dropping into my familiar spot in the dentist's chair. "I don't know if I'm 'ready'. I know I'm sure as hell curious. Sure as hell eager to see if you guys can make good on the warranty."
She gave me a sly grin. "Oh . . . we can. You wanna make a little bet?"
I 'saw' the grin and raised it a 'challenge'. "I've been know to bet on occasion. What are you proposing."
"Just this. By this afternoon . . . not much past five I'd guess . . . if Michael isn't gone and in his place there isn't a woman who'd get a least a small woody outta you . . . when you get back from the mission, you gotta buy the first three round of drinks for Sketch and me."
I felt just a momentary coldness in the pit of my stomach at the mention of "the mission". I could have said, " `If' I get back, not `when' " but Lisa was trying to banter with me and I didn't want to start the morning off on such a "downer" note. I just forced my grin to stay in place and shot back, "And if I don't start drooling at what ever you guys think you can patch together?"
"Then I buy the first three rounds. And we'll count that night as the first of those expensive dinners."
I had to think a minute to recall what she was referring to with the "expensive dinner" comment. Then I remembered.
"Done and done. But how will you know if what ever you're going to build on me produces 'a small woody'?" The words were hardly out of my mouth when I started to blush, remembering the agony of last night. Lisa grinned.
"Sketch told me about you and my doppelganger. You're a 'square shooter' Mike. You'll admit it and pay up if you loose. Besides, if we do as good a job as I think we will . . . " Her grin became almost viscous. "I bet you'll . . . 'indicate' it. I know how male catheters work."
"Okay. Like I say; `done and done'."
At that moment Ruth and a man walked through the door together. The fellow was about five and a half feet tall with dark, Mediterranean features, jet-black hair worn in a ponytail that fell below his shoulders, a pencil-thin moustache and narrow goatee. I looked at him for just a moment, and then pleased myself by saying, in unison with Lisa, "'Morning Sketch."
He glanced at me in passing, giving me a wink and a smile. "Bon girono, my dears. And how are my two lovelies this morning?"
"Curious as hell. Good morning Ruth. What brings you down to the mad scientist's lair today?"
She set the doctor's bag she was carrying on one of the counters. "Two reasons. One; you aren't the only one who's `curious as hell'. Two . . ." She patted the doctor's bag. "Official business." She turned to Sketch. "Should I do that now? Do you guys have a minute . . . ?"
He was already in consultation with Lisa as they worked on something beneath one of the counters. "Si Doctore'. It takes a few minutes to set up the airbrush. Now would be a good time."
I divided my attention between trying to guess Ruth's `official business' and trying to guess what an airbrush had to do with my transformation, and failed at both. I couldn't see what Sketch and Lisa were doing so I turned to Ruth just in time to see she had pulled a hypodermic syringe out of her bag and was filling it from a small bottle.
I don't like shots, but I'm not a particular coward about them. Besides, that's something else you soon get very used to in a military career; being used as a pincushion by every doctor that comes along.
"I wondered when you were going to get around to the truth serum."
Ruth chuckled as she held the syringe up to the light to check for bubbles. "Nah. I can get any secret I want out of you during the `sessions'." She quickly glanced down from her inspection of the syringe. "That's a joke you know. I can't really pump you for secrets nor would I ever . . ."
I cut her off with a chuckle of my own. "Not to worry Ruth. You asked for trust early on. I think by now you know you've got it."
Her face softened for just a moment, her professionally friendly manner slipped just a bit. She didn't need to say a word. In that instant I knew; I'd found a new friend.
The moment passed and she held up the syringe. Her manner was once again professional playfulness. "Michael my dear, you're a boy. You've got a boy's voice, boy's skin, and most of all . . . a boy's beard. Sketch can cover the major physical `tell-tales' but he can't really cover your face such that that beard won't be a problem. And he sure as hell can't do anything about your voice."
"I wondered how you guys were going to handle that; the fact that I have to shave every morning. And just what you were going to do about my voice." Before Ruth could reply, I figured it out for myself. "Female hormones. You're going to shoot me up with estrogen."
"Well, not exactly. I think you're thinking about, H.R.T., `Hormone Replacement Therapy'. It's what's used in combination with surgical procedure during gender re-assignment. Right?"
"Unfortunately Michael, HRT is a long term process, taking several months for significant modification in the body's systems. Of course, we don't have `months'. So we're using something a little different." Again she held up the syringe. "This is a synthetic analog of several hormones and enzymes that we've created through genetic manipulation. The naturally occurring substances this is designed to mimic are fairly subtle. This is anything but. As promised Michael, I'll tell you the truth. This stuff is quick, dirty, and it has some nasty side effects. It will neither wholly prevent the formation of facial hair nor will it completely modify your voice. It will retard the growth of your beard such that it won't be a daily chore to try and manage it. It will also make it possible for Sketch to coach you into something that will be a very believable, if somewhat `smoky' female voice. It will also make you sick as a dog by tomorrow and woozy for several days after that."
"How . . . permanent will the change be?"
"The effects will wear off in no more than three weeks, and that's with daily boosters for the remainder of your prep phase. Long enough for you to complete your mission, but not much more."
I tried to put the best face on things. "Oh hell . . . at least I get tomorrow off."
Ruth nodded and winked. " I think I can manage to get you onto sick call for at least one day."
"Fair enough. I don't suppose I can convince you to give me that in my tush, can I?"
Sketch's voice floated up from beneath the counter. "Don't even think about poking holes in my lovely work." We all shared a grin and then I rolled up my left sleeve. Ruth turned out to be very adept at administering shots. I barely felt the needle go in. I wondered if, when I got home, she might consider becoming my `family physician'.
The airbrush turned out to be for just what I supposed it was. I was still a crazy quilt of colors, some of them very `unnatural'. Sketch explained that he was going to start at my toes and eventually end at my hairline and in between he was going to make my apparent skin "something any model would give her left arm for."
"It isn't just paint then?"
"No, no, my love! This is a very special formulation latex we'll be using. Like the adhesive, it's very durable and requires a solvent to remove. You needn't concern yourself it will wash off. It will meld the seams of all the appliances into a smooth, continuous whole and then dry into something that feels just like a woman's flesh."
"What will it do to my sense of touch?"
"Practically nothing. It's simply not that thick. You'll hardly notice it's there at all."
It took about two hours for the whole `painting process'. We had to start by `masking' my borrowed vagina. As I've said, it already had its finished color and detail work. Then Sketch and Lisa set to with a will. The airbrush's compressor thumped, the paint flew, I turned this way and that, lifting my arms, spreading my legs. I was so preoccupied with complying with Sketch's commands that I never really looked in the mirror until he finally exclaimed "Finitto!"
I stole a glance at my reflection.
Yesterday, I couldn't imagine that the crazy quilt of colors could be made into anything even remotely believable.
Today I could.
If I squeezed my eyes almost shut, if I didn't look at myself above the neck or linger too long on any one detail . . .
That could be a woman's body . . . a nice one! It still required imagination to see it, but not nearly as much as yesterday.
"You're kidding me, right?"
Sketch just held out the cuff. "No carrissima. I'm in earnest. It's necessary if we're to add that oh-so-necessary detail."
"I won't feel it, right? I mean, you're not going to shoot so much current into me that my . . . my eyeballs explode or anything, right?"
I heard Ruth's soft chuckle from behind me. Sketch gave me an exasperated little sigh. "It's a static charge Michael. Unless you inadvertently ground yourself to something other than the generator, you won't feel a thing."
I looked dubiously at the Dr. Frankenstein contraption that Lisa had wheeled in. Sketch sighed again, more dramatically this time. "Did I not say yesterday that duplicating a woman's fine body hair was a very laborious and difficult procedure? Would you rather we tried to insert each and every hair into you with a needle?"
"No. I suppose not."
"Bono! Then put the cuffs on and let's have no more foolishness."
I did as Sketch instructed and strapped one band around each of my ankles. The cabling attached to each cuff extended back to Sketch's Infernal Machine. He examined each cuff, nodded once, and threw a switch. The contraption made a deep, ominous humming, but as promised, I didn't feel a thing.
"Is it on?"
Now both Ruth and Lisa were chuckling. Again, I heard Ruth's voice from behind me. "Look in the mirror."
I did. My military-short brown hair was sticking straight out from the top of my head in a bristly globe. I joined in the amusement. "Instant Afro."
My `female pelt' was administered by having Lisa spray a small area of my skin (over my abdomen, front and back, and my arms) with more of Sketch's miracle adhesive. This was quickly followed by Sketch who waved what looked like a vacuum cleaner's upholstery wand over the area just treated. But instead of sucking air in, this `vacuum cleaner' blew a stream of mildly warm air against me.
And lo-and-behold, where ever it passed, very fine golden hairs, almost a thin, soft down, seemed to sprout out of my new feminine flesh. The static charge served to hold each 'hair' standing at attention till its 'root' dried in my new 'flesh' (rather lying flat against the adhesive and getting stuck that way.) Sketch was right. That soft, thin down was a detail you missed, perhaps subconsciously, if it wasn't there.
The illusion was starting to take shape. It was requiring less and less imagination to believe that I was looking over the shoulder of some nude woman as her naked form slowly revealed itself to me.
After waiting for the `hair' to `dry'. Sketch announced that it was time to begin work on the final details. There was the matter of the color of my nipples and their surrounding areola to be attended to, as well as some other "detail and shading" that Sketch wanted to add. And of course, from the neck up, I was still Michael. Glancing at the clock on the wall, and remembering Lisa's prediction that the transformation should be accomplished by no later than five o'clock. I realized that these details would occupy at least another four hours.
As I was standing there, (I couldn't sit down, women apparently have a fine layer of hair on the small of their backs, as I'd just found out), I noticed Ruth and Sketch in a whispered conversation over in the corner. They noticed my awareness and from the conspiratorial smile I got from both of them, I deduced that it was pointless to ask for an explanation.
Sketch plopped me back down in the dentist's chair. It wasn't till later that it registered. Once he's spun me around facing the door, and left me that way, I could no longer see the mirrors that were now behind me.
It took Sketch a good half-hour to paint the crowning detail of my soon to be utterly convincing breasts. Half-jokingly I'd demanded `real eye-poppers . . . big pink ones!' Ruth overruled me. Her sudden quiet seriousness in what had become a very light-hearted afternoon jarred me back to earth for a moment. "Remember Michael; these aren't meant to `light your fire'. I want them very `ordinary' for a reason."
The remaining details went on fairly quickly. I got some subtle gradation in skin tones and some 'permanently attached' acrylic 'fingernails' that somehow made my fingers seem much more slender and feminine. Sketch also plied his paintbrush and created some amazingly realistic `veins and arteries' on the insides of my wrists and the tops of my feet.
Three and a half hours, more or less, remained in Lisa's timetable to create my feminine head.
It required all of them.
I was expecting some high-tech blusher and rouge or something. Instead, after a very thorough coat of depilatory, I spent two hours as Sketch and Lisa applied a whole series of very delicate and sometimes positively tiny appliances all over my face. They attached them to my cheeks, my lips, the bridge of my nose, my forehead. Pretty soon, I began to wonder if the only things that weren't going to get a bunch of latex glued to them were my eyes.
And of course, once all the appliances were in place, I got to hold my breath and clench my eyes tightly shut while I got a coat of "female skin" over my face. We fired up the static generator again and soon I had an extremely fine, almost invisible 'down' on my cheeks and upper lip.
Sketch painted a permanent coat of `neutral shade' over my lips and then spent several minutes applying my new `eyebrows' (my real set being now hidden beneath the `skin' I'd just received). Before I could think to ask what I looked like, we got down to my new `hair'.
It was Lisa who pulled it out of the last, unopened Tupperware container.
Man, it was lovely, just exactly the kind of hair that turns me on. Lisa held it up for my inspection inserting her hands beneath the `cap' and spreading it out so I could see how it would `fall'. It was light straw at the tips shading to tawny brown at the scalp. I could see that it was long-ish, that it would probably fall well below my shoulders. I could also see that it was set in that `wild-casual' style that I'm sorry to say seems to be going out of fashion.
Sketch's voice was conspiratorial. "Look at the light in his eyes. Didn't I tell you that you'd be a sexy little bitch Michael?"
It took several minutes of tugging and straightening for the wig to sit `correctly' on my head. There was a fake scalp beneath the whole `bang line' across the front that also extended over the top of my head to where my skull started to curve downwards in the back. As with everything else, this `scalp' received an application of adhesive to bond it to my real forehead. And again, there was a light coat of `female skin' latex paint to cover the seam. Once it was in place, Sketch used several dozen small, flexible, bobby pin like devices to attach the open weave of the back and sides of the wig to my real hair. "As with everything else Michael. We don't want this wig to slide off at some inopportune moment." I got a firm tug on the `hair' over the back of my head producing a yelp of pain from me. "See, caria mia? You'll want to be very careful about removing those pins and using the solvent before trying to take this off."
Then Sketch stepped back and Lisa took over.
"I'm going to touch up your hair now Mike and give you a light makeup job. Don't worry about trying to follow me just yet. I'll teach you how to do this for yourself later this week."
" `Beautician to the stars' are you?"
She was already fluffing my new hair with a brush. "As a matter of fact . . . yes."
"Gosh Sketch. Maybe you should be nicer to her. She might do your makeup someday."
I immediately wondered if I'd gone too far with that jibe, but apparently I hadn't. Sketch's tone was just as light and playful as it had been for the last hour. "Who do you think made your `Lisa' from day before yesterday so drop dead gorgeous?"
Before I could respond, Lisa, who was just beginning to apply a light rose-colored lipstick to my faux lips winked and almost whispered, "See? I guessed you might be the type of guy that liked `em `big and pink'. I'll have to remember that if you ever manage to buy me those three expensive dinners."
It took Lisa only a few minutes to finish. She only did what I'd later come to recognize as `day wear' makeup, the kind of minimal subterfuge that a woman applies as a matter of course before going out for an ordinary day's activities.
Then everyone gathered around the front of the dentist's chair and examined the fruits of their labors.
I think that up to this point, it had been so much about getting the job done that nobody, including me, had really viewed the work in progress with an eye to judging it's artistry or believability. Now, the physical transformation was complete, the masterpiece was done.
Looking from face to face, I could tell; the deception had apparently achieved whatever level of believability they had hoped for.
It was Ruth who finally spoke. I knew she was practiced in `sounding' however she thought best to produce a response in people. But I had to believe that that was genuine awe in her voice when she whispered, "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it happen right before my eyes."
Sketch too had a note of wonder and quiet pride. "But for my own designs, I think this is one of the best I've ever done."
I gave them what must have been a hopeful little grin. "That good?"
Ruth nodded and smiled. "Turn around. Take a look in the mirror."
I just stared for what had to be an eternity. At first, I couldn't even find my voice.
"Oh . . . my God! . . . "
I could only lie there as another greasy wave of nausea rolled through me. It was the morning following the completion of my physical 'transformation' and Ruth's 'hormone analog' had 'kicked in' with a vengeance. I was at the point where I had nothing left to vomit. That was both a blessing and a curse. At least I no longer had to scramble out of my tangled sheets and make a mad dash for the bathroom every few minutes. On the other hand, 'dry heaves' are God's vengeance.
Ruth stroked my hot, dry forehead and offered me another sip of ice water.
"Here hon, try and swallow a little more of this."
I managed to get some of that lovely coolness down the aching fire in my throat and croaked "thank you." If the analog was transforming my voice into something feminine, you couldn't tell. I didn't sound human, much less female.
"Do you think you might be able to sleep a little more? That's really the best thing you can do for yourself right now."
I nodded and Ruth again stroked my head, tucking one long blonde lock behind my right ear. After a while, I think I drifted off.
I still couldn't believe what I saw in that mirror yesterday. I had come to the point where I was pretty sure Sketch and Lisa could turn me into a believable facsimile of a woman. I had the evidence of the faux "Lisa" from two days ago. I had seen the transformation up to the point where the final detail work had begun, to where it no longer required that much imagination to envision the finished work. I had begun to "believe".
But I thought I'd look like a female version of me. I didn't quite know what that would look like, but I suppose I had some kind of mental image even if it was ill formed. At least, I think I was expecting someone I'd recognize, if you know what I mean. 'Oh, what a lovely woman Michael is! How cool!'
But when I finally turned and looked . . .
The woman in the mirror was an absolute stranger.
I'm quite certain I could have walked past my own mother and she wouldn't have recognized me. There just wasn't any trace of me left.
Her face was curved softness where mine was sharp planes and lines. I have somewhat thin lips. Hers were full and round. My nose is aquiline. Her nose was quite normal looking. It was, however, just a bit too large for her face. Not distractingly so, not abnormally so, not really even unusually so. Just large enough to spoil what would otherwise have been a perfect countenance. Looking at that nose, I think I realized the subtlety of Sketch's illusion. To this day, I believe he could have made me a stunning beauty if he'd wanted to. But he'd resisted that temptation. As a result, the face in the mirror was just plain enough, just ordinary enough, just far enough this side of drop-dead gorgeous . . . so as not to be too good to be true yet still be attractive.
Her body . . . well . . . it was simply too authentic not to be believed. There were no hints, no flaws, no little imperfections to spoil the illusion. Again, it wasn't so perfect as to raise doubts. Her hips might have been just a bit too full. Her stomach had just enough roundness that it missed being fashion model svelte. Her breasts were . . . average. Not so big as to be implausible, not so small that they didn't elicit a faint stirring in my groin that I knew meant I was out the price of three rounds of drinks for two people.
And it all fit together into a seamless, undeniable, utterly convincing whole.
We stood for a while, just looking. I turned this way and that still trying to spot that one flaw that would let me deny, if only for myself, the "truth" that proclaimed itself from that mirror. But there just wasn't one.
It was while I was looking at this beautiful stranger, that the first of the stomach cramps hit.
The sudden twinge must have shown on my face.
Ruth murmured "Uh oh. I think it's time we got you upstairs while you can still make it under your own power."
"The hormone analog?"
Ruth nodded. "Yeah, hon. This is going to be a rough night." I gathered up my surgical scrubs and slipped them on. I had a little trouble for a moment with the jersey top. I just slid it over my head as I'd usually done. Of course, my newly over-the-shoulder tresses were trapped beneath the shoulders and the back of the jersey and both Lisa and Ruth had to assist me for a moment freeing it. Lisa then showed me, quickly, how to either "toss" my head or to slide my hand over the nape of my neck and slip the trapped hair free. Then she surprised me with a quick little hug, the kind that one woman gives another, leaned slightly forward from the hip so as not to press her breasts against mine, followed by a quick little peck on the cheek. "Sleep well Mike. I'll see you day after tomorrow."
Next, Sketch gave me a little kiss on the other cheek. For some reason, it didn't seem at all odd or embarrassing for him to do so. "So far so good, Michael. I too will see you day after tomorrow."
Then Ruth led me out into the hallway toward the elevators.
It was while we were waiting for the elevator to arrive that I got my first taste of femininity. We were standing there, the cramp seemed to have passed though I was now feeling the first twinges of the nausea that would overwhelm me in just a few hours. An outside door opened at the end of the corridor and a pair of soldiers, males, walked in discussing some point. As they passed, I caught the younger of the two trying to steal a quick, covert glance at my breasts. As I've said, the jersey top had become baggy over my waist, but just a bit snug over my bosom. That, coupled with my lack of a bra . . . well . . . I suppose if the roles had been reversed, I'd have been trying for a sly peek myself.
The moment passed so quickly that the two men were already past me and heading down the corridor before I realized what had just happened.
I'd just been the object of a man's sexual desire.
Again Ruth, always the astute observer of human behavior, had caught the moment. Her smile was soft. "Get used to it kiddo. Sketch gave you a nice set of boobs and men a built to notice such things."
I was still wrestling with my conflicting thoughts when the elevator deposited us outside my room.
Ruth unlocked the door for me, (she had a key too) and turned on the lights. I sat on the edge of my bed and massaged my suddenly uncertain stomach.
"You might as well head into the bathroom now Michael. You're going to be in there for a while."
The rest of the night was one of the worst I've had since I was seven and a really good case of measles finally caught up to me. I love my Mother, I really do. I just wish Ruth had been there for me then too.
11:53 AM PST
My butt was going to sleep; I'd been sitting here so long. I reversed my legs, crossing my left over my right this time and tried to surreptitiously wiggle a little life into my tush at the same time. Without even thinking, I casually reached down and tucked my knit skirt beneath my thighs. General Thornton had asked that I attend the final brief "in character" but Ruth and I had hedged our bets and I'd 'activated' my 'Cathy Demure' persona for this, the final briefing before my departure.
The day following the transformation had been a complete loss until I woke from another fitful nap at around 6:30 in the evening. Somewhere during that sleep, I seemed to have "turned the corner" in my reaction to the hormone analog. Either my body had finally surrendered to that hellish substance, or there had been an "accommodation" between my tortured flesh and the drug. I still felt like hell, I was still light headed, I still had a burning in my throat, and the thought of food made my stomach crawl. But I found I could sit up and swing my legs over the side of the bed.
Ruth was nowhere in sight.
I suspected she'd been up with me all last night. Perhaps she'd gone to get some sleep of her own.
I was horribly thirsty. It took me two tries to stand, but I finally made it and wobbled into the bathroom on legs that seemed to be made of rubber.
The woman in the mirror over the sink looked as bad as I felt. Her hair was no longer "casual-wild" . . . it was just a tangled mass of sweaty dishwater blonde. There were dark circles under her bloodshot eyes that Sketch's miracle paint didn't seem to cover. Her face seemed to be made of too much flesh hanging slack on bones that lurked just beneath the surface.
I drained three glasses of water, the final one spilling down my chin as I greedily gulped it down. The water ran down my upper chest then flowed in one stream between a pair of disgustingly sexy tits. The water helped. My stomach was still fragile, but it stopped trying to turn summersaults. I was sticky and sweaty and I desperately wanted a shower.
Well . . . what the hell? As far as I knew, the transformation was complete. Supposedly I could now engage in any activity that a normal woman could. (Except, of course, sex.) If I were going to harm the disguise doing something mundane, now would be the time to do it while Sketch was still here to repair the damage and correct the flaw. I turned on the shower's faucets and waited a moment for the water to heat up to pleasant warmth. Then I climbed in and let the water sluice over me.
I was truly starting to feel better after ten minutes under the wonderfully relaxing pounding of the hot water. I started to finally explore my new body.
It was pleasant to run my hands over what seemed to be a woman's soft, soapy flesh. I didn't let myself get carried away. In my current state I didn't need another reminder of my catheter. It also helped kill the mood a bit to have to constantly wrestle with the 'beautiful locks' of my 'tawny mane'. At the moment my fake blonde tresses were hanging lifelessly in a sodden, heavy mop against my shoulders and over my eyes.
I was just climbing out of the shower and searching for a towel when the door opened and Ruth walked in carrying, of all things, a tea service.
By force of habit, I wrapped the towel around my waist before walking out into the room proper.
"Well Michael, up and around I see." She set the tray bearing the teapot, the cups and the cream and sugar down on my desk. "Feeling better?"
"Some, yes." My voice was definitely changing. It was neither particularly masculine nor particularly feminine at the moment. I'd bet if I tried that falsetto I'd tried the other day when Lisa was looking for a "sexy spread", this time it would be very convincing. By the same token, if I intentionally lowered my voice, I think it would drop fairly near its old masculine tenor.
Ruth glanced up from pouring the tea then tried to hide a smile. "Uh, Michael. If you don't want to, there's no need for you to pretend modesty with me. We both know that you aren't really a naked woman. However, if you want to start working on your deportment, and it's probably time that we did, please try to remember that a woman's modesty extends to her breasts as well as her 'nether regions'."
I glanced down then hurriedly tried to rearrange my towel.
"Christ Ruth. How am I ever going to learn all this stuff in the few days remaining? And even if I do learn it, what's to ensure that I won't slip up every five minutes by forgetting some little detail?"
She handed me a cup of tea and sat me down on the end of my bed. "That's part of what the hypnosis is for. You're right that you'll never be able to consciously absorb the thousand and one little things that distinguish a woman's behavior from a man's. And even if we could teach you, you'd be so preoccupied trying to remember to keep your knees together that you'd never accomplish any of your mission objectives. With hypnosis I can make enough 'behaviors feminine' part of your subconscious that you won't have trouble making anyone believe your impersonation. Occasional blunders, and there probably will be some, will be seen as personality quirks rather than 'mistakes'."
I took a sip of the tea. It felt wonderful sliding down my still aching throat. My stomach uncoiled another knot at the soothing warmth. "So I'll remember to keep my knees together without having to concentrate on it."
"Exactly." Ruth took a sip of her own tea then favored me with a sympathetic smile. "But that can wait till tomorrow. You still look like hell Michael. I really want you to get some sleep."
"I don't think I can sleep again for a while Ruth. I'm kind of wound up actually."
She set her cup aside. "Okay. Shall we have a little fun then? Would you like to start learning about the one thing that's fundamental to every female's psyche?"
I gave her a slightly suspicious stare. "You mean . . . childbirth and the like?"
She threw back her head and I found myself grinning at that earthy laugh of hers. "No, Michael. Something much more fundamental. CLOTHES!" With that she stood and flung open the doors to my previously empty closet.
It was still pretty bare, but there were now at least a dozen loaded hangers in there. I spotted several dresses (one of which, by its length and by the fact that it appeared to be black velvet, had to be an evening gown), a pair of faded jeans, a pair of charcoal colored slacks . . . some blouses. There was even a complete "Class A" uniform on one hook. That one caught my eye and I pulled it out first. It was the jacket that had attracted my attention and on closer inspection I figured out why I'd noticed it. "Typical SNAFU." I muttered.
I could hear the amusement in Ruth's voice. "It's supposed to be a woman's uniform Michael . . . remember what kind of a body you might be putting in it."
"It's not that." I pointed to the silver bar on the epaulette. "This is First Lieutenant's insignia. I'm a Second Lieutenant, one step below this. Of course, I suppose that's the least of the 'discrepancies' that someone could discover about the person wearing this."
Still Ruth smiled. "General Thornton wanted to tell you himself, but I think I'll just steal a little of the old windbag's thunder. When you get back from the mission Michael, you'll have earned that insignia. That's already been decided. Try and act surprised when you hear it from him though, okay?"
I don't know why, but that really pleased me. Finally, there'd be officers who'd have to salute me! (Granted, they'd be lowly 'second louies' . . . still . . .) "Can I try this on?"
"I think that would be very appropriate for your first choice. Okay. Let's start with underwear though. I think I recall somewhere that that's required by the 'Uniform of the Day Regulations', right?"
I chuckled, still holding the hook bearing the Class A's. "I wouldn't know Ruth. I've never read the 'Women's Section' of those regs."
She opened the top drawer of my dresser and presented me with a pair of panties and a bra. They weren't particularly sexy in themselves, just plain, unadorned white cotton . . . or spandex . . . or lycra . . . or whatever you called it. I set the uniform aside and picked up the panties.
Ruth was quiet assurance. "Just like you men, Michael . . . we women put our pants on, one leg at a time."
I slid the briefs up over my hips. Of course, once they were past my upper thighs, I could no longer feel their touch against my skin. (The 'foundation' and all the attached padding prevented that.) But the knowledge that for the first time it was I, by my own actions rather than as a passive . . . 'recipient' . . . who was working the illusion . . . It felt odd. It felt . . . I don't know how to describe how it felt.
I started to turn to that full-length mirror, but stopped before I got a glimpse of myself. Instead, I picked up the bra and slipped the straps over my shoulders.
"You're going to have a bit of trouble fastening the hooks at first. I'm afraid that's something that just comes with practice."
I did wrestle for a moment, but managed without too much trouble to get the bra fastened.
"Don't be shy Michael. Go ahead, reach right down in there and settle those little moneymakers into the cups. They're your breasts. In private, you can paw them all you want." I did as instructed.
Ruth found a pair of pantyhose in the shade of 'taupe' required by the Uniform Regulations and handed them over. "Sit down. Now, take the hose and gather the material up into a bunch until you're down to the toes. Good, now slip one foot in and slide it up to your ankle. Now the other foot. Now pull it up a few inches at a time, alternating legs. No, no! Don't try and pull it tight as you go, you'll get a run that way . . . There you go. Okay, now, think about that old movie "The Graduate" and smooth out the baggy stuff by sliding your hands up from your ankles. Pull up the waistband of the panties . . . of the pantyhose to take up the slack. See how it works?"
"Do you always put your panties on before you put on the pantyhose? If so, what's that cotton insert for on the crotch?"
"It's a matter of choice. Sometimes you'll want to be demure and wear a nice pair of panties over the top of your hose . . . kind of disguise the fact that you're wearing pantyhose at all. And sometimes, you might want to be really wicked and not wear panties at all."
"I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that day."
I didn't catch the thoughtful note in her voice. "We'll see."
She next found what she told me was a "full slip" and handed it to me. "No big trick here. Just over your head like a sweater. Good. Run your hands down your sides and make sure it isn't bunched up around your hips. Okay. Now the uniform."
I started with the blouse. "It buttons the wrong way."
"No, it buttons the right way . . . for a woman's blouse. Women's blouses have the buttons on the left and the eyes on the right."
"I've heard it was because in the old days, women were dressed by their servants. Quality women's clothing therefore had the buttons reversed so it would be easier for the maids (who had to dress themselves, of course) to work the fasteners in a way that was comfortable for them. I mean, that for someone looking at you while fastening the buttons, they'd appear to work the 'right way'. That way of doing it just stuck I guess."
I just snorted. I was having a little trouble once I'd proceeded below the line of my 'bosom' seeing the buttons.
"Hold it out Michael. Hold the blouse out far enough so you can see over your breasts."
"God. It's the same yet so different, you know?"
"You're doing fine. We'll implant all this into your subconscious. By day after tomorrow you won't even think about getting dressed. It'll all seem very natural."
I finally managed to get all the buttons fastened and then picked up the skirt. I was starting to step into it when Ruth stopped me. "No. Put it on over your head. See? There's one advantage women have. You don't have to tuck your shirt in if your skirt slides down over it. Uh . . . women wear their zippers either on the sides or more often in the back Mike. Come on, haven't you ever had the fun of hugging up against that special someone while you reached around her and worked her skirt's zipper?"
I chuckled. "I wondered why you gals did it that way." I started threading the belt through the loops on the skirt and had almost finished when I remembered and had to pull it back out. "Whoops. Force of habit."
"Ah. Well, there's one I know that you don't. Women wear uniform belts with the buckle on the left and the . . . what-do-you-call-it . . . the 'tongue' coming from the right. Men's are just the opposite."
I snorted again. "Beats the hell out of me. It just is that way. Do you think they used to get Privates to dress the women officers?"
Ruth chuckled. "The jacket goes on just like the boy's. Buttons the 'wrong' way of course. Maybe they did have Privates do it. Shoes are in the closet, I think . . . Uh, hon . . . when women wearing skirts bend over, they generally tend to keep their knees together and squat rather then bending from the waist. You look a little . . . 'daring' when you just bend over with your legs spread like that."
I sighed, straightened, and tried again.
"Are these shoes my size? They feel kind of tight."
"You men think that having periods is the most uncomfortable thing about being a woman. Let me set you straight . . . it's the shoes."
I slipped the black pumps on and then started to walk over to finally see myself in the mirror. I promptly 'turned' an ankle and just about collapsed sideways onto the bed. Ruth only smiled. "That's one you'll be practicing a lot . . . how to walk. First barefoot. Then Lisa, Sketch and I will induct you into the ancient and mystical art of walking, then running, in women's shoes. You'll love it. It'll make you want to rush right out and get a sex change just to be able to wear high heels. You'll see."
I stood there, teetering. "You're joking, right?"
"Right. Hey, don't you have to wear a hat with that uniform?"
"Oh. Not necessarily . . . at least not indoors. Shoot, my hair's way too long. I can't have hair longer than the bottom of my collar. I do remember that one."
"Turn around hon." I did and felt Ruth gathering my still damp hair into what I assumed was a knot or bun on the back of my head. She did it quickly and efficiently. "I guess that's something else I need to learn . . . how to fix my hair."
"Yep. Lisa will teach you all that during one of the hypnosis sessions."
"You can teach me to do technical stuff while I'm under?"
"I wouldn't call putting your hair up 'technical', but yes, I can. Hypnosis doesn't change the things you can learn. It can change the way you learn, retain, and employ knowledge and skills."
"Hmm . . . "
"There's the hat, up there on the shelf."
I set it on my head. Then, without prompting from Ruth, I ran my hands down my sides then down my skirt, smoothing everything into place. With a deep breath, moving slowly and deliberately so as not to overbalance on my heels, I turned and stepped into the line of sight of the mirror.
My first glimpse of my naked form had been a surprise . . . had overwhelmed me. My first glimpse of my new "self" dressed . . . unremarkable . . .wholly believable . . . attractive if not strikingly beautiful . . . competent looking in her uniform . . .
"I want a name Ruth. I want something to call this person."
Her voice was soft. "What name? What is her name Michael?"
"Should it be something I will respond to? I mean, something like Michael?"
"It can be anything you want. I can set you to respond to any name you choose."
"Catherine . . . her name is Catherine."
The following days just blurred together.
We'd start early, sometimes at five A.M. We'd work till I was just too tired to continue. I'd grab as much sleep as I could get away with, then it would all start over.
Sometimes I'd spend whole sessions under Ruth's hypnosis. I have no recollections of those times. I'd start out on Ruth's couch, it would seem like I'd drift off into a pleasant daydream . . .
The next thing I knew, I'd be in an entirely different place, perhaps wearing completely different clothes from when I'd started, and whole mornings or afternoons had vanished from my conscious memory.
I knew I was "learning" feminine behaviors. Ruth's prediction about getting dressed came true. My second day as 'Cathy' found me getting dressed just as if I'd been donning bra, panties and hose every day of my adult life. I think Ruth had also planted some form of suggestion whereby it wasn't either a "turn on" or a "turn off" to be wearing feminine garb. However, I also guessed that the suggestion was rather more subtle than "women's clothing isn't sexy for you anymore." I'd spotted a very lacy black . . . I think you call it a 'teddy' complete with attached garters and some matching sheer black stockings with wide lacy hems at the top in my underwear drawer. Handling those items, I confess, produced a very sexual thrill. But I was astonished to realize that the thrill came from the anticipation I felt knowing that I'd be able to conceal these racy items under some dress and then revel in the secret knowledge of my 'wickedness'. Surely, that was a female perspective, wasn't it?
There were a thousand and one details to be attended to, to produce the more mundane items of my disguise. Sketch posed me in front of several neutral backgrounds with me in several different outfits and took photos of me. I later found out that these were to be used for various items of I.D., a driver's license and a passport for example.
I was also posed in front of several photographic backdrops with several people I'd never met before. Sketch would say something like, "Here's a shot of you with your Father during that trip to Indianapolis." The strange man, (an actor, I'm sure) would put his arms around my waist, we'd both smile for the camera. "Click." "Portrait of Loving Parent and Child."
We spent several hours one morning while Sketch and Lisa used their makeup tricks to 'de-age' my disguise and I got a couple of snapshots from my high school days. "Me on my bed back home in Kansas City, playing with my kitten Snowball". "Me in my cheerleader's outfit." "Me with Darrel at the Senior Prom." "Me and my three best girlfriends, clowning around at the Mall." All these "memories" went into the snapshot section of my wallet . . . the one I'd be carrying in my purse.
On the fifth day, just after lunch, Ruth handed me a small box that I immediately recognized as the type that you use to hold a ring. Sure enough, inside was a thin gold band supporting a small red stone.
"Oh gee Ruth. I didn't know you cared. Of course I'll marry you."
I got that "give me a break" expression that I loved to see on her face. "Pay attention now because this little trinket may just save your life."
I felt like kidding around. For the first time I really 'played the role' for Ruth. I tried for a 'cheap, dumb blonde' voice and was very pleased with the result. "Is the ruby real? I'm not gonna part with my virginity for a fake rock."
"Michael! Pay attention. No, the ruby isn't real. It isn't even a solid stone. Here, put it on and let me show you something."
I slipped the ring on the third finger of my right hand. Ruth then took my hand in hers and very carefully pressed down on one side of the little crystal. Surprisingly, it retraced a bit into its setting. Looking very closely I could just make out the hair thin needle that had been revealed sticking out of the heart of the gem.
"Ruth . . . this isn't a suicide pill is it?"
"Lord no! But you're right, it does give an injection. Have you ever hear of the so-called 'date-rape drug'?"
I couldn't take my eyes off that little needle. "Yeah. Is that what this is?"
"It's from the same chemical family. This is also a hypnotic, a drug that induces a trance state in which the mind looses the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. And like the date-rape drug, this also suppresses inhibition while at the same time stimulating the libido."
"I'm not sure I follow."
"It's pretty simple Michael. I'm about eighty percent sure that if you follow my 'play book', you'll never have to worry about Jame' trying to bed you. But if that twenty percent comes true, this is your ace in the hole."
"You mean . . .?"
She nodded. "Inject him with this. It's a very fine needle, he probably won't feel it go in, particularly if you manage to distract him. In just a few seconds he'll enter a dream-like state in which it will be very easy for you to . . . uh . . . 'describe' what ever kind of sexual encounter you feel is appropriate. The more 'authentic' and 'vivid' your description, the more vivid the memories you'll produce. If you do it right, in the morning Jame' will wake up completely convinced he's had sex with Cathy."
Now I really couldn't take my eyes off that needle. I hoped I'd never inadvertently stab myself with it.
Then there was the method we devised to allow communication.
I memorized several phone numbers that were "important" to Cathy. If it ever became necessary, somebody could call my parent's house and talk to my Mom. They wouldn't know that the number in Kansas City was automatically intercepted and transferred here to the Base, or that the "mother" they'd be speaking to was in reality a certain clinical psychologist named Ruth.
It was during the creation of this item that I got my first inkling of what kind of girl "Cathy" was. Apparently, if you called my "Mom", you'd find out that she was very worried about her little girl. There'd be a slight catch in her voice, as "Mrs. MacDonnagh" would beg, "Please, could you ask Cathy to call me? Please tell her we forgive her and just want her to come home."
And then seven days had passed, and I found myself in Ruth's office at 9:00 AM for the last of the hypnotic sessions. This would be the one where Cathy's 'personality' would be created.
I "went under" with my usual ease. From my point of view I spent a few minutes daydreaming . . .
"Michael . . . wake up. We're done."
I sat up and swung my legs off the couch then sat with my ankles crossed and my hands folded over the light cotton skirt I was wearing today. A glance at the clock on the wall told me that the better part of a day was gone again. It was a little after two in the afternoon.
Ruth closed a thick file folder in front of her, took of her reading glasses and massaged the bridge of her nose. She looked worn out.
I got a tired smile. "Not especially. You took the suggestions as well as you always have. There was a lot of material to implant, and I had to go pretty deep to get some of it to stick."
I peered a little more closely at this person who had so rapidly become one of my closest friends. "But that's not all that's bothering you, is it Ruth?"
She sighed and leaned her cheek against her hand. "I'm getting pretty transparent to you if you can see that Michael. That's considered 'not a good thing' in a therapist/patient relationship."
"What do you consider it when it's between two friends?"
She sighed and closed her eyes.
"Ruth, when I first walked in that door . . . God, it seems like years . . . has it really been only two weeks? When you and I met, you asked for my trust. Does it help you now to know that I do trust you? As much as I think I've ever trusted anyone."
She nodded, her eyes still closed, some secret pain still evident on her face. "No. It makes it worse." Then she opened her eyes and gazed directly into mine. "I want you to know, Michael . . . my dear friend . . . that being a doctor is very important to me. I'm proud of my ability to cure injury, to make what's broken whole again. It's so fundamental to who I am. For as long as I can remember, it's all I've ever wanted to do with my life. It goes against everything I believe to do what I've done to you today. To reach into your mind and create there something that will cause you pain. Please remember this conversation. When the mission is over, try to find a way to forgive yourself for some of the things you're going to do. Please find a way to forgive me for making it possible for you to do them. Please come back to me. Please, let me cure the injury and help ease the pain. Will you promise me that?"
"You're scaring me Ruth, but I'll promise."
We looked into each other's eyes for a moment, then Ruth slipped behind her professional mask again.
"What I've done is to create three 'templates' for you. These aren't so much different personae as they are 'possible aspects' of a core personality. Now don't worry. It's not like you're suddenly going to have a bunch of strangers in your head. These templates only provide you with subconscious behaviors and . . . let's call it appropriate attitudes. 'Cathy Demure' blushing furiously on that rare occasion when she forgets to hold her knees together for example. You can access each of them by repeating, aloud to yourself, an activation phrase. They only activate when you hear the words spoken in your own voice. I've made the phrases pretty descriptive so you'll know what you're 'turning on'."
"What are the phrases?"
Even her professional mask couldn't hide the pain in her eyes.
"They are; 'Cathy Demure', 'Cathy Slut' and the one you'll be using the most . . .
. . . 'Cathy Victim'."
Casino Monte Negro
10:18PM Local Time
The blonde was back tonight.
Jame' toyed idly with the stack of gambling chips at his right hand and watched her "work". In the ten years since his father had first allowed him to come to the Casino, he'd become something of a connoisseur of the prostitutes who were its habitue'. Not that he gave many of them his custom. Most of them were too hungry, had too much of a frantic gleam in their eye for his taste.
Oh, to be sure, some of the "ladies" had shared his bed. There was Jeanette of the fiery red mane and matching passion. Simone' was no stranger, nor was Kiko. But these women were much sought after. They could pick and choose their paramour of the evening. They could demand whatever price they wished. If you balked at what they demanded, they would only curl their lip, laugh at you, and dismiss you in favor of all the others that eagerly sought them, that could afford and appreciate their talents. The anxious, fearful need was not in them. Their haughty poise and dignity were very real, and therefore very attractive.
Jame' could always afford what they asked . . . and more.
But the slender blonde at the bar . . . the need was very much in her.
You could tell that she was new to this. She tried too hard. She looked into too many of the passing faces . . . searching for one who might take her home for the night, be gentle enough not to demand too much from her, yet be willing to pay well.
Of course, there were no such faces. Jame's life had granted him enough wisdom concerning his fellow man to understand this. He also knew it was early in a young man's life to already be as world-weary as his understanding made him.
She had become aware of his scrutiny. She turned on the barstool and met his gaze. Her soft, open features were lost under the garish, overdone makeup of a new prostitute. Why did women think that men found so much paint and artifice attractive? Perhaps it was that the type of man whose attention they were trying to attract was drawn to such contrivance. But he was not.
She stood and walked a bit closer. Her stride was exaggerated, each foot placed directly before the other so her hips swayed provocatively, the skirt of her too short black dress clinging to her sheer black hose.
Did she mistake the great sadness for the tawdriness of it all she apparently read in his eyes as a sign that here might be someone to take her home and treat her as she so greatly desired? Did she see gentleness and compassion? It wasn't there. He was his father's son. There was no gentleness or compassion in him.
Jame' quickly gathered up his night's winnings and departed for the cashier's window. He sensed the looming bulk of his two bodyguards Carlo and Fillipe' as they fell in behind him. The evening had lost its savor. Time for bed.
He glanced back once, over his shoulder. The blonde was standing there, one hand resting on the baccarat table he'd just vacated. Her pose was casual, negligent. Her posture told the entire world "Ah well, his loss, not mine."
But the hurt and loneliness . . . the sorrow . . .
The pleading need of a lost child . . .
Her posture couldn't disguise what her eyes held so clearly.
Casino Monte Negro
1:29AM Local Time
He might never have heard the quiet sobs if the valet hadn't had trouble finding his Mercedes.
The three of them, Jame' and his hulking body guards, had been forced to stand for several minutes while the boy had searched for the car mistakenly parked in a slot other than the one matching Jame's claim check. As a result, they'd been forced to stand aside from the entranceway of the Casino. To stand a bit closer to the dark maw of the alley that separated the glitter of haute society from the squalor of the mean tenements that surrounded it, a glittering island of light and laughter in a cold, dark sea of misery.
At first, Jame' didn't know what or where the soft mewling was coming from. It was Fillipe who finally pointed down the dark, littered alley. "There, senor. It comes from there." Jame' had started down the alley, but both bodyguards had interposed themselves before him. It was Carlo, the older of the two who made it clear to him. "No, senor. I will go see." The pistol seemed to just appear in his hand. Carlo and Fillipe were the finest at their work that money could buy. His father had seen to that. Not out of solicitous concern for his son. Though he was seldom included in any of his father's business dealings or privy to his father's plans, still Jame' had more information in his head than the elder Cardoza thought prudent to just leave lying around. Neither the bodyguards nor Jame' were under any illusions. All knew that Carlo and Fillipe were there to protect Hector Cardoza, not Jame'.
Carlo quickly disappeared into the darkness while Fillipe moved closer, a pistol of his own held negligently in the hand that hung beside his right leg.
"It is all right Senor. Come. See."
By the time Jame' had moved the short distance, Carlo had already moved back several steps and was dividing his attention between scanning the surrounding rooftops . . .
. . . And the small, huddled form curled up beside the overflowing trash container.
The slender blonde . . . legs curled beneath her, her hair hanging over her face, one hand gentling the abrasion on her knee, the other trying to hold her ruined dress against her breasts in a vain attempt at modesty long outraged and fled.
Before he realized he was doing it, Jame' was kneeling before her. Fillipe made an abortive attempt to intercede, to prevent his foolish young charge from getting too near an as yet unknown and unquantified threat. A look from Carlo stopped him from actually manhandling Jame' out of potential harm's way.
Jame' tried to see through the veil of hair that hid her face. "Senorita, esta bien? Que' passo aqui?"
Her voice was a small, frightened thing. "I don't understand. I don't speak . . ."
"You are American?"
A quick nod of her head.
He reached out and gently lifted her chin, raising her face to the light. At first she flinched away, resisting his attempt. Then her will failed and she allowed him to move her head as he wished.
Her right eye was already all but swollen shut, the white of it an angry, purple suffusion of blood from one or more ruptured vessels. The swelling on her cheek hinted at a massive bruise in the making. Her lip was badly split and a small thread of blood ran down it, dripping from her chin, staining his own fingertips as he gently held it up to the light.
"Who did this to you?"
She could only whimper and try to shake her head "no".
"Senorita, who has done this to you? Carlo. Llama la policia."
Her voice rose to a tortured wail. "No! No police! Please don't . . . I can't go to them." Her chin slipped out of his grasp as her head dropped onto her chest, her hair again a veil for her shame. "Don't look at me . . . Go away! Please go away!" Then the last of her resolve deserted her, her voice breaking into anguished hiccuping sobs.
Jame' straightened and gazed down at her. Huddled, shivering, hugging her arms to herself in the warm night air.
Again, it was Carlo who took the lead. "What should we do senor? It might be best to just do as she asks."
"Fillipe, see if those idiots have finally found the car."
"Si' Senor." He holstered his pistol and strode back toward the light and noise.
Carlo began to move away as well. "It is for the best Senor. There is nothing to be gained by . . ."
"Help me lift her to her feet. Help me get her to the car."
"Do as I tell you!"
Carlo was old enough and wise enough to know that argument was futile at this point. He just shrugged, holstered his weapon and bent toward the now cowering woman.
He was also old enough and wise enough to know that no possible good could come of his master's misplaced chivalry. But it was not his place to say so.
Estate of Hector Cardoza
3:48AM Local Time
"I have given her something to help her sleep. It is my opinion that the emotional trauma she is suffering this evening far exceeds the physical."
Jame' nodded and even managed to find a small smile for the little man's sing-song accent. "Thank you Doctor Singh, both for your assistance and for coming out at this unholy hour."
The Pakistani nodded, still glancing at the closed door to the guestroom where they'd brought her. "It is my pleasure to be of service. If I may inquire . . . solely for my own curiosity . . . who is doing this to her?"
Jame' shrugged. "We do not know. We found her in this state in the alley behind the Casino. She would not tell us what had happened, nor would she allow us to call the police."
"Ah, well . . . it is well that you are finding her then and bringing her here. She will need rest. I would not be pressing too hard for answers for at least a day." The small man then shook his head, a note of anger creeping into his voice. "A pretty woman . . . any woman should not be used so. What man would do this?"
Jame's voice was tired and sad. "No man. Sadly, there are things in this world that look like a man, act like a man . . . but have not the soul of a man."
He didn't add, "I am one's son."
I sat on the bed, trying to will the sobs and the shivers to cease, but they wouldn't. I was afraid to switch back to myself . . . my "Michael-self." I was afraid that even then they wouldn't stop.
I felt so dirty . . . so used . . .
Oddly, of all my injuries, it was my knee that caused me the most pain. The ache of my bruised cheek seemed to come in waves . . . pain . . . release . . . pain . . . release . . . throbbing. I felt nothing from the injury to my eye except for an odd "grittiness" as though some fine dust was lodged in the corner resisting all attempts at removal. But the abrasion adorning my left knee produced a constant, sharp burning.
The Novocaine had long since worn off.
A particularly fierce twinge from my abused knee elicited a soft, feminine sob in Cathy's voice.
I tried for a more masculine tenor as I hissed "Stop that!" to myself. But I wasn't listening because my brusque command ended in a whimper.
Enough! I was a soldier on a mission. The Doctor's sleeping potion would soon take effect and I had things to do before it did. (Doctor Singh . . .that kind, gentle little man . . . trying to hide his outrage at my abused form, trying to be light and sympathetic . . . trying to ease the pain . . . so wholly deceived by my evil performance into believing I really was a helpless, battered . . . Enough!) I stood on wobbly legs and removed the tattered remnant of my dress, then slid off the black pantyhose, biting my lip to stifle the wretched moan as the material pulled away from my raw knee. My bedroom had an attached private bath, and it was there that I went.
I examined myself in the mirror over the sink. My right eye looked horrific and my cheek was swollen to almost twice its normal size. I ran some warm water then with still trembling hands I soaked a washcloth and very gently rubbed off the water-soluble concealer that Sketch had applied earlier this afternoon over much of the right side of my face. The ugly purple bruise that Sketch had labored so long to perfect using his more permanent latex-based cosmetics revealed itself. More water and more gentle rubbing revealed other angry splotches on my wrists where Jorge', my pimp, had grabbed me as he violated me in the alley behind the Casino.
That little scene had caused quite a stir. Should anyone in Cardoza's household be curious enough to check, several of the Casino employees could provide a sketchy description of the whimpering young Americana and the dark, Latino male they had observed struggling in the alley. No, they hadn't looked all that closely at either face. No, they hadn't intervened. They'd quickly returned to minding their own business. In this place, it was better not to notice such things.
I had to admit . . . Marco made a very convincing "Jorge, the pimp." He was a talented actor.
Another twinge from my knee reminded me that he was also talented at producing specific injury to the human body.
When they had met with me this afternoon, Marco and Sketch (today a small, wizened compessino in worn cotton jersey and trousers who spoke with an almost impenetrably thick accent) had informed me of the nature of my entree' into Cardoza's household. They (wisely perhaps) hadn't given me a chance to really consider the implications. Sketch had produced a hypodermic needle and set to with a will deadening the right side of my face and my left knee. I was to be the victim of a beating, and there was simply no makeup that could convincingly portray the necessary swelling or bleeding under the scrutiny to which I would be subjected.
Only real damage would do.
Once the Novocaine took effect . . . Marco proceeded to pound on me. It was a very strange experience, Sketch describing the next item of damage, Marco telling me to turn my head this way or that, feeling the blows land, but not feeling the pain.
To add insult to my injuries, I then had to endure the application of "bruises" produced by Sketch's artistry. These, he could convincingly portray.
He had to. Marco's blows had certainly caused real bruising and abrasion . . . to the genuine flesh invisible under my coat of "woman-skin paint". So as to allow for a believable span of time for the bruises to appear, Sketch then covered his latest art with a layer of water based concealer that I could remove when the time was right for the whole extent of my injuries to manifest itself.
I had become layer upon layer of lie and deception.
Finished, I looked in the mirror. I couldn't bear what I saw there and I shut off the light, both in the bathroom and in my bedroom. I crawled beneath the covers of my bed and huddled into a small ball.
I was tired, both in body and in spirit.
I wanted to sleep now. I wanted to be Michael and sleep.
It was here the final blow landed. I realized; I didn't know how to "shut off" my Cathy persona. I had the three code phrases I could use to switch between the three different templates, but Ruth had never given me a phrase to deactivate them. I had never thought to ask for one.
Was this just an oversight?
I hugged my arms tighter against my counterfeit breast as the shivering returned.
No. No oversight. For whatever reason, my commanders had decided that I would only play the part they had created for me. From the instant I had activated "Cathy Demure" on the day of my final brief, I had been trapped "in character." I could only select from one of the three templates.
I closed my eyes as more tears came.
"Did you know Ruth? Did you lie to me or simply omit the truth? Can I walk away now, no questions asked?"
The darkness had no answer for me.
Estate of Hector Cardoza
11:17AM Local Time
Jame' tapped softly on the door, waited a long moment, then looked a question at Fillipe who had been stationed here since they brought the blonde in last night. He could only shrug. "Per your father's instructions, she hasn't been out of the room, senor. She's in there." The maid balancing the tray containing the meal tried to shift its weight into a more comfortable balance.
Jame' knocked again, a bit more forcefully this time.
"Senorita? Are you awake?"
This time, a sleepy "What?" answered his knock.
"It is I, Senorita. Jame'. From last night."
There was a moment's silence, then a more awake-sounding "Come in." drifted through the closed door.
She was sitting up in bed, the bedclothes hugged tightly against her chest. Just as with last night, her chin rested on her chest, her hair covering her face. Jame' stepped just inside the door and then with a preemptory flick of his hand he indicated that the maid should set the tray down on the vanity.
"I thought perhaps you would be hungry. Our cook makes a really excellent bouillabaisse."
She just sat there, hugging the sheets against herself, her face hidden behind her golden tresses.
"Senorita, please. You must eat something, yes?"
She finally looked up just as the maid finished setting out the meal and the silverware. One look at her ravaged face and the old woman gasped raising one hand to her mouth. "Ah! Pobrecita!"
Jame' snarled "Cayate' Vieja!" over his shoulder, but the damage was already done. The blonde had again dropped her chin, again retreated behind the veil of her hair. But the moment had been long enough. Jame' too had seen the huge purple bruise that marred the entire right side of her face.
"Old woman, make yourself useful and find some ice."
"At once senor!" The old woman scuttled away, but paused at the door and gazed at the huddled form on the bed. She shook her head sadly and then went to find the ice to ease the poor woman's pain. Men could be such monsters.
When she was gone, Jame' motioned again to the bowl of soup, its savory steam fogging the mirror. "Now, you must eat. As your host, I insist."
But the blonde just sat there.
"I will think you find my hospitality lacking if you don't get up. Come now . . ." He stopped and then tried a winning smile. "I just realized. I do not know your name. Please. As I have said, I am Jame'. You are . . . ?"
A small voice replied "Cathy".
"Well Cathy. Please, eat something. For me, yes?"
"I'm sorry Senor, I . . . I have nothing to wear."
Jame' gave himself an exasperated little sigh. "What am I thinking? Of course. My hospitality is indeed lacking. Please, wait here. I'll find you something."
He arrived back at the guestroom at almost the same instant as the old maid carrying ice wrapped in a towel. He handed the terry cloth robe he'd taken from his own closet to her. "Here. Take this in to her. Help her get dressed. Then attend to what ever else she needs. And see that she eats something. She's too skinny."
The old woman dipped her head in a small bow. "Si' Senor."
The old woman opened the door and peered inside. The blonde was sitting just as she'd left her, the bedclothes still pulled up to her chin, her face still invisible behind the veil of her hair. The maid stepped in and Fillipe promptly shut the door behind her.
"Aqui, senorita. I have for you . . . somethings to use." She offered both the ice and the robe.
The Americana finally looked up at her. Again, it was all the old woman could do not to turn away at the sight of her ravaged face. "Ah . . . pobre . . . I to help, si' ?"
The blonde nodded then slowly, reluctantly she pushed aside the blankets and climbed out of bed.
She was too skinny but with a little fattening up she would be a very attractive woman. The maid held the robe open for her and the blonde slipped her arms into it then pulled it tightly closed, knotting the tie around her waist.
"Aqui' . . ." The maid indicated the bed while holding up the ice bag. After a moment, the blonde understood and sat on the edge of the bed. The maid pressed the towel-wrapped ice against the huge bruise as gently as she could, but not gently enough that the poor girl didn't hiss with pain and try to flinch away.
"Ai! No tienes miedo, chica . . . todo estaba bein."
The pain in her eyes was so great. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I don't. . . I don't understand."
This could be her own eldest daughter sitting here. The old woman gently stroked the uninjured cheek. The girl allowed it for a moment then turned away. Ah, to be ashamed to even accept a gentle caress. What had this poor little one suffered?
"Eat? Por favor."
The blonde attempted a smile. It was timid and fragile but it brightened her face.
"Thank you. You're very kind. You've all been so very kind."
The old woman could only shrug. "Lo siento Senorita. No entiendo."
In the end they had to let their smiles speak for them.
The blonde was just finishing the bowl of soup when Jame' again knocked on the door, which Fillipe then opened without invitation.
"Ah! Up and about? Good. And the soup? To your liking?"
"Yes Senor. It was very good. Thank you."
"You must call me Jame'. I'm glad you liked the soup." He gestured to the maid and she gathered up the plates and carried them out, shutting the door behind herself. The blonde seemed to be trying to retreat back into herself. She drew the lapels of the bathrobe tighter against her throat, her arms pressing against her bosom.
"Thank you Senor . . . Jame'. I . . . I shouldn't impose anymore. Do you think one of your servants might have some clothes I could borrow? I don't want to ask anything more but I have to leave and . . . " Then she could only bite her lip and try not to let him see it quiver.
"Nonsense Cathy. You will stay here as my guest. You have had a very bad experience and I will not hear of you leaving until you are recovered. I will send someone to your home and obtain for you what ever clothing and necessities you think you might need."
"Oh please, I can't let you to do that. I . . . I can't stay here. I have to get home. I have to get back to . . . "
His tone darkened. "To who ever it was that did this to you? Cathy, treat me as the adult I am. I know what you are. I can guess who did this to you and why. I will not let you go back to him."
And then she was sobbing again, hugging the robe to herself. "No one else . . . I have no one else . . . to go to . . . "
He couldn't help himself. He took the three steps necessary to stand behind her. His hands seemed to feel so right on her shoulders. She didn't resist, she seemed beyond resistance now. She just sobbed . . . quietly . . . so forlorn.
"That is not true Cathy. You have me now."
It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life . . . to let him stand there and caress my shoulders and try to comfort me.
Not because I found his touch objectionable. I don't know why it's so universally understood that men don't like physical contact, physical intimacy. His somewhat fumbling attempts to ease my "suffering" might have even been nice, soothing . . .
If the very genuine anguish he was trying to assuage wasn't the product of the horrible self-loathing that was twisting my stomach . . . producing the very real sobs that I just couldn't control anymore, perhaps because I was trapped in my female persona . . . perhaps not.
Look at me Ruth. Look at the soldier.
It was only by effort of will that I didn't turn to Jame' and confess everything . . . didn't rip off my wig though it might take my entire scalp with it. Even if to do so would cost me my life for the deception I was perpetrating so masterfully upon him.
And that, in the end, was what gave me the strength to endure the several minutes of Jame's attempt at compassion. I was afraid of what would happen to me if I did reveal everything.
Add coward to the list.
It took them a little over two hours to get somebody into town, find the dismal little hovel I called home, and discover the "damage" that "Jorge" in his "rage" at my failure to return to him had perpetrated.
Of course, he'd destroyed all of my meager possessions. My carefully prepared "memories" had been torn up and scattered around the room. (But not so severely mutilated that they couldn't be pieced back together and thus communicate their lies to the curious.) More importantly, all my clothing had been shredded beyond salvage. Even my pitifully small collection of shoes was damaged beyond repair.
"It's actually a very 'primitive urge' Michael."
"Maybe for you women, Ruth. But I don't think I've ever felt the instinctive need to shop for clothing."
She chuckled. "No. But I'll bet it would touch something more primal than you expect if you were to take an attractive female out and 'provide' for her. 'Food, clothing and shelter' and the male need to be the provider. Those will be the next 'buttons' we'll push."
11:06AM Local Time
She was so timid, yet like any woman she was drawn to the beautiful clothing. This shop had a very small and select clientele. There were few people in Barranquilla who could afford its wares. Only the elite traded here and therefore only the finest was displayed for purchase.
She lingered before a mannequin that bore a striking resemblance to her, right down to the hair that lay in very carefully arranged 'tousled neglect' upon its shoulders. "Oh Jame', look. Isn't this dress beautiful?" One frock was like another to him. It certainly didn't make the mannequin more desirable in his eyes.
"Enchanting. It would look even better on you."
She offered him a shy smile and hugged her arms beneath her bosom. She looked so beautiful and vulnerable in the ill-fitting borrowed dress that was one of the serving girls' prized possessions. Again she gazed longingly at the dress adorning the mannequin that stared off into space, its face carved in an expression of blank haughtiness.
"You must try it on."
Her eyes went wide. That ugly purple discoloration of the white of her right eye was already all but vanished. She'd done well with the concealer too. You'd never guess at the massive bruise that still lurked beneath the makeup. "Oh no! Oh Jame' it looks so expensive! I just want something simple. You won't buy anything more than that. And I'll pay you back as soon as I can. We agreed."
"Of course Cathy. Still, it can't hurt to try it on, can it? Please. For me. I want to see you in it."
She reached out a tentative hand and gently stroked the cream colored fabric. "It's so pretty. Do you think they'd mind?"
"Not if they want to keep my trade."
She turned to him and for the first time there was a twinkle in her eye to match the shy smile. "All right." She scampered off to find a saleswoman. Soon she had departed for a dressing room, clothing box in hand.
As soon as Cathy had disappeared behind the curtains, Jame' motioned for the manager, a 'handsome' looking woman of indeterminate middle age.
"Yes Senor? What can I offer you today?"
"The blonde that just went into the dressing room, do you know her size now?"
"Fine. We'll be purchasing a full wardrobe for her today including underwear and shoes. I'll trust you to make all the necessary selections. You know the degree of quality I expect."
She might be used to dealing with the crème d le crème but even her studied snobbery failed her at the prospect of this sale. "Oh! . . . Oh! . . . Of course Senor! Rely on me!" She clapped her hands and scuttled off after one of her subordinate saleswomen. "Juanita, come here immediately . . . and bring Giesele. Hurry, hurry!"
The whisk of the curtains opening drew Jame's attention from the suddenly flurry of activity he'd precipitated.
She stood there, in the archway. Arms slightly out from her body, the cream dress flowing over her curves and falling like a wave on her knees. The elegance of the dress, the simple beauty of her unadorned legs, the fetching, winsome vulnerability of her dainty bare feet . . .
Jame's breath caught in his throat.
Her eyes were huge and glistening. Her voice was an awed whisper. "It's the most beautiful thing I've ever worn. And it has a designer's label! It's . . . oh Jame' . . . I'm afraid to move. I'm afraid I might rip something."
He finally found his voice. "Well, what if you do? It's your dress. We'll just have it mended . . . no . . . if you rip it we'll simply have who ever sewed it sew you another."
He was astonished to see her face fall and her eyes begin to fill with tears. "Jame' . . . no. You promised. It's just for fun. I can't afford this . . . I'll never be able to afford something like this. I won't take any more of your charity. You've been too kind already. I can't . . ."
"It isn't charity. Charity is a scrap you give anonymously to a stranger. You will not be a stranger to me Cathy. This dress is a gift I offer to a newfound friend."
A single tear coursed down her cheek and she seemed to huddle deeper within herself. Then she nodded and something changed within her though Jame' could not understand what. Her posture became a bit looser, more negligent. "Of course Jame'. Shall we pay for this and go home now?"
He was baffled but he smiled anyway. "No. I enjoyed seeing you in that dress so much, I want to see you in others. And there's the matter of shoes and . . . other things. No. I thought we'd spend the afternoon here. Once you were sufficiently supplied for the days and nights to come, we'd find that one perfect gown and then go to the Casino and let everyone see what a truly beautiful and elegant woman looks like."
"Of course Jame'. What ever you want." Why was her smile suddenly so cold?
They brought him a chair and some champagne and Cathy performed a one-woman fashion show for him. Sometimes one of the items she was modeling touched her fancy and he caught a glimpse of that child-like wonder he'd seen when her hand touched the fabric of the cream dress. But more often she seemed aloof . . . detached. He couldn't discover what was causing the change in her.
If he had been more experienced in women's moods, he would have noticed that even the small delight abandoned her when she modeled the sleepwear he himself had selected.
They arrived back at the mansion a little after one AM.
Carlo handled the security check with his usual efficiency. The guards glanced once into the back of Jame's Mercedes then waved them through.
Cathy was a vision ascending the steps to the grand entranceway. Her black velvet gown seemed to be a piece of the night come to life. The shapely leg that shimmered from the slit of the gown, the luminous bare shoulders and cloud of tawny mane that floated above the ebony of the dress were like moonlight embodied.
She mounted the steps with lithe grace, the sway of her rounded hips achingly feminine.
With no prompting from him, she passed the door to the guestroom she occupied and without a glance in either direction, moved as in a dream to the door of his bedroom. Jame' turned to Carlo and Fillipe who exchanged a glance between themselves and then proceeded no farther after their charge.
But when he finally caught up to her, her eyes held no life . . . no light. She merely stared off into space as he opened the door and allowed her to precede him into his most private space. He closed the door and locked it behind himself. When he turned to face her, she was standing in the exact center of the room. Those same flat eyes regarded him for a moment then she set her small clutch bag on his desk. A toss of her head and the bulk of her wheat-colored tresses were upon her right shoulder. Without hesitation, she reached beneath her left arm and unzipped the gown, which promptly fell away from her slender form. She stepped out of the clothing that lay heaped about her ankles and stood regarding him, arms at her sides, face completely neutral . . . lifeless.
But for the slender band of black silk and lace that encircled her waist and caressed her womanhood, her body was displayed to him . . . every curve . . . every feature.
He shed his tuxedo coat and them moved to take her in his arms. She did not resist. She did not respond. She simply permitted him to stroke her, fondle her, bury his face in the fragrance of her hair.
It was when he kissed her that he felt the tremble in her lips. He opened his eyes and watched the single tear slide down her cheek, leaving a small thread of purple where it carried away the makeup she had used to hide her injury.
"Oh Cathy . . . what have I done?"
The hand she raised to stroke his cheek was shaking too badly to make any but the briefest contact with his face. "It's all right Jame'. I understand. You said it yourself. You know what I am. I expect nothing else."
"Forgive me. Oh Cathy, forgive me. That is not what you shall be to me."
Then something snapped inside her and she buried the sobs in his shoulder as he held her in his arms.
Estate of Hector Cardoza
9:48AM Local Time
"Mom? It's me. It's Cathy."
"Cathy? Oh baby, where are you? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine Mom. I . . . I'm fine."
"Oh honey. What's happened? Please tell me where you are."
"I can't. Please don't ask me. I . . . I just needed to hear your voice."
There was a pause as the static of the poor long distance connection hissed in the earpiece.
"Cathy. I don't care about what . . . if you . . . I don't care. Please. Please come home. Everyone misses you. I miss you."
"I can't right now Mom. Maybe . . . in a while."
"Are you all right? Has anything happened?"
"Mom . . . I don't want to talk about it. I just want . . . I don't know. I'm all right."
"I've been so worried. Don't you think I have the right to know something as simple as where . . ."
"Why do you have to do that? Why can you never understand?! You always have to push and push . . . "
"Mom, please let's don't fight. Let's just talk. I just want to hear your voice, okay?"
"Oh baby . . . I'm sorry. Of course. I won't pressure. Do you need anything? Do you need money? I can send a little bit. I mean . . . I can wire it to anywhere you say, just . . ."
"No. It's okay. . . I'm okay."
"Cathy . . . I'm sorry . . . about the things I did, the pain I put you through. I didn't mean any of it. If I could take it back, change it so it never happened . . . please believe me. I was just so scared that you were making a mistake, were throwing your life away on that silly acting thing. You could have gone to college. You still can. We, your father and I, we would find a way to pay for . . ."
"Mom, I have to go now."
"No! Oh baby, no. Please . . . please stay a little longer. I can't help it Cathy. It's the way mothers are. I just . . . I'm sorry. Will you call again? Just to talk? I promise I won't fight. I won't pressure. Cathy, please, just to tell me you're all right? Can you do that?"
"Yes Mom. I will. I promise."
"Your father's off on another of his sales trips. He'll be back the day after tomorrow. Could you call back then?"
There was the code. The meeting between Carodza and the Buyers had been set for the day after tomorrow. Could I complete my mission by then?
"Yes Mom. I can do that."
A final pause.
"Cathy . . . I love you. Please . . . be careful . . . be safe. Come home to me when you can."
"I will. I promise . . . I love you too . . . Mom."
"And you think it's just that simple? That you can simply bring what ever whore you want to live in my house and I'll just accept it?"
Jame' clenched his fist a little tighter and tried to keep the reasonable, subservient tone that he'd long ago learned was the only way to even attempt conversation with his father.
"Wasn't it you who told me I should take a greater interest in women?"
"Bah! I said `women', I didn't say whores."
"Cathy is not a whore!"
The glint in his eye and the slight curl to his lip told Jame' that once again he'd failed to outmaneuver his father. He'd only given the old snake something else to prod and tease him with.
"Not a whore? Oh. I must be misinformed. This one living in my guest room isn't the bit of trash you found beaten by a pimp and left discarded in the gutter behind the Casino?"
Take a deep breath. Don't rise to the bait. Just keep wheedling. It's how you get anything you want from him.
"Father. I don't deny that Cathy's past is less than sterling. But I believe that she is much more a victim of circumstance than she is a wicked woman."
His father actually laughed and that was much more unpleasant than his sly sneers and innuendo. " `Victim of circumstance'?! I can't believe you actually said that."
"It can happen father. Good people can do bad things out of necessity. Just as bad people can sometimes do good, though perhaps they don't intend to."
The smile was gone from his father's face. "Be careful you little bastard. Be very careful. Don't forget where all the money and privilege comes from, that you use to sneer and belittle. When I was your age, I was living in the same gutter where you found that slut. I can see to it that you live there too."
"Of course. Forgive me father."
"Humph. Perhaps it wouldn't hurt you to live there for a bit. To learn that people are basically worthless scum. You get things in this world by taking them, Jame'. No one gives you something without expectation of return. You would not be the first wealthy young man to be seized upon by a scheming bitch who can shed a few tears and whimper a pathetic tale in your ear as she wrestles you down to the mattress."
"If you don't want her living here, simply say so father. It is your house. I will have her removed."
"Ah! So you can procure a more intimate little nest for yourselves somewhere in town? I think not. I think I shall keep her right here where I can watch her. And you."
"As you wish father."
"Insolent pup. You think you've won that round, do you? You haven't. I'll allow you your whore if for no other reason than to teach you a lesson by and by. But you mark this. You know I have a project that is coming to fruition in the near future. I can't spare the manpower to have her constantly watched. Therefore you will be responsible to see that slut does not intrude. I don't trust her. It shall be on your head to ensure that she minds her manners and does not meddle or get too curious. If you fail, her blood is on your hands. Remember that."
"Of course father."
It required a very delicate touch . . . great patience. Move too quickly and you would be discovered.
Jame's hand crept forward another few millimeters, the stem of saltgrass almost on the skin at the back of her neck . . . almost . . . almost . . . there . . . touching . . . tickling . . .
She didn't notice. Press a bit harder.
Her left hand stirred at her side as she lay face-down on the beach towel. Then it casually flicked at the stem he had already withdrawn. She sighed drowsily and returned her hand to her side.
Again . . . slowly . . . gently . . .
Another flick of her hand. This time he wasn't quick enough to get the stem of grass out of the way and her hand brushed against it. Immediately she opened her eyes and turned her head to gaze up at him. Her lips curled into a mischievous grin. "You shit!" She turned on her side, rising up onto one elbow and aimed a playful swat at his thigh. He accepted the gentle blow. Taking advantage of her newly displayed cleavage, he attempted to insert the stem of grass into the cleft of her breasts so temptingly displayed by her simple, sky blue, one-piece swim suit.
She shrieked with laughter and tried to cover her exposed bosom with one hand and bat at him again with the other. This left her nothing with which to support herself and she collapsed backward onto the soft sand, giggling, one hand still on her breast.
She was so beautiful, her hair exactly matching the color of the golden sand of the mansion's private beach. Her gray eyes were a mirror for the warm waves that broke almost at their feet. Before he could even think, he was bending forward from the waist, one hand beside her head . . . his lips pressing against hers.
For a moment, he felt his warmth, his passion returned. Then, with a soft whimper, she turned her head away, her hand pressing against his chest.
"Jame' . . . no. I'm sorry. I can't. Not yet."
"It is I who am sorry Cathy."
He gazed down at her, gazing up at him. Her eyes shimmered. A slender hand reached up to brush a stray lock of his ebony hair out of his eyes. Then it caressed his cheek. "Oh Jame'. I'm so sorry. I wish . . . "
He laid two fingers against her soft, full lips. "Shh . . . It's all right. There is time. All the time in the world. The rest of our lives . . ."
She closed her eyes. "Yes. The rest of my life."
Estate of Hector Cardoza
01:21AM Local Time
"Senorita Cathy . . . momentito, por favor. Adonde vas?"
She turned and smiled at Carlo standing in the doorway to the study. "Hello Carlo. I was going to meet Jame'. He invited me for a midnight swim." She pointed down the corridor that lead to the west door and ultimately to the beach.
The same corridor that passed Senor Hector's private library.
"Uh . . . Senor Jame'?" She raised his eyebrows expectantly.
"Um . . . swim?" One hand, the one not holding the folded towel, invited inspection of the blue swim suit that flaunted every one of her curves, that allowed him to glimpse the top of her breasts . . . her long slender legs . . .
"Perro, Senorita . . . hace noche. No puedes nadar para noche. Esta peligroso, no?"
She frowned in concentration. " 'Nadar' . . . is that 'swim'? I know `noche' is night. Oh, `you shouldn't swim at night'? No, it's all right. Jame' will be there to watch out for me. And it's romantic at night. Do you understand `romantic'?"
The hulking bodyguard just shrugged and shook his head.
"It's . . . uh . . . what's the word for romantic? Uh . . ." She closed her eyes, hugged her arms against her self and offered him a sleepy, languorous smile. The deep purring in her throat completed the image for him. " `Romantic', get it?"
He finally nodded and smiled. "Ah, si'."
"Please Carlo. Tonight I want . . . I want to . . . Wow, I don't know how to say it in English much less Spanish."
Again he just smiled and shook his head. Then he nodded his chin toward the door at the far end of the corridor, the one that led eventually to the path down to the beach. But instead of turning to go, she suddenly moved to him and lightly brushed his cheek with her lips.
"Thank you Carlo. Thank you for everything. If it means anything at all, I'm sorry. I know you don't understand the words."
He could only smile and again nod at the door. Then he turned and went back into the study, shutting the door behind himself. She stood for a moment, listening to the small sounds of the now sleeping household. Then she softly padded off toward the door leading to the beach.
She had no intention of going that far however.
She paused again as she passed the door to the darkened library. A quick glance in both directions revealed that there was no one watching. Quicker than a thought, she turned, opened the door to Hector Cardoza's sanctum and slipped inside.
Behind the door to the study she had so recently passed, Carlo ejected the magazine from his pistol and made sure it was fully loaded.
Such a shame that his master had been correct about her.
Such a pity to have to kill one so young and pretty. It was just a matter of time now till his employer called for him.
It wasn't pitch black in the darkened library. Carodza's estate was well illuminated by landscape lighting. Not only did the lights serve to show off the classic Mediterranean lines of the mansion, it also made it very difficult to cross the broad lawns or scale the walls without being seen by the ever-vigilant guards.
It was still dark enough that I paused for several heartbeats to allow my eyes to adjust to the deep gloom. I didn't want to make any noise by tripping over some unseen item of furniture or knocking over some vase or lamp.
That kind of disturbance of the night's silence would be worth my life.
Finally, my eyes began to adjust to the darkness and vague shapes resolved into couches and end tables. I could begin to make out the individual volumes that lined all the walls, floor to ceiling. I wondered if Cardoza ever actually read any of the thousand or so books?
It was time to go to work. Every moment I was in this forbidden place was 'borrowed time'. I took the first cautious steps into the room, heading for the massive desk that backed on the high, arched windows overlooking the south lawn. The computer was on a credenza beneath those windows. Cardoza must have been working on it when he was last in the room. The high-backed and very opulent swivel chair was turned, still facing the machine.
I had made it to the center of the room when there was a soft, metallic 'click' from that chair . . .
. . . which promptly turned toward me.
The pistol in Cardoza's hand was huge and chromed . . . as dangerous and evil looking as the man that held it pointing at my heart. It glowed in the darkness with the same pale radiance that shown from his eyes.
We just stayed like that for a moment, staring at each other. I was paralyzed. There was no where to run, no way to escape, no stratagem to employ. I knew; I was drawing my last few breaths.
Finally, he calmly and slowly reached over and flicked on the green-glass hooded desk lamp, neither the pistol nor his eyes ever wavering from me. "Drop the towel, then, still facing me, back up and sit down in the chair directly behind you. If I ever loose sight of either of your hands, you are dead. Do you understand?"
I nodded and did as he instructed.
Once I was seated, he reached over, still never taking his eyes off me, and punched the intercom on his desk. "Carlo, ahora. Vey aqui." It took less then a minute before the bodyguard was coming through the door, his own pistol in hand. As he passed it, he flicked the switch turning on the room's main lights. Both Cardoza and I blinked owlishly in the sudden glare. For the briefest instant I considered throwing myself across the desk at Cardoza and trying to wrestle the gun from his hand while he was temporarily blinded. But then I remembered Carlo was not suffering from the sudden change in lighting having just come from a well-lighted corridor. I sat, hands folded in my lap.
Cardoza spoke in English, apparently for my benefit.
"Search her, carefully, thoroughly."
And of course Carlo answered . . . also in English.
"Yes senor." He holstered his weapon then turned to me. "Stand up, keep your hands out from your sides. Make no other movements."
I did as instructed. I knew that any attempt to overpower Carlo was doomed from the start. It was an even bet that he possessed some form of unarmed combat skill. Even if he didn't, his sheer bulk and strength would allow him to delay me long enough for Cardoza to fill me full of holes before I could accomplish anything. The 'pat-down' search was very thorough. He even carefully examined my hair . . . to the point that I wondered if he suspected that it was a wig. The search was also very professional and very intimate. No part of my body was spared from his probing touch. Finally he nodded and motioned for me to sit back down. "She has no weapons or other items concealed about her person, senor."
Cardoza nodded. "Very well. Leave us, but stay close by."
The hulking brute nodded once and left, shutting the door behind him.
Again Cardoza and I just stared at each other. It was he who finally broke the silence.
"So. Do you wish a chance to stammer out some kind of plausible excuse for being in here at this hour? I won't believe it of course, but it might be amusing to watch you try."
I was strangely calm.
"No. I have no plausible excuse. We both know that. We both know why I'm here."
He nodded and I thought I detected a note of approval in his voice. "Good. At least you're a professional. Histrionics would be a bit tedious at this point. So. Are you C.I.A.? Mossad? I don't think you're British. For some reason they rarely use prostitutes as cover. Always so stuffy, the British."
"Does it really matter?"
"Only for my curiosity. You seem to be the last attempt that's going to be made to stop me. I wondered which of my enemies commissioned you. That's all. I'll find out eventually. I thought you might be professional enough to realize that . . . that I'll find out that is . . . and you'd save both of us the need for further unpleasantness."
I actually smiled. "You and I both know that you're not really interested in avoiding 'unpleasantness'."
I nodded. "It's not important. I'm working for the C.I.A."
"Really? Are you an agent or a . . . what's the polite term . . . a 'subcontractor'?"
I leaned back a bit in the chair. "What do you think? What do you see, 'Cathy Agent' or 'Cathy Slut'?"
"I see a whore. I don't really care what job description appears on your resume. You'll be dead soon and this whole discussion is really academic I suppose."
She sank even further back into the chair. To his surprise, her small, sad smile was becoming sultry. "If it's all academic, I guess there's no need to play the role anymore. Talk about 'tedious histrionics.' Do you have any idea how boring the 'weepy, abused virgin' routine becomes after a while?"
He sneered. "I should thank you for one thing, do you know that? I should thank you for the object lesson you're about to provide for my son."
She just shrugged and smiled that teasing smile. "If I'm going to be dead soon, why not give each other something else to be thankful for."
He actually laughed. "Oh come now. That's a little too James Bond, don't you think? Do you really expect me to set my gun down and ravish you on the desk . . . give you a chance to use your poisoned lipstick or get me in a compromising position and then judo chop me into unconsciousness? I think I'll pass on that offer thank you."
She shook her head. "No. I know that kind of thing doesn't work in real life. I know that there's no where to run even if I could overpower you. Even if I could get out of the Mansion somehow, I know who controls this town . . . this country. I'd never make it to the safety of the Embassy or what ever other bolt-hole I have prepared. There's no escape for me." A languorous hand brushed back the fall of her hair. "I suppose I just want 'one for the road' and I have to admit, I do find you attractive . . . in a dark, twisted way."
His expression went thoughtful and after a moment he set the gun down. "You are a professional. I admit to you that I find you attractive as well. Both for your calm acceptance of what must be and for your beauty."
After a moment she stood and very casually slipped the straps of her swimsuit off her shoulders. She slowly slid her hands down her sides causing the suit to reveal more and more of her slender beauty till finally it dropped away of its own accord leaving her naked and unashamed before him.
He stood and came out from behind the desk. With the back of the first two fingers on his right hand he gently stroked the side of her left breast, its lower curve, its nipple. Eyes closed, her head slowly rotated sideways and backward on her neck. Her left hand rose to rest palm to palm within his. She guided it such that the back of his rough, workman's paw again grazed her nipple.
His voice was taking on a guttural quality. "You like that?"
She nodded. "Mmmmm."
His left hand rose and began to explore her right breast. After a moment he had its nipple between thumb and forefinger, gently squeezing. "And this . . . do you like this?"
A sudden pinch, a viscous twist.
She almost screamed. But the note in her voice wasn't agony . . . it was more like ecstasy.
The eyes that looked into his were now animal . . . predatory. She leaned forward and gently brushed her lips across the tip of his nose . . . his cheek . . . his lips. A small, moist tongue explored his face. Her hands had risen to caress his shoulders, the back of his neck. Finally, she allowed a firmer contact of lip to lip. His own lips parted at the invitation. Gently, softly, she nibbled on his vulnerable lower lip. His eyes had just shut in anticipation when her teeth fastened hard enough to draw blood.
He shoved her away then backhanded her across the cheek with all his strength. She staggered backward. Her grunt of pain was quickly followed by a taunting giggle.
The shock from his injured lip had completely masked the minor prick of the needle going in the back of his neck. His anger would distract him from the slight burning till it was too late . . .till the date rape drug was already overwhelming him.
"You filthy puta. You'll pay for that." He ran his tongue over his lip and tasted the salt of blood. "Oh yes . . . You like pain? I have much to offer you. A whole lifetime's to offer you."
She slid her hands down her sides and shimmed for him, her breasts bobbing saucily. "You're not man enough to give me what I really want."
He was on her in two strides. The hands that grabbed her hair and jerked her head backward were like iron claws now. The lips that took the next kiss were cold and hard. Again she tried to bite, but this time the backhanded slap arrived before she could do damage.
She spit in his face. His hand slapped from the other direction this time.
But it didn't land with as much force as the first blows.
He shook his head.
Again she laughed at him, that same mocking laugh.
"What did you do? I can't . . . " His suddenly rebellious legs buckled and he was kneeling before her. Her hands rested on the back of his head, burying his face in her womanhood.
Her voice was a gentle, sensual purr. "Not poisoned lipstick . . . poisoned ring. Too bad Hector. I guess I'm gonna try to escape after all. Sorry about the 'you're not man enough' jab. Turns out I'm not woman enough either, but I really didn't want you to find that out for yourself."
He managed to free himself from her embrace but his balance was gone and he sprawled on his side. His desk . . . the gun . . . the intercom . . .
He'd only managed to crawl a few inches before her knee was in the small of his back and her fingers were twined in his hair, pulling his head up and backwards. "Hey Hector. It's considered ungentlemanly to just get up and leave, even if you do finish before the girl."
His neck was there . . . exposed . . . vulnerable. He was helpless . . . his strength was gone.
The letter opener lying on his desk . . . shaped like a medieval dagger . . . it rested within easy reach.
It gleamed in her hand.
"Thank you Michael. Don't be ashamed that you can't. It just proves that you're really a kind, gentle person, just like The Doctor said . . ."
"That's the common misconception about hypnotism Michael; you can never make a person do something they don' really want to do . . ."
I opened my fingers and the knife dropped soundlessly to the carpet.
It was an odd impulse, but I paused long enough to put my swimsuit back on.
Hector simply lay on the floor where I'd left him, the occasional moan or small, weak movements of his arms or legs the only sign that he was still alive.
I kicked him, not all that hard, in the small of his back as I passed and cooed "Ooo baby. Is it good for you? Havin' fun with the fantasy? Got me all hot and wet? Got yourself in yet?" I suddenly realized what it was I was doing and recoiled.
I didn't feel any change. I glanced down at Hector and felt only revulsion now . . . both for his actions and for mine.
Seating myself in his chair, I turned on his computer and waited a moment for it to 'boot'. It took me a moment to figure out which icon accessed his Internet browser. All the labels were in Spanish. I finally spotted a recognizable little graphic and clicked on it.
I was rewarded by the appearance of a familiar log-on screen. I clicked on the "<proceed>" button, and waited another moment while the computer's internal speaker first produced a dial tone, then the musical notes of a touch-tone phone dialing numbers and finally by that strange multi-tone hiss that indicated my modem had reached another modem and electronic communion was occurring.
For a brief, panicky moment I couldn't remember the URL code that I'd so carefully memorized, but after a second's concentration, the numbers returned to me. I typed them in to the "navigation target" space and hit return. The reply was almost immediate, a very nondescript dialogue box that read "Enter Password"
I promptly typed "CathySketch" and pressed the enter key.
The dialogue box vanished. Nothing else seemed to be happening till I realized that there was fitful activity within the computer's hard drive. Evidently, the supercomputer at Langley, Virginia was attempting to circumvent whatever security was in place on Cardoza's desktop system.
I couldn't resist another jibe. Over my shoulder I cooed "Oooo yeeeessss! Looks like I'm not the only one getting a virtual screwing around here."
Suddenly the browser's window disappeared and I was into some kind of database system. Fortunately for me, everything was labeled in English. Apparently that was the most convenient shared language between the late Doctor Velnikov and Cardoza and his minions. The Langley supercomputer also inserted a small dialogue box in the upper right that read "Begin Upload? Yes/No?" I clicked on the "Yes" button and Cardoza's computer's hard drive immediately began 'spinning'. While the Langely computers raped Cardoza's system for all its stored knowledge, I skimmed the files. Now was the time for me to perform the function for which I'd been selected.
It took only a few seconds to find the data I was looking for.
I accessed the crucial information and sat for a long moment reading it. I checked the figures, then checked them again. While I was reading them for the third time, a new dialogue box appeared. "Upload Complete. Press any key to continue." I hit "Enter". The dialogue box vanished and a new, innocuous little request appeared. "Commence Sanction? Yes/No." I took a deep breath, made my decision and clicked on the appropriate response. One last "information box" appeared. "Thank you Cathy. Connection terminated. Proceed with egress."
I shut the computer down and stood to leave. Cardoza's pistol caught my eye and I grabbed it in passing. He moaned once from the floor, but this time I didn't even spare him a sidelong glance.
Time to go.
I was already stepping through the door when I remembered Carlo.
He was standing only a few feet down the corridor, talking to one of Cardoza's guards.
He looked up at the sound of the door opening.
Our eyes met.
The pistol in his hand started to swing up.
Before I even realized I had done it . . . I'd shot him twice in the chest and the guard once in the neck.
Both collapsed, the guard writhing and gurgling, his fingers clawing at the wound that spewed crimson . . . Carlo silent and still.
All the training . . . all the subtlety . . . all the cold, calculating competence that you see from every action hero in the movies . . . all abandoned me and I simply turned on my heel and ran for the door as if the hounds of Hell were at my heels. The burst of automatic weapon fire that tore up the grass I'd just traversed before diving headlong into the brush at the edge of the lawn indicated that indeed they were.
07:03 AM Local Time
Jame' sat in the idling Mercedes, watching the passing faces as the pedestrians walked by on their way to the US Embassy.
She would come here. That was certain. The airport, the roads, the harbors . . . all were watched . . . sealed . . . denied her. Jame' had never seen his father as cold, as calm, as dangerous as when he'd finally recovered from the drug she'd injected into him. He'd used every one of his own men and then employed more from the ranks of easily available killers for hire. By sunrise, a small army was in place looking for one blonde woman.
They wouldn't find her though. Not before he did. She would come here, to him. He didn't know how he knew, he just did.
He felt the weight of the submachine gun that rested on his thighs.
It was ordained that he would be the one to find her. It was ordained that her death would make him the father's son that he had always been meant to be.
So be it. He found he no longer wanted to struggle against the inevitable.
A couple passed the car, walking arm in arm toward the Embassy gate. Jame' quickly studied the dowdy, overweight, brunette's face. Not Cathy. She was too short, only about five foot six and the nondescript pudgy roundness of her face was entirely different from Cathy's soft but well defined features. Jame' looked away but some nagging doubt caused him to look one last time as the man and woman were admitted by the Marine guard.
The woman was not Cathy. There was no doubt of that.
But her male companion . . .
Just before he disappeared into the Embassy, as Jame' caught the last sight of this man he would ever have, the man must have felt Jame's eyes on him for he looked up . . . looked at the Mercedes . . . looked right into Jame's eyes . . .
No. He was a stranger. Jame' had never seen this man before. There was nothing familiar, nothing feminine, nothing of Cathy in his sharp, angular features . . . nothing at all . . .
Except . . .
Cool, gray eyes . . .
So touched with an indefinable sadness . . .
"Wake up Michael."
I opened my eyes and by force of habit, glanced up at the clock on Ruth's wall. Only a little over an hour gone. Was that all it took?
I turned my head and tried to see into the heart of the woman seated behind her desk, chin on her folded hands, her expression neutral, inscrutable.
"That's it. It's always easier to undo suggestion than it is to implant. Think of it as hitting the "Reset" button."
I looked down at my right hand, but it just lay there at my side . . . no frantic counting of fingers . . . no reaction.
I closed my eyes again and just lay there. Was it really over?
"What are you thinking, Michael?"
"Did they tell you what I found in Cardoza's computer?"
"No. I'm not in that 'loop'. 'Need to know' you know. I only know you didn't order 'the Sanction' and that Command ultimately agreed with your decision."
I nodded, eyes still closed. "It was all for nothing. Velnikov's formulae were worthless. They were a classic description of a process that mimics a fusion reaction for a while but isn't ultimately sustainable. The cutting edge researchers have known about it for a couple of years now. It's something we've started calling 'Fool's Cold'. We're still trying to figure out if Velnikov was running a scam on Cardoza and Cardoza killed him before he found out, or if Cardoza knew about it all along . . . if he intended to sell his Buyers a lemon and had Velnikov killed to keep him quiet."
There was a long silence.
"I killed two people . . . hell, you might as well say 'three'." (The look on Jame's face outside the Embassy . . . cold . . . hard . . . lifeless . . .) "For nothing . . . "
"We had to know Michael. It was worth the . . . the price."
Her voice, that practiced instrument of her trade, was soft and sad. "Will you be walking away now Michael? There really won't be any questions asked, there won't be any more 'strings'."
"You did lie to me Ruth. You lied to me twice at least. You never told me about being trapped in character, nor did you tell me that 'Cathy Slut' was designed to interact with Cardoza, not Jame'."
"Is it really all gone from my mind? All the lies and deceptions? How will I ever know?"
"You won't ever 'know' Michael. Basic scientific method; you can't prove a negative. Perhaps . . . someday . . . you might remember a little of the trust we once had and you'll be able to believe that I . . . that I couldn't leave any of that . . ."
I swung my legs off the couch and stood to go. Ruth closed her eyes and just sat, chin in her hands.
Please . . . remember this conversation Michael . . . please try to find a way to forgive yourself for the thing you'll do. Please try to find a way to forgive me for making it possible for you to do them.
Come back to me . . . let me try to ease the pain . . . heal the hurt . . .
I love you Cathy.
Her voice was her instrument. Yet the tear that ran down her cheek when I gently laid my hand against it . . .
If that was sham . . .pretence . . . professional deception . . . then there is no real faith or hope in the world and life is empty and pointless.
I love you too . . . Mom.
I choose trust. There is no other choice.
Lisa threw her arms around my neck and planted a rather rough and very enthusiastic kiss on my lips. "Welcome home Mike!"
I wrapped my arms around her waist and gave her a hug. "Gee Lisa, you own a dress? Wow! I guess tonight's going to be special after all."
She nodded, the smile making her face more soft and feminine than I'd yet seen it. "Hell Mike, play your cards right and I might even count tonight as two of those 'expensive' dinners."
I cocked my head and grinned back at her. "Well, we'll see, won't we? Where's Ruth and Sketch? I want to get going. We're 'burning moonlight'."
"They'll be right down. Hey, I gotta ask you something. Remember when you and I were talking about Sketch that first day? I told you he often copies people that he admires, that he cares about a lot? You need to remember that when . . . "
The door opened cutting off her thought.
Ruth . . .
. . . and a slender, beautiful blonde . . .
. . . about five foot six . . .
. . . with a just-slightly-too-large nose . . .
. . . long, tawny, hair . . .
. . . cool gray eyes . . .
Ruth smiled. "Michael, may I introduce . . . "