He strolled into the wide semi-darkened room, and for a moment all activity ceased. He was a tall, dark man, impeccably dressed, his suit deep and crisp and perfect. A somewhat wispy-looking blonde woman clung worshipfully to one arm. The people clustered under the lights at the various green-topped tables carefully studied the newcomers, then deliberately turned back to their cards and their chips. The noise and the bustle resumed.
The man and the woman crossed the room and he slid into place at a table which lurked in a particularly secluded corner under a hazy cloud of cigarette smoke. She stood behind him and off to one side. The other men at the table had not resumed their activities with his arrival, but continued their study of him through hooded eyes. He returned that study to each of them in turn until finally his gaze came to rest on a short, slightly greasy man who was absently tapping a crisp pack of cards against the felt of the playing surface. The new man formed something resembling a smile and spoke.
“Shall we play, gentlemen?”
“This table isn’t for just anyone, you know. We have certain standards.” The speaker was a thin, gloomy individual with sparse gray hair.
The tall man made an absent gesture at the blonde, and she obediently placed a large stack of chips on the table in front of him. It wasn’t at all clear where she could have concealed them on her person, unless she had swallowed and regurgitated them.
There was a shifting of tension around the table. One type of game was finished and a new one was about to begin.
The greasy man’s hands shuffled and started to deal the cards with the flippant ease of long practice.
Until there was a click, an unmistakable click, and his hands froze, a final card spinning neatly to rest from his stubby outstretched fingers. Everyone at the table carefully turned just their eyes in the direction of the tall man, which was approximately where the sound had come from.
The source of the click was standing behind the tall man, pushing the snout of an ugly black pistol into the back of the seated man’s neck. The gunman’s brown eyes were icy and burning and very, very focused. He spoke, his voice—like his eyes—an inferno held back by gigantic sheets of ice.
“Think you’re so fucking smart, don’t you, you bastard? You thought you’d gotten away with it, don’t you? All of it. Well, I figured it out. It’s your fault. And now, finally...” A ragged breath. “...you’re going to get what’s coming to you.”
She tried to open her eyes. Her lids did not respond; it was as if they had been gummed shut. She tried to lift her hands to her eyes, to see what was holding them down, but her hands floated out at her sides, limp dead weight.
A wave of panic swelled at this, but only for a split second. It rose and then was efficiently and neatly sucked back down into whatever dark rathole from which it had emerged. She was calm again. Floating.
She tried to open her eyes.
This time it worked, if only slowly, so very slowly. She realized that her lids were not sealed; they simply weighed a thousand kilograms each, fashioned from two great chunks of black iron like the cooking pots of her youth. They had to be cranked open by teams of sweating laborers, a millimeter at a time. Finally she could see out, but there was nothing there. A warm red blackness with an occasional sparkle at the very edge of her vision. Her body waited, watching some clock she could not see, waiting for the right moment to tick past.
That moment arrived and her hands both rose up, pushing something open above her which flipped up and away with a pair of twin thuds. Light spilled in, still red, but brighter, and filled with more textures. She rose smoothly from warm water, which ran off her body in great rivulets. As she rose she became aware that she was pulling away from things which had touched her body like a scattering of delicate fingertips. Small sticky circles popped painlessly free from her palms, from the side of her neck, her chest, her scalp. Two pads, thick and muffling, slipped off her ears, pulling plugs with them. She clambered out of something long and wooden, feeling its rough texture scrape by under her skin. Her brown bare soles stepped down onto cool squares of stone and mortar.
Again, a moment of waiting. She could hear the water dripping slowly from her dangling fingers, from the tips of her hair, and landing on the stone below. She thought the plink—plink—plink would drive her mad.
Her body turned, and walked out of the redness, passed through a rustling curtain which slid around her in hanging ragged strips and led onto a long cool darkness. The sound and the feel of her feet on the floor, of her own steady breathing, were the only sensations. For some reason, this fact made her want to vomit.
After several steps, she pivoted again and was standing before a door, a tall wooden structure elaborately carved from heavy black wood. Her hand lifted up, formed itself into a fist, tapped twice against a solid panel, then dropped back to her side, its muscles dissolved to nothing once more.
“Come in, my dear.”
It was not the language she was most familiar with, but she understood the words quite well.
The door opened, and she stepped through it.
The room beyond was bright and airy. Sunlight streamed through high windows. Deep blue sky and gray stone and green foliage could be seen beyond the glass.
There were people in the room with her, two at least.
She looked at the nearest of them, her eyes somehow finally coming into focus.
A man. He stood with his back to the windows, a black outline
But not entirely. She could study his features. They were familiar to her, and conjured up memories and feelings, vivid and intense.
Hatred. That was one, oh yes. But only one, and it was all tangled up with and smothered by the others, an ancient stone ruin in the process of being swallowed whole by a jungle.
Her thoughts were derailed for a split second. Had she studied such things, once, long ago? It seemed so. The memories were clear, for the instant that existed.
Yes, the hatred was there, but it was vanishing fast. Other things clambered in to crumble it apart, turn it to gray empty dust.
Love, for one.
Happiness and contentment.
Desire and lust.
Awe and devotion.
The vines swarmed and twisted, sending runners everywhere. The last flake of stone vanished under their choking mass, and the man before the window lit up. A blinding aura surrounded him now, him and everything that he touched.
“Uuuhhhh...” Her shoulders sagged almost imperceptibly, and a radiant smile spread across her face, blossomed deep in her eyes.
She crossed the room to him and she knelt before him.
She bent all the way over, and joyously kissed his feet, again and again.
She worshipped him, with every particle of her being, with every neuron of her mind.
“Look at me, my dear.”
Her head rose up, her lips fully alive and burning from their contact with him.
Something was passed to her and she took it in both arms, looked down at it in puzzlement.
Jillian walked into the large room, her bare feet silent on the warm wooden floorboards. Spring sunlight streamed through large windows and splashed across the tasteful furniture. The city beyond those windows sprawled towards the west and the water, beneath a cloudless sky, the clusters of silver and black skyscrapers poking up into the infinite blue.
Fred was standing in the middle of the room, with Tansy. The short, busty brunette was bent over the back of a tan armchair, a broken marionette facing away from him, her arms and white-gloved hands hanging limply. The black frilly skirt of her uniform had been pushed up to reveal her bare shapely ass.
He slid silently in and out of her with powerful, authoritative strokes. His hands were cupped around her breasts. On each thrust, Tansy let out a small helpless squeak of pleasure, her eyes deeply glazed. Her feather-duster lay abandoned on the floor in the sunlight.
Fred saw Jillian’s movement out of the corner of his eye, glanced at her once and then ignored her.
Jillian moved to the dark wooden bar which lounged tastefully one corner of the room and quietly took up position, her hands crossed in front of her white lab coat.
Her stomach gave a lurch.
Fred came with a small grunt, triggering Tansy’s much larger orgasm. Finished, he separated from her, and she straightened up, her multitude of strings instantly going taut again. She turned and knelt before him without a word. It took only a couple of well-practiced minutes for her tongue to lick his penis clean, as meticulously clean as the room in which the three of them stood. Finished with her task, Tansy slid his penis back inside his pants, zipped the garment shut and rose to her feet. She stood as Jillian did, quietly, looking up at his face through wide blue eyes. Warm juices trickled down her smooth legs.
“That will be all, Tansy.”
“Yes, Master.” The maid bobbed a curtsey, and retrieved her duster. Straightened her uniform and frilly white cap, the act of which made her suddenly look surprisingly respectable and modest; a visitor would scarely look at her or her uniform twice. She turned to go, walking past the woman in the lab coat. She smiled as she passed Jillian, a friendly, empty, placid smile. Her eyes were still slightly glazed as she drifted back down from level one, and when she spoke, her voice was still floating around somewhere high up in the stratosphere. “Good afternoon, Doctor Newman. Dinner will be ready in half an hour.”
“Hello, Tansy. Thank you.”
Tansy wafted from the room on bare feet.
“I’ll have the usual, Jillian.” Fred moved to the window, and looked out with his hands in his pockets, his body turned into a black outline in the bright light. His shoes clicked on the floorboards like chips of granite.
Jillian’s hands shuffled the glass, the mineral water, the ice. Like Tansy’s tongue, they were efficient and well-practiced.
Her stomach twisted around itself again, tightening the knots.
Fred turned to face her and casually read something in her expression. He almost smiled. “You look like you could use a drink as well. It has been a long day. You have my permission tonight.”
“Thank you, Master.” She carried his glass to him and returned to the bar. Opened a different bottle, and poured something that gurgled amber and bubbles. She lifted the glass to her lips, then looked down at the liquid as if seeing it for the first time. She put the glass back down on the bar, and the sound of contact echoed his shoes in the silence.
She took the plunge.
She left the bar and walked to him, one foot in front of the other. Like Tansy before her, she knelt down. Unlike Tansy, she looked up, her glasses catching the light from the windows.
“Master... I...” she swallowed harshly. “I need to...”
He raised one eyebrow.
“Spit it out, Jillian.” The words were gentle.
“For just five minutes... please... I need to talk... to him.”
“Him?” He frowned and she shuddered at the expression.
She blurted the words, tears running freely down her cheeks now. “Freddie. Please. I need to talk to Freddie. Just...”
He turned away abruptly and she fell silent, sobbing quietly. For an eternity, he looked out the window, or at least pointed his eyes in that direction.
Then he turned back.
She walked out onto the wide white patio, automatically switching to her sunglasses against the tropical glare. She adjusted her sunhat, which matched the patio in width and color.
The place was crowded; there were not only the convention-goers, but all the other classes of tourists milling around as well. The pool was packed and ringed with slowly-cooking bodies.
She hesitated for a long moment and looked up at the equally white bulk of the hotel looming overhead, at the scrolling red letters that blared out “HILTON CARA DEL ESTE” in the direction of the ocean, big enough that boaters could probably read them halfway out into the Caribbean. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea. She could just go down to the beach instead, or maybe back into town for some more shopping and site-seeing... there was a tour going to a supposed nearby ancient pyramid that had sounded interesting...
But no. She spotted an empty deck chair and made for it, just beating out another would-be sunbather who scowled and skulked off towards the other side of the pool.
Feeling a trifle smug, she kicked off her cheap plastic sandals, spread out her defiantly gaudy towel and arranged her various items around her, making them resemble offerings for a voodoo idol: sun lotion, token pile of reading material, half-finished bag of popcorn, camera, carrying bag.
“Would the Señorita care for a drink?”
She looked up in mild surprise at the waiter who had materialized from somewhere and was hovering nearby. Like most of the hotel staff (both male and female), he had lustrous black hair and shiny white teeth. He was young, and handsome in a vaguely synthetic sort of way.
“Um... yes. Yes actually. Just some lemonade, if you have it.”
“Un lemonade. Right away, Señorita.” He vanished back into the throng, and the blonde woman settled contentedly into place and basked. For the first time in what seemed like ages, she thought she had found a good reason for having suffered through all of those years of med school...
Something, a movement perhaps, prompted her to turn her head and look at the chair sitting next to hers. A dark-haired man was there, staring out at the mass of people frothing back and forth in the pool, but obviously not actually seeing them. He was rather gangly and had a crumpled look to him, which was no small accomplishment for a thin man wearing only a bathing suit. He was vaguely familiar.
She hesitated for a moment, then gave a small mental shrug. He was actually almost handsome in a way, and looked about as threatening as a smashed pop can.
He looked over at her, obviously hauling his thoughts back from wherever high plateau they had been occupying only with a great effort. He wasn’t wearing any hat or sunglasses, and he had interesting eyes.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but have we met? You seem familiar.”
“No, I don’t believe so...” He looked at her for a moment, then cocked his head. “No. Wait. Are you here for the convention? I believe we’ve attended some of the same seminars.”
“Oh, of course. That must be it. So you’re a pill-pusher like myself, huh? Oh, my name is Jill. Jill Newman.”
“Freddie. Freddie Mabuse.” He shook her offered hand gingerly, as if he was afraid of passing or receiving an electrical shock. “No... Miss... um... Doctor Newman. I’m in the field of therapy. Psychotherapy. On the edges of the field, anyway. If you remember, the convention organizers wanted to make this a more... what was that phrase they used... multidisciplinary event. So they asked a few people in my field to come.” He shrugged. “And here I am.” He squinted up into the sky, tracking one of the paragliders high overhead, their endless circlings bringing to mind the flight of a flock of multicolored vultures.
“Your lemonade, Señorita.” The waiter interrupted, materializing out of the crowd again with a tall exotic-looking glass on a metal tray.
“Huh? Oh, thanks.” She absently fished payment from her purse, and he gave a short bow.
“Señor? Would you care for something to drink?”
The man in the chair gave a preoccupied shake of his head, and the waiter departed.
Jill sipped and raised an eyebrow. “Hey, not bad. You should try it.”
“Perhaps I will later.”
“So... what do you think of the convention so far? Learn anything useful?”
“Well... in the seminars.... No, not really, to be honest.” He was looking in the pool once more. “I find it far more interesting to come to a public place like this and just watch people interact with each other. Particularly men and women.”
“Oh? Sex research? You some kind of pervert?” Jill asked the question lightly, jokingly and smiled.
He turned his head in her direction again.
He had very interesting eyes. They were mild, but it was the mildness of a small pond surface which concealed unexpected black depths, with tentacled things lurking in the bottom. He spoke with great seriousness.
“Everyone is a pervert, Doctor Newman. Everyone. If only to someone else. Somewhere. But to answer your question more fully, it is the main reason that I got into the field of research that I did. The... interaction of the sexes has always fascinated me. Not just in the bedroom, but at all levels of life and society. Why do men and women have so much trouble getting along?”
“Because so many men such arrogant sexist pigs?”
“Perhaps.” He seemed quite serious. “Or perhaps it is because some women, too many women, are so liable to allow themselves...” He trailed off, then picked up a new thread. “But never mind that. Take yourself as an example. You’re a general practitioner, I take it?”
“Yes. Although I work in a woman’s clinic, near Detroit.”
“There. That is my point exactly. My next question would have been if you deal mostly with female patients. Why do we need women’s clinics?”
She frowned. “Because women’s health needs are different then men’s.”
“Yes! And they often don’t get the best help they could, at a normal clinic. So they have to go to an office like yours. Why? Why can’t male doctors learn these things? Or won’t learn them? Why do we, as a society, allow such things to happen? Who determines these power relations...” He pulled himself up. “I’m sorry. I do tend to ramble at times.” He finally picked up a pair of sunglasses from his side, but instead of putting them on, he fingered and spun them agilely in his blunt hands.
“No. I mean, go on. It’s interesting. It’s something that I’ve thought about myself.”
“No.” He spoke with sudden surprising decisiveness. He slapped on his sunglasses. “I am not going to sit here with an attractive woman and discuss sexual politics.”
“There are worse things.”
“No there aren’t. Not in a place like this.” He nodded his head at the scene in front of them.
“You could discuss your mold and fungus collection. Or the joys of living in your mother’s basement. Or what it’s like being an axe murderer.” She tipped her nose down and looked at him through the gap between glasses and hat. “You aren’t an axe murderer, are you?”
“No. Not yet, anyway.” He hesitated, and continued almost painfully. “My fungus collection is progressing nicely, though. I was hoping to collect a few rare Latin American strains on this trip.”
She smiled. “Well, as long as you don’t pick up the chopping habit in the next few hours...” She hesitated herself, then took the plunge. “How about we have dinner tonight? In the restaurant? We could... discuss this further.” She nodded at the building behind them.
He seemed to think. Finally...
“Yes. I would enjoy that. Eight o’clock, perhaps? After the last seminar? I believe we’re going to be getting started in there again before too long.”
They both fell abruptly silent, as if the commitment had doomed them both to something terrible.
As she sat and twisted her hands around her lemonade, Jill realized that if he had been wearing the glasses when she first sat down, they would never even have had this conversation; with them on, his eyes vanished and he definitely wandered into the fringes of the Territory of the Scrawny Geeks.
But when night arrived, that problem would probably go away...
The restaurant was surprisingly empty, considering the number of guests currently in the motel. The two of them ended up at a table in one of the more remote corners of the room, each looking vaguely ridiculous and uncomfortable in, respectively, a suit and tie and a long dress. As they ate their fiery rice and beans and sipped their margaritas, the sun finally disappeared behind the bulk of the hotel and the surrounding green foliage. They mostly discussed the things that had come up during the afternoon: a special guest speaker, a doctor named Ichikawa who had been flown in from Tokyo, had caused the first (and as it eventually turned out only) real stir of the convention with his discussion of new possibilities in physical rehabilitation. They had both been at the lecture, and were impressed with the man’s reasoning, although they also agreed that his obviously prickly personality would make him a very hard man to work with.
Finally, darkness descended. The taciturn and highly efficient middle-aged waitress (the type found in restaurants the world over) cleared away their emptied plates and brought them both some flan. As they picked at it, the conversation reached a lull. Jill leaned forward, seizing the moment.
“So now can we discuss sexual politics?”
He was silent. Then...
“If you wish. Although this is an even worse place than before.” He scratched his carefully-clipped fingernails against the red and white tablecloth before continuing. “If this is what we are going to discuss, there is something that I have to confess.”
“You’re married.” She was joking, but somehow her words sent an sharp unexpected pang into her heart.
“No. As I said before, out by the pool. I’m a pervert.”
“I have been my whole life. But it only truly comes out when I meet a woman such as yourself. And I have, on more than one occasion over the years.”
“Such as me?”
He looked at her. Looked into her eyes.
He had incredible eyes. Deep and mysterious. As she had suspected out by the pool, the coming night revealed those depths much more clearly. The things with the tentacles were coming up for their nightly feeding.
She felt as if she was drowning.
She voluntarily sucked in the black water by the lung-full.
“As is the case with many men, there is a part of me, down inside somewhere, that wants to dominate. Wants to control. Wants to have all the cookies in the jar and never ever share them with anyone. When I’m truly honest with myself, when night comes, I admit that this is the real reason I became what I am. I desperately wanted to learn more about how the human mind works. Desperately wanted to learn all the secrets. Why I think the way I do. Why am I turned on by the things that I am. Having that power. And most importantly...”
“Why some women respond to this. Why some women are willing to give themselves over totally to a man. Sometimes only for a night. But sometimes.... sometimes for a lifetime.” He was almost whispering these last words, and she strained to hear him, leaning closer to him. “I have met some of them, over the years. The... couplings I had with them... were more than just one-night stands. Well... in a strictly technical sense, that’s exactly what they usually were, but... it was as if a spell had been cast, and for a night, these women would do anything I asked of them. Anything at all.”
“But then morning comes, it inevitably comes. The sun rises and the spell is broken. They come to their senses and leave. Or something.” He looked at the fat white candle that burned on the table between them, then absently passed his fingers through the flickering flame for a moment. The resulting shadows danced around them, brandishing long spears. “Even after...”
“Even after I went to college... Got my degree... Learned a few things... how to deepen the moment, intensify it.”
“There are methods. But as I said, in the morning.... it’s all gone. Every time.”
They looked at each other, as she thought for a long time about what he had said.
She placed her hand on his and an electric shock passed between them. She wasn’t entirely sure which direction it traveled.
“It may have to come, but morning is a long ways away.”
They went up to his room, and he pulled something out of his suitcase.
“Your fungus collection?”
“Yes. At least in the larger metaphorical sense.”
The object appeared to be a small electric fan. He unscrewed something from the bottom, and started shifting components around. He continued, confirming her thoughts: “It started life as a fan. It can even still be used as such. But I made some modifications, and always take it with me, wherever I go. Particularly when I travel through customs, I leave it looking like a fan. Saves answering a lot of depressing and needless questions.”
He finished fiddling and placed the object on the low dresser at the foot of the bed. There was now a small black and white spiral attached where the fan blades would normally go.
“Hypnotism?” She stared, fascinated.
“Yes. Do you still want to do this? We could just...”
She silenced him, placing her fingers on his lips. She sat herself on the end of the bed facing the spiral and kicked off her shoes. The carpet was soft under the toes of her pantyhose.
“Tell me what I have to do.”
He flipped a switch, and the spiral started up. He pulled off his own shoes and climbed up on the bed, sitting awkwardly behind her on his knees.
He started massaging her bare shoulders, his hands careful and gentle, maybe even too careful. As he did so, his voice seemed to gain a couple degrees of confidence, though it still hadn’t reached the level that was in his eyes. His amazing eyes.
“All you have to do is watch the spiral, Jill. Watch the spiral go around and around and around, and listen to my voice. Watch the black and white go around and around. And down and down. And relax. Go down, down with the black and white and completely relax, and listen only to my voice. Shut out everything but my voice...”
Even as he spoke, she was plunging into bottomless black and white depths. In just a few minutes, they closed over her head.
Then even the white went away, the black bands sliding over it like the closing of a gigantic vent, and there was only his voice.
Jill’s eyes opened with a start.
She was curled up in a bed, next to a man, her naked limbs intertwined with his. It took her a long moment to reassemble where she was, who she was, what had happened.
She looked up at Freddie.
He was awake as well, and looking down at her with his wonderful eyes. He spoke, his voice tinged with shades of both contentment and sadness. It had finally almost reached his eyes, the very high edge of a rising tide before it falls back once more, defeated.
“Was it everything that you hoped?”
“I... I don’t...” She blinked and more memories wafted back. Wonderful, weightless, gauze-coated memories, feeling him slowly enter her, feeling him move inside her and use her body, feeling him effortlessly twist and manipulate her mind and body with only his words.
Feeling the first of the orgasms.
The warmth still radiated from inside her, a core of slowly-cooling iron.
“Oh, God... that... that was incredible.” She came again, a little, just from the memory and she unconsciously dug her nails into his flesh. He winced and her voice became sharper. “This is going to end? This is going to end when the sun comes up?”
“It always has before.” He brushed a short sandy-blonde hair out of her face.
“No.” Her voice was suddenly venomous. “I won’t let it. I can’t let it.”
“I’ve tried everything I can think of to make it better for my partners.”
“For me... That’s not good enough.” She buried her cheek against his side and felt his heartbeat as she thought. Then her eyes lit up, and she snapped her head back up. “Don’t you see! That’s just not good enough! We have to make it better for you!”
She untangled from him, scrambled off the bed.
“C’mere!” She pulled him after her, pushed him unresisting down on the foot of the bed. Squinting without her glasses, she started up the hypnowheel again.
“You said there’s something inside you. I’ve sensed it too. From the first moment I met you. So did those other women you mentioned, I’ll bet. But you keep it all bottled up. Even when you’re having sex. Even in the absolute height of the moment. You’re too much of a fucking gentleman, Frederick Mabuse.” (“Too much of a fucking wimp, you mean,” one snappish corner of her mind added. She stifled the thought.) “We’re going let that thing inside you out of its cage.”
“We are?” He sounded a little dazed.
She scrambled up behind him, much more agilely than he had with her, and turned his head.
“Watch the spiral, Freddie. Go down into the spiral, down and down a down. Listen to my voice. Only my voice.”
He watched the spiral, and she whispered into his ear. Words of power, words of strength and force and wild, overriding ego.
“Wake up, Freddie.” She snapped her fingers sharply in front of his face.
He didn’t blink, but instantly pivoted his head in her direction.
“Well, did it work? How do you feel?”
He said nothing, but continued to study her with his black eyes, as a scientist would study a pinned insect in a display case.
“Freddie?” She shifted back a little.
He stood up. Jill stared, watching his body unfold. It was as if she was watching two tectonic plates crash into each other at high speed and send a massive new mountain range rumbling skyward. Edges formed in his face, in his stance, that hadn’t been there before. His eyes were two black pits now, bottomless. She shrank back a little.
She started, still staring.
“My name, Jill, is Fred. Not... Freddie.”
He took a step, and was towering over her. She stared up. She suddenly couldn’t look away, couldn’t stop listening.
“To answer your question. Yes, it worked. It worked better than you could possibly imagine.” He paused for a second and his gaze went very far away, as it had been out by the pool. A thought clicked into place; she could almost see it come to him. He spoke to himself. “It could all work. What Dr. Ichikawa was saying today... if we took some of that... and you... and me...” His gaze and attention came back to her.
“Yes, I think it will all work. At least some of the time... And we’ll have to test it of course. On you.”
He steered her as an undertow pulls at a swimmer, smooth and strong and irresistible. He pushed her into the place on the bed. She still looked up at him, her eyes very wide. He released her shoulders and turned her head, one hand gripping the top of her skull, so that she was looking at the spiral, which was still quietly spinning.
His voice had matched his eyes, surpassed them.
“Watch the spiral, Jill. Watch the spiral go around, and around. Watch the black and the white go down and down. Watch them take you back down. Feel them take you down. Down forever into darkness. Down into my voice. Down and down. You are sinking into that darkness now, falling, falling into the darkness. Falling into my voice. Faster and faster. As you fall, all other sensations, all other thoughts, are fading away. Leaving you. You hear my voice. You are inside my voice. There is my voice, and only my voice. All other sensations have now ceased. All sensations. All thoughts. All past, and all future. All resistance. All will.”
Her eyes were empty.
“There is only my voice.”
Her lips slowly mouthed the words, a wisp of breath behind them.
He slid his naked body in behind her, and eased her forward off the bed. Her arms automatically shot out, leaning with elbows locked against the dresser.
He entered her from behind, and began pumping, sure and slow.
Her eyes never left the spiral. Never blinked, even as her hips started to move in helpless syncopation to his rhythm. His agile hands went to work on her small but firm breasts. Her hot, tingling, sensitive breasts...
“Yes. Now listen carefully, Jill. Jillian. Listen to my voice, Jillian, as you go deeper and deeper. Forever deeper. Feel my voice deep inside of you. Feel it implant your instructions. Implant them deep, deep in your mind. Deeper and deeper. Harder and harder. Bigger and bigger. Stronger... and stronger. Feel my voice deep in your mind. Hear my instructions in the very bottom of your mind.”
He thrust and thrust, with his body, with his voice.
“Feel my voice become your mind. My voice. Your mind. Forever.”
“—” Her lips mouthed the word and this time no sound emerged.
Someone snapped his fingers in front of her face. Jill blinked, and looked around in confusion.
She was again sitting on the end of a bed, but the room had abruptly changed. No longer a Mexican hotel unit, it was now a private bedroom. A bedroom on the second story of a building overlooking an obviously American street. She looked around the room, saw long-familiar items of hers hanging on the walls, sitting on a wooden dresser. She looked out the window, and there was a layer of mushy half-melted snow on the ground and pine trees, on the cars parked outside.
She looked at herself. Her hands lay folded in her lap, her knees were together. She was barefoot, wearing her glasses, a worn pair of blue jeans, and her favorite thick wool sweater. She had two golden rings on her finger; one with a diamond mounted on it.
“Freddie? I mean... Fred?”
She looked around once more.
He was standing there, watching her. He was wearing a handsome dark suit, very tall and elegant and poised.
“What happened? Where are we?”
“The experiment is nearly complete.” He absently tossed a white lab coat over the back of a nearby chair. “We’ve been working on it for almost six months, you and I. Conducting a lot of trial runs, using your lovely mind as a testing ground. It all seems to have gone quite well. We’ll have to move on now, conduct our first real test, by finding a suitable receptionist for my new office.”
“Six months? It’s been... six months... since we were in that hotel room?”
“Yes. And now, no more questions, Jillian. The moment of truth has arrived. We can still bail out on this, if you want. Set up ordinary practices here in town. If we take that route in life, you’ll always be my slave of course. No matter what else happens, you have given your will over to me, in its entirety. For the rest of your life.”
He shifted and continued. “Or we can begin our great work. The work that destiny has laid out for us. Which is it to be?”
She knew the answer, knew what she was going to say. And he knew as well. Why had he bothered to bring her out of her trance?
And she knew the answer to that as well, because there were no more questions. Because he was the most wonderful man in the world. The most caring, the kindest, the smartest, the sexiest, the most scintillating and brilliant. He was a shining, towering god compared to her. She was nothing, an ant crawling around in his shadow, exactly as she had been programmed to be.
Yes, she remembered the sessions now, remembered everything. Their marriage ceremony in an enormous church, their honeymoon in Hawaii. Frolicking and groveling naked, ecstasy and terror (oh yes, delightful orgasmic terror) and lust on a remote sandy beach for her Master’s amusement. Moving out here to the coast, to get a fresh start.
But most of all she remembered the wonderful endless sessions floating in a warm bathtub, listening to her Master’s wonderful voice work its way deeper and ever deeper inside her head. Shuffling and reorganizing her thoughts and memories at will. Filling her mind. Filling her soul. Pushing everything else aside. All fears, all doubts, all worries.
She silently rose, went to the window and yanked the curtain shut.
Turning back to him, she pulled off the sweater with ritual slowness, moving her hips to a slow interior beat, one that had been implanted there months before. She undid the jeans, stepped out of them. Her underwear followed, one piece of it already damp.
She left her glasses on, which only amplified her nakedness.
She knelt before her Master and spoke the words.
“We shall do whatever my Master desires.”
He replied, and his voice and words set off fireworks in the center of her brain, all the colors of the rainbow, all the sounds of all the hymns ever sung.
“Excellent, Jillian. You made the right decision. Now we can truly begin our work.”
Jillian came, the most intense orgasm of her life, the only orgasm of her life, all the others burned away in the unearthly white glare as the fireworks blossomed into supernovas. Only the tiniest whimper of pleasure escaped her lips as she stared unblinking at his feet, at the shoes she had spent endless hours blissfully polishing. He flickered a smile and touched her, just a soft brushing of two fingertips across one shoulder.
Jillian came, a hundred times stronger than before.
He took her to their bed and had her. Used her body in every imaginable way, focusing exclusively on his amusement and pleasure.
“Jill?” The tall dark-haired man in front of the large sunny cityscape looked around a vague way, then down at her. He seemed to have crumpled somehow, deflated. His suit and tie no longer fit, but hung crooked. “Jill... what is it?”
Jillian gave a little gasp of relief.
“Freddie! Oh, thank God, Freddie, I had to tell you... I couldn’t tell Mr. Mabuse. He wouldn’t understand... He...”
He dropped the thick glass, which clunked heavily against the floorboards but didn’t shatter. He dropped to his own knees. Gently removed her glasses from her face, and framed her features with his blunt hands. Those, at least, still looked the same.
“What? What is it?”
“I... I’m pregnant.”
He stared for a long moment.
“You’re absolutely sure?”
“Yesss...” She tried to nod between his fingers.
“And I’m the father?”
She broke into hysterical giggles, and he dropped his gaze for a moment. “Yes, of course I am. You’ve never been out on... But how...”
“I don’t know. I took my pill this month, just like always. Something went wrong. Something... Oh God... things were going so well. He’s going to be so angry with me...” She shuddered violently.
“I wouldn’t let... him... or anyone else ever hurt you. You know that.”
“I’d... I’d have gotten an... an abortion. I of all people could arrange one. But... it’s... it’s his baby. I coul... it would have been like.. like...” She gagged on the words, unable to think them, much less say them.
He hugged her, and she collapsed completely into his arms, sobbing. He stroked her hair and looked at the ceiling. He spun the wire and plastic of her glasses between his fingers.
“Everything will be fine, Jill. I promise.”
After a long moment, he separated from her, stood up, and straightened his tie. His clothes fit again. He frowned slightly, looking down at the damp knee of his slacks where Freddie had knelt in the mineral water spilled from the glass. He spoke more loudly, aiming his voice into the dining room and kitchen beyond. “Tansy. Would you come here please, and bring a towel.” He looked down. “It’s all right, Jillian.”
She raised her tear-stained face, not believing, as he reached down and helped her to her feet with infinite gentleness.
Tansy reappeared, holding a white towel.
“Clean that up, Tansy.” He flicked his fingers in the direction of the puddle.
He led Jillian across the room, back to the bar, as Tansy knelt and attacked the spill with religious fervor. He handed the glasses back to the woman in the lab coat.
“I have a surprise of my own, Jillian. Even before you told me this, I had more or less decided to... ah... pack it in. As you said, things are going very well at the moment. And with dear Constance practicing her financial voodoo on our rather substantial earnings, better even then that. If we keep pushing our luck though, someday, inevitably, something is going to go wrong. One of our slaves’ neighbors will decide to engage our services for the night, and get assigned exactly the wrong girl. Or an old boyfriend will show up at exactly the wrong time. Or Selena won’t hear about an inconvenient police investigation in time to warn us.” His mouth quirked. “Or Henry Jonathan Ricco will finally somehow learn exactly who it was who presented the city police with the opportunity to finally put his beloved, if rather dimwitted and thuggish, son in Rock Island Penitentiary. Selena told me just today that, ah, ‘word on the street’ is that he is still being most insistent about the matter. And now a child? No. Pimpdom is no life for a child. We’ll move on.”
“Move on? Where will we go?”
“There’s really only one appropriate place we can go, now is there?”
“Will we give it all up, entirely?”
“Our profession, you mean? Well... perhaps we can still... dabble. Find something...”
“And will we leave the other girls behind?” She absently wiped her light brown eyes with the white sleeve of her jacket as she nodded in Tansy’s direction.
She put her glasses back on, donning a mask, and her professionalism returned.
“Ah. Now that something we’ll have to discuss. But... I think... I have an idea...”
His gaze wandered for a moment, his expression one of internal groping. “...maybe a very good idea...”
He shrugged, returned to her mentally, then stepped closer to her physically.
“A child, hmm?”
“I hope he... or she... has your eyes, Master.”
They kissed, and were still kissing when Tansy discreetly announced that dinner was ready.
One of the phones on the wide desk rang and Constance automatically scooped it up with one hand, still tapping away at her computer with the other. On the screen, numbers flowed and bounced.
“Whitelock. What it is?”
A unfamiliar voice at the other end of the line said something, a short phrase of gibberish.
“What?” Constance snapped the word.
The voice repeated the phrase.
Constance’s fingers slowly straggled to a stop and her lips moved, saying something in reply that her ears didn’t quite understand.
She hung up the phone, and sat very still for a very long moment. Then she looked around her office.
It hadn’t changed, but it had. It was as if someone had suddenly turned off the only light attuned to a certain frequency, and features that were so obvious a moment before were gone. Before the room had been...
The memory was already fading away, jumping in a deep dark pit and then pulling the pit in after it. She struggled to hang onto it for a moment longer. Yes, a cage. A soft, warm, delightfully-fitted cage, with thousands and thousands of pictures hanging clustered from the bars. Pictures of happy women... doing... doing...
The memory was gone. It was just her office. It was an elegant office, high up with a excellent view of the other downtown skyscrapers and the busy harbor beyond, but it was ultimately just a collection of walls, and a floor and a ceiling. Just an office.
She felt... there was no word for what she felt. Anger, bottomless rage at someone, for doing something to her. Intertwined with it was gratitude, and sadness, and wild, ecstatic joy.
She was free.
Well, mostly free. Something still lingered in a far dark corner of her mind, a final hook deeply lodged. But compared to what had been there before, it was nothing. Certainly nothing worth thinking about.
She rose from her desk, and paced the floor for a moment, her heels spiking tiny triangular holes in the thick carpet. Coming to a decision, she stalked from the office, walking out past her secretary’s desk without a glance. That individual looked up nervously, saw that he was at least temporarily out of the line of fire, and went back to his own typing.
Constance marched down the plush corridor, reaching another large wooden door which opened onto another antechamber. It was identical to the one in her own office except that the occupying secretary was a woman. The blonde woman behind the desk looked up and fashioned a smile that only brushed across the surface of her lips and came nowhere near her eyes.
“Is Mr. Hoff available?”
“I’ll just check.” The secretary picked up one of her own phones, and punched a button. A pause, then, “Mr. Hoff? Ms. Whitelock would like a moment of your time. Yes, sir.” She looked at Constance. “You can go right in.”
“Thank you.” Constance gave the secretary back one of her smiles, burnished to perfection, and entered the inner sanctum.
The tall chair behind the desk was turned away from her. It abruptly spun around, revealing a stocky man, fairly handsome with a thick crop of blondish hair.
“Constance. What can I do ya for?” He spoke and cheerfully flashed a smile, one that reached his eyes.
“Stephen. Actually...” She carefully closed the door before continuing. “I thought that I might take you up on that drink you mentioned the other day after all. After work.”
He blinked in surprise, then smiled even more broadly. “Well, sure! My devilish charms finally won you over, did they?”
The black-haired woman perched herself elegantly on a bare corner of his desk, and gave her long red nails an overt examination.
“Actually, no. It’s just that...” A very deliberate sigh. “...my social calendar suddenly cleared up. For a day or two, anyway. I have to fill it with something.”
“I’ll take what I can get. How does Flint’s sound?”
She gave him back his smile.
“That would be fine.”
The phone on the counter rang. Brenda excused herself from a customer and moved to pick it up.
“Hello, this is Brenda’s. Formal and casual fashions for women. How may I help you?”
A unfamiliar voice at the other end of the line said something, a short phrase of gibberish. Her smooth brow crinkled, ever so slightly.
The voice repeated the phrase.
Kendra’s lips moved, saying something in reply that her ears didn’t quite understand.
She hung up the phone, and sat very still for a very long moment.
She looked around her apartment.
It hadn’t changed, but it had. It was as if someone had suddenly turned off the only light attuned to a certain frequency, and features that were so obvious a moment before were gone. Before the salon had been...
Her chair had been....
The memory was already fading away, a Wunk jumping in a deep dark pit and then pulling the pit in after it. Clara struggled to hang onto it for a moment longer, clutching at it with mental fingernails. Yes, a shrine dedicated to something... to someone... keeping her soft and warm and safe... and... and...
“Clara? Are you OK? Is everything all right?” Her friend Harriet’s voice cut through her thoughts, and she gave a jump of surprise and a guilty smile.
“Yes. I’m fine.”
Which was true.
After all, the memory was gone. It was just her cubicle in the stationhouse, surrounded by a dozen other identical structures. It was just a collection of cheap gray partitions and a floor and a ceiling. Just a cubicle.
Selena felt... there was no word for what she felt. Anger, eternal fiery rage at someone, for doing something to her. Mixed in with it was gratitude and sadness and wild, free-flowing joy.
She was free.
Well, mostly free. Something still lingered in a far dark corner of their minds, a final hook deeply lodged. But compared to what had been there before, it was nothing. Certainly nothing worth thinking about.
She sighed to herself and reluctantly turned away from her study of the painting, holding her glass of wine curled against her chest.
The party’s hostess was bearing down on her, dragging a blonde woman, obviously an Americano and very pregnant, along in her wake.
“Juanita, I so did wanted you to meet Doctora Newman.” Their plump hostess spoke in her rather stilted, breathless, English. “She and her husband have... taken one of the old villas... up on the road outside of the town! You and she can talk- you are both.. ah... professionals? Doctora Jillian Newman, this is Juanita De Torres. She is professor, from the university? I sure you have much in common!” Before either of her guests could reply she spun herself away into the mob.
“Um... hello. Hola.” The blonde woman tentatively offered her hand.
“Hello, Doctor Newman. Please feel free to use English. Mine may not be as good as our dear Señora Urueta, but I think it will suffice.” She took the hand, shook it with a firm grip. She pushed her mass of carefully braided black hair back over her shoulder.
“Thank you. I’ve been taking Spanish lessons, but I’m afraid it may be a while before I’m ready to use them properly.”
“Not at all.”
“So, you’re a professor? What are you doing here in town?”
“I could ask you the same question.” Juanita’s easy smile took the sting from her words.
“Well, we planned to retire, to be honest. My husband and I. And start our family.” She nodded at her bulging stomach, her glasses catching the lights overhead.
“So I see. Your first? Congratulations.”
“Thank you. Are you married?”
“No.” Juanita smiled again, held up her bare hand and wiggled her long and somewhat callused fingers. “No husband. No children. Not yet.”
“We were lucky enough to make enough money in America to come here. But... I seem to be somehow acquiring a clientele again. There are certain women in the area who... seem to prefer my services. Even now.” A shrug and another downward nod. “Our hostess for one, which is why we are here tonight.”
“And Mr. Newman? Or is he a doctor as well?”
“Actually, his name is Mabuse. I didn’t take his name when we married. Mostly for professional reasons. But to answer your question... No. He’s not a doctor. He was a... consultant, I guess you’d say. He’s still retired.”
“And which is your husband, may I ask?”
“He’s... I don’t see him... no, wait, there he is. The tall man. Talking to those... um... three women.”
Juanita studied the indicated figure. He had been backed into a corner by his three conversation mates, and was listening to one of them, smiling slightly. While her initial impression of Doctor Newman was favorable, she didn’t like her husband. At all. It was an instant, visceral, reaction. A black aura seemed to cling around him.
“He.. he is not Mexican, is he?”
“No. He sort of looks it, though, doesn’t he? He picked up the look from some Italian ancestors.”
“Ah.” Juanita deliberately turned away from him. “In answer to your other question, I am staying here in town while I study some ruins off to the west, up in the hills. This is what I do.”
“Ruins? An actual pyramid? I didn’t know there was one in the area.”
“Pyramid? No, no. Nothing so... ah... grandiose. Is that the proper word?”
“I think so. Sounds right. Overly large? Gaudy? That’s what it means. ”
“Yes. This is much smaller. There is in fact much argument among my... peers about what the structure was used for. I am hoping to learn this.”
“It sounds very interesting.”
“You are being kind now. Much of what I do is extremely dull. Measure. Scratch. Dig around in the dirt.”
“I suppose that’s true for just about everybody, when you get right down to it.”
“Yes. I suppose. The grass is greener, no?”
“Yes. So will you be around town, or spending most of your time out at the ruins?”
“A little of both. Perhaps we will see more of each other?”
“Yes, I hope so. I’d like that. If you ever need any medical help, please don’t hesitate to call.”
There was a moment of silence between them. Doctor Newman... Jillian... looked at her shrewdly.
“May I ask another personal question?”
“I do not see why not?”
“Why are you here? Not in town, but at this party? You’re not... you’re not the party type, I think I can see that.”
Juanita flashed a slightly guilty smile, this time showing her full mouthful of white teeth. “’Party type’? No, I suppose I am not. The truth? I was bored. I had nothing else to do on this night. Our hostess is an old friend of my family’s, so I had an invitation. I came.” She hesitated. “May I ask a question in return?”
“Why did you marry your husband?”
Jillian did not appear at all offended or angry. She answered very simply, “He gave me everything that I ever wanted. Everything that I was ever looking for. What more could a person ask for?”
They exchanged a few more pleasantries and parted.
Later, Juanita saw the couple standing together in a corner and talking. The man, Mr. Mabuse, glanced in her direction, and their eyes met. He gave a cordial nod, then looked away.
She wanted to take a piece of sandpaper and scrape his gaze off of her skin.
A few weeks later, Juanita received an urgent call from Señora Urueta, asking her to come by at once. She was just about to drive her battered Jeep back out to the ruins for a more extended stay, but she gritted her teeth and went, wearing her field clothes.
It was a blisteringly hot day. Upon her arrival at the Urueta’s large hacienda, their pretty, slender maid showed her out onto the secluded back patio, where the Señora was waiting for her at a small white table under an wide umbrella. Señor Urueta was not there, no doubt off somewhere scheming with the other local political bosses. The Señora seemed distraught, her pale hands clutching at a white handkerchief.
“Isabel?” Juanita dropped into the empty chair, and the umbrella’s shade, with pronounced physical relief. “What is the matter?”
The maid returned, carrying two large glasses of iced tea, which she placed on the table. She then stood respectfully to one side.
“It is that... that... gringo! That devil, Mabuse! He... he is evil! I see that now!” The Señora took a shaky sip of tea. Juanita automatically followed suit, holding her glass and curling her fingers around its delightful coolness.
“What? What has he done?” Part of her mind was genuinely concerned, but another small, selfish part couldn’t help but feel a little bit triumphant that her instincts had proven true. She’d almost forgotten; she hadn’t seen Jillian or her vile husband since the party.
“As I say, he is a devil! A sorcerer! He is casting spells, even now! He has half of my friends under his power! He almost claimed my soul as well, but I slipped away from him. He has not realized it yet, but he will! We must stop him, and save poor Doctora Newman from his evil clutches.”
Juanita took another drink and wondered at her sudden dizziness. She put the glass back on the table before she dropped it. The heat of the day must be getting to her. She tried to focus on what was being said.
“Spells? We have to go to the... police...?”
“Pah! The police! Men! What good would they do? We have to solve this problem ourselves.”
“Solve? How...” She shook her head, trying to clear it. Everything seemed fuzzy and far away.
“By drinking the rest of your tea, my little one.”
“How... how will that...” She took the glass from the table again, stared into its light brown depths. They seemed to beckon to her.
“Drinking the tea will solve all of your problems.”
“It... it will?” She drank a little more. The world spun around her and the glass finally slipped from her fingers, shattering loudly on the stone tiles. The tea splashed across her heavy work boots, turning the dust to a scrim of mud.
“Don’t worry, Professor De Torres.” A new voice, a man’s voice, speaking good but not quite perfect Spanish with an American accent. “I detest using drugs in my work, as a general rule, but I sadly could not see any other way in your special case. So this is just a... ah... sedative? Yes, that’s right. Sedative. Just to get you where you need to be.”
By sheer effort of will, she brought her eyes back into focus.
Mabuse was standing there, unnaturally cool in a dark suit, his hands in his pockets.
The other two women, quite mismatched—Señora Urueta and her maid—were both down on their hands and knees on the hard hot stones, at his feet. Worshipping him.
He smiled at her, and the world went entirely out of focus before she could even cry out her anger and rage.
When things returned, she was floating somewhere, warm and black and weightless. There was nothing, no sound, no motion, no sensation. Her limbs and her head were somehow restrained, the inhuman fingers that held them gentle but very firm.
Juanita tried to scream, to curse, but nothing came out.
And so she floated, and time passed. Endless time. An hour, a day, a year. There was nothing to measure it against; even her own heartbeat seemed very faint and useless and far away. Her mind was slowly bleeding out into the black infinity that surrounded her. She was going insane. She screamed her mental throat raw and then could only watch as her intellect slowly and painfully shriveled away to nothing, A raisin cooked to a blackened crisp in an anti-sun.
And then nothing.
No motion. No sound. No thought.
For untold eternities.
And then finally, finally, they came to her, brought a few threads of the universe back into existence. The voice and music came to her and she was more than willing to listen to them. To do whatever they suggested and then demanded of her, as long as they kept the blackness away.
Soon, very soon, restraints were no longer needed. Her neck rested in a padded clamp, her body floated loose and limp. The voice and the music continued. And then after a time, most wonderful of all, the light came back and mixed itself with the sounds, all them dim and red and throbbing.
Juanita rose her mind into the light, and dropped her will into the blackness.
She stepped out onto the wide patio, into the warm tropical heat and light. She had to stand and blink for a moment, as her eyes adjusted to the sudden change.
Able to see again, she walked across the smooth white stones, in the general direction of the pool. The sounds of giggling and splashing filled the air and she looked in the direction of the noises. A dark large-breasted woman was bobbing in the clean blue waters of the pool, holding in her tender grasp a much lighter-skinned infant who was utterly and gleefully preoccupied with the vital task of tossing handfuls of water into the air. The woman’s long black hair floated freely around the two of them like the tentacles of an shadowy octopus. A three or four year child, a sandy-blonde girl in a flowery red and pink bathing suit, was swimming confidently around under her own power in the shallow end of the pool.
The viewing woman watched for a long moment, and smiled. She loved children very much. Perhaps someday...
“Wendy!” The cheerful call originated a nearby deck chair, and she turned. Jill was there, her well-tanned legs stretched out. Freddie was in the chair next to her, evidently staring up at the sky behind his mirrored sunglasses. He didn’t seem to have tanned as much as his wife; maybe he had been too dark-skinned to begin with. He looked up at Jill’s greeting and gave a nod of his own.
“Hi.” Wendy waved and moved to join them. She noted absently that there was an enormous black dog lying in a nearby patch of shade and watching her, watching the entire scene with unblinking zealot eyes. Another of the sleek, muscular animals paced an obvious route of patrol further away from the house.
Jill looked at her from under a wide white sunhat. “Any trouble finding your way in?”
“No. None at all.”
“Please, have a seat.” Jill made a minute adjustment to her blue bikini top and gestured at the empty chair on the other side of her own.
“No, I really can’t stay. I just dropped in for a minute to say hello.”
At this point in the conversation a new woman appeared: a short, busty, brunette wearing a rather frilly black and white bikini. She was carrying a metal tray on which were perched three tall exotic-looking drinks.
“Care for one?” Jill gestured at the tray. “Non-alcoholic. Lemonade. We got the recipe from the best.”
“No, really. Thanks.”
“OK.” Jill took two of the glasses and handed one to Freddie. “Thank you, Tansy. That will be all.” The woman bobbed wordlessly and disappeared. Jill again pointed her own black lenses in Wendy’s direction. “So, Wendy, how is life treating you? Are things going well?”
Wendy blinked. “They’re going very well. Thank you.”
“Great! You know, I never thought to ask, Wendy. What brought you to this part of the world, anyway?”
“I... we just needed a change of pace. You know how it is. We both agreed that this would be the perfect place to come.”
“Don’t I know it. After all, Freddie and I, after we made our pile, we came here to retire. But my husband...” She gave him a firm slap on the stomach and he looked at her with mock sourness before going back to sipping his drink “...he just can’t resist dabbling.” For some reason, she glanced at the woman in the pool. “I’m sorry, just a minute...” She spoke more loudly. “Juanita! Ya es hora de que la niña meriende!”
The woman in the pool looked over, and smiled, her teeth very white, her expression very happy.
“Si, Doctora Newman!” She waded slowly towards the shallow end with the baby, speaking to the girl there. “Fredericka! Es la hora de la merienda! “vamos, pequeña?”
“OK!” The girl piped and did a final seal-dive under the water before heading for the pool’s stairs. “—Rosa prometio que nos prepararia bocadillos de crema de cacahuetes!”
“You have such lovely children.” Wendy said as she watched and listened, feeling a little pang of yearning again.
“Thank you. And Juanita is just wonderful with them.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Mabuse?” A new voice, and the three of them turned their gaze. It was another Latina, but shorter and lighter-skinned than the first and speaking English with a pronounced American accent. She wore a rather modest gray-silver one-piece swimsuit, and was carrying a cell phone. “I’m very sorry to interrupt, but you have an important phone call.”
“Thank you, Maria. Bring it here.” As the woman handed Freddie the phone, Wendy thought, not for the first time, about what a wonderful voice the man had. She could just... “Hello? Oh, hello, my dear.... what’s that?” He glanced at Wendy. “Yes. Of course. Tell him he can pick up in just a few days. Everything is checking out fine... Yes, that’s right. Talk to you later.” He clicked off and handed the phone back to Maria, who departed as silently as Tansy. There was a long moment of silence, then he spoke directly to Wendy for the first time.
“Didn’t you say you had an appointment, Wendy?”
“Oh!” She looked at her wrist. “Of course! I have to be going. See you both later, maybe?”
Jill smiled. “I imagine we’ll run into each other once or twice more, yes.”
Wendy puzzled silently at the comment as she walked back inside the cool dimness of the house. She licked her full lips, which tasted sweet and strange.
The hallways were wide, almost palatial, a legacy of the conquering Spanish nobleman who had ordered the building of the house so long ago. At least, she had assumed that was who had built it. She had seen pictures of similar places in books during college, an endless lifetime ago. She imagined the man might have looked sort of like Fre... Mr. Mabuse.
The tile and mortar of the floor were very cool beneath her bare feet.
The structure was also quite dark and quiet, so when Wendy heard voices and saw light streaming through a partially-opened door her curiosity rose and she paused for a moment to peek around into the room beyond.
Which was bright and airy, with high wide windows looking out over a large and colorful garden, a couple of flourishing palm trees and then the imposing stone wall that evidently surrounded the entire compound. In the garden, a bikini-clad female figure could be seen diligently working over a long row of healthy-looking vegetables with a hoe. One of the same dogs as before, or perhaps a third one, was stalking along in the shadow of the wall.
The space on this side of the windows was mostly empty, a vast wooden floor stretching unimpeded from wall to wall. There were a few thick mats and pieces of exercise equipment scattered around. In one corner a cute but vaguely bookish young Chinese woman with a helmet of glossy black hair was pumping away, piston-like, on a weight machine. In another, a brown-haired European(?) woman was down on one of the mats, her pale creamy body twisted up and quite, quite motionless in some kind of impossible and painful looking yoga position. What really caught Wendy’s attention, however, was the activity in the center of the room. A very tall, strikingly elegant woman of African descent was standing there, her hands at her sides, her proud chin raised, her eyes closed. Her close-cut fuzz of hair was black, but her skin was actually lighter then that of the woman in the pool. Off to one side of her was a strange metal framework, the purpose of which Wendy couldn’t immediately identify. On her other side was a fourth woman, an athletic-looking redhead wearing a colorful and rather skimpy low-cut leotard, her tumbling curls pulled back into a loose bun by a piece of fabric that matched her clothing. She stood with her muscular arms crossed, now silently and intently studying the woman in front of her. Abruptly she spoke.
The black woman popped instantly to life, her dark eyes flipping open, her foot, her long leg, her entire body, lashing up and out in a strong, almost balletic movement. Wendy saw now that the metal structure held a piece of wood securely clamped several feet off of the ground. The leaping woman’s foot connected with the board, and the thick wood cracked loudly in two. While Wendy gave a surprised start and staggered back a couple of steps, the woman locked in the yoga position didn’t even flinch. The Chinese girl didn’t break rhythm. The black woman spun gracefully back into the exact position she had occupied before and her eyes slid shut again. She brought to mind a well-crafted and fast-moving toy that has been wound up and released to burn off its energy in one frantic burst before spinning quickly to a halt.
“Good, Rondella. Very good.” The red-haired woman sounded genuinely pleased, in a clinical sort of way. “Your Master will be very happy with your performance.”
The black woman twitched and gave an almost inaudible moan through wide lips, her eyes still closed and her face remaining quite expressionless.
Wendy stared, fascinated. She wished that she could do things like that. Just watching such a display made her feel so strong and powerful. Maybe if she asked nicely, the red-haired woman would teach her...
She slowly became aware that her legs had resumed moving the rest of her body down the hall, leaving the gym behind. For a moment this fact bothered her, but then she absently brushed the worry away.
Abruptly, another door in the hallway slammed open and yet another woman burst into view, almost colliding with Wendy. She was another dark-skinned woman, this time evidently of East Indian ancestry. Her hair was carefully pinned up on top of her head and she was entirely naked except for the small red dot above and between her thin finely-shaped eyebrows. Wendy tried to remember what those dots were called. She also realized in a dim, flickering sort of way that many of the ladies she had seen in Mr. Mabuse’s house had been naked. The three women in the weight room, the woman taking care of the baby in the pool...
The Indian woman spoke, her accented voice fearful:
“Please. You must help me! They... they are doing something to me! The tall man. The doctor woman! I... I...” She clutched at her own head with a pair of smooth brown hands. “They... they are inside of me now. I cannot get their voices out of me! I...”
“Kamla.” The voice was gentle but firm, and both women in the hallway automatically turned to face it. The speaker was a tall slender blonde woman, standing the doorway that the Indian woman had just exited. Her long straight lustrous hair plunged down almost to her ass. She wore a tight bikini, and had a leather holster strapped to her side; the butt of a large pistol protruded from the latter. Unlike all the other women (clothed or otherwise) in and around the house, who were barefoot, she wore a pair of skin-tight high-topped boots, also made of leather. Every piece of her wardrobe, right down to the pistol, matched exactly the glossy blue-black shade of the guard dogs outside. With one exception: even though it was quite dark in the hallway, she had on a pair of oddly tinted sunglasses, their color resembling the eyes of some exotic insect. She also casually held something in one hand that Wendy couldn’t quite identify, but nevertheless instantly made her stomach twist itself into queasy knots. The woman continued:
“Enough of this foolishness. Come here. Now.”
The Indian woman’s face drooped submissively towards the floor. Her shoulders sagged. “Yes, Miss Mitchell.” She almost whispered the words, and silently walked back into the dark room beyond the door, her gait that of a disobedient child who has been called to heel. An unpleasantly compelling blue-yellow light was flickering in there beyond the door, flickering like...
A mass of exotic insects. Insects with vicious stings in their tails...
The blonde woman looked Wendy up and down and flashed a thin smile. “Run along now, Wendy.”
“Yes, Miss Mitchell.” Wendy’s lips repeated the words and once again her legs started moving before she was truly conscious of the fact. The door closed firmly behind her.
She finished walking down the corridor, grateful beyond words that it wasn’t she who had been summoned into Miss Mitchell’s Punishment Chamber. This Kamla must be a very stupid, willful, girl.
Punishment Chamber? Wendy shook her head in confusion. She didn’t know where that had come from. It didn’t matter, of course, but she wished she could understand what was going on.
She was at the final door, at the very end of the long hall. It didn’t look like a door, but that’s what it was. She automatically wiped her hand on her thigh before firmly pressing her thumb against a small glass plate mounted discreetly in a corner, about waist-high. The plate flashed green for a moment, and a tall, heavy wooden panel slid silently aside.
The long narrow room beyond was lit up a dull red and was noticeably warmer than the rest of the house, although not nearly as warm as the outside. The faint soothing burble of water filled the air, along with a spicy, intoxicating scent from the masses of sinister black-flowered vines that twisted their way up the ancient stone walls. She paused to push another button, sliding the door shut behind her.
There were two rows of large square highly-polished wooden boxes lining the longer walls, one on either side of a central aisle, each of the items vaguely resembling a giant ATM terminal, a basic elongated cube shape with rounded corners and a sloping front-piece. Mounted on each slope was a pair of tightly-fitting doors which swung outward when opened. Many of them, however, were shut.
Wendy padded quietly down the aisle until she arrived at a box where the doors stood open wide, revealing both their soft, padded, interior and the box’s dark interior. Standing in front of the container, she again thumbed a fingerprint scanner, this one mounted on the front panel of the tank, to one side of the doors. Another muted flash of green.
She climbed inside using the small built-in staircase and ladder and happily settled her naked body into the slightly salty blood-warm water which was waiting for her. In fact, she slid all the way under for a long moment and floated, shaking her head slowly from side to side, feeling all of her sticky, annoying problems and questions fade away in the swirl of hair and water. The tanks were much deeper than they appeared from the outside; her gently kicking toes only brushed against the padded floor.
She surfaced, slicked her hair back into place with a sweep of both hands. Spinning herself in the water so she faced forward, she placed her neck into the equally well-padded headrest behind her, and calmly watched as the doors swung themselves shut, clicking firmly into place and plunging her into absolute darkness and silence.
The beguiling scent of the vines redoubled its power.
The padded headphones slid silently forward and clamped themselves snugly into place around her ears
She felt her body go utterly limp under the slowly-churning water, floating in the perfect neutral buoyancy.
There was a moment, an eternity, of emptiness and utter lack of sensation.
And then string-filled music began to reverberate down inside her mind, haunting and spiraling and bottomless.
The vast sparkling wheel formed itself in the air above her eyes and she stared up into its rotations unblinking, lost herself forever in its interlocking red-tipped depths.
The voice of her Instructor came to her, intertwined with the music and the light and speaking directly into the center of her mind.
She loved her Instructor. She trusted him implicitly, and she accepted his wisdom and his teachings without qualm or hesitation or fear.
“You have done very well, Wendy. Very well indeed. Your training is nearly complete, and soon you will be reunited with your Master.”
“My Master...” She breathed the words.
Everything came back to her now, where she was, why she was here, her place in the universe.
Her place. In orbit around her beloved Master. Basking in his radiance. Feeling his warmth and power. Being with him always.
And most important of all...
Thinking these thoughts...
Something was passed to her, and she took it in both arms, looked down at it in puzzlement.
The something was carefully wrapped in a clean white blanket.
A baby, a little chica. The child yawned, and opened her wide, deep brown, almost black, eyes quizzically. Seeing the face above her, she blinked and gurgled a little.
Voices. Voices speaking to her.
“Juanita, this is Fredericka.”
“She is your purpose.”
“From this moment forward, until the day you die.”
“To keep her safe.”
“To teach her to be strong and brave and wise.”
“To care for her, and for any brothers and sisters she may someday have.”
“And if necessary, to die for them.”
“Do you understand?”
“Do you understand?“
Her own eyes grew wide.
Her Master’s aura flared up around the child, somehow more intense and pearly then his own.
“Yes, Señor Mabuse! Yes, Doctora Newman!” She laughed and cried and moaned and came and came and came, her wide naked hips bucking, her sex squirting and dribbling. “I understand!” She whispered the final two words as she bent over the holy child in her arms and wept tears of joy.
The voices continued, obviously no longer speaking to her.
“So. It would seem to work.”
“Yes, Master.” A pause. “You know... This all gives me an idea...”
She let the voices drift away, her attention obviously unwanted and unneeded until it was time for her Master or her Mistress to give her further instructions. She gently shook her long strands of dripping hair so that they spilled around her and Fredericka, a silky black tent shutting out the rest of the world. She began to rock and quietly croon, almost whisper, a lullaby she had heard somewhere once, in another lifetime.
Fredericka smiled up at her, as only a baby can.
Her voice did not catch, her gentle rhythm did not stutter or break, but down inside her skull...
Juanita Marques De Torres
“Wendy!” Fred looked up at Jillian’s cheerful call from beside him. Wendy Lynderburger was standing across the patio, the water from the programming tank still dripping off her firm naked breasts and arms. He gave a nod of hello.
“Hi.” Wendy turned from staring at the pool, waved and walked towards them. Her eyes flicked for a moment in the direction of Vlad, who lay watchfully in a nearby patch of shade, his pink tongue lolled out.
“Any trouble finding your way in?” Jillian asked. He said nothing. His wife always had a much better touch with this particular part of the final testing process. Up to a point, of course.
“No. None at all.” Wendy’s blue eyes were deeply glazed.
“Please, have a seat.” Jillian gestured at the empty chair beside her.
“No, I really can’t stay. I just dropped in for a minute to say hello.”
Right on cue, Tansy appeared holding the drinks on the tray.
“Care for one?” Jillian gestured. “Non-alcoholic. Lemonade. We got the recipe from the best.”
“No, really. Thanks.”
Even as Wendy’s mouth politely refused, her hand reached out to take one of the glasses. She held it for a moment, then carefully raised it and dumped out the entire contents over her own head. She put the empty glass back on the tray and calmly blinked the lemonade out of her eyes.
“OK.” Jillian took the two remaining drinks, and handed one to him. “Thank you, Tansy. That will be all.” The maid bobbed and disappeared. Jillian again pointed her black lenses in Wendy’s direction. “So, Wendy, how is life treating you? Are things going well?”
“They’re going very well. Thank you.” Wendy spoke the words in a sing-song voice. She drifted over, and knelt down in front of Fred’s chair. He spread his legs apart.
“Great! You know, I never thought to ask, Wendy. What brought you to this part of the world, anyway?”
Wendy unzipped his shorts, and carefully worked his waiting penis free before replying. “I... we just needed a change of pace.” She carefully ran her tongue up the hardening shaft. “You know how it is. We both agreed that this would be the perfect place to come.” She took him into her mouth, long and slow.
“Don’t I know it. After all, Freddie and I, after we made our pile, we came here to retire. But my husband...” Jillian gave him a firm slap on the stomach and he looked at her with mock sourness before going back to sipping his drink “...he just can’t resist dabbling.” Jillian glanced at Juanita. “I’m sorry, just a minute...” She spoke more loudly, in Spanish. “Juanita! It’s almost time for the children’s lunch!”
The naked slavegirl in the pool looked over, and smiled, her teeth very white, her expression very happy.
“Yes, Doctor Newman.” She waded herself and William towards the shallow end, speaking to Fredericka. “Fredericka! It is time for your lunch. Let’s go, OK?”
“OK!” Their daughter piped and did a final seal-dive under the water before heading for the pool’s stairs. She was naturally bilingual, switching from one language to the other with unconscious ease. “Rosa promised she’d make us peanut butter sandwiches!”
“You have such lovely children.” Wendy removed her mouth just long enough to remark, then went back to work, building tempo now.
“Thank you. And Juanita is just wonderful with them.”
As she should be, thought Fred as he watched Juanita’s swaying backside with deep sexual and esthetic appreciation.
It was only appropriate that the second great revelation had come to him here, just a metaphorical jump down the coast from the location of the first. When they first moved in, enslaving various local women of all societal levels to toil for them had been almost ridiculously easy, using the same tried and tested techniques as always. They hadn’t even needed a tank. A cultural thing, perhaps.
But as he puttered, and dabbled, and studiously kept up with the latest medical journals, and thought more and more about finding the perfect nanny for his soon-to-be born daughter, the possibility of a new and more subtle way occurred to him.. And then, exactly as she had been programmed, one of their new slaves introduced Jillian to the intelligent and spirited Professor Juanita De Torres: a woman who had absolutely no need of therapy, a beautiful and vital woman he could never ever have brought under his control before...
And in that moment it all fell into place. After conducting some discreet inquires into Professor De Torres’ life and work, he had to try.
And the day that Juanita had finally been broken by their first crude prototype programming tank, had come before him in glorious nudity, had knelt down and ecstatically kissed his feet, had embraced her new life’s work without hesitation or reservation... that had been perhaps the third-happiest moment in his life. Had he wanted to, he could have gone back to the States and built up an even more successful prostitution ring than before.
But seeing their new slave-nanny kneel obediently before them, orgasming and holding one of the two most precious things in the world in her arms, his beloved and clever wife had her own revelation....
“Excuse me, Mr. Mabuse?” The voice disturbed his train of thought, and he turned to look at Maria as she approached from the general direction of the business office, carrying a cell phone. Wendy rolled her eyes to see what was happening, but didn’t pause in her task. “I’m very sorry to interrupt, but you have an important phone call.”
“Thank you, Maria. Bring it here.” He took the phone. “Hello?”
“Hello, sir. This is Contact.”
“Oh, hello, my dear.”
“I needed to talk with you about the matter of Client #423.”
“What’s that?” He was a bit distracted. As with all of his pupils, Wendy’s technique was now quite superb.
“He seems to be a bit worried about when his shipment will be ready.”
“Yes. Of course. Tell him he can pick up in just a few days.” He glanced down at the woman who was servicing him and smiled. “Everything is checking out fine.”
“So I can tell him the usual time and method for pickup?”
“Yes, that’s right. Talk to you later.”
He clicked off and handed the phone back to Maria, who silently departed.
...The second great revelation. A much safer, so much more high-class service they could now provide using practically any woman supplied to them by their clients. Wives. Mistresses. Secretaries. Lusted-after sex objects. (Up to a certain point of course; some fantasies must remain just that, even in a perfect world...) All of them earning him and Jillian the gratitude and good will of friends in very high places the world over. A good life under the warm sun. A former world-class chef, recruited directly from one of the finest resorts in the land, to cook the meals for their extended “family”. (Tansy had been a capable-enough amateur chef, but...) A brilliant former college professor to fervently guard and intellectually nurture their eventual replacements...
He sighed, partly contented, partly resigned, and he spoke directly to Wendy for the first time.
“Didn’t you say you had an appointment, Wendy?”
Her lips popped off him, and she blinked.
“Oh!” She looked at her bare wrist from behind the hairs that had spilled over her face. “Of course! I have to be going. See you both later, maybe?” She gave his penis one last slow lick across its quivering tip, and rose to go.
“I imagine we’ll run into each other once or twice more, yes.”
Wendy looked at her (even more) blankly and then obediently returned to her tank and her final programming.
After she was safely out of earshot, Fred looked down at himself.
“Yes, Master?” She smiled at him behind her sunglasses.
“Ms. Lynderburger seems to have gone and dribbled lemonade all over me. Would you like to clean it up, or should I get Tansy out here?”
“She’s probably busy helping Rosa and Juanita with the children’s lunch. I’ll do it.” She put down her glass, removed her hat and was already rising to take Wendy’s place. Vlad rose from his shadow and paced off in the direction of the front of the house, casually sniffing the air.
As Jillian settled in, she asked in a conversational tone: “I forgot to say before. I’ve invited that new couple in that villa down the road to dinner next week. The Anderssens. You haven’t met them yet, have you? They’re from Sweden. He just got hired for some kind of important engineering job down in the oil fields..”
She licked both his body and the plastic webbing of the chair for a moment before replying, slowly and methodically working her way up his legs.
“Yes... Both very attractive... He is... actually quite courtly and charming, but that wife of... his is a little ice princess. But looking at her... I think you can... just for fun... get your hooks into her... the old-fashioned way... and I really want to see what she looks like... doing this...”
Her lips and tongue neared their ultimate target.
“I’ll of course see what I can do.”
“Thank you, Master.... Oh... did you hear the other... news...? They’re opening... some kind of... new.... casino down... in town. We should.... go check it out.... some night...”
She reached her ultimate target and locked on.
“A casino?” He frowned in mild annoyance even as he stroked her soft sandy hair. “Don’t be silly, Jillian. I never gamble. Ever. You... know that...”
She did not reply, at least not intelligibly. Or at least not with words.
“But your Swedish ice princess... that does sound... stimulating...”
He fell silent as well, and closed his eyes.
And to top it all off, he still occasionally had the chance to...
After a time,
“And now, finally, you’re going to get what’s coming to you.”
Even as the gunman spoke these words, the blonde woman had sprung into action. She moved with uncanny, blinding speed, knocking the pistol out and away with one hand and dealing the man a vicious blow to the stomach with the other. He doubled over with a surprised whoosh. Stone-faced, she brought down another chop on the back of his neck and he crumpled to the floor, the gun falling from his hand. She jammed her foot into his armpit, grabbed his arm in an iron two-handed grip and gave it a vicious twist. There was an unpleasant cracking sound and she froze like a statue, still holding the arm.
The tall man hadn’t even turned around. The other men at the table stared, their jaws hanging open.
The blonde woman spoke, her voice utterly cold and dispassionate. “Shall I kill him, sir?”
Only then did the tall man turn in his padded chair and shoot a disinterested glance at the crushed figure on the floor.
“Ah. Mr. Moran, isn’t it? Of Moran Export, I believe. (Although the company is about to undergo a name change, isn’t it?) Such a pleasure to meet you. You know, as it happens, I had just heard that you were rashly sticking your nose in places where it had no business being. I was so sure there was some misunderstanding and that we could sort it all out like civilized people. It’s truly a pity to learn that I was mistaken.”
Two bulky black-suited men suddenly loomed up out of the casino’s gloom. The marginally brighter-looking one spoke, his voice a mountainous rumble. “Mr. Ricco? Is everything all right here?”
“Yes, Louis. Of course it is.” The tall man finally looked at the blonde. “No, Wendy. That will be all. Thank you for your assistance.”
“Yes, sir.” She released her hold, extracted her foot and dropped the mangled arm. In seconds she was an empty-faced silken bimbo again, smiling vacantly.
“You two.” Mr. Ricco flicked his fingers at Louis and the other suited man. “Take care of that.” The men obediently picked up Moran and his gun and hauled them both away into eternal darkness.
Ricco faced forward again and smiled. The points of his shark teeth were invisible, but they were there. The other men at the poker table all immediately found something else to look at. He seemed to think of something, and spoke over his broad shoulder.
“Wendy. Remind me to send a small thank-you gift to The Doctor. I must say, his reputation for excellence is well earned.”
“Yes, sir.” Her voice was bright and giggly.
“The Doctor?” The thin gray man said the words with a certain cautious casualness. The dealer finished flicking out the cards, his fingers working flawlessly even through his fog.
“Yes. Just a business associate of mine.” Henry Jonathan Ricco picked up his cards, and twisted his lips at what was thus revealed to him. “But a true professional. So rare in this degraded day and age.” The twist became a frown. “It is a pity that other people whose services I employ cannot be so efficient. Perhaps I should encourage the Doctor to branch out into other areas...” He looked up and smiled again over the tops of his cards. The smile somehow made the cards into a row of jumbled tombstones. “But enough of that. Let’s play some cards, shall we?”
As her Master spoke, Wendy stepped in behind him and happily started massaging his thick, powerful neck and shoulders. Of course, everything about her Master was thick and powerful. Just being allowed to touch him, to be near him, was like having her brains fucked out by an ordinary man. (Judging, of course, from what little she could bear to remember about her empty, miserable pre-Master existence: a college and a law school and finally a squalid little DA’s office, somewhere...) As her hands and fingers worked, she meticulously pinned her Master’s latest instruction to the vast bulletin board that stretched across much of her mind, pinned it up along with his appointments and other reminders, his daily schedule, long lists of his likes and dislikes, mugshots of his vile, heathenish enemies... She wondered vaguely as she did this what this Doctor person had done to earn her Master’s special favor. If she knew, maybe she could do it as well and thus maybe, just maybe...
But then her assigned mental task was finished and her mind went soft and red and blank, filled with endless interlocking sparkles.
Except for the shrouded bloodstained corner where the weasel-thing lurked, its zealot eyes bright and shiny and unblinking, watching the table, watching the other men’s faces, watching the shadows. Filing away every piece of data, every nuance and gesture.
Watching with ceaseless vigilance for threats to its Master.
And down even further, buried down inside the weasel’s hot fevered brain, a single hook, heavily barbed and deeply lodged. A hook that would and could only be pulled tight under a very specific set of explicitly-designated circumstances, ones involving a rather stupid young man rotting away in a prison cell, and a father’s continuing quest for vengeance.
Frederick Mabuse never gambled.