by Zyzzyva* * *
Carl Meertens shuffled the papers in front of him, irritably. “This is not in order,” he said, stubbing out his cigarette. “You need to arrange ahead for any such visit.”
“I know,” said Claudia Nicolosi, “but things have come up. I need some ready money soon, and my safety deposit here is the best way I can think of to get some on short notice.”
“Short notice or no, you need an appointment,” protested Carl.
“Mr Meertens, I have given you the account paperwork. I have given you the key. It is my safety-deposit box, and I would like to see it now.”
Carl stared back at her, stonily. Nicolosi was an important client of the Third National, heiress to some Italian industrial concern or other—although in Carl’s head he’d imagined her looking more like an Italian heiress, and less of a short, rotund woman with little trace of an accent—but he wasn’t going to make any exceptions easily for her. Especially not in that unflattering dress.
“Please, Mr. Meetens,” implored Nicolosi’s assistant. “It’s very important. And I’m sure Miss Nicolosi will be ever so grateful if you could help her out.”
Well. That was a bit more like it. The other woman—Natalie, Carl had heard Nicolosi calling her earlier—looked much more the part. She was tall and blonde and leggy, and fit very nicely indeed into her slim yellow sundress. And her voice had such a pleasing sound to it when it was pleading with him.
“Well, Miss Nicolosi,” said Carl, not looking away from her assistant as he lit up another cigarette, “you are, of course, a very valued client of Third National Bank.” Natalie started to flush most gratifyingly. “It is possible that seeing as your papers are mostly in order, we might be able to arrange an access to your deposit box.”
“Thank you,” said Nicolosi, dryly, as Natalie, deeply red, shuffled a little behind her employer. He let his gaze drift back to her. “I’m very happy I can access my account.”
Pushy, entitled bitch, thought Carl, contemptuously, but kept it off his face. “Of course, Miss Nicolosi. Here are your papers back —” he handed them over to Natalie, who kept her eyes averted as her lovely manicured hand grabbed them away from him “— and I’ll keep the key with me into the vault.”
“Very well,” said Nicolosi. “Lead on.”
Carl did, leading them out of the front office and down the hallways into the depths of the bank. He was in front, of course, but the curved security mirrors in the corners let him get a good look back at Natalie as she walked briskly after him. She did have damn nice legs.
At the vault door, Carl pulled the second key out of his pocket, unlocked the main bar, and began turning the combination dial. “Both of you stay here, please.”
“I would like to —” began Nicolosi, but Carl took a little pleasure in cutting her off.
“No one but bank employees are allowed in the vault. Bank policy.” If it had been Natalie alone, he might have—the vault was rather small and the opportunity to get in close quarters with her would be tempting—but not with this Nicolosi woman. Besides, the bank had just installed some new Cinerama camera security system back here, and he was a little more punctilious than usual about bank regulations around it.
“I still feel —”
“Sorry,” said Carl, unapologetically, and began to swing the vault door open.
“All right then, we’ll do it here,” said Nicolosi, and as Carl began to turn back to her in confusion She said Kneel.
Carl dropped to his knees immediately. She walked in front of him and he gasped involuntarily at the sight of Her. His cigarette, still burning, rolled off somewhere on the tiled floor.
Give Me the key, She said, and Carl almost dropped it in his frenetic eagerness to obey. She took it from his trembling hands and gave it to Natalie, who walked into the vault behind him. It was an irrelevancy at the edge of Carl’s vision, compared to looking at Her. What should I do with you?
“Whatever you desire, Mistress,” begged Carl. It was his entire purpose to be used by Her in whatever way She desired.
Yes, but how? You’ve been kind of a shit to Us.
“I didn’t realize you needed into the vault,” Carl pleaded. The idea that She might be displeased with him because of something he had done before She took control of him was horrifying.
That’s not what I meant - She said, and then turned back to Natalie, returning from the vault.
“Nicolosi’s box had some jewelry, couple of bonds and deeds, Mistress,” the assistant said, lackadaisically. “Rest of ’em are locked.”
It’s enough for Our purposes, slave, She said, and Carl shivered a little to imagine Her calling him that. The rest of the conversation was meaningless to him—of course, She could do whatever She wanted, and his only regret was that he couldn’t open the rest of the safe-deposit boxes for Her. Natalie folded the papers crisply and lay the whole haul neatly into her purse, then set off back down the hallway to the front of the bank, heels tapping rhythmically on the floor. Carl’s eyes stayed fixed on Her, in front of him.
Now, She said, and grabbed Carl’s jaw, tilting his head up. Part of him was amazed that his flesh didn’t sear on contact with Her glory. You really enjoyed checking My slave out, didn’t you.
“Yes, but I understand that she is Yours, and nothing compared to You, and Your body is perfection beyond compare, I realize now,” babbled Carl.
An expression came over Her face that he didn’t quite understand. Jealousy is not, I think, what you should be trying to soothe right now. Stand. She dragged him upright, him stumbling a little as he tried to instantly obey, rejoicing in Her close attention. Take your dick out, you piece of shit.
Carl obeyed eagerly, letting his pants and underwear drop to his ankles, eagerly letting his straining, rigid cock spring free. Her eyes didn’t even flicker to it, but he knew that he was being given an opportunity to please Her and show his servitude to Her, and he embraced it.
Start stroking. He did. Get yourself good and ready. He already was, in Her presence, but stroked on anyways. If you had been professionqal about this—well, We would have robbed you anyways, but this last part wouldn’t have happened. Carl was grateful for the opportunity to serve Her. You will remain here, uselessly touching yourself, until someone else arrives. Then you may come for Me.
Carl was ecstatic—She had filled him with purpose, and that purpose was to jerk off for Her! “Thank you, Mistress!” he exulted.
You don’t get to call Me Mistress, She said sharply, and then Her face slipped back into that unplaceable half-smile. And you shouldn’t thank Me until this is all over. Just remember, you fucking pig, this is your own gift to yourself.
She walked off after Natalie, and Carl found his attention drifting to the wall in front of him as he methodically edged himself. “And don’t worry about it,” said Nicolosi, from the corner of the hallway. “I’ll send a couple of your coworkers back, they’ll find you nice and quick and you can get off in front of them very soon.”
Carl couldn’t wait.
“Well,” said Nightstalker, running the strip of film through her gloved fingers, “that’s something you don’t see every day.”
“Ayup,” agreed Detective Holland.
“Is he all right?”
“Physically? Or, more, uh, holistically.”
“Doc said he was fine. Taking a leave of absence until we get this whole thing settled.”
“Probably for the best.”
There was another long silence as Nightstalker tore herself away from the tiny, canted image of the man masturbating and spooled the film back onto its reel. “It’s definitely Dominique, though.”
“You sound confident.”
“Really, Detective? I’m sure you knew before you came up here to ask for my help.” Holland didn’t take the bait, so she began ticking points off on her fingers. “First, it’s her m.o. Well, mostly. No threats, no violence, just talking her way in and then mysteriously making someone do what she wants. The, uh, business at the end is unusual, but it’s also not the first person she’s humiliated on the way out. Second, the real Claudia Nicolosi didn’t report the keys being stolen, or the bank would have known about it, which means she likely was given the same treatment—well, some of the same treatment—and that means some kind of strange mind powers again. Third, she’s wearing a hat and never quite looks towards the camera but the other woman, her assistant, does, and she’s a dead ringer for Natalie Cabot, Boston socialite kidnapped by Dominique near the start of her little spree nine months ago, and missing since then.”
“You know an awful lot about this lady.”
“It’s my business to. And fourth, you smuggled evidence out of the police station and brought it to the roof of your building to show me, which you wouldn’t have done if you thought this was just some con artist.”
“Hrmph,” said Holland.
Nightstalker handed him back the reel. “And so, you’ve called me up here to help you out.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“And I’m not sure you’re allowed to.” Nightstalker grinned at Holland’s irritated expression. “Don’t worry, I won’t get you in trouble. If a concerned citizen calls in a tip on where Dominique is hiding, tied to a chair and punched a couple of times, that’s just the department’s good fortune.”
“Hrmph,” repeated Holland.
NIghtstalker walked over to the edge of the roof and stretched. She’d been here before, and knew the route—three meters or so down to the fire escape, two flights down and then a jump to the next building, across it and eastward towards the downtown. She needed to limber up before making some of those running jumps, though.
“Hey,” said Holland. She looked behind her. “She seems like a really dangerous woman to be around. Be careful.”
“I always am,” she said and threw herself off the roof.
She was grateful, as she made her way over the rooftops and up and down the sides of buildings, that the rooftop of Holland’s building had been too dark for him to see her. That had been the condition of their meetings ever since she had started working with him; there was no light for him to ever identify her (while her own altered vision let her pick facial expressions off a tiny strip of film in the pitch-black). But this time it was mostly because he hadn’t been able to see her flushing when he twitted her about her knowledge of Dominique. She hadn’t been lying, exactly. She did keep up on anyone running around with superpowers who might be a danger to River City and its population.
But she’d been trying to fit the pieces together for Dominique specifically for a while now, and there was still something she was missing. She hit up banks, mostly, because “that’s where the money is”, as the man said; but the bit at the end didn’t seem connected. Nobody, weirdly humiliated or not, had ever reported doing anything out of the ordinary. There didn’t seem to be any distinguishing difference between those victims she left sitting on the floor and the ones she… handled rougher; at least not in the police reports, she’d been able to see. If she could figure out that, she’d have a handle on Dominique that might help her find her.
Being able to beat her was the other puzzle. Her power was overwhelming, but possibly not irresistible: she moved across the country fast and seemed to take care to only hit unwarned targets. Someone prepared for it might stand a better chance—at least, Nightstalker hoped so. But Cabot had been with her for months, now, and everyone else who’d been affected had been out again in a few hours, four at the most. She might just be hammering Cabot any time she could escape, but it seemed more likely that there was some other aspect of her power she was missing: either it got harder to resist, the more you were exposed (a worrying thought), or she had some more subtle aspect to it that could enslave someone on a more long-term basis (an even more worrying thought). That was another thing she’d need to figure out fast.
But then, of course, there was the filmstrip itself. She’d tried to strip it down in good investigative fashion, for facts and faces useful to her search, but some of it had seared itself into her mind’s eye. Not Meertens whacking off, that was simply gross. That moment in front of the vault when Dominique had suddenly stopped pretending to be some idiot heiress and became the most important thing in Cabot and Meertens’ universes. She wanted that, wanted someone to look at her like that, wanted someone to look at with the look on Cabot’s face when she came out of the vault a slave. Not Cabot, of course. Obviously. Cabot was good-looking but a hostage, so, obviously not Cabot. She needed to be rescued and it would be inappropriate.
She was panting, a little bit, now. The rooftop run was normal, the sort of thing she did almost every night without trouble, and she wasn’t out of breath. She was just getting excited. She consciously tried to think of it, instead, in pragmatic terms. Bank robber and kidnapper. Dangerous, needing to be stopped. Nightstalker needed to stop her, get her nice and disabled, leave her for the police to pick up and arrest and return the stolen valuables. The sort of thing Nightstalker had done before and, God willing, would do many times again in the future. Nothing out of the ordinary.
It helped a little.
Nightstalker crouched on the fire escape outside the flat. This was the place if her deductions were right. It was something like three AM now, and with any luck, both Dominique and Cabot would be asleep. Still, luck was nothing like preparation, and she paused for a moment to work out lighting. The flat was pitch black, meaning she’d be silhouetted to anyone inside if there was light behind her. But there was another building right across the way, with no lights on, on its mostly-brick side, and the little light filtering up from the streetlamps three stories down and a few dozen meters away was too little to be useful to anyone with normal sight.
She hazarded a glance through the window. A little combination living-dining room: some chairs, a table. There was a woman seated at one of the chairs, facing the windows. It was Cabot. Nightstalker was sure of it, made eye contact with her, although, of course, Cabot couldn’t see back in the witching hour darkness. The next window over had been left open—it was a couple of feet away from the ladder, but nothing she couldn’t manage pretty easily. She climbed out across the wall, onto the sill, and slid gracefully through the window.
She landed noisily on the sheet of tinfoil spread out directly under the window. Trap! Dominique was waiting for me! Nightstalker screamed futilely at herself, as Cabot snapped to attention. In the dark, she was looking slightly to Nightstalker’s left, but clearly aware of her presence.
“Ms. Nightstalker?” Cabot said, politely. “We’ve been expecting you.” Nightstalker didn’t answer. The floor was carpeted, and once she was off the tinfoil—another round of soft crashing sounds in the predawn darkness that made her cringe—she was moving silently towards Cabot again. Cabot had lost her, still looking roughly at the window, and talking: “My mistress has a proposition for you. If you would—augh!”
Nightstalker had grabbed her by the arm and spun her until she was arm locked, facing away from her. She hissed into the woman’s ear: “Please keep quiet, Ms. Cabot. I can help you get away safely if you help me. Is Dominique awake?”
“I don’t see what—oh, um, right —” she said, and then without warning slammed her head back into Nightstalker’s forehead. Nightstalker didn’t make a noise and kept hold of her arms, but Cabot kept going hard, pulling her arms hard and headbutting again and then trying some kind of backward leg sweep thing that didn’t knock Nightstalker over but did unbalance her enough to lose her grip. Cabot sprinted forwards to the far wall and started slapping it, trying to find the light switch in the dark.
Nightstalker rushed after her and hit her with her shoulder just as Cabot’s hand found the switch. The lights went on and Cabot gave a wheezing cough as Nightstalker slammed her into the wall. Nightstalker flipped the light back off—she could still see perfectly, of course, but Cabot’s ordinary eyes would be almost blind, adjusting to a moment of light and then pitch darkness again.
It was a mistake—Cabot didn’t need to see her. While she was hitting the light Cabot was getting her breath back and fell forward onto Nightstalker. Cabot was taller and heavier and surprisingly muscular for her soft socialite background—Dominique must have had her on some kind of exercise program since she’d become a hostage-cum-henchwoman. Nightstalker toppled backward. But whatever weightlifting she was doing wasn’t quite the same as a career in streetfighting: she could see Cabot hesitate as Nightstalker hit the ground, trying to reassess the situation in the dark. Nightstalker had no such hesitation. Even as her elbows barked painfully into the floor, she turned the momentum of her legs swinging out from under her into a slamming knee to Cabot’s groin.
Cabot made a small noise and dropped on Nightstalker. She shoved Cabot off of her, reached for her handcuffs, punched Cabot in the nose when she looked like she might be getting some kind of focus back, and cuffed Cabot’s hands behind her back.
“Sorry about this,” she whispered. “Once I deal with Dominique we can get you free from her control and then you can go home.”
Cabot gave her a cool look. “If you like. Mistress is waiting for you by now, I’m sure.”
Cabot was still well under the influence, clearly. Well, that was ok. Dominique’s power wore off quick enough, and Nightstalker would have dealt with this one way or another by morning.
One way or another—that was the problem. Now that the adrenaline was running low again, Nightstalker could feel a knot of awful anticipation coming in her stomach. She knew what Dominique could do, and in a few moments, all that power would be turned on her. She was going to test her will against Dominique’s and had to pray she could hold up. And threaded through the worry was a flicker of anticipation that was eager and expectant: she wanted to know what it felt like, to be as controlled as Cabot had been and still was -
She shook her head and stood up. She had to stay focused, steel herself for the confrontation. This was important. “Stay there,” she said vaguely to Cabot. Cabot, bound on the floor and still half-winded, snorted contemptuously. Nightstalker walked into the interior of the flat.
She was in the bedroom, of course. “Hello,” said Dominique, from the bed. She was in a diaphanous nightgown—her nipples, hard and brown, clearly visible through it—and she lay sprawled on top of the covers in a deliberate pose. The room was lit only by a bedside lamp, and Nightstalker decided to spot her the bags under her eyes and mussed hair. No one else would have had the vision to notice them. She looked like she’d been up well past her bedtime, waiting for Nightstalker. Nightstalker would have been flattered if the obviousness of the setup wasn’t so worrying.
“It’s over,” said Nightstalker, more confidently than she felt. “Give yourself up.”
“Funny,” said Dominique, “I was about to say the same thing. Is Natalie all right?”
“She’ll be fine in the morning. Fine and free to go back home, and you’ll be in jail.”
“Oh, I don’t think so.” She looked Nightstalker in the eyes and Nightstalker tried very hard not to flinch. Kneel.
“No,” ground out Nightstalker, somehow staying on her feet. She turned an attempt by her left knee to buckle into a staggering step forward.
So valiant! I knew We chose right. Kneel.
Nightstalker’s legs were pins and needles and her feet felt numb. She managed another step.
Your time for playing is over, She said, getting up off the bed. She was very close to Nightstalker, now. You want this. Do as your Mistress commands. Kneel.
Surrender felt every bit as good as Nightstalker had imagined.
Nightstalker came back to herself on the bed. Judging by the light filtering in from outside the bedroom, it was morning, which meant she was probably actually waking up. Her back was slick with sweat—the flat wasn’t too hot but you shouldn’t really sleep in a jumpsuit. Her shoulders and wrists ached and rather slower than she should have, she realized she was tied to the headboard.
“Hey,” she said, loudly, then winced, because she was in this fix by trying to go toe-to-toe with Dominique unprepared. But she needed out of these damn handcuffs. They were probably hers anyways.
It was Cabot who came in, thankfully, sipping a mug of steaming coffee in an oversized men’s white tee shirt and panties. Her breasts stood perkily up against the fabric and her nipples poked through above that. Nightstalker felt her breath suddenly come sharp. She needed to focus. She was here to rescue Cabot, damnit, not have her grind on top of her while she strained helplessly against the cuffs.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” said Cabot, with a cheerful slurp of the coffee.
“Help me out of these,” said Nightstalker, as firmly as she could.
“Not ’til Mistress gives me the go-ahead,” said Cabot. Another slurp.
“You can fight it,” urged Nightstalker, a little despondently. Cabot clearly wasn’t going to break free on her own anytime soon.
Cabot stopped with the cup half-lifted to her lips and sighed. She put it down on the side table and then sat next to Nightstalker on the edge of the bed.
“You are labouring under a misconception.” She looked down at Nightstalker and sighed again. “And I’m going to get the same damn speech from you over and over until I clear some things up, evidently.
“I am here of my own free will, and am not going to help you fight Kay no matter what you say.” She held up a hand to quiet Nightstalker. “If you start on some solipsistic ‘how do you know it’s your own free will’ argument I swear I will get my own back for that crotch kick last night.”
“She kidnapped me? Yeah, I guess I should be a little proud that that story’s still holding up, even after a year of me obviously working for her.
“I’ve known her since forever, back when I was a child of money back in Boston and she was…” Cabot got a sly look on her face. “She was someone I knew with no identifying characteristics I’m going to tell you. I was in love with her before I even knew I could love another woman. And then one day I found out she was in love with me.”
Nightstalker was silent as she tried to think through all of the ways she was fucked.
“We couldn’t be together, of course, not even close to each other, enough, in that damn town. Boston marriage my ass. It was all we could do to keep them from noticing, the damn —” She paused to focus herself again. “So when Kay’s power started coming in, it seemed perfect. She practiced on me and it was even more wonderful than—you’ve felt her touch. You know how it is.” Nightstalker couldn’t stop herself from nodding. “But it’s not flexible enough or long-lasting enough to give us any space. We couldn’t be together and we couldn’t make them let us be together and —”
“And so you decided to elope,” whispered Nightstalker, her mouth dry.
“Elope?” said Cabot, and then laughed. “It’s close enough, I guess. And you can see the rest, yes. Kay and I decided to make our own way in the world. Bonnie and Clyde. We weren’t intending to go that way, originally, but it’s simpler and it’s not like social convention ever did anything for us. By the time we realized that I was being reported as “kidnapped” by the mysterious new supervillain Dominique, it was easier just to roll with the punches.”
“You thought so, my dear. I still think of us as Robin Hood, with a little sideline in ironic justice.” Nightstalker’s eyes snapped to the door. Dominique was there, just as casually underdressed as Cabot was. She had a mug of coffee too.
“And you’re still wrong. True love against the world is much more romantic.” It didn’t sound like an argument. It sounded more like a private joke Nightstalker was somehow being let in on, an impression only strengthened when Dominique walked over to the bed and affectionately nuzzled the crown of Cabot’s hair.
Nightstalker’s mind was awhirl, trying to fit the suddenly shaken-up facts of the case back together. If Dominique hadn’t actually kidnapped Cabot, then her power was in fact just the one Nightstalker already knew. Which was clearly more than enough; except that without the hostage-taking Dominique—“Kay”—seemed much less like a supervillain and more like an unusually stylish con artist. Which was still in Nightstalker’s wheelhouse; but Cabot’s speech had struck on Nightstalker’s sympathies perfectly. That was the danger in con artists, obviously, but that sympathy connected with Dominique’s words about “ironic justice” and she suddenly realized why they’d treated the banker like that. She understood perfectly.
Which left only one unanswered question. “Why are you telling me this?” asked Nightstalker.
“Isn’t it obvious?” retorted Dominique, raising an eyebrow and unlocking Nightstalker’s handcuffs. “We need a woman on the inside.”
The River City Tribune, 8 June 1963
Kidnapped Heiress Still Missing
Socialite Natalie Cabot’s whereabouts remain unknown, ten months after she was first reported missing by her wealthy Bostonian family. She is believed to have been kidnapped by an unidentified supervillain referred to as “Dominique”. Police have so far been unable to capture “Dominique” or rescue Cabot, despite being linked to a series of daring heists that have crossed the country over most of a year[…]
Reports of Cabot or “Dominique”’s presence in River City were dismissed by a police spokesman as “unsubstantiated rumor”, but he assured the press that “all possible steps are being taken. We want to see her found and returned to her family as much as anyone”[…]
Detective Cracks Third Robbery
River City Police Department detective James Holland was promoted to Lieutenant in a ceremony at RCPD headquarters yesterday. His successful capture on Thursday of Henry “Mr. Big” Paveloni, perpetrator of last month’s Cumberland Street art heist, marks the third major robbery Lieutenant Holland has solved in as many weeks[…]
“Lieutenant Holland’s work has been exemplary, in the finest standard of the RCPD, and we are confident he will continue going forward,” said Police Commissioner Phelps, to reporters[…]
Superheroine “Nightstalker” Foils Sinister Plan
Notorious supervillain Mesmero’s attempt to steal the contents of the River City Gallery of Fine Arts was thwarted yesterday when local superheroine Nightstalker defeated him and turned him over to officers of the River City Police. The sinister villain had brainwashed the guards and patrons of the gallery and set them to work looting the premises, but was unable to hypnotize Nightstalker, who defeated him and his mesmerized hostages in hand-to-hand combat[…]
When asked by this reporter how she overcame Mesmero’s hypnotic ray, the lovely superheroine smiled enigmatically and replied: “It’s easy, if you’ve got someone to help keep your mind focused.”