Part Three: "Home Sweet Home"
"We know itís a difficult subject at a time like this, but we need as much information as you can give us to help solve the, uhh, disappearance of your mother, Miss Jones." Veteran Detective Jim Burrowsí tone seemed more intimate than investigatory, at least to his younger female partner, Sgt. Patricia Kane. That probably had to do with the fact that Allison Jones was an attractive young woman in her early thirties, dressed smartly in a dark navy dress with slightly plunging neckline, silky stockings that highlighted very attractive legs, and black heels. It was not hard to tell, having seen the picture of the missing substitute teacher, Alvira Jones, that this was definitely her daughter. The resemblance, in fact, was uncanny.
"Thatís quite all right, officer. From what Iíve heard, this is as much a difficult time for the police as for the people of this town." Allison Jones had been a gracious hostess since Burrows and Kane had stopped at the Jones house several minutes ago. Of course, it was easy to be gracious while being lobbed Ďsoftballí questions like the ones Burrows asked. But the young woman remained polite and cooperative even when responding to Pat Kaneís more hard edged, even accusatory, inquiries. In fact, Detective Burrows had been more defensive and critical than the daughter of the missing teacher.
"As you say, Miss Jones, this is a difficult time for everyone. We thought it was bad when the first three girls disappeared. But now Ė so many . . ." he shook his head as he stared at his open notebook, on which he had written very little during the questioning. "Of course, I know you are most concerned about the disappearance of your mother," he paused and flipped back a few pages, "Alvira."
The younger Miss Jones took on a worried look. "Yes. I mean, Iím concerned about everyone. But it all just seems so bizarre. I donít know what to make of it."
Burrows was dripping with sympathy, while Pat Kane was slowly strolling around the house, looking for some clue as to who Alvira Jones really was, why she had disappeared, and why so many parents and kids, including her good friend Laura Clark, firmly believed that the old woman was responsible for the missing students and teachers "Sgt. Kane, perhaps you have a few questions youíd like to direct to Miss Jones?" Burrows wasnít so much asking for assistance as trying to rein in his overly inquisitive partner.
Pat Kane wasnít sure why, exactly, everyone thought that Alvira Jones was behind this mystery. But she was beginning to suspect that it was because the old woman was one weird character. She made that not so brilliant deduction from the assortment of odd items that literally filled the house: from a pair of clay castanets that Kane could swear were shaped like a womanís breasts; to an oriental wall hanging that had the texture of silk, but was covered with the images of geishas with sad, trapped visages; to an Egyptian style porcelain piece that had paws, whiskers, and the tail of a cat, but a human face and female bust.
"Your mother certainly was quite a collector," Sgt. Kane observed, picking up a snow globe containing several well crafted figures of beautiful young ice skaters.
"Youíre quite right, Sergeant. She picked up many items in her travels - as well as making many of these objects, herself." Allison Jones offered, as she walked over to the female detective and gently took the snow globe from her, before she had the chance to shake it or wind up the music.
Jim Burrows looked back at his notepad. "You mention Ďtravels.í Is it possible that your mother just decided to take one of those trips, and forgot to mention it to you?"
The daughter thought for a moment. "You know, that is possible. She usually tells me ahead of time, but on occasion she leaves without notice."
Pat Kane was skeptical of this solution. "You mean there wasnít even a hint of her going away the last time you spoke?"
"Well, that was a few weeks ago. All mother said was that she didnít know how long her teaching assignment would last at Helmswood High. And she asked if I could come this last weekend of the month and help pack her things for storage. Now that I think of it, maybe she was planning a trip even then, and forgot to mention it in the midst of other preparations." A small look of relief came over Allison Jonesí face, as it did that of Jim Burrows.
"I think that makes perfect sense. In fact, I think when this is all said and done, weíre going to find logical explanations for all these disappearances, just like this one." He closed his notebook, and started to get up.
Pat Kane couldnít believe that Burrows was going to give up this easily. "I certainly hope the explanation is that simple, but I think we should also continue to pursue other possibilities."
"Sergeant, I think weíve taken enough of Miss Jonesí time."
"Oh, no, Detective. I think Sgt. Kane may be right. Whether itís a positive outcome, or," she hesitated, her voice catching a little, "or a negative one, all avenues must be explored."
"I donít know about avenues, Miss Jones, but doing a little more exploring around the house might clear up a few questions," Kane saw the daughterís comment as an opening to expand her look around.
"Perhaps we can come back at a later time . . ." Burrows started, looking daggers at his partner.
"Oh, no, better now than later, I should think," the young woman continued her cooperation. "Where would you like to start, Ms. Kane?"
"How about your motherís bedroom? Maybe there are some ticket stubs on a dresser?" Or one of the missing coeds garments in a closet, the female detective thought to herself.
"Good idea," Allison said, and led Pat Kane into the bedroom.
The attractive young policewoman carefully surveyed the room, not so much for traces of Alvira Jones, but something connecting the old woman with the at least one of the missing persons. As she looked at the items on an old dresser, her partnerís voice boomed from the bedroom doorway.
"Letís make this quick, Sergeant. Weíve taken too much of Ms. Jonesí time, and we have other pressing engagements."
Yeah, thought Kane, a 12:00 engagement at Chuggís Chili Dog Emporium. She knew she couldnít concentrate with Burrows hovering. "Iíll only be a few more moments. Why donít you take a look around the front porch?" She knew her partner would jump at the chance to move that much closer to their car parked at the front curb.
"Right. Good idea." And the veteran cop moved quickly out the front door.
But Allison Jones stayed behind. A momentary breach, perhaps, in proper hosting? Or maybe she was concerned that Pat Kane would find something incriminating.
"I donít think youíll find much in here," the younger Ms. Jones offered, as the detective searched the tops of the chest and dresser. Kane was about to agree, when she noticed that one of the dresser drawers was slightly agar. She seemed to notice it about the same time she saw Allison Jones reach out as if she were pointing at it.
"This one seems to have been opened recently," Sgt. Kane observed, and then reached down to pull it open. But the drawer wouldnít budge.
"Uhh, yes, I noticed that, too. Seems to be stuck in place. I think Mother kept lingerie in there - slips, hosiery, that sort of thing." Allison knew exactly what was kept in that drawer. In fact, the pantyhose she was wearing came from that drawer just hours before the police arrived. Of course, a few days before that, the pantyhose she was wearing came from Principal Morganís attractive secretary. The one always showing off her shapely legs in short dresses. What was her name? Oh yes, Roxanne. Roxanne Rivers. Allison smiled. Funny how you can steal the youth and vitality from a person, and then forget their name.
"Sure would like to know whatís in there," Pat Kane pulled harder, but to no avail. She didnít notice Allison Jones moving closer to her, holding four golden needles in her hand.
"Perhaps I can help you get a first hand look at the inside of that drawer, Sgt. Kane," Allison said, her voice cracking into that of Alvira Jones, as she stepped closer to the kneeling female detective, preparing to insert the first of the needles in Pat Kaneís nyloned leg to begin her transformation to pantyhose.
"Sgt. Kane! We need to be going now!" Burrowsí loud voice gave both the witch and her intended victim a start. Pat Kane quickly stood up, and Alvira . . . Allison Jones quickly closed her hand around the needles, hiding them from sight.
Pat sighed. "Duty calls," she huffed, and started out of the room.
Young Ms. Jones was angry at herself for nearly losing control in the bedroom, but also angry that a young and beautiful subject was going to get away. "Youíre welcome to come back later, Sgt. Kane. Perhaps on your own, when your not pressed by time by Detective Burrows?"
The two stepped back into the living room, with Pat Kane puzzled by Allison Jonesí last statement. Could it be that the daughter did know something? And even though she didnít want to expose her mother, she was willing to let the police find out on their own? It was a strange, but encouraging thought, and she was trying to think of something to say to Allison Jones to let her know she was aware of her dilemma - when she happened to glance out the back window to see a large shed near the back of the property.
The policewoman walked toward the kitchen. "I didnít notice that building out back. What is that?"
"Oh, itís just an old greenhouse that my mother uses for storage. You canít really see it that well from the front of the house."
"Thatís very interesting. Perhaps there is something out there that can help solve our Ďproblem.í" Kane hinted, hoping to get Allisonís assent, and Burrows agreement to a search.
"Oh, no, thereís nothing important out there. Itís been boarded up a long time now. Just junk and dirt and rats, my mother told me. No, if there are any clues to be found, theyíll be in the house." After being so encouraging minutes before, Allison Jones seemed extremely fearful of anyone going near that old greenhouse. Pat Kaneís detective instincts shifted into high gear. There may be some minor hint hiding inside the Jonesí house, but she was sure the real truth behind this mystery could be found behind the door of that greenhouse.
"Well," she started, "I think Detective Burrows is right. We have taken a lot of your time." She shook Ms. Smithís hand. "I canít tell you how helpful youíve been, Ms. Jones. And I truly believe that we will get to the bottom of this whole affair, very, very soon."
The female detective stepped onto the front porch to join her partner. Burrows was staring intently at the house next door. Kane hadnít heard a peep from him for several minutes now, and when she looked in that direction, she understood why. Just beyond a short hedge, framed with several beautiful flowers, was the back patio and yard of Alvira Jonesí neighbors. And apparently those neighbors included two rather attractive young females, with shapely figures revealed by skimpy bikinis, who were working on tans under the midday sun.
Allison Jones chuckled lightly. "I see youíve Ďmetí my - my motherís neighbor, Tricia, and her college friend Diana. Tricia is the rather buxom blonde in the day glo yellow bikini. And Diana has the short brown hair and long brown legs. Enjoying the sun today, girls? Donít overdo it - one can become Ďtoo taní, if you know what I mean."
Tricia looked up and over at the porch, but Diana lay on her back looking straight up, her eyes protected by sunglasses. "It is hot out here - but not half as hot as hell will be for your witch mother." Tricia gasped and then laughed at her friend, laying back down on the chaise lounge.
"Well - that was uncalled for," said an angry Burrows, starting toward the end of the porch. "Iím going to go tell them . . ."
Allison Jones held him back. "Not necessary, Detective. Comments like that are best waved off." She lifted her hand and made a waving motion toward the side yard. Uncannily, at that very movement, a small breeze stirred near the hedges, and some very tall goldenrods bent toward the neighboring yard. In a few moments, the sound of sneezing came from the bikini coeds next door.
"Ha! Serves them right." Burrows stated.
Allison Jones looked next door with a covetous smile. "Yes, I believe it will."
Now it was Pat Kane who was anxious to leave. "Thanks again for all your help, Ms. Jones. We will be in touch." Jim Burrows was about to add his own appreciation and condolences, but Pat grabbed his arm and virtually pulled him to their unmarked police car.
Allison Jones gave a short wave as the sedan pulled away and drove up the street out of sight. She then took a careful look around the neighborhood, to make sure no one was in their yard, or even watching from their window. Confident that no eyes were directed toward her house, she waved again at the house next door. The sneezing that had gone on for several minutes immediately stopped. Allison Jones saw the two girls stand up and walk, rather stiffly, toward the back of their yard. Allison walked to the edge of the front porch, and to the side of her house, looking toward the back of her yard. At the very back corner, Tricia and Diana stepped through an opening in the hedge, and walked zombie-like toward the old greenhouse. Using her waving hand, Allison directed the two college girls toward the greenhouse door. When the bikini beauties stopped in front of the door, it slowly opened, and they walked inside. The door closed behind them, and once again appeared unused to all comers. Allison smiled and looked at her watch. It shouldnít take long for the flower to take full effect, giving her plenty of time to make the necessary arrangements.
Pat Kane had taken one more look at the "deserted" greenhouse behind Alvira Jonesí house as Burrows headed up the street. Her glance noted a short alley behind the back yard where the two coeds were sunbathing, which also ran behind the suspicious greenhouse. And though the detective missed Triciaís and Dianaís hypnotic trek to the greenhouse and a mysterious fate, she did see enough to begin to formulate a plan for getting in that building. But she would need an accomplice, and Burrows was not a possibility.
"A couple of Chuggs will go down real good about now. How about it, Pat?" Burrows asked. Kane appreciated her elder partnerís attempt at camaraderie, but again marveled at his lack of sleuthing instinct. Surely he had seen her virtually retch at even the smell of that greasy spoon several times before. But still, he kept wanting to take her back there. Today, fortunately, she had other lunch plans in mind.
"Sorry, Jim, but I promised to meet a friend for lunch." Friend. Possible accomplice. Same difference.
"Oh, okay." Great, Kane thought. Burrows wants to come, too. She had to think of some unsuspicious way to get him out of the picture. "Where we headiní, then?"
Perfect opening. "Oh, itís a great little soup and salad place over at Winston Square. I forget the name - ĎLe Petití something or another. I think youíll really enjoy the change, Jim." She almost laughed out loud as she watched Burrowsí face progress up the sour scale as she mentioned Ďsoup and saladí, then ĎLe Petití, and then Ďchangeí.
"Well, you know, itís not right for me to horn in on your lunch date. Maybe a rain check on the ĎPetiteí deal?" Burrows asked.
Pat Kane smiled. "Same thing for Chuggís, Jim."
As she exited the car at the restaurant, the female detective told Burrows her friend would give her a ride back to the station later that afternoon. She waited until Burrows was out of sight to take her cell phone out of her purse and call Laura Clarkís real estate office. Pat Kane knew her good friend would be happy to join her for lunch anytime. But when she told her she might have a lead in the Helmswood case, Laura told her sheíd be there in less than 10 minutes. And eight minutes later, Laura Clarkís black Infinity sped into an open parking space outside the restaurant, and the attractive, 40-ish brunette walked quickly over to the policewoman.
"Please tell me you know where Carol is." Laura entreated.
"I canít. Yet. But Iíve got a strong hunch where I can find some answers, and I need your help. Letís discuss it over lunch."
Laura Clark took Pat Kaneís elbow and hurried her to the Infiniti. "Letís discuss it on the way."
Minutes later, the two friends sat on the luxury leather seats, staring down the street at Alvira Jonesí house in the distance.
"So, how long do I need to keep her occupied?" Laura Clark was nervous about playing detective, and needed Patís reassurance.
"Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes, tops. If thereís something incriminating in that greenhouse, I think Iíll find it pretty quickly. The hardest part will be getting in." She looked at Laura and grinned. "The easy part will be you talking to a prospective client for 10 or 15 minutes."
An apprehensive Laura Clark did not return the smile. "I just donít want to blow this and get you in trouble. Or worse."
"Thatís not going to happen. And even if we get our signals crossed, I can come up with some kind of story to explain my being there. But I donít think thatís going to be a problem. I could sense that her daughter wanted me to come back today. We had some unfinished business. I just want a chance to find something in that greenhouse before I meet with Alison so I can put some pressure on, thatís all."
"I donít know what to wish for. Part of me wants you to find out exactly what happened. But part of me is afraid that I wonít like what you find out. What I really wish is to hold Carol one time. Tell her that I love her. See her face, her smile, her . . . ." Laura choked up, then looked away.
Pat touched her friendís shoulder. "I know, Laura. But you have to keep hoping for the best. And today, I need you to be strong and smart and cool, like you were before all this happened. Carol needs you to be those things this afternoon."
The sad mother wiped her eyes once more, took a deep breath, and then put on her best real estate smile. "Okay. Letís do this."
"Right. Now Iím going to circle around the back of these houses to an alley, and then walk to the greenhouse. I think thereís enough trees to cover my route if Alison happens to be glancing out the back." She opened the passenger side door, stepped out, and then spoke once more back into the car. "Give me about five minutes to get to the greenhouse. Then drive down to the house, and park out in front on the street. Go knock on the door, and see if you can get in to chat. If you can, try to give me that fifteen minutes. When you leave, pretend to drop something, and as you reach down hit the horn once like it was an accident. Then circle around the block, and meet me back here about five minutes after you pull away. Got it?"
Laura nodded. "Be careful, Pat. Too many good people are missing. I donít want you to become one more."
"Iíll be careful. And if that doesnít work," she pulled back her blazer to reveal her holstered revolver, "I always have this." She shut the door, and walked quickly toward the alley entrance.
Laura Clark looked at her watch at least twenty times before five minutes
was up. Finally, she started the engine and drove slowly down the street,
stopping in front of the modest home of Alvira Jones. She looked in the
mirror to straighten her hair, make sure any redness was gone from her
earlier tears, and finally put on her best saleswoman smile. After one
more glance at her watch, she stepped out of the Infinity and headed up
the walk to the front porch. She knocked on the front door, and made a
silent wish that this particular act of deception would have providence
on its side. In a moment or two, the door opened, and an attractive younger
woman leaned out.
"May I help you?" Alison Jones askedÖ.
. . . . Pat Kane quickly made her way down the back alley, pausing one house away from the greenhouse. She heard a radio blaring music, and remembered that there were two coeds in the backyard next to Alvira Jonesí. She didnít want them to call out or alert others to her presence. But as she peeked through the trees, the detective saw that neither girl was still outside. Strange, in a way, since their radio, magazines, tanning lotion, and towels were still lying on a blanket. Maybe they had just been called inside for a phone call, or to fix a snack.
Kane moved slowly now toward the greenhouse, looking between the coedsí house and the Jonesí house to see if Laura Clarkís Infinity was parked out front. It was, and Laura wasnít in the front seat, so the real estate agent must have at least made it to the front door. Pat knew she had to move fast now.
Unfortunately, there was no door to the old building on the alley side, so Kane moved quickly along the side wall toward the front of the greenhouse. Taking note on how well the windows were boarded and covered, the policewoman worried that she had miscalculated the ease with which she could enter the building. Kane knew how to pick locks with a hair pin, but that wouldnít do much good with a two-by-four. Hopefully, sheíd think of something.
Pat took one more look at the back of the Jonesí house, and seeing no one looking out, stepped quickly to the door. At least it wasnít boarded over. She knelt down in front of the doorknob, hairpin in hand, hoping to make a clean entry. But, amazingly, as she inserted the pin and turned the doorknob slightly, the door easily pushed open. A quick moment of relief was replaced by one of concern. Maybe someone else had just gone in the greenhouse. Maybe someone dangerous. Maybe, Alvira Jones, herself . . . .
. . . . "Well, I know Mother has mentioned selling on a couple of occasions, but I really think you should discuss this with her." Alison Jones interrupted Laura Clarkís typical real estate pitch. "I suppose you know that she is missing. But I hope sheíll turn up soon, and perhaps we can get in touch with you then, Ms. Ö what was your name again?"
"Clark. Laura Clark."
"Oh, yes, ĎClark.í That name rings a bell. And you look rather familiar. You donít happen to have a daughter attending Helmswood High, do you?"
Laura was caught speechless. She didnít expect to hear Carol talked about by this relative stranger. "Uhh, yes, my daughter Carol attended . . . I mean, attends Helmswood High."
"I thought so. I mean, Mother frequently talks about her students, and I do remember the name Carol Clark coming up. A swimmer, wasnít she?"
This was starting to be too much for Laura. Memories and emotions were stirring rapidly, and tears were beginning to well up. Normally, she would excuse herself and leave. But she had only been here about six or seven minutes. For Patís sake, and maybe Carolís sake as well, she had to stay strong. "Yes, thatís right. You do have a good memory. Carol mustíve made quite an impression for your mother to mention her."
"Impression isnít the right word - but I remember Mom saying that Carol could be a real icebreaker in difficult situations."
Laura nodded in pride, and this time a few tears did fall. Alison stepped toward her in concern. "Oh, Iím so sorry. Has something happened? Is your daughter - oh, I see, how inconsiderate of me. Your daughter is one of the missing students, isnít she?"
Laura could only nod.
"Iím terribly sorry. This is such a terrible time. I just wish there was some way you two could be reunited, if even for just a moment." Alison stood. "Iím sorry I cut you off short. Let me fix you a cold drink and you can stay until you regain your composure." She started to the kitchen. At first Laura was relieved, because this would provide the perfect excuse to give Pat more time. But then she realized that the kitchen was in the back of the house, and would give Alison Jones a clear view of the greenhouse.
Laura quickly rose and beat the young Ms. Jones to the doorway of the kitchen. "Thatís so much trouble, perhaps I can help you." She tried to look out the back window nonchalantly, hoping she could tell whether Pat had gotten in yet. Finally, she just stared to get a good look, and there was no Pat.
"Is something wrong, Ms. Clark? Is there someone out back?" Alison asked, noticing that the real estate agent was preoccupied with looking out the back window.
"Oh. No, Iím just taking a professional look. Your mother has a good size backyard. Thatís a strong selling point for families."
"Yes, Iím sure it is. Why donít you have a seat in the living room, Ms. Clark. Iíll bring a glass of lemonade as soon as I fix the ice."
"All right, thanks." Laura headed back into the living room, taking time to look over the unusual pieces of art and other knick knacks scattered throughout. . . .
. . . . Patricia Kane didnít know exactly what to expect when she stepped into the old greenhouse. She hoped there wouldnít be the bodies of missing students strewn about on the floor. But she also hoped that it wouldnít be just another hardly used old building filled with musty junk and stringy cobwebs. All she needed was one sure link to any of the missing girls. And she needed to find it fast, for despite reassuring Laura about having a backup plan should she get caught, she had none, and would be in deep trouble if Alison Jones discovered her rummaging around without a search warrant.
The detective carried a small flashlight, but was pleasantly surprised to note that overhead windows let in sufficient sunlight to find her way around easily. Even though it didnít appear the greenhouse was used very frequently, there were still a number of large vines and fern-like plants in the middle of the building that needed sunlight that boarded-up windows would block. The tall plants surrounded a large, old, and rather dilapidated fountain. Even from this distance, Kane could see large cracks in the fountainís exterior stone wall. No doubt a classic piece of garden décor at one time, but now just a piece of junk on which the policewoman intended to spend very little or no time..
There was, however, a wooden desk near the front entrance, near a wall with several cabinets. Pat quickly moved to the desk and started rummaging for any piece of information that might implicate Alvira Jones - threatening letters, a diary (one time, a bank robber had written down his heist plans in a day-timer that police found) - but there was nothing of that kind. She did find a business card for a place called Midas Bros. Foundry, in Winville about 30 miles from Helmswood. Apparently it was some metalworking place that dealt mainly in iron and steel, with a large smelting furnace - oh, God, Pat Kane thought, surely thatís not what happened to the girls. She remembered checking the ashes of the high school furnace, and thinking what a lurid, dime-novel approach that was to this mystery. But maybe that horrid thought wasnít as far-fetched as she first thought.
She pocketed the card - Jones would just think it had gotten lost in the shuffle - and reached for one of the cabinets above the desk, when she heard it. Coming from the back corner of the greenhouse, hidden from sight by the large plants. Soft and faint, but unmistakable. The low moan of another human being in some kind of pain. Pat Kane had hit paydirt . . . .
. . . . While Alison Jones worked in the kitchen, Laura Clark decided to do a little snooping of her own. She looked around at the odd assortment of knick knacks and figurines that decorated the living room of Alvira Jonesí house. Rag dolls with incredibly lifelike faces sat on the mantle of the fireplace (although Laura noted an undusty empty space in the middle, as if some sort of trophy or plaque had been recently removed). End tables held various music boxes and figurines. There was also a small collection of snow globe music boxes on a stand near the entrance to a bedroom. And, once again, Laura could tell that one was missing. She was about to examine a large and strange looking porcelain figure that was half cat and half human female, when Alison Jones stepped back into the room, carrying a glass of lemonade with ice cubes tinkling against the side of the tumbler.
"I see your admiring my coll . . . motherís collection," the young woman commented as she handed Laura the glass. The real estate agent continued to glance around the room as she absent-mindedly sipped the ice cold drink from the glass.
"Yes, a rather eclectic grouping," she said, politely - but with just a hint of artistic criticism in her tone.
"Well, my mother says there are all kinds of people in the world, hence there is all kinds of art."
Laura Clark once again took a drink of lemonade without looking at the glass. "This lemonade is delicious. Nice and cool, just the way I like it." Another drink resulted in a piece of ice entering Lauraís mouth. She rubbed her tongue over it, as a person would naturally do, but noted the cube had a peculiar shape. "That feels rather strange," Laura commented, as she tried to casually allow the cube to slip back in the glass. As she looked closer, she saw that all of the ice cubes had that peculiar shape. In fact, the shape was that of a . . .
"Oh, my word, this ice . . ." Laura started, embarrassed.
"Yes, it is unusual. My mother brought it home from school," Alison commented, nonchalantly.
Laura couldnít believe she had been given lemonade with ice cubes more likely found at a bachelor party. She handed the glass back to Alison. "Well, I really donít think this is appropriate."
"Oh, no, Ms. Clark. Believe me, it couldnít be more appropriate. I think you need to look a little closer." She pushed the glass back to Laura, who was getting rather disgusted by this whole thing. If she didnít have to cover for Pat, sheíd be out the front door immediately.
"Iíd really rather not, Ms. Jones," Laura insisted, but Alison Jones put the glass right up in Lauraís face. She took another look, but this time thought she saw something that looked a little familiar. "Let me see that," she said, taking the glass from a smiling Alison Jones, and then reaching in and putting a couple of the female shaped ice cubes in her hand. She turned them over and back a couple of times, and then put her hand close to her eyes to examine the cubes, even as they began to melt. "This isnít possible," she said, to herself as much as to Alison, "it canít be - perhaps itís the strain - but these cubes, I swear they look exactly like . . ."
". . . your daughter, Carol? Iím so glad you finally recognized her. Was it that long glance, or . . ." Alison stuck out her tongue, ". . . or a motherís touch?" She laughed, as Laura dropped the glass, and the lemonade and several Carol shaped ice cubes fell to the carpet.
"Youíre . . . youíre just as insane as your mother," Laura said, backing away from Alison.
"Thatís an incredibly astute observation, Ms. Clark." Alison advanced on the real estate agent. And as she did, Laura tripped, knocking over and then stepping on the porcelain cat/female, breaking it into several pieces.
"Oh, Iím sorry," she said, flustered, "Iíll replace that, of course, but I think I should go now." Laura turned for the door, but Alison raised her hand, and Laura found herself unable to move.
"Iím afraid you canít do both, Ms. Clark. Replace my broken figure, AND go, I mean." Alison quickly jabbed her hand at Laura, and immediately, the attractive woman found herself nearly doubled over in pain. She could move once again, but it took all her energy to stumble to the sofa and lay down in agony.
"Aaaahhhh, something is happening to me - what have you done to me?" Laura asked in halting words. And then there was more pain, and along with it, some drastic changes. Laura felt her feet and legs begin to knot and shrink and draw themselves toward her waist. Her heels fell to the floor, and the lower half of her nylons hung limp and empty. And while she could not see the changes occurring in her lower half, similar things were happening to her hands and arms, and she looked in horror as her human hands had become the clawed paws of a cat.
Alison/Alvira Jones decided to speed things along. With a few waves of her hand, Laura Clarkís clothes began to fly off her body, although few of them fit anymore. Lauraís arms and legs had become short and thin and covered with black fur. Her feet and hands were now catís paws. Even a short tail had emerged from the base of Lauraís backbone. The only thing still human about Laura Clark was her upper torso, including her breasts, and her face and hair. The attractive real estate agent was now half female, half cat, just like the porcelain figure she had broken moments before.
The witch waved her hands a few more times to effect some additional changes in the room. A roaring fire started in the fireplace, and then was walled in by metal panels. Just beneath the fireplace mantle, Alvira magically cut a small door in the metal sheet, adding a handle to the doorís front. And now that Lauraís transformation was complete, the witch walked to a nearby cabinet filled with porcelain figures, and withdrew a bottle containing a fine white powder. Returning to Laura, she opened the bottle and filled the palm of her hand with the powder. Alvira then blew the powder at Laura, and in seconds, every inch of her cat/human body was covered in white.
Alison/Alvira lifted her hand once more, and now Lauraís transformed and coated body hovered in the air for a second, and then slowly floated toward the altered fireplace. "I kept my promise, Ms. Clark, and reunited you and your daughter. Now you get to keep your promise, and replace my ancient cat/god. I must admit, you are somewhat older than the attractive young museum salesgirl who was the original model, but you hold the edge in maturity, wisdom, and, of course, bust size." The witch cackled at her joke as Laura floated the final few feet. The makeshift door of the fireplace/oven opened, and Laura floated inside, still frozen in the position she would now keep forever.
Alvira walked over to the fireplace. "You and your detective friend hoped to make some startling discovery today. Another wish granted. But, as the old saying goes," the witch raised her hand, the door closed, and the baking process began. "íCuriosity kilned the cat.í" Once again, Alison/Alvira laughed at her own comment, and then headed for the back door, and her meeting with Officer Patricia Kane. . . .
. . . . Pat Kane followed the sound of moaning toward the back of the greenhouse. Since it seemed to be coming from an area directly behind the large green foliage, the detective began pushing her way through the large green leaves and thick vines of these unusual plants. Feeling more like a jungle explorer than a policewoman, Kane marveled at how many plants there seemed to be in such a small building. The moaning continued, but seemed to be growing fainter and more infrequent, so Kane yelled, "Hold on! Iím coming!" and pushed on.
About midway into the plants, Pat pushed aside an extremely large leaf, and then stopped a moment to stare at the large plant she found there. It was a large, shrubbery-like bush, shaped exactly like a human female. The Ďheadí of the plant stood a few inches higher than Pat, but the cop guessed that was because the Ďlegsí ended in the rich black soil of an oversized ceramic pot. Kane forgot about the moaning momentarily as she more closely examined this unusual flora. There seemed to be something familiar about it - not just the fact that itís female shape was so anatomically correct - but the female shape it resembled was more specifically familiar. Of course! The shape of the hair - or at least the leaves at the top of the plant - the posture, the mature but still quite shapely frame of the torso: this giant plant resembled the missing Helmswood principal, Janet Morgan. The resemblance was so uncanny, and unnerving, that Pat Kane actually found herself pulling back the short leaves of the plantís torso, just to make sure that Janet Morganís body wasnít trapped within the foliage. But all she found was bark, of course, and the policewoman shook her head in wonderment. There certainly were some strange things in the world of Alvira Jones.
Another moan, this one almost completely inaudible, shook Pat from her momentary reverie, and she continued her trek. Regardless of the carnage she found on the other side of these plants, at least it wouldnít be as strange as the sight of that human-like plant.
As soon as she cleared the last plant, and stared at the source of the moaning, Patricia Kane realized how wrong she was.
There, lying on the bare floor, surrounded by tall goldenrods like those in Alvira Jonesí side yard, were two bodies. She believed them to be the two young women she had seen sunbathing earlier in the backyard of the house next to the Jonesí house. But it was very hard to tell, because both of the bodies appeared to have been coated with gold paint. Another faint moan came from the girl with short hair - Diane was her name Kane seemed to recall. No sound or movement whatsoever came from Tricia, the other coed.
The detective moved to the two girls. "Okay, take it easy now, Diane, Iím going to get you out of here," she said reassuringly, but when she placed her hand on Triciaís back as she knelt down, she jumped back up in shock. That was not skin she had touched - not even painted skin. The blonde coedís body was rock solid. She bent down cautiously and touched Tricia on her leg, then her arm, and then finally her unmoving, expressionless face. Each surface was cold and hard.
"My God. What has she done to you?" Kane asked rhetorically, since Tricia could not answer. There was anger in the copís voice, but also an overwhelming sense of fear. She remembered all the rumors and accusations of black magic and witchcraft attributed to Alvira Jones. As a detective dependent on logic and evidence, she had dismissed those rumors, even as she continued to suspect the old womanís involvement in the disappearances. But she was looking at evidence right before her eyes, two golden bodies, minutes before live flesh and blood sunbathers, now golden statues, with even their bikinis gilded to their bodies. There was no spray canisters nearby. No gold spray or molten gold droplets anywhere near. And no vat of liquid gold bubbling in the corner, into which these young girls had been immersed and permanently coated. No, they had been transformed from flesh into solid gold. And only a witch could do something like that.
Another moan came from Dianeís slowly hardening lips, and Pat bent down to the young girl, trying to hear what she was saying, while feeling along her body to see if her transformation was as complete as that of her friend, Tricia. There was still some movement in her eyes and mouth. And Kane could see that part of her bikini was still fabric, and had not yet turned to gold. But the rest of Diane was cold and solid, and the detective knew that she was only moments away from becoming a statue just like her friend.
But if all this just happened, that must mean that Alvira Jones is somewhere near, maybe even in this building with the detective. Pat Kane was very frightened now. She could hold her own against the hardest of criminals. But how do you fight someone who could do this?
"Oh, no, this is awful!" Pat jumped and turned, but saw it was not Alvira Jones, but Alison. "Something has gone terribly wrong." The witchís daughter quickly joined Pat Kane beside the two petrified bodies.
"Youíre right - this is horrible. But the worst thing is, your mother is responsible. Now tell me, Allison, where is she?"
"Oh no, youíre wrong, Sergeant. Youíre very wrong!"
Pat put her hand on Alisonís shoulder. "I wish I were wrong, Ms. Jones, but there can be no other explanation for whatís happened to these girls. Everyone believed your mother was a witch. This proves they were right."
"Oh, I didnít mean that was wrong. Of course this is witchcraft. But youíre wrong about this being horrible. Iím just upset about the way this goldenrod works. Everytime itís the same thing: the blonde hardens," she snapped her fingers, "just like that. But black or brown haired girls always take several more minutes. Just canít figure that out."
Pat stepped back slowly. "I - I - donít understand."
"Thatís quite true," Alison said as she felt the hardness of Triciaís golden body. "You donít understand. You keep saying this is all my motherís fault. Well, Sgt. Kane, my mother is dead. She died over three hundred years ago in Massachusetts." Alison chuckled lightly. "Funny thing about witch hunts. Occasionally, they actually do find a witch."
Alison Jones - or whoever she was - walked over to the goldenrods and carefully selected one that still had some blooms. As she casually made her choice, Sgt. Patricia Kaneís brain was trying to frantically process what she had just seen and heard, to no avail. Alison carried the flower over to Diane, and placed the blooms next to her golden, but still living, face.
"Just one or two whiffs, now - and this will all be finished," Jones said, and Diane could not help but breathe in the magical fragrance. The coed moaned softly, shuddered slightly, and then fell quiet. Pat saw Alison Jones smile as the extra dose of goldenrod finished its work, and Diane became solid gold throughout, just like her friend Tricia. Thatís when the detective finally realized the horrible truth.
"Youíre not Alison Jones, are you? Youíre Alvira Jones."
The young witch discarded the used flower and turned to face the policewoman. "I was beginning to think you were as dense as your Ďcanít wait for retirementí partner, Sgt. Kane."
"But how? When? Why?" The questions stumbled out of Pat Kaneís mouth. And then an expression of terror came over her face. "Laura?" She looked back in the direction of the Jonesí house.
"Oh yes, your Ďdecoy,í Mrs. Clark," Alison/Alvira looked at her watch. "Letís see, considering the size of the oven, and the size of your friend, Iíd say sheíll be done in about an hour."
"Done! Oh my God! Youíre cooking her?"
"Cooking? Heavens, no. Baking is the proper term. Mrs. Clark had a little accident with one of my porcelain statuettes, so she graciously offered to replace it. I simply accepted her offer. As for your questions concerning my youthful appearance, I owe it all to my stockings - and to Roxanne Rivers, who graciously supplied me with her youth and beauty."
"What are you talking about?" Pat Kane had no idea what exactly that meant, but having witnessed the transformation of the two coeds, she believed that Alison - Alvira Jones was capable of anything.
The young Alvira Jones continued in a matter-of-fact tone. "Itís ancient Oriental magic - perhaps you remember the silk kimono wall hanging in my living room. Dozens of beautiful young girls, trapped in magical fabric, while their looks and vitality were absorbed by the wearer of the kimono. I use nylon, these days, instead of silk. Unfortunately, this gift of youthful essence is not long term. I have already used up most of Miss Rivers. In another day or so, her essence will be completely gone from this special pair of hosiery. And I will revert to old age once more. I suppose I could wear Miss Steed - you almost discovered her today in my bureau. But the time is not right to become a teenager again."
The witchís mention of Tracy Steed broke the hypnotic reverie Pat Kane experienced listening to the incredible yarn Alvira Jones was spinning. The detective remembered who she was and why she was here. Alvira Jones may be a formidable, powerful foe, but she was still just a criminal. Kane knew, however, that she couldnít take the woman alone, and not on her home turf. She had to figure a way out of this greenhouse, a way to rescue Laura Clark from whatever fate the witch had planned, and a way to convince her superiors that the incredible events she had witnessed, and had been told about by Alvira Jones, were in fact true. But first things first. How to get out of this building.
"I guess that presents you with somewhat of a problem then?" Kane responded to Alviraís concern about aging, while slowly backing towards the large ferns and the entry door of the greenhouse.
"Not really, Sergeant. All I need to do is find somebody near Roxanne Riversí age who is attractive, vibrant, and intelligent, and who is wearing pantyhose." The detective nodded, only half paying attention, while working her way toward the front. But Alvira Jonesí last comment struck a chord, and the detective paused, and couldnít help but glance down at her white blouse, gray skirt, black heels . . . and dark shaded pantyhose. Kane glanced quickly back up at the smiling face of Alvira Jones, who held four shiny gold needles in her hand.
"I almost had you earlier today, Sgt. Kane. As you tried to pry open the drawer where the nyloned Tracy Steed rests." Alvira advanced on the detective. "But it would have been difficult to explain your disappearance to your partner, so you have made things much easier for me."
Kane was almost to the vines now, and believed if she could just avoid whatever Alvira Jones planned to do to turn her into pantyhose, she could hide in the foliage and either make her escape or subdue the witch by surprise. But she needed to slow Alvira down - she was getting too close with those needles.
"I suggest you stay back, Ms. Jones. I have a little magic of my own in my shoulder holster."
That stopped the witchís advance. But instead of a look of caution, Alvira began to chuckle. "How very Cagney & Lacey of you, my dear. But I think Iíll see your little magic, and raise you with some magic of my own." She quickly waved her hands, and as she did, Pat Kane reached for her revolver, fearing Alvira intended to cast some spell on her.
She was half right. Alvira was casting a spell, but not on Pat. Before the policemanís hand could reach her gun, her arm was grabbed and pulled back with great force. Something similar grabbed her other arm, and then something wrapped itself around her waist. She looked down in panic to see that the large green vines had come to magical life, and were lifting her off the floor. Her hands and arms and legs were all held tightly. One of the vines even slid inside her shoes and caused them to fall. Pat Kaneís stockinged feet now dangled nearly two feet off the floor, and the young woman screamed for help as Alvira Jones walked up slowly to her, holding one of the needles between her fingers.
"As you can see, Sgt. Kane, when I Ďraiseí an opponent, I really Ďraiseí an opponent." Alvira glanced down at Patís kicking feet and cackled loudly at her pun.
To her credit, the policewoman had not yet given up. She still tried to stall for time as she struggled in the vinesí grasp. "So all of the students and teachers - their disappearance was your doing - youíve got them all here."
"Once again, only half right, Sergeant. True, eachís current Ďstatusí is the result of my magic. But only some of the ladies are here," she rubbed her leg, "Ms. Rivers, of course is very nearby - as is her boss and friend, Principal Morgan. I believe you admired her blooms as you walked to the back."
The lifelike plant! Pat thought to herself. She fought back the rising panic in her throat, and continued talking, still trying - futilely - to reach for the revolver in her shoulder holster. "And I suppose Ms. Morgan - the tree, I mean - is headed for some wealthy collectorís garden," Kane nodded toward the gold statues, "along with some lifelike statuary?"
"Your consistency is incredible, Ms. Kane. Right on target with our floral principal. But as for my lovely gilded neighbors, not exactly. While my wealthy customer is paying a fair price for his lovely shrubbery, his fee doesnít quite cover the substantial expenses of starting over in a new place. So, while it is a loss for the art world, these golden beauties are going to be melted down and sold on the black market as gold bars."
Kane remembered the business card from Midas Brothers Foundry. She looked at the transformed coeds laying stiff and motionless on the floor, and couldnít help feel very sad. Despite the terrible transformations all of Alvira Jonesí victims had experienced, their fates seemed especially cruel.
The policewoman had lost her concentration, and suspended her delaying tactics. The young Alvira Jones stepped up to her captive and reached a hand toward her face. Pat Kane flinched, but the witch only reached up with a finger to wipe away a tear. "Iím touched by your empathy, Sergeant. I know it sounds cruel, but actually the young ladies will remain Ďaliveí - just more scattered than had they remained statues."
"íAlive?í" asked the detective. "íScattered?í"
"Yes - in jewelry and decorations, various types of fixtures - they may even wind up as dental work." The witch beamed at the thought.
"Dental work? My god, youíre insane!"
"Possibly," Alvira answered calmly, "but more important at the moment is that I stay young." She lifted a single needle between her fingers. "And for that I need your help."
Pat Kane put all of her strength into one last reach for her gun, but the vines held her too tightly. And before she could open her mouth to engage Alvira Jones in further conversation, she felt a slight prick in her upper leg.
"One needle and you vibrate from your head to your toes." The witch chanted, and Pat Kane felt her whole body began to shake uncontrollably. Please, no, the policewoman thought to herself, but her transformation had begun. But as she shook, the hold of the vine loosened, and the detective had more range of movement. Could she control her arm enough to reach her holster?
"A second needle and your passion grows and grows." Kaneís hand had almost reached her holster, when a wave of intense pleasure began coursing its way through her whole body. Her effort to focus her attention on her arm during the vibration was losing ground as she involuntarily responded to this rush of sexual excitement.
"A third needle and your whole lovely body glows." The policewoman was losing the battle now. The vibration and pleasure continued, and now she felt herself getting lighter and lighter, as if her entire physical being were shrinking into itself. What little was left of her conscious thought explained what was happening: itís true, Iím turning into pantyhose. And nearly every thought, instinct, and reflex she had told Pat Kane to end her struggle, let go, and change to something light, something beautiful . . . .
Alvira Jones lifted the final needle, and stared at it with evil admiration. She then reached to add it to the three needles already in Pat Kaneís leg. "And with the final needle. . . ."
As she moved to insert it, the last particle of pre-nylon consciousness that Pat Kane possessed gave the policewomanís arm one final simple command: reach, pull, aim, and shoot.
And thatís what Pat Kane did. Her hand shot forward, pulled her service revolver out of the shoulder holster, aimed the gun at the chanting Alvira Jones, and fired three shots. Even though the attractive detective was vibrating, moaning, and glowing - on the precipice of transforming into bewitched fabric - the witch was standing too close for her to miss.
Alvira Jones staggered backwards as each shot found its way into her chest. After the third shot, she fell back. Silent. Unmoving. Dead.
Slowly, the effects of the needles began to subside. As Pat Kane regained most of her senses, she quickly reached down and pulled the needles out of her stockinged leg. Out of breath from the vibration, she walked slowly over to her quarry. Alvira Jonesí blouse revealed a growing bloodstain, and Sgt. Kane did not see nor feel any sign of breathing.
Since her own transforming spell had stopped and reversed itself, Kane quickly walked over to the golden statues of Tricia and Diana. But they remained solid and inert, with no sign of life. Sadly, Kane reasoned that she was all right because the spell had not been completed. But Tricia and Diana, and all of Alviraís other victims, had been permanently transformed.
The detective stood staring at the gold coeds and Alvira Jonesí lifeless body for several seconds, trying in vain to attach some reasonable explanation to the events of the last several days in Helmswood. How would she ever convince Jim Burrows, or her Captain, or anyone, for that matter, of what had really happened to all those students and teachers and who knows how many other victims of Alvira Jones.
"Other victims! Laura!" Pat remembered the witchís reference to her friend Ďbakingí in the house, and immediately holstered her weapon, and began to work her way back through the vines toward the greenhouse door. She couldnít help but pause for a moment at the life-size plant that had once been Janet Morgan. Noting its resemblance to the missing woman before had been a kind of tribute to the skill of the gardener. But realizing that the plant actually was the attractive principal changed forever brought only horror and sadness.
As Pat Kane continued to push large vines out of her way, she began to feel a little panic. There seemed to be more plants now than when she had first made her way to the back of the building. In fact, the policewoman feared that she might be lost, as impossible as that might be in such a small place. Did Alvira Jones create some sort of expanded Ďmini-jungleí in the greenhouse before her death, in case Pat got away?
Kaneís momentary apprehension disappeared when she finally pushed aside a large leaf, and saw the dilapidated stone fountain she remembered seeing when she first entered the greenhouse. The greenhouse door should be just a few feet away . . . .
The detective jumped as she felt movement at her feet. It was as if something crawled over her stockinged feet - she wished she had put her heels back on before leaving the back of the building. Surely it was just a bug or mouse - even a rat or snake would be better than . . . .
This time, something moved against her leg, and Pat Kane knew it was time to get the hell out of this place. But that thought came too late, as several vines once more wrapped themselves around her lifting her off the greenhouse floor. This wasnít possible. Now that the witch was dead.
And then she heard the most horrible sound of all. The sound of something much larger than a mouse or snake working its way through the vines and ferns. The sound of another person, following Patís trail.
A few seconds later, the young Alvira Jones stepped out of the vines and into the clearing.
"No! No! It canít be!" cried Pat Kane, shaking her head as she struggled futilely in the plantsí grasp.
The witch looked up at her recaptured captive, and started to say something, and then put her hand up to her mouth as if she were getting sick. She coughed a few times, and then made a burping noise, once, twice, and a third time. And then she held out her fist, and opened it to reveal three bullets. Pat Kane screamed in anguish as the witch chortled.
"I should be very upset with you, young lady," Alvira waved her finger at the flora-bound policewoman. "Not only did you try to kill me - but you ruined a perfectly good blouse. Oh well, where were we?"
Pat Kane stopped struggling for a moment, not wanting her kicking legs to remind the witch what the gunfire had interrupted. But Alvira Jones still stared at the legs, and approached the attractive detective. Kane cringed as the witch rubbed her hands once down the length of Patís silky leg. Tears formed in the Sergeantís eyes as she realized she was about to undergo the process once more - and this time, nothing would prevent Alvira Jones from turning her into pantyhose, and then wearing her to steal her youth.
But Ms. Jones just shook her head back and forth. "Such a pity. Such beautiful legs, and such vitality. But I am very picky about whose essence I steal, and after your display back there, Iím afraid I cannot wear you, Sgt. Kane. You see, I abhor violence, and you seem to have a homicidal streak that I do not wish to share."
Kane felt a momentary relief, but soon realized that the witch would not simply let her go. If she was not to feel the transforming needles, what did Alvira Jones have planned?
While Pat remained trapped in midair by her green vine captors, Alvira Jones stepped over to one of the shelves behind the desk, and picked up several canisters and tubes. As she looked at each one, she continued to speak. "Your comment about the Ďmillionaireís gardení reminded me of an unfinished project, Sgt. Kane. A project that you can help me complete." She finally found a tube containing the substance she was looking for, and headed back toward the detective.
Kane tried to figure out what was happening. ĎMillionaireís gardení the old woman said. Oh, no. The shrubbery. The tree. Janet Morgan. "So youíre going to turn me into a tree like Janet Morgan, and sell us both to some wealthy collector for his garden?"
Alvira stopped beside Pat and laughed. "Now that is truly remarkable. Each time you have ventured a guess as to my plans, you have only been half right. And, you have done it again, Sergeant. Bravo to your consistency."
The policewoman had braced for some horrible spell, but the witch continued past her captive, and stepped over to the broken fountain. "My wealthy patron is primarily interested in my special horticulture, but also wants to create a beautiful landscape outside his home. I mentioned this lovely Roman fountain once in passing, and he sounded quite interested once I had it restored. I believe now is the time to do that. And," she held up the tube she had retrieved from the shelf, "this is the stuff that will do the trick." Alvira squirted a brownish white paste from the tube onto the cracked stone surface of the fountain. Pat watched in amazement as the paste began to spread into the cracks, and as the cracks and worn surface of the outer rim of the stone fountain quickly mended and became like new. In a matter of moments, the fountain was completely restored, polished stone without a scratch or blemish.
Impressive magic, the detective thought, but why do this now with me suspended in mid-air? The answer came swiftly and horribly.
Alvira Jones felt along the smooth surface of the fountain rim, and inspected it all way around. "Perfect. But it still seems to be missing something . . ." she quickly turned to face Pat Kane, and waved her hand at the vines holding the young woman. The green cords changed from binding ropes to groping bands. The detective was screaming once more as the vines began to remove her clothing: pulling away her blazer and skirt, along with the holster and revolver; slicing off the buttons of her blouse and yanking away the silky fabric; winding inside the straps of her bra and the waistband of her panties and pantyhose, and removing those as well; even delicately removing earrings, rings, and bracelets. Finally, Pat Kaneís nude body hung in mid air, supported by the evil green vines that stripped her last shreds of clothes and hope.
With another wave of Alvira Jonesí hand, the vines carried their disrobed captive over to the fountain, and set her down on the small stone platform in the fountainís center. As the vines held her, Alviraís hands moved like a conductor, and the vines moved the detectives limbs and torso until she was posed exactly as the evil maestro wished. The next wave of the witchís hand was directed at her female captive, and even though she tried to look away, the vines held Pat Kaneís head in a position facing Alvira Jones, and the detective was momentarily mesmerized and frozen in position by the spell maker.
Once this was complete, Alvira waved a grand gesture, and all the vines removed themselves from Pat Kaneís person. The detectiveís mind told her to make a run for it, but her body was still held in place by the witchís hand. Pat Kane sensed the spell wasnít powerful enough to hold her for very long, but as she saw the old woman approach the center of the fountain with the tube of stone paste, the detective realized it really didnít matter.
That was the last thing Pat Kane ever realized. Alvira Jones squirted a dab of the brownish white paste just inches from the detectiveís bare foot, and in seconds the paste moved onto Patís foot, her other foot, up her legs, her torso, her chest, her arms, her neck and face, even into her hair. And just as it had done for the original wall, the paste created a hard, smooth, blemish-free stone surface of what had been a living young woman. Sergeant Pat Kane of the Helmswood Police Force, was now a nude stone statue, the beautiful centerpiece of a magnificent restored fountain.
Alvira stepped back in admiration. Her fountain was now complete - no, wait! How could she forget? She stepped up to the stone sculpture, and touched each of the stone nipples lightly, and then the lips of Pat Kaneís exquisite stone mouth. She stepped back once more, out of the fountain, and waved her hands in grand fashion. The fountain filled with water, and in a few more moments, streams of water emerged from the female statueís mouth, and each of its stone breasts.
"Now," said Alvira Jones, "the fountain is complete."
The witch looked at her watch, and realized it was just about time to
remove her latest porcelain figure from the fireplace kiln. After that,
there would be numerous moving plans to be made. And, of course, she would
have to go out and find some pantyhose . . . .
ALVIRA JONES AND THE HIGH SCHOOL OF DOOM
It was moving day at the Jonesí homestead. A moving van was parked in front of the house being deliberately filled with boxes and furniture once belonging to Alvira Jones. And as Alison Jones stood in the back yard watching a large crane carefully lift a large fountain/sculpture onto the flat bed truck parked behind the greenhouse, she couldnít help but reflect on what a very busy few days the last ones had been. Particularly today, attending Alvira Jonesí memorial service in the morning, and overseeing the emptying of the house and greenhouse this afternoon. It was truly a day of good-byes. A guilty and regretful good-bye to the remains of Alvira Jones from the good citizens of Helmswood earlier in the day. And now a fond and appreciative good-bye from Alvira Jones to the town of Helmswood as the day drew to a close.
A Helmswood Courier Express van sped to a stop near the moving van, and the driver hurried into the back yard carrying a package.
"Ms. Jones? Ms. Alison Jones?" he called out.
"Yes, thatís me," Alison/Alvira answered as the young man stepped forward.
"Thereís a package for you," he handed her an oversized padded envelope, and a clipboard for her to sign receipt. She did so, and the young man took off his cap for a moment. "Iím real sorry about your mom, Ms. Jones."
"Thank you very much. Your kind words mean a lot in this time of grief." Alvira said for about the seventy-eighth time today. As the young man returned to his van and sped off, Alvira examined the package. It was from the Midas Foundry. That was quick, the witch thought. It had only been a few days since they had carted off the two golden statues under the cover of night. Alvira hadnít really expected to hear from them for another month or so.
She opened the envelope, and inside she found a brief letter, and a
small box. The letter read:
Work has been light, so your project was completed with due haste. Our agent in South Africa has confirmed purchase, and agreed to our price. Funds will be deposited in your Caiman account as per your request. Thank you for choosing Midas Brothers. Yours truly.
P.S. The box contains a small token of our appreciation. MB.
One of the flatbed workers approached Alvira. "The fountain is secure, maíam. How many of the plants did you want to go on the truck."
Since the fountain showcasing Pat Kane was being delivered to the same estate where Janet Morgan would be planted, Alvira had decided to send both on the same truck. "Just the Ďhuman figureí tree. I am taking a small seedling of the vines, but leaving the rest here to die. But be careful with that tree."
"Yes, maíam." The worker nodded, and then turned at the sound of sirens, and several emergency vehicles speeding nearby on a main street. "Sure have been a bunch of those since they found the old lady . . . " the man stopped once he realized who he was talking to. " . . . oh, sorry Ms. Jones."
"Thatís quite all right. Besides youíre right. And who knows, maybe one of those sirens will mean theyíve caught the awful people who put this town through such agony."
"Sure hope youíre right, maíam," the worker said, and returned to the truck to help load the well-built female shaped tree onto the truck, and secure it next to the fountain.
As the flatbed truck diesel engine roared to life, and slowly pulled away from the greenhouse carrying its very special cargo, Alison Jones reflected on the fortuitous circumstances that had made her departure a simple one:
On the evening of the day Pat Kane traded her badge for immortality (albeit involuntarily), Alison knew she needed to go shopping. There was very little remaining of Roxanne Riversí youth in the pantyhose Alison wore, and while the witch didnít mind reverting to Alvira Jones, she thought it best to wait until Helmswood was left far behind. Of course, she still had Tracy Steed fresh and folded in her bureau, but becoming a teenager would be almost as suspicious as Alviraís sudden reemergence.
It was her own fault, of course, as there had been plenty of opportunities. Janet Morgan. Ms. Jenkins, the French teacher. And, of course, Pat Kane. Even Carol Clark would have been better than nothing. But, in each of those cases, the circumstance prompted a different outcome, and Alison had to admit she wound up with a lovely tree, a splendid snow globe, a magnificent (and highly profitable) fountain, and a precious porcelain cat/woman figurine - just fresh from the kiln and looking even better than the original. So, Alison thought, she would just have to hope that an even better opportunity would present itself tonight.
She had no idea how right she was. Alison drove to a shopping mall in King City, about 50 miles from Helmswood. There was a young Oriental woman about Roxanne Riversí age in the hosiery section of a large department store, who was both attractive and energetic, and wore an attractive light black shade of pantyhose. But even though the store closed in thirty minutes, there were still too many customers. Alison decided to check out a few of the smaller stores in that wing, and if she had no luck, maybe she could swing back by at closing and introduce the hosiery clerk to her golden needles.
There was a virtual Roxanne Rivers look alike in a small accessories shop next to the department store, and she was alone. But when Alison entered, the young blonde stepped from behind her counter - wearing jeans and sneakers. Alison left in a huff, planning to write a scathing letter to the company headquarters, insisting that their sales clerks be better attired in the future.
But the third store was paydirt. A small womenís shoe store, with an attractive female sales clerk running the vacuum cleaner just prior to closing. The clerk was a few years younger than Roxanne Rivers, but not enough to be suspiciously noticeable. She seemed friendly and energetic, even so near to closing time, and best of all, she displayed an attractive pair of legs sheathed in a tan shade of hosiery. Alison apologized for coming in so late, but she really needed a pair of black dress pumps, size 7. The clerk said it was no bother, sheíd step in the back and find a couple pair for Alison to try on. As she stepped back into the storage room, Alison motioned for the door to shut and lock, and then hurried into the back room. The sales clerk - ĎDeniseí her name tag read - was a bit surprised to see Alison approaching, but thought the woman had just changed her mind. Before she could nicely tell her that customers were not allowed in the storeroom, Alison showed her four gold needles and a sinister smile and walked menacingly toward her. As Denise turned to run, she tripped over some shoe boxes on the floor, and went sprawling. As the clerk fell, Alison grabbed one of the young womanís feet, removed her low slung tan pump, and inserted needle number one, followed by the chant.
Needles two and three followed soon after, and then the fourth and final needle with Alison intoning: And with a fourth needle, you become PANTYHOSE! But as Denise went through the final throes of her transformation, an older woman stepped out of a back office, and stared in horror as she saw the young clerkís glowing, vibrating body arc high in the air one last time, and then descend into smoke, leaving behind only a pair of lovely tan pantyhose. Alison picked up the nylons, and held them in front of her to inspect the transformation. Both she and the old woman saw the outline of Deniseís face, her lips mouthing the words: "Whatís happened to me?" Alison Jones smiled at yet another successful transformation. But the old woman gasped, clutched at her arm and then her chest, and fell to the floor, lifeless.
The witch had not known the old woman was there until the gasp of her fatal coronary. At first, Alison thought the best thing to do was bust up the cash register and safe, and make it look like a robbery/kidnapping that the old woman had attempted to stop, with fatal results. After all, there wasnít much she could magically salvage from an old corpse, was there . . . . ?
. . . . And then Alison Jones had a brilliant idea. Opportunity had smiled on her once again. There wasnít much magic that could be done with a corpse. Zombification was one possibility, but that usually wasnít worth the effort. But Alison remembered a more ancient spell. One she hadnít used in a long time.
Folding the pantyhosed Denise carefully, and gently placing the nylons in her purse, Alison slipped out of the shoe store unnoticed, and hurried back to the department store entrance to get her car. (The attractive hosiery clerk was finally alone, but Alison passed on the opportunity to take advantage of something even better.) She pulled the car to the outside service door of the shoe store, and carefully put the old womanís body in the back seat. She then drove to a deserted youth camp about ten miles outside of Helmswood, and began an elaborate subterfuge. First she put several cultish markings on the walls of the buildings and tree trunks. She placed several logs in old campfire sites, and started fires at each one, making each burn faster than normal and go out. She intoned a Ďfindingí spell, and the bones and fur and blood of long dead animals rained from the sky and landed near the extinguished fires. Then a different finding spell brought forth items from her own house - in this case, clothing left behind from Carol Clark and Pat Kaneís transformation. She ripped the clothing to shreds, and mixed the tatters with the remains of the conjured animals. And then, finally, the most difficult spell of all. One of alteration. With all of her remaining strength and concentration and power, she altered the image and visage of the old woman from the shoe store into that of Alvira Jones. The alteration spell could not last long, but it would last long enough. A body looking very much like Alvira Jones was cast onto one of the campfires, and burned nearly beyond recognition. Because the alteree was already deceased, the spell held long enough for the fire to transfix the appearance. The nails and hair and bones and teeth and fingerprints would remain those of Alvira Jones. The apparent victim, along with Carol Clark and Pat Kane, and likely all of the missing students and teachers from Helmswood High, of some evil and violent cult.
And thatís why the sirens continued to blare through the streets of Helmswood on Alison Jonesí moving day. Her nocturnal adventures of a few evenings before had completely drained her youth and energy. But, Alison was wearing a new pair of pantyhose now, and she was younger and more vibrant than ever.
"I think weíve got everything now, maíam. We have room for those other items if you want us to take them?" The moving man was talking about some boxes and travel bags in the living room. Along with a newly made porcelain artwork, there was a covered aquarium, a clothing bag with an unused pair of pantyhose, and a plaque with a lovely and lifelike bronze figurine mounted on its front.
"No, thanks, I prefer to take those myself," she answered.
The moving man nodded then walked back to the truck to close it up and wait for the moving destination. As he walked back, he met an older man coming up the sidewalk. Either an insurance salesman or a cop, the moving man thought.
Jim Burrows waved at Alison Jones, and the young woman walked to the front porch to meet him.
"Just wanted to come see you off," Burrows said lightly, but with an undercurrent of worry and regret in his voice.
"Thatís very nice of you, Detective. As was the flowers at my motherís memorial service. I know this is a difficult time for you, as well. I mean, your partner and all."
Burrows sighed deeply. "All we can do is hope that somehow, someway, sheís still alive. Damned fool girl! If she had a lead, she shouldíve told me about it. Maybe I couldíve done something!"
Alison touched his arm. "Considering the circumstances, I donít think thereís anything you could have done."
"Thanks, Ms. Jones." He peeked in the front door. "Looks like you still got a few things for the car. Can I help you with those?"
Before she could say anything, Burrows walked in and grabbed the carefully wrapped cat/woman porcelain figure. "Be careful, Detective. Thatís very fragile."
Burrows put one hand underneath the figure, and the other underneath two protrusions on the front of the figure. "As much as I feel bad about Pat, er . . ., Sgt. Kane, I feel worse about Carol Clark. I can figure Patís involvement. But I just canít seem to get a grip on Carol."
Alison suppressed a smile as she observed just how well Jim Burrows had a grip on Carol Clark, as he held tightly to the breasts of the figurine and placed it carefully in Alisonís car. "Thank you, Detective . . . "
". . . . Jim. I think I can get everything else."
"Are you sure you donít want to stay around Helmswood a while? Who knows if these nutbags are out there somewhere looking for family members of their victims? That might explain Carol Clark. And it might mean youíre in danger, too."
"Believe me, Jim. I can take care of myself." She took the detectiveís arm, and gently led him to his car.
Burrows gave Alison one of his cards. "Hereís my work number and home number. If you see something suspicious, or anything unusual happens, give me a call. Okay?" Alison nodded, and Burrows gave her a small peck on the forehead and a brief hug, then got in his car and drove off. Alison couldnít help smiling at his last comment. Everything that Alison saw, or that happened to her, was usually suspicious and unusual.
She walked over to the moving men who were ready to pull away, and handed them a slip of paper. "This is a storage complex in the new city Iím moving to. Just unload it there until I find a new place."
It was completely dark by the time the truckís taillights disappeared at the end of the street. Alison walked back into the house, and felt for a light to illuminate the living room. She jumped when she heard the voice.
"Ms. Jones," it came from the shadows, "sorry, I didnít mean to scare you. I came in while you were talking to the detective."
Alison turned on the light, and there stood a handsome teenage boy. "You look familiar. Have I seen you before?"
"Umm, no - well, yes, I was at your Motherís memorial service. My nameís Matt. Matt Hendricks."
A small smile began to form on Alisonís lips. Yes, of course, she knew him. But not from the memorial service. She knew him from Helmswood High. He had been a student of hers. More importantly, he had been Brenda Fosterís boyfriend.
"Iím sort of in a hurry, Matt. Getting ready to lock up and leave. What can I do for you?"
"Well, I guess I wanted to say how sorry I am about your mother," he stammered.
"Thatís very kind of you, Matt. Thanks for stopping by," Alison opened the door, but the young man didnít move. She looked at him inquiringly, like a teacher waiting for her student to Ďspit it out.í
"I also wanted to, uhh, apologize. When they found your motherís body out at the campsite, well, an awful lot of people in town thought your Ms. Jones was the cause of everything that happened. There was all kinds of stories flying around: people said she was a witch; others said she sold all those students into white slavery. One lady even said she saw a cloud that looked like Skye Overton - she was one of the missing girls - the day she disappeared. Some weird shit . . . uhh, excuse my language."
Alison smiled. She kind of liked this kid.
He continued. "Anyway, Brenda - my girlfriend - well, she didnít treat Ms. Jones very well, even before all this happened. She was out to get your mom - and, well, a lot of us, wanted to see her succeed." He took a deep breath. "I donít know if all this happening is because of Brenda and Tracy and Noreen - some kind of Ďcomes around, goes aroundí bullshÖer, crap - or not. But sometime, somebody needed to say ĎIím sorryí - and I guess thatís me, now. Anyway, thatís all I got to say. Sorry to hold you up."
Matt started toward the door, and Alison stopped him. "Matt, let me ask you something. Do you still miss Brenda? I mean, after all this."
He grinned, sadly. "Brenda could be a real - kind of hard to be around, some times. But, yeah, I miss her a lot." His voice broke. "I really did . . . do, love her. I just keep hoping that Iíll see her again."
"Is that why you came here today? And said those things? To set things right?"
The young man hung his head. "Yes, maíam, I guess it is. And I guess thatís not the way things work in the world, is it? Thanks again, Ms. Jones." Once again, he headed for the door.
"Just a minute, Matt. I have something for you." Alison reached down into Alviraís old black bag. Matt bounced on both feet, embarrassed and anxious to leave.
"Ahh, here it is," Alison said. "Come here a minute, Matt, and take a look." The young man stepped forward and leaned his head over the bag. When he did, Alison raised up quickly, grabbed hold of the back of his neck, and forced a vial of foul green liquid down his mouth. With the surprise, Matt couldnít help but swallow, and soon after he dropped to the floor, moaning, as Alison quietly shut the front door.
After a few moments, Alison/Alvira Jones carefully removed the cover from the aquarium. She looked down to see the tiny mermaid Brenda swimming contentedly. "I have a surprise for you, Brenda," she said softly. And she carefully dropped something into the aquarium. Although Brenda could no longer speak with a human voice, Alison could easily read her excitement as she recognized the tiny merman who joined her. After several moments of hugging and kissing, the two swam toward the castle where Brenda lived, to really celebrate their reunion.
Alison smiled, and replaced the cover on the aquarium. Teenagers, she thought, theyíre all alike, even when theyíre half fish. She carried the remaining items to her car, returned to shut off the lights and lock the door, and then drove off. She looked at the covered aquarium in the passengerís seat, and imagined the wonderful time Brenda and Matt were having. No doubt there would be several mer-babies swimming in the tank soon. At best, they would bring a high price from collectors of biological oddities. And at worst, they would make a rather unique shrimp salad.
Alison/Alvira smiled once again as she left the Helmswood city limits.
She did love happy endings. . . .