There might be jobs tougher than getting a bladder catheter into an angry, thrashing gorgon, but not many. It helped that my little sister Teresa sat astraddle her, pinning her down, and we’d been careful to duct-tape her wrists, mouth, and those all-important eyes. Finally the precious golden fluid began to spurt into the plastic collection bag as Terry did bladder compressions, what she calls PPR.
Then, a couple minutes later, when the stream had dwindled to a bare trickle, the whole deal turned to crap.
I heard the front door open behind me, and the entry hall light snapped on. Surprised, Terry looked up at whoever’d walked in.
Big mistake. She froze in position, her brown eyes wide, her mouth half-open in surprise, turned into a statue in two heartbeats.
I yanked out the catheter, clamped it off, shoved the bag under my leather jacket, escaped out the sliding doors onto the second-floor balcony in two jumps, and leapt into the night.
* * * * *
A small community park lay a half-block from the gorgon’s townhouse. I shared a long bench with a morning’s worth of retired types and stay-at-home moms. As always, no one paid me any attention while I ran surveillance on the townhouse, the owner of which had supposedly lived alone.
Only she’d had a guest, apparently a relative, and now my sister was an object d’art. I had the means to revivify Terry – the freshly-passed urine – but I had to get her out of there before I could get the task done. I told myself repeatedly they probably wouldn’t be angry enough to break Terry into little tiny pieces, but I was far from certain.
Around eleven o’clock, just as the spring sunshine grew warm enough to make me think about taking off my jacket, a tall, muscular woman walked down the front steps of the townhouse. She wore hiking boots, jeans, and a long-sleeved polarfleece top, all black. Her short hair matched her outfit, black opaque sunglasses hid her eyes, and I didn’t need to ask why.
She looked impatiently up and down the street, obviously expecting someone, and in a minute or so a small blue cargo van drove to a stop behind a white Volvo wagon which hadn’t been there when we’d gone into the place the night before.
Two burly men hopped out of the van, shook hands with the now-smiling gorgon, and the three of them disappeared into the townhouse. Shortly, they re-emerged lugging a large wooden crate, which was carefully placed inside the van and strapped down. The doors were shut, the two guys climbed back into the rig and followed the gorgon and her Volvo up the street toward my bench.
None of the three so much as glanced in my direction as they passed me, sitting in plain sight.
Not surprising, really. Nobody bothers us.
1 * * * * *
We mostly use public transportation, so without a means to follow them, I stayed on the bench another few minutes, trying to decide what to do next. Almost certainly Terry had been in the crate; hard to imagine otherwise. By now, she could be nearly anywhere in Portland. The van had been unmarked and clearly following the wagon, so the gorgon was taking Terry somewhere. I thought about canvassing art galleries and checking the sculpture want-ads in the local papers, but ultimately rejected both ideas. If this had been a simple art sale, the gorgon wouldn’t have led the van away. So I had to find her to rescue Terry, and I didn’t have a clue how to do that.
The townhouse was part of a small grouping at the edge of the west hills, just above Goose Hollow. I slung my jacket over my right shoulder and walked into downtown Portland to catch a bus. It wasn’t that far and the walk gave me time to think.
The bus was over the Hawthorne bridge heading east when my cell phone buzzed. I pulled it out of my jacket and flipped it open, hoping it wasn’t our folks inviting Terry and me to dinner on Sunday.
“Kerry Allard, I presume?” A deep, yet feminine voice with a slight accent.
My heart leapt into my throat. “Who’s this?”
“My name is Anisa Skouros.” She chuckled throatily. “Your sister makes a lovely conversation piece. I placed her in a corner of my new living room. Of course, I had to cut off her clothing and those expensive Cole Haan boots, but she hasn’t complained.” Another chuckle. “Nice that she had so much ID on her person, even a picture of you, and your cell phone number on hers.”
I swallowed equal parts rage and frustration, mostly directed at myself for going along with my sister’s ideas on making a quick liquid buck in the alternative health care market. “What do you want?”
“You, my dear.”
“With your sister. A matched pair. Terry and Kerry. Breathtaking.” Now she laughed outright. “No, I am teasing you. I will return your sister to the living world in return for a favor. I saw something leave my cousin’s home in a great hurry last night. It may have been human. I am not certain. My mind’s eye calls up no images. It is all quite vague and grows more so.” The bantering tone in her voice vanished as she spoke, grew deadly serious. “Was it you?”
“Ahhh. Would you meet me tonight? We can discuss my proposition.”
“Not just yet. First I need to find out what and how dangerous you are. Are you familiar with The Turn?”
“Good. There is a place. Solid State II. Eight o’clock, shall we say? Bring your appetite. They have excellent Gyros.”
“Perfect. That will give me time to unpack some of my things and purchase some nice potted ivy to twine around your sister. I believe that will add something to her already becoming pose.”
Now I got pissed. “You might have the upper hand, Miz Skouros, but don’t press your luck.”
“An Irish temper! How appropriate. Well, let me tell you that I left my cousin recuperating this morning with five milligrams of Ativan and a half-bottle of Ouzo.
She had been violated. Not rape, but nearly. I got your sister away fro her in one piece only because the petrifier has precedence. Please bear that in mind.”
My anger vanished abruptly. She had a point. “Okay.”
“Good. I shall see you at eight. There will be a motorcycle in front. I’ll be the one with the helmet beside me, wearing leather.
2 * * * * *
When I was a kid, there was a rhyme about The Turn:
There’s creatures in the bleachers,
There’s monsters at the Mall,
And there’s folks down in The Turn
that you wouldn’t like at all.
They'll cut and they’ll gut you,
and they’ll wear your guts for garters.
Put your head up on a pole,
and that’s just for starters.
The Turn is situated between the Hosford-Abernathy and Richmond neighborhoods, roughly on 29th Avenue, but not exactly. It had originally been a small company enclave begun by Ivar Turn of Turn Mattress fame, built in the late Nineteenth Century. Rows of modest bungalows, a couple of largish apartment buildings, several company storefronts, all surrounding the factory complex. According to my grandmother, the company motto had been: ‘You Won’t Toss on a Turn,’ which sounds corny now, but provided a lot of local jobs in its day, plus millions into Turn pockets. Ivar passed on in the Thirties, and the Turn heirs sold out after World War II. The factory building eventually became part of the McMenamin’s empire, and the rest is a peaceful middle-class nabe that isn’t quite what it appears, at least when the sun goes down.
After dark, some of the neatly-squared blocks seem to have more than four corners. You make a left- or right-hander and suddenly there’s series of shops and businesses stretching in front of you that weren’t there a minute ago.
Solid State II was one of those places. A plain brass sign hung over the sidewalk, and subdued Greek music drifted through the curtained windows, along with laughter and muted conversation. Like Anisa Skouros had said, a single motorcycle stood by the curb, a big black and grey KTM 950 on a centerstand. It looked predatory. I donned a pair of mirrored sunglasses – prudent under the circumstances, I figured – then paused with my hand on the brass knob, wondering if the place was full of yuppie gorgons.
Probably not. Didn’t I hope. Taking a deep breath, I opened the door and stepped inside, letting the door swing shut behind me.
The barkeep, a tallish, curly-haired guy, looked up as I entered, then away, not really registering my presence. The clientele, mostly office-age women, didn’t respond at all. They appeared surprisingly short-haired and uniformly slender. Like maybe they were from the Isle of Lesbos.
She sat at the bar with her back to the door, a black motocross full-face helmet on the stool to her right. Quite a nice package, I thought: Long back, wide shoulders, well-muscled butt encased in black leather, plus the all-important sunglasses.
After another deep breath, I took the stool to her left, rested my elbows on the bar. “What are you drinking?” I asked.
She jumped a foot. “Krystos!”
Sometimes I love what we do. I laughed, extending my right hand. “Kerry Allard.”
She took it warily, bending her head toward me, struggling to keep realizing I was really there. “Anisa Skouros.”
“You have a choice,” I told her. “Either keep holding my hand or look at me in the mirror. Both’ll help.”
“In the mirror,” she replied slowly, with a gradually widening smile. Her lips were full, her skin a dark olive, her chin nicely cleft. “Just the opposite of us, then.”
“Yeah, if the legends are true.”
She released my hand, gauged me in the mirror. “Oh, yes, they are quite true. And you may remove your glasses. I am the only one of my kind here tonight.”
“Right. And then you’ll remove yours, I suppose?”
“No. You have my word. You will remain unhardened.” A double-pause. “What are you?”
“An Irish Tinker.” I took off the glasses.
“What is that?” she asked, frowning.
“A nomadic minority ethnic group, still primarily in Ireland. We’ve always sort of fit between the layers of society, lived on the edges of the real world. About two hundred years ago, as a young man, my several-times-removed grandfather noticed that people – even other tinkers – didn’t pay any attention to him, and seemed remarkably forgetful of his presence. He might as well have been invisible. After some searching, he found a girl of similar abilities, they married, and here we are.”
“It isn’t a conscious skill, then?”
“No. Understand, we still leave electronic and paper trails, still register on security cameras, and have no problem being served fast food.”
She snorted. “No one impacts those people. What about telephones?”
“Not a problem, as you noticed this morning.”
“Around one another?”
“Again, no problem.”
“We do not affect each other, either. Nor our men, who carry the trait but do not express it.” She nodded at the barkeep. “Like Costas, here.”
“So it’s an X-linked double recessive?”
“Yes. And yours?”
“No. On the X-chromosome, though. A dominant, we think. Something to do with proprioception, only extending well away from our bodies. A ‘null field’ my father calls it. And if a normal person is around one of us a lot, eventually the effect disappears.”
“No. When school started every year, my classmates had to learn me all over again.”
“A handy skill, though. How do you earn a living?”
“Investigations, contracting with private firms. I can just walk into places, look around, rummage discreetly. Nobody notices. I’m the Invisible Woman.”
“You drove right by me this morning. I was sitting in plain sight at that park down the street from your cousin’s.”
She began to smile again, her expression thoughtful. I wished I could see her eyes, the better to guess what was going on in her head. Not smart, unfortunately.
“I have a request,” she said finally, “but we need to eat first. I’m famished, and I hope you are.” She raised her right hand to catch the bartender’s attention. “Costas, two large pork gyros, a Henry’s for my friend, and I’ll have another.” He nodded, spoke through the serving window to the cook.
“Thanks. ‘My friend‘?”
“Certes. We are going to benefit one another. That makes us friends of a sort.”
“You think so, huh?”
“I know so, Kerry Allard. I know so.”
“Just keep the glasses on, okay?”
“You have my word.”
“Just so you remember.”
3 * * * * *
We ate mostly in silence, making small talk between bites. She thought I looked like Terry, which is certainly true, with the same height and pale complexion, and told me her eyes were more green than my hazel-green. I said I’d take her word for it. She made as if to lift her shades, asking me if I were sure, and against my better judgment I found myself liking this mythological person.
Then a chime sounded from behind the bar, a green light began flashing above the mirror, and Costas clapped his hands for attention.
“Oh, shit,” said my companion, thumping the bar with one clenched fist.
“Someone is about to get lucky, by their standards.”
I looked around the place, saw maybe a dozen expectant faces, which was basically everybody there. “Get lucky?”
“Yes. Listen to Costas.”
“All right, Ladies!” he exclaimed, clapping again. “You have your numbers, right?”
“Yes!” came from every throat.
“I’m starting the basket!” He punched a button, which initiated a rotating lottery basket on the wall behind the far end of the bar. The balls clicked frantically around inside the thing, and beside me, I could practically hear Anisa growl in disgust.
“What’s the deal?” I whispered.
“A promotional effort. A stunt, and since I’m the only one of us here, it’s my duty.”
“You will see.”
The basket stopped, a ball dropped into a smaller, clear container below it, and Costas took the ball out, turning it to read the number.
“And the winning number is…Number thirty-one!”
An excited squeal came from the watching patrons. “It’s me!” one of them screeched. More squealing ensued, with clapping and whistling.
“Jesus,” I said, totally taken aback and amazed. “It’s like some Megabucks thing.”
“Close enough,” Anisa agreed. She rotated her stool to face the lucky winner and her friends, smiling at them. “Watch me in action, Tinker.”
The lucky winner, a Nordstrom neo-goth from her clothing, practically vaulted out of her booth, nervously holding up a piece of cardboard for Anisa’s examination. The tall gorgon studied it, then skimmed it through the air to Costas. “Do you have a pose picked?” she asked the young woman, whose companions had thankfully quite clamoring and sat watching with held breaths and expectant eyes.
“Yes,” the winner replied softly.
“And…?” Anisa said, smiling down at the shorter woman.
“This.” She took a deep breath, rested her hands lightly on her hips, and gazed up at Anisa with a beatific expression on her face. I thought she looked like a bride awaiting the kiss at the altar.
Anisa lifted her sunglasses, locked gazes with the winner. The woman went completely still. All the little movements of life vanished, just as with Terry the night before. After a few seconds, Anisa let her glasses fall back down over her eyes, then tapped the new statue on one solidified cheek before bowing to the remaining mobile patrons.
“Oh…my…God!” one of them exclaimed, her left hand over the ‘O’ of her mouth. She half-stood, and you could tell she wanted to touch her frozen friend.
“Have you ever…?” Anisa asked the woman, cocking her head toward her.
The woman shook her head mutely, hot eyes on Anisa. One look at her face, and you knew she wanted it. Did the petrification process feel good?
Anisa gave her a predator's smile. She stepped closer to the crouched woman. “Then you shall,” she said, and raised her glasses a second time, creating another artwork. When her glasses were back in place, Anisa bowed again, then returned to the bar and her stool, leaving the patrons to marvel over the two new pieces of statuary.
She looked at me in the mirror and exhaled, a great, gusting sigh. “Damned endorphins. On top of two beers.”
She nodded slowly. “Yes, after some coffee.”
“I think the second one came, incidentally.”
That remark produced a satisfied grin. “Sometimes they do.”
Costas slid a fresh cup in front of her, flashing a white smile. “Nice showmanship, Anisa. Keep this up and we’ll have more customers than we can handle.”
“They come here for this, don’t they?” I asked. “They’re like gorgon junkies.”
Anisa repeated the slow nod. “Yes. On weekends, we have two drawings an evening.”
“I am a quarter-owner. Costas, too. Another of my cousins lives in the building, is here most nights.”
I looked over at the customers, all of whom were studying the two hardened figures excitedly. One woman was on her cell, waving her free arm while talking. “Does it feel that great?”
“So I am told.” She took a long swallow of coffee, touched her glasses again, and her grin strengthened, a little lopsided. “Any time you wish.”
“You’re acting half-drunk.”
She giggled. “You may have to operate the motorcycle.”
I shook my head. “No. Don’t even think about that. Let’s just sit here and chat until you get back on track.”
More patrons arrived, apparently having heard about the double stoning. It wasn't quite bedlam, but Costas was moving at a dead run, and it sounded like there were two cooks on duty in the kitchen now.
"At this rate, I shall grow wealthy," Anisa observed, watching the crowd in the mirror.
"Not a bad thing," I replied. "How you feeling?"
"Recovered. We should go. This is not where I want to speak of what I wish from you."
"Yes. My first night in my new quarters. They delivered most of the furniture this afternoon. Tomorrow I will get my office organized, my books in their shelves."
"So you were staying with your cousin temporarily?"
"For less than a week. I'd been abroad."
That was why Terry hadn't known about the second gorgon. It was all serendipity.
"Let us go," Anisa said, pulling a pair of twenties from her wallet and leaving them on the bar. She picked up her helmet. "Good night, Costas." The barkeep waved off-handedly back as he filled a quartet of beer glasses.
We were halfway to the door when a tall, slim woman wearing a charcoal business suit and low heels hurried up to Anisa. "Going home?" she asked, her smile of inquiry sultry and inviting in a dark, attractive face. Her lipstick was the color of clotted blood.
"Good evening, Lynn," Anisa said. "I didn't see you come in. But, in answer to your question, yes, I am."
I wasn't registering on this woman. She thought Anisa was alone.
"Can I join you?"
"Not this evening, I'm afraid."
Lynn pouted, batted her eyelashes. "I've learned some new techniques."
"Another time, perhaps."
She clutched at Anisa's right arm. "You just disappeared for months. You haven't even called me."
"Lynn, please. I've been out of town."
"Like hell you have! Selfish bitch!" The woman raised her right hand, ready to smack Anisa.
Anisa flicked off her glasses, freezing Lynn almost instantly in place. An expression of dismayed astonishment overlaid the anger on Lynn's features just as she solidified. She hadn't thought Anisa would respond like this. Now she stood silently on the hardwood floor, perfectly rigid, her arm raised to strike, eyes wide with disbelief, pretty red mouth open, transformed in a pair of seconds into a surprised statue.
"Sorry," Anisa said, hustling me out the door and into the cool night air.
As the door swung closed, I looked back at the frozen Lynn. "Whoa. That was impressive."
"Again, I apologize." She shook her head. "I should have let her strike me. Instead, I acted instinctually."
She pulled a small key from a pants pocket, stuck in the motorcycle's ignition, threw her right leg over the bike and mounted it.
"Climb up behind me after I get my helmet on," she instructed, moving the big machine off its stand.
"Will Costas revive them?" I asked as she slipped her helmet over her head and buckled it.
"Yes, in an hour." She hit the ignition button, and the engine started with a subdued rumble. "After the pictures have been taken."
"Souvenirs of their experience. Had you gone to the loo, you would have seen a wall nearly covered with them."
I took a seat behind her, positioned my feet on the passenger pegs. "You're shittin' me!"
"No, sadly." She burped the throttle, began to release the clutch. "Hold on, please."
The bike surged forward with a shriek of expensive rubber, slanting rapidly up the street. Under my hands, beneath soft leather, I felt lean, hard muscle tense against the acceleration, and indulged in a naughty thought or two.
4 * * * * *
"You told me you'd stripped her!" I accused Anisa as I studied my sister's silent form, positioned on a clear space between oriental rugs spread on pale maple hardwood.
"Forgive that small lie. I needed to ramp up your concern for your sibling, make the rescue more imminent."
I glared at her. "You're a turd."
"Guilty as charged." She gestured at Terry. "Aren't you going to touch her?"
I hesitated. "Does she know we're here?" Despite a slight greyish tinge, Terry retained most of her living coloration, and I felt uneasy.
"Yes and no. Victims ae metabolically inert, every carbon atom bonded to every other in an electronically stable lattice. They cannot hear, and a passing day is perceived as roughly fifteen minutes. Were you to stand before her for five or ten minutes, her slowed mind would register your presence, however."
"So an entire day in her time..?"
"Lasts more than three of our months."
"Okay." I reached out and tentatively touched my sister's immobile features. She felt cool and hard, her pale skin like stone. In a perverse way, it was fascinating. The whites of her staring eyes showed more grey than the rest of her, making her seem completely artificial. I pulled my hand away, wiping my fingertips on my jeans, and Anisa laughed.
"Notice her hair, each strand now fused to the others. This is the key to what I will propose to you."
"Let's talk about that, then. The sooner Terry's back to normal, the happier I'll be."
"You take no delight in her condition? Your lives were without competition or turmoil?"
That made me laugh. "She's a total pain in the ass."
"But she is still your sister."
"Our meeting is fortuitous, then. You are a good person, Kerry Allard."
"Don't be too sure. Ten generations of sneaks, lurk artists, and thieves won't disappear with one potential good deed."
"One can only hope. Would you join me in a drink, whilst I explain?"
I nodded. "Sounds grand."
As Anisa poured from what looked like a brandy bottle, my cell chimed. Our mother, checking to see how Terry and I were doing. Mom didn't know about the nocturnal urine excursion, so I told her Terry was meditating, but we were just fine, made additional small talk, then clicked off.
"What language were you speaking?" Anisa asked, her dark brows furrowed. She'd found the trick of looking at me all the time, which eventually cancels out our null-field, though I judged we weren't quite to that point.
"Our own Tinker-speech. Gammon, it's called. An ancient lost Celtic tongue laced with more modern Gaelic."
Holding both glasses, she regarded me steadily from behind her shades, once more making me wish I could see her eyes. "You are quite fascinating, Tinker."
Her wide, bright smile appeared. "Let us go into my partially-done study."
I followed her into a carpeted home office. Boxes of books were piled next to walls of empty built-in shelves. A large maple desk dominated the room, a swivel office chair behind it, a small work area with computer, printer, flat-bed scanner and fax behind that. On the wall above the computer were a few framed certificates, a couple with what I thought were Department of Defense seals. Interesting.
Anisa slid a leather chair over to face her desk and gestured to it. "Sit, drink your Metaxa, and hear my proposal."
Taking a cautious sip, I asked, "Metaxa?"
"Seven Star. Not Private Reserve. That I will save until the successful conclusion of our business."
"Well, this's really good. Great flavor." I smacked my lips, paused. "Can I ask you a question?"
"What do you do for a living?"
"Several things. Archeology, for one, using my degrees. Most recently, I was in Afghanistan with the Army, a pilot program scouring caves for suspected terrorists. Without my sunglasses."
"Let me guess. You zap 'em, remove their weapons, put on restraints, then squirt 'em."
"Precisely. The military had been using their own vampires, but those proved quite messy. They kill and feed as they work. The clean-up crews were going post-traumatic."
"There are vampires?"
"They're not as popularly envisioned. Non-Stokerian. You could walk past one on the street on a sunny day and never know."
"But they drink blood?"
"And eat the lights and giblets. As I understnd it, they commonly subsist on normal foodstuffs, yet happily sup on blood and body parts when given the opportunity. Joyful, efficient slaughterers."
I slugged down the rest of my Metaxa, shuddering. "Jesus."
She refilled my glass, grinning at my discomfiture. "My proposition involves an investigation being conducted by the Portland Police. Someone is kidnapping street children, petrifying them in suggestive poses, and selling the resultant art." She paused to let her words sink in.
"Selling them locally?"
"Apparently not, at least not openly. Obviously, one of my kind is involved, yet the police have nothing like a suspect."
"There has to be a dealer."
"Nothing certain there, either."
"Then how do the cops know it's happening?"
"The younger homeless seasonally migrate when they can. Summers here, Winters in southern California or Arizona. At a party in a private home, a local teen recognized a friend on display who'd disappeared a year earlier. She went to the police there. I flew down to Tucson with two detectives and restored the victim, who provided little by way of information, being high on Meth when she was taken, then drugged further."
"What about the person who bought her?"
"Young and wealthy, of course, and strongly protesting his innocence. The transaction was quite clandestine, but photographs of the offered item -- the frozen teen -- were on the Internet, he said. Gone now, of course. Under interrogation, the purchaser was able to provide only a contact number. Here in Portland,
as it turned out. The authorities know who the contact was, but this person is not known in local art circles. They wish to scoop up the entire ring, including the gorgon."
I gave her a thoughtful frown. "Why am I not liking where this is going?"
Anisa leaned back in her chair and took a long, slow swallow of her drink, not taking her hidden gaze off me. "I have a plan." Setting down her glass, she reached into a desk drawer, brought out a small towel, a much smaller fluid-filled plastic baggie attached to a metal disc about the size of a quarter, only thicker, and a compact remote. She folded the towel on the desktop, placed the baggie and its mechanism in its center, then pointed the remote at it. "Watch, Tinker girl." She poked the remote.
With a tiny 'pop,' the baggie deflated, releasing its liquid contents to be absorbed by the towel.
"Okay," I said, "that was cool, and I think I know how I'm gonna be involved.." I took a deep breath, remembering something she'd said a few minutes earlier.
"It's in my hair, right? Along with a locater bug."
"Precisely. I sell you through the contact, then follow the homing chip to their local facility."
"The source of the Internet info?"
"Presumably. Pictures taken of the petrified girl were e-mailed to the buyer, which implies at least brief storage."
I pointed at the towel. "You follow the bug to the place, pop my baggie with the remote, and I'm loose inside."
She nodded, with a shit-eating grin I'd have trouble duplicating. "To gather as much information as possible before letting me in to rescue you."
"You want the gorgon."
"Her name, at least. Then we notify the police, to shut the operation down. My people will deal with her quickly and quietly."
"How lewd am I gonna have to pose?"
She laughed. "I have some thoughts. But first I must make the contact, bring him here for a viewing."
I shook my head resignedly. "The things I do for family."
"Yeah. How did that snakes-for-hair thing ever get started?"
"Poetic license perhaps. Or a bad hair day."
"Figures. After all, where would they shit?"
She nearly beaned me with her empty glass.
5 * * * * *
Anisa called me just after noon the next day, told me the buy was on. When I didn't reply with unbridled enthusiasm, she got worried. "Are you having second thoughts?" she asked.
"Third. But I'll do it. As much for your justice as Terry."
Her response was a near-purr. "Good little Tinker."
"Hey, I'm trustin' you here!"
"Aren't you. Be here in late afternoon. He is coming by at seven this evening."
"Okay," I replied, and we hung up.
6 * * * * *
"Care for some Metaxa?" Anisa asked when I arrived at four o'clock.
"Thanks, but I'll go it sober."
She laughed, sounding a bit nervous as she took my jacket. "Come into my office, then. I have some poses selected for your approval.
Her office was much neater than the previous evening, books tidy on their shelves, a few obvious family pictures on a patch of bare wallspace. When I was seated, Anisa passed over a small stack of colored pages.
I stared at the drawings. "Poser. You used friggin' Poser!"
"Poser 6, actually. I will point out that the freckles were difficult."
Leafing through the posed figures, which resembled me alarmingly, I couldn't help but chuckle. "These bring the term 'suggestive' to a whole new level. I'm goin' to Slut City."
Her smile became terminally wicked. "I favor the one on your knees with your left hand fingering yourself." Her expression turned serious. "Is that too much?"
I shook my head, sighing. "You'll want a certain sale. The raunchier I look, the more likelihood of success, right?
"So I believe."
"Nearly. First, I wish to show you something few know about my kind." Reaching up, Anisa removed her sunglasses, keeping her naked green gaze locked with mine.
"Holy...shit!" I said, barely able to speak. I could still move, and her eyes were beautiful.
"We must will our power to function, though many times it is simple reflex, as with Lynn."
"She pissed you off."
"Yes." She replaced the glasses and stood, pushing her chair back. "Shall we, then?"
We went out into the great room. She'd thoughtfully draped a sheet over Terry, though it was obvious what lay beneath it. I unlaced my boots, pulled them off, and began stripping, piling my clothes neatly atop the boots. I glanced at Anisa as I slipped out of my sports bra. "Don't look so interested, okay?"
Anisa hugged herself, but didn't appear remotely embarrassed, and didn't quit looking. "Even we have our fantasies, Kerry Allard." She licked her lower lip.
I grinned at her as I stepped out of my panties and settled onto the hardwood, my legs folded back with knees spread slightly. "Yeah, well, you aren't exactly chopped liver yourself." My left hand crept down to my crotch, felt wetness, and my expression showed my surprise.
Anisa laughed, soft and intimate. "Someone wants something?"
My face warmed. "You're ...very...compelling."
Her voice dropped an octave, growing suggestive. "We must continue this conversation afterward, sweet Tinker."
I nodded mutely, redder by the second, parted my labia, thrust three fingers into myself, and inadvertently gasped.
"Splendid! Can you hold that expression, keep your eyes slitted?"
"Is 'slitted' the past tense of 'slit?'"
Chuckling, she reached down and positioned my right hand on my right thigh. "Dig your fingertips in slightly. Then arch your back."
My arousal continued to spiral steadily up without being willed. "Being posed is...exciting," I said, my tongue thick around words I couldn't imagine I'd uttered.
Her long fingers glided over my body, each touch a burst of heat. "I daresay. Tilt your head up. I'll tuck the baggie into your hair."
When I was positioned to her satisfaction, Anisa said, "One more thing before the moment." She cupped the back of my head with her right hand, bent down and kissed me, long and lingering.
I leaned forward into her lips, nearly destroying my pose. "An..i..sa."
"Afterward will be magic," she said, with a moan of pleasure, straightening, composing herself. "Wet your lips."
"Not a problem," I mumbled, shaking my head to clear it, feeling as though I'd been dipped in lava. I looked up at her, faking nothing.
"Perfect," she breathed, and lifted her glasses.
Pleasure flowed from her eyes into every cell of my being, and I became an erotic artwork.
7 * * * * *
My world was populated with people who moved like Barry Allen, if I saw them at all. The buy and the trip to wherever registered as less than five minutes of my time, and I found myself in a small showroom with a half-dozen other figures.
Then, as promised, my head was wet and I came back to the world of the living.
Fortunately, there wasn't any smell. Maybe their shit didn't stink, either.
I held my pose until I was certain the room contained no mobility but mine. No voices or footsteps intruded on the silence, only the faint susurrus of air-conditioning.
Rising to my feet, I stretched first up, then down to touch my toes, followed by a few side-to-side waist pivots and shoulder rotations.
My body suitably loose, I examined the room. None of the statues seemed to be anything other than stone, but I studied each of them carefully, wondering if a petrified person could be surface-treated to mimic mineral. Not that it mattered. Their business records mattered most of all, though petrified people would be frosting on the cake.
Metal doors were located on each side of the gallery. I tried the one on the right, found it locked. The inner surface was cool, so it must be an outside door. The other opened into a short hallway with another door at its end, bathrooms on the sides.
I checked the women's for clothing, found a long white labcoat in a locker and shrugged into it before checking the door at the far end of the hall.
It opened into a high-ceilinged sculptor's studio with figures in various stages of completion, including three under drapes. There were drawings tacked onto moveable screens, drafting tables, and tools in neat wheeled racks. The place looked like the real deal.
No sooner had I reached that conclusion than I heard loud voices outside the roll-up door to the studio. The opener light flicked on, and the door began to lift.
I sprinted back down the hallway to the gallery, shedding the coat in a corner on the way. I might not register to them if they came into the gallery, but sure as hell they'd notice one of the statues being gone.
I'd barely taken my pose on the low display platform and stopped breathing hard when three men entered, shoving a blindfolded Anisa before them. Her hands were taped behind her back, and the well-dressed shorter guy who didn't have a weapon yelled at her angrily.
"The fuck you think you're doin', you conniving bitch?"
Smiling, Anisa turned toward him, causing him to step back a pace, worried about those eyes, even covered. "My task was to find your business location, nothing more. The police will arrive shortly."
"You're lyin'." Even knowing Anisa only a little, I silently agreed with him, which meant she and I had to save our own butts. They hadn't more than glanced my direction to verify I was still in place, that Anisa hadn't somehow stolen me, and they would only see the statue they remembered.
So I was safe for the moment, but I had to do something, and quickly. One guy held a heavy automatic, the other a nasty-looking little Mini-Mac, and both had tensed when Anisa mentioned the cops.
"What if she ain't lyin'?" the gunman with the automatic asked.
The leader considered that for a moment, then shook his head. "Yeah. Better take her somewhere else and finish her."
Until I'd gotten too tall, I'd been a wannabe gymnast. Now was the time to use those skills. Taking a deep breath, I erupted off the platform and charged the Mini-Mac wielder, keeping low to the floor.
All three heard my footsteps and began to turn toward the sound. I sprang into the air feet-first and struck my target at arm-level, knocking his weapon spinning away and sending him staggering.
I flipped onto my feet and yanked Anisa's blindford off just as she kicked the leader in his wedding tackle.
He bounced backward, screaming in pain, right into the third guy, who didn't avoid Anisa's uncovered eyes, removing himself from the equation as I tore the tape from her wrists.
Manwhile, the one I'd kicked scrambled on all fours to recover his weapon. I leapt after him, smashing him in the butt as he swept up the Mini-Mac and spun onto his right side. I went down with him and grabbed both his ears, jerking his head back so Anisa could stop him.
She did, but his finger froze on the trigger, spraying the far wall and ceiling until he clipped out.
In the following sudden silence, Anisa lay on the floor next to the moaning leader, unmoving.
"Are you okay?" I asked shakily, levering myself up.
"I believe so," she replied, climbing slowly to her feet and grinning at me in relief. "Talented little Tinker."
I ran into her embrace.
8 * * * * *
The cops more-or-less ignored me in the aftermath of our near-disaster, which was fine by me, and expected. We'd tied up the head bad guy before calling them and restoring the two stoners. After the trio had been led away and our interviews recorded, I stood in my recovered lab coat and watched the activity die down.
"Once again, nice public-spirited work, Anisa," said the lead detective, a tall, blonde female Lieutenant named Deakins. "The city appreciates your efforts. You got all the info you need?" She meant the other gorgon's name and location.
"Yes," Anisa replied. "I shall see to the solution myself."
Deakins nodded before turning to me. "And you, Miz Allard. Good to see one of your people on our side of the law. For a change." Her grey eyes danced as she spoke, and I realized she'd been aware of me the whole time.
"Uh, thanks," I said, half-unnerved, gulping.
"You two may as well leave," Deakins said, still smiling. "I need anything more, I'll call. And thanks again. You were both terrific."
Anisa politely thanked her, and we left hurriedly.
"She could see me!" I hissed to Anisa when we were safely out of earshot. "How in hell..?"
"Yes, most interesting. I have found the good Lieutenant to be full of surprises. Among other appealing attributes, she is a pragmatic sociopath. Perhaps such people are less affected?"
"Whatever," I replied sourly as Anisa led me around the corner of the building to her waiting motorcycle. I stopped in shock when I saw it, my hands on my hips.
"Don't you ever use the Volvo?"
She shrugged as she unlocked her helmet and tugged it on, buckling it. "The motorcycle is easier to hide."
"My butt's gonna be hanging out halfway across town!"
"Most provocative, I'm certain. Wrap your garment tightly around yourself, do your magic, and perhaps we will not arrive at my home with a gaggle of panting males in our wake."
I remained indignant. "That's not very damn comforting."
"Then think of your grateful sister. And the Metaxa." She smiled suggestively. "Also me."
Well, there was that. I climbed aboard behind her, and gripped her tightly.
9 * * * * *
Back at Anisa's, I showered before reviving Terry. Clean and dressed, feeling a bunch better, I placed a chair in front of Terry, doused her, then sat and waited for her to come back to life. Anisa stayed in her office, out of sight.
In less than a minute, Terry blinked, shuddered, and took a deep breath. "Holy shit," she said softly, her eyes wide. "You saved me."
I nodded smugly. "Yup."
She looked around nervously as she stood up. "Where are we?"
"The other gorgon's place. Cab'll be here for you in a minute. Take you home."
"Where is she?"
"In another room. Waiting. I cut a deal with her."
I stood, took her left arm, led her toward the front door. "A favor, actually. Tell you about it in the morning."
"You're staying? You sure you'll be okay?" She must be damned eager to be out of here. Ordinarily she'd be a lot more inquisitive and demanding.
I opened the door. "No problemo, Sis."
She paused at the top of the steps, studying me with narrowed eyes. "You're being awful casual about this, Kerry. With you that means either money or sex."
Headlights appeared up the street. "Oh, look," I said, pointing, "Here's your ride."
"Which is it?"
"Sex, of course," I replied, grinning at her, handing her a twenty for the cab.
She laughed, hugged me, and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before running down the steps. "Yeah, right. Well, thanks for getting me out of this. I owe you."
She didn't respond beyond a dirty look. She'd be properly grateful tomorrow. Maybe even have the dishes done and the laundry folded and put away when I got home.
Big maybe on those. I waved as the cab left.
10 * * * * *
" Anisa asked when I strolled into her office and sat down in front of her desk, picking up the waiting glass of Metaxa.
"She'll be fine. She thinks there's money involved. I told her sex."
"Only the truth." Laughing, she raised her glass. "To us."
"To us," I replied, leaning forward and touching glasses. I took a long sip and smiled at her. "So how did those guys know you'd show up?"
"My cousin -- your robbery victim -- logged on to a gorgon chatroom after burning through the Ativan and Ouzo, and foolishly mentioned that her cousin was doing some work with the authorities. Someone put two-and-two together, and they were waiting for me to appear."
"Best-laid plans," I said, shrugging. "Doesn't matter. We kicked butt. Not bad for a couple one-trick ponies."
Anisa winced. "And I was careless, too confident of success. You saved my life."
"Had to. Had my own best-laid plans. Or plans for being best-laid, at any rate."
Her smile was slow and filled to the brim with promise. "Wicked little Tinker."
"Hey, I'm smoldering here. An attentive hostess would see to my needs."
She stood, draining her glass, her voice dropping an octave. "I shall be most attentive, I assure you."
"Talking is over. Finish your drink."
So I did.
And started something else.
This piece is a story with ASFR elements, but really isn't a traditional ASFR story. Also, it's at least a partial rip-off of Algis Budrys' Nobody Bothers Gus (Astounding, 1955) and Kara Dalkey's novel Euryale, each of which provided key plot elements. The Budrys story has been in the back of my mind for fifty years, and Ms. Dalkey added an important bit of gorgon lore which fit the circumstances perfectly. Fun to write, too, if over-long. And, of course, Kerry's Great-Uncle Kent Allard knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men.