New York City, present day
Three months after walking away from the job a million girls would have died for, Allison Katz looked up at that familiar concrete and glass tower again. A sudden chill ran down her spine. “You can never go home again,” she reminded herself, then plunged into the Devil’s Own Domain once more: Glamazon Magazine.
Familiar sights and sounds summoned memories Alli hoped she’d long forgotten. The constant staccato clacking of stiletto-heeled shoes on the marble foyer, the amazing number of stunningly beautiful, extremely tall skinny women that streamed to and fro, their catty conversations echoing in a multitude of accents. The smells of searing-hot coffee spilled on leather, lacquered brass work, and thousand-dollar-an-ounce perfume.
“Hiya, legs!” accosted Emilio the guard, using her old nickname, thankfully not butchering any new songs for her benefit. “Go’in up to your old haunts? No need ta sign in; they called down for youse already.” He gazed down and slowly up her five-foot-ten figure and almost licked his lips. “Really lookin’ sharp today, kid.”
“Yes, thanks,” Alli admitted, flashing a wide smile at him. At least some things never change, she thought as she stepped through the open turnstile and into a waiting elevator. Her fingers pressed the floor number as if possessed. Old habits die hard...
Riding up in silence, in her mind she played back the message from a confused-sounding Elisabet that had been on her machine the previous evening: “Allison, love, Mirra needs you to pop by in the morning for a photo shoot, though I can’t imagine why. Try to make yourself at least presentable; I do hope you haven’t turned too flabby in the meantime.” Click. Summoned; why can’t anyone in that place simply ask a polite question? she wondered rhetorically, wetting her glossed lips with her tongue and checking out her reflection in the polished metal panels.
Still a four, thank you very much. Alli smiled, preening. She hadn’t given all her fancy clothes away, keeping a couple of outfits that looked nice and didn’t seem too outrageous. Even so, she’d chosen the most ‘normal’ one: A russet leather jacket over knitted black top, with fitted anthracite jeans and the sole overtly trendy touch, high-heeled tall Chanel boots that reached almost to her knees. Her only accessories were a simple stranded golden bead-and-bangle necklace and her favorite Holt shoulder bag. Not very different than I’d wear into the paper any day, she told herself. Alli had kept her hair styled with the long bangs that framed her oval face, drawing attention to her large wide eyes and expressive mouth; she had taken a little extra time to make sure her makeup was applied perfectly, with just a touch more eyeliner and blusher than she normally wore. Not going to give them any opportunities to poke fun at me this time! she thought smugly as the floor chime “ding”ed.
The doors paused for a moment before parting, just enough time for a moment of apprehension before revealing the high-tech glitz of the Glamazon headquarters suite. The brushed-stainless nameplate was the same as she’d remembered it, but the white background had been replaced by immense granite wall panels and flooring that recalled the exterior of Rockefeller Plaza in a trompe l'oi masterpiece. Polished chrome and floor-to-ceiling clear plate glass framed the entry with the logo of the magazine engraved into the panels as an accent. Overhead halogen spotlights made the gleaming foyer setting look unnaturally brilliant, almost like a store window.
Stylishly dressed people rushed back and forth, intent on their own business, not noticing Alli in the slightest. She could tell by their breakneck pace and iconic display of avant-garde fashions that her (ex)boss, Mirra Preachy, would soon be arriving; this was the all-too-common condition of sheer panic Alli had dubbed “Defcon Two” while she was one of the ‘Dragon Lady’s two harried assistants. Poor Elisa, being from the UK, hadn’t the slightest clue about the real meaning of the term.
Happy that she didn’t need to be part of that chaos anymore, Alli stepped into the office and headed towards Mirra’s corner domain, carefully avoiding several near-collisions with staffers who had much more important things to do than to say hello. An occasional raised eyebrow of surprise or sneer in passing was all they gave her, mostly.
“Dearie, that look is so last season; are we doing a retrospective?” A small, balding, nattily-dressed man commented to her with a wry grin before disappearing into the art department. “And don’t let me catch you raiding The Closet either…” were his parting words to her.
“Nice to see you, too, Niguel,” she called back happily, knowing he’d been one of her true friends here in this strange place.
Dodging a wheeled rack of one-of-a-kind couture (Galliano, she figured, by the decorative accents) careening down the busy pathway being pushed by a young girl in five-inch thigh-high stiletto boots that would have cost her two months salary, Alli finally made her way to her old workplace, where a young woman with unnaturally blonde hair hunched intently over a tiny PDA gizmo pressing the buttons with the tip of a pen while emitting ‘eek’s of terror and surprise. So, that’s the new me? Alli realized with an unexpected pang of contempt.
Seconds passed while the seated assistant ignored her; finally Alli cleared her throat lightly, nothing more than a demure “Ahem.” It was as if a klaxon had gone off, or a nuclear bomb.
The new girl shot to her feet, eyes wide with fear, ready to fight or flee or plead for her life all in the same instant. The PDA tumbled onto the desk; barely missing a paper cup of cold coffee that should have been in the rubbish can already. “You’re not Mirra – what are you doing here?” she demanded with a faint scowl. She was wearing a corseted satin cocktail dress in aubergine, last seen draped on someone much more famous (and taller) at some movie award show.
“Hi, I’m Allison Katz,” Alli introduced herself brightly, not letting the mood of the new assistant get to her. “I used to work here. Sitting right there,” she glanced at the desk.
“Oh, God. You’re her. But, you look, ah, normal; I mean really pretty,” the assistant blurted, then blushed. “Elise always said…”
“Said whot?” interrupted a tall, gaunt, redheaded girl in a tight pencil skirt and peasant blouse as she darted past them to search for something on Mirra Preachy’s vast desk. “There’s no time at awll for chit-chat right now; she’s moved the run-through up a full half-day this time and she’ll be here any second. You need to print out her schedule notes right now since you’ve managed to bollocks up her handheld like some bloody insidious luddite.” Finding the sample book of cloth swatches, Elise headed out again at a run and only then noticed who was standing there. “Hello, Alli, you picked a vile time to arrive. We’re all in a rush today, and you’re making Coradelia even slower than usual. Cheerio.”
“No, wait!” Alli called after her, and then started to trail her former co-worker. “You phoned me to come in. Something about a photograph?”
The frantic first assistant paused, then made a beeline back for her desk, fumbling the clumsy swatch book so she could reach the keyboard on her stylish white computer. “Blast it; another of Mirra’s wild notions. Despite your abysmal performance here, she’d fancy a pic-ture of you for our employee roster. Perhaps to throw darts at, I wonder.”
Alli ignored Elisabet’s outburst. “Can I hold that book for you? Make it easier.”
“We can get along just splendidly here without you, thank you very much,” the redheaded assistant grumbled as she scribbled a few lines onto a sticky note with one hand. “Here ‘tis. They’ll be waiting for you to be sure,” she said, handing the address over while bolting for the conference room all in one motion. “And, Cordy, make sure you have those fresh coffees ready; five minutes ago. Brilliant.” Elise rounded the corner and vanished.
Coradelia sagged; yet another task that had to be done in not enough time. She glanced at Alli with tears welling in her eyes. Overwhelmed. “How could you stand this place?” she bleated.
“It gets better after a while,” Alli smiled, telling the new assistant a teensy whopping white lie. Your skin just gets thicker, she reminded herself of the sad truth.
“Well, nice to have met you, but I gotta go right now,” the second assistant excused herself, picking up an ornate Mark Jacobs bag that perfectly complemented her ensemble and making fast for the elevator bay.
“You know, you can fax in that order to the coffee place and save a little time? I used to have it stored on the notepad; it’s always the same. Look up under ‘Daily Grind’…”
“Thanks, Allison, I’ll try. Next time,” Cordy said over her shoulder as the glass doors closed behind her. She tapped the call button on the elevator nervously as if that would bring it quicker.
Another voice came from behind her. “We really are slumming today. First you totally ignore me, then you’re contaminating the mind of your young replacement with useful suggestions.”
“Hello, again, Niguel. I really wasn’t…”
“Not to worry. I know how busy you are these days, writing exposés and op-ed pieces, hob-nobbing with all those literary lights, saving the world from itself. Decent copy, too, but you didn’t hear that from me,” he said the last with a conspiratorial whisper and a quick warm smile.
“Thanks. You’re still sweet, no matter what anyone else says. Things still the same around here?”
“Unfortunately. Worse, in a way, since Mirra knows there’s competition. Not from Jackie anymore, damn her, but sooner or later. She’s making peculiar changes, trying to get edgier, whatever that means. Today, that’s shrinking the editorial calendar, which means…”
“You’re already late,” Alli stated.
Niguel smiled ruefully, turning to leave. “One more thing; I almost forgot.” He reached into a pocket and pulled out a pair of new Louis Vuitton sunglasses, handing them to her. “Here, a small bauble.”
“I thought you said no raiding The Closet?”
“Doesn’t mean I can’t. Besides, those are damaged. Or something. I really do have to go,”
he excused himself and backed away. “Come around more often; we should talk.”
“Bye, for now, and thanks. I’ll be back soon. I promise,” she agreed, but he had already slipped away. The halls were strangely quiet; everyone must be gathering or making themselves scarce.
Alli glanced down at the scribbled note and saw the time: fifteen minutes from now, and down in the west village. Elise wasn’t kidding about my being late, she realized, heading to the elevators. I’ll have to take a cab to make up some time. Any other day she would have walked the distance and taken in the sights of the bustling city.
Thankfully the elevator arrived almost instantly and it looked empty. Alli started to enter and almost ran into the sole occupant in back. With a gasp, she recognized the elegant editor-in-chief standing there impeccably dressed, ready to make her ‘entrance’. They hadn’t spoken since Paris. “Hi, Mirra, sorry.”
Mirra Preachy looked past her once assistant as if she were invisible, showing an expression of mild discontent that anyone not familiar with her emotions would have dismissed. Alli knew then her old boss was still incandescently furious by the flare of her nostrils and the slight purse of those lips. The lips that had sunk a thousand fashion designers…
Alli backed out of the elevator, reddening, knowing anything she tried to say would be ignored. Mirra walked past her without taking any notice, entered the office and could be heard loudly demanding; “Where is my coffee? Is that so much to ask of anyone?” as the doors muffled her.
Allison decided it was past time to go and plunged back into the open elevator before the doors closed fully. Even after all these months, the magazine could get to her in the blink of an eye.
Twenty Minutes Later
The cab dropped her off in one of those ‘marginal’ parts of town that were OK to be in during the day but turned dodgy after the sun went down. A jumble of aging multi-story warehouses and brownstones made the street level a shadowy canyon that teemed with activity. Fashionably dressed girls on errands, lugging huge portfolios or garment-bagged wardrobes; vans awkwardly double-parked, unloading crates and boxes with Chinese or some other foreign labeling on them; a steady stream of cabs, trucks, and bike couriers going to and fro along the potholed street, providing the background ruckus of traffic sounds, horns and shouted curses. Flocks of gray pigeons milled about, occasionally startling into raucous flight.
Alli hadn’t ever been to this address, but the area seemed familiar. The studio was in a big old warehouse carrying a faded sign identifying the place as once being “Greenough’s Mercantile”. There was a windowed storefront of retail display fixtures on ground floor; the middle floors had their windows blacked out, creating a vaguely inhospitable aspect. The entryway foyer tiles were cracked, with sections missing entirely; she stepped carefully to the only elevator, a huge freight model with no real doors, only a horizontally opening lattice gate. The open shaft smelled of dusty grease mixed with indeterminately organic odors. The elevator car arrived after what seemed a long time with a clunk; it had half-height steel walls and a gouged-up wood plank floor. The gate had to be opened and closed by hand, but otherwise the machinery seemed to be working all right. Ascending slowly, she passed the landing for a floor filled with cardboard boxes and another that was some kind of paint shop with a row of what looked like nude statues arrayed along one wall. It was gone in a second, replaced by a section of blank brick wall, then the elevator clanked to a halt at what seemed like a completely different building and time.
The top floor’s lobby had walls of polished white acrylic panels holding several large framed photographs of models and fashion runway presentations; the floor was translucently luminous, providing an odd upside-down lighting. Angular pieces of white leather and chrome furniture that looked uncomfortable provided a small reception area flanking a solid black acrylic-faced door. There was a small gold pushbutton to one side, below a plaque showing the suite number.
This has to be the right place, she told herself, reaching out to press the button. There was no sound in response that she could hear. For several minutes Alli waited, feeling increasingly foolish fidgeting there, then broke the monotony by pacing around on the strange floor and noticing how her feet seemed to float in mid-air. She looked at her reflection in the blank slab of the door, checking how her new sunglasses looked perched in her hair, then put them on and struck a few poses in the impromptu mirror. Look at me; I’m a Glamazon girl! she mocked.
Finally, she lost patience and moved to push the button again when the door opened abruptly, giving her a little fright that she quickly masked with a broad smile. Inside was an asian man of indeterminate age, with straight black hair covering his ears and a scraggly beard. He had on a maroon NIN T-shirt and a pair of camouflage cargo pants. “Come in, come in, Miss Katz. You expected. My name Hidari Mibae, but you call me ‘Sakka’ if you like,” he said, bowing slightly. “Meaning art-maker, in Japanese.”
Alli bowed also, not knowing if that was proper. “Most folks say ‘Alli’, or Allison,” she replied. “I’m here for a photograph, for Glamazon Magazine, but I’m not really sure past that point?” Alli said tentatively. “I actually don’t work there anymore.”
“Ah, all will be explain,” he motioned her inside. “You office give very detail instructions, along with wardrobe.” The studio was much like others she’d visited, with a tall skylight window above one remaining brick wall, a wide roll of background paper held aloft on aluminum stands, and multiple lighting units of every shape and style: umbrellas, moonlights, softboxes, reflectors, and mirror-walls. Off to one side was an industrial-sized fan. Seemingly dwarfed by all the gear was a sturdy tripod with a state-of-the-art digital camera affixed to it.
“Wardrobe?” Alli questioned. “This was supposed to be a simple quick head-shot, I thought.”
“Ah, big boss there wanted you to look, she say, presentable. Not any problem, I expect?”
“No, not really,” Alli sighed, starting to see her day slip away. You can always count on Mirra to want everything orchestrated just so, she grumbled to herself. A sharp ‘pop’ drew her glance to the dressing table, where a young girl dressed in the height of Tokyo cutey-fashion had just opened a bottle of champagne and was filling a pair of flutes with the bubbly golden liquid. She handed one to Alli and the photographer, Sakka, then backed away into the shadow.
He smiled at Alli. “We now toast to successful image,” he announced, raising his glass. “Then you go with Yukiko, who help with your dressings. Kanpai!” He took a full gulp, draining it.
“Uh, Campai,” repeated Alli, also drinking deeply while wondering what he’d meant. She would find out soon enough.
As it turned out the magazine had sent over a rack of six designer dresses, fourteen pair of shoes, and a host of belts, scarves, bracelets, brooches, and other accessories. Along with instructions that she be photographed at least once in each one. After explaining carefully to Sakka that they had likely meant each dress and not each combination, she was finally getting prepared for the first setup.
For her part, Yukiko (who Alli had found out liked to be called ‘Judy’) was an efficient, if mostly silent, assistant. With an almost clairvoyant ability to know where her aid was needed, the girl helped Alli get undressed and into the gown in what seemed like record time, all the while projecting an attitude of intense boredom. Judy’s eyes told a different story, though, as they followed Alli around, always focused on some part of her figure or face. While helping to zip up and clasp the dress, she had leaned close and whispered “You have very beautiful body..” or at least that what it sounded like, but she wouldn’t say anything more when Alli asked her what she had meant.
Alli did her own fashion make-up, despite Judy’s desire to lend a hand, and was finally ready for the session. While they had gotten the dress size right, the shoes were a bother, with the ones that looked best with the ensemble being slightly too large. Wiping her feet on the damp towel, preparing to step out onto the seamless, Alli was met by Sakka with another glass of champagne.
Nothing like getting snockered at ten in the morning to clean out those butterflies, she thought as she smiled and drank another toast. Strangely, it did seem to help, as she had no trouble taking a variety of expressions and poses. He only had to give her a few suggestions as the flash units captured the moments in brilliant detail. Alternating between lenses, he took shots of both her full body and close-up, while Judy circled silently without being asked, holding a silvery-gold reflector in just the right position each shot to chase away shadows.
“OK; Excellent!” he proclaimed after what seemed a short time. “Next outfit, please.”
“Are you sure you got what you wanted?” Alli asked, “That didn’t seem like very many shots.”
“Only finest kind,” he grinned. “You very good; if not for other job, you should become model.”
She blushed, hoping it wouldn’t show through the foundation on her face. “You’re too kind, Sakka, and you make posing seem so easy. I’m only a journalist, after all.”
“Never know what you might become, old philosopher say, until you try. Now, new dress now,” he dismissed her with a wave of his hand over to where Judy waited expectantly, ready to run her birdlike hands over Alli’s figure again in the process of getting her changed and prepped.
The second garment was a bit stranger, more fashionable so to say. Stretchy and beadwork-encrusted, it clung to her torso like a second skin, making Allison thankful for skipping that second bagel this morning. Capri-style leggings and stiletto slingback pumps completed the look, along with a tiny hat and huge bangle earrings. Without being asked, Judy went to work on Alli’s eyes, adding extra shadow and liner to make them look even larger and more mysterious.
“Please, I can do that myself,” she protested, then picked up the mascara pen herself.
The assistant backed away with an odd half-smile, saying, “For now, you can,” under her breath.
Another toast, another set on the background; this time with Alli stepping away from camera, then looking back over her shoulder as Sakka took the frame. On his direction, she held each still pose for several seconds while he switched cameras and took his close-ups and fill-ins.
“Take break,” he said after a few minutes, “then add cape. Only a few more of these, afterward.”
Alli was surprised at how tired that small amount of exercise was making her; she resolved to go back jogging every morning again, like she had before that infernal assistant’s job soaked up her every waking moment. She took another drink of champagne from the refilled glass on her dressing table, even though she was starting to feel a little tipsy. Her fingertips had started to tingle a bit, too. This is gonna be my last glass, she resolved. The ‘cape’ that Judy helped her to secure around her neck was only a sheer sweep of embroidered tulle with gold traceries, almost invisible in most lighting. When was high fashion ever practical? She mused, while walking carefully to the background where Sakka waited, holding out another toast for her.
She shook her head from side to side, slowly. “No more; I’ve had enough, please.”
He smiled as if not hearing her. “To the images. You are doing so well, so beautiful, do not bring evil influences upon us.”
“Oh. So, you’re worried about bad luck now?” Alli asked, half kidding.
Sakka nodded seriously as of that was the most important thing in the universe. “Yes, please, we must toast.” He tipped and drained his glass, looking to her expectantly.
“Gotta keep those evil spirits at bay, I guess,” she agreed before downing her glass also, wiping her feet (nearly stumbling) then taking her position once more. Twisting in place to make the cape flow around her beaded figure, seeing the random flashes that blinded her for an instant, Alli sort of lost track of the time as the flashes blurred together. Turn, smile, pose, flash; turn, smile, flash. How long can this go on? Flash, turn, flash, flash, flash.
“Wonderful, Alli!” his voice interrupted, bringing her back to the studio from wherever her mind had wandered off to. “This series complete; new dress, please!”
She held her pose for several more seconds, then relaxed slowly, letting the cape settle around her shoulders before remembering to go back to the dressing area. Judy was her ever-helpful self, taking off the diaphanous cape before Alli sat down, then zipping open the beaded couture blouse as the young journalist rested, staring off into the room. She worked the tight-fitting fabric off Alli’s arms, noticing that the model was starting to hold whatever position her body had fallen into. Only when the assistant started to undo the front-opening bra did Alli seem to awaken and protest.
“No, please, I need to do that,” she said slowly, not slurring but taking a long time between words. She brought her hands down to touch the clasp and touched her own naked breasts instead. The bra was already gone, as were her stretchy leggings.
“I am here to help,” Judy said in explanation. “Sakka is very much in hurry to finish with you. Next outfit most important, cannot go on top of anything. See?” She held out a sheer garment in what looked like molten silver, sized small enough to possibly fit a barbie doll snugly.
“Joking, right?” Alli managed to say at length looking down to see Judy slipping a glistening pair of pantyhose over her legs, which were feeling all tingly too.
“Never joke about fashion. This is Azarro,” Judy replied as if that made everything crystal clear.
“Ohh Kayy.” Alli didn’t want to raise a fuss; the poor assistant was just doing her job after all. She felt the hands around her ankles, and then a zipping that meant she would be wearing those silvery, angle-topped boots she had seen on the rack. Strange, she thought, Pale gold is normally my best shade. What is she doing with my sunglasses?
“Now, stand, Alli. I finish your dressing,” Judy said with surprising assurance as she pulled the model to her feet, where she stayed without swaying. Magically, the micro-stretch Azarro suit was able to reach Alli’s shoulders without ripping, but it did not so much cover her torso as it coated every curve in glistening silver. Her navel dimple could easily be seen as well as the firm buttons of her nipples. There were other details in her crotch that would have been easily visible but for the slightly uneven mound of her matted pubic hairs. Judy adjusted the fit of the seams around Alli’s legs and added a couple of bracelets at her wrists to complete the ensemble. As Alli waited patiently, Judy pulled her flowing chestnut brown hair back into a ponytail and added one final accent, a pair of sunglasses that had been laying on the dressing table. Fashion is where you find it.
“Ready, Alli? One last set. You can do it,” Judy encouraged her, commanded her. “Move over to the background now. Take it one step at a time. Go!”
Alli gathered her wits, concentrated through the tingling, and took one step, then another. She didn’t want to think about how she had gotten dressed in this insane swimsuit, or how she was going to make it over to her job at the paper when this was over. Taking those steps was all-important at the moment. Step – pause – step. She had to do it; had to prove that she could.
Sakka was waiting with his glasses of champagne, holding hers out to her. “One last toast, for the luck, my beautiful mannequin. Kanpai!”
Alli didn’t want to drink, but her tongue was all tingly too and her mouth seemed not to be listening to her brain. Judy tipped the glass to Alli’s lips and made sure she swallowed, then wiped away any extra droplets from her silvery-tinted reddish lips. What did he just say?
With Judy’s help she took those last steps onto the background and faced the camera, then the assistant stepped out of frame.
“OK, Alli, take a big step towards me; look here and smile. You’re happy; everyone is going to be looking at you. This is how they’ll always remember you. Come on, one last picture!”
Allison Katz summoned up her inner strength, pushed through the haze and tingling, willing herself to take that extra step, go that extra distance. She drew her mouth out into a broad, beaming smile and then took that step, the muscles in her legs tensed as she found her balance.
Flash; then another. “Hold it Alli, I want to capture you exactly as you are.” Flash, flash, flash. “Perfect, now keep holding it…” he instructed as he circled with the camera, but took no more frames of her as she stood there on the paper, motionless.
Her mind remained aware, but confused. Why am I frozen in this pose? I can’t budge an inch! What’s going on – what have they done to me? There must be something in that champagne… What she didn’t know was that each thought was taking a longer and longer time to form as her mind slowed into stasis and her body stiffened into place. She did not react even when Sakka stepped up to her and snapped his fingers directly in front of her open vacant eyes. Not a blink, not a flinch of any sort. She was passing into a suspended animation. Floating, tingly…
“Wow, boss! That one took a long time to go under,” Judy stated, her asian accent suddenly gone. “I had to give her a triple dose with that last glass. Good thing, too, she didn’t drink it all.”
“Yeah,” he agreed; that girl’s got some resistance. He touched Alli’s chin, raising it up slightly with some effort for a more regal appearance. After all, she’d be holding this pose for quite a long time. No reason she couldn’t look her best. Such a lovely girl.
From by the entry door, a gentle five-tone chime rang once. Someone was in the lobby.
“We finished barely in time; they’re here. Go let her in, Yukiko.”
Mirra Preachy entered the studio like visiting royalty, ignoring everyone and everything but the person she was meeting. Elise trailed behind in a typical state of confused anxiety. This had to be an off the record appointment; her boss hadn’t brought the usual entourage.
“Dear Mirra, how good to see you again,” gushed Sakka, giving her an oddly out of place continental kiss on each cheek. “Everything has been prepared, just as instructed.”
“Finally, somebody who seems to be able to comprehend a simple request. Where is she? I don’t have all day to take a self-guided tour.”
“This way; here. She’s still in the studio; I was simply taking some coverage frames.” He showed the path with a wave of his hand, Mirra strode ahead. “Remember to wipe your feet before stepping on the paper… Oh, well, I can always replace it.”
Mirra circled the motionless figure of Alli who continued to pose rigidly taking her last step, a confident smile frozen on her lovely features. The editor took in every highlight and curve with a practiced eye, nodding imperceptibly. She, too, could not resist waving her hand in front of those wide, vacant, doe-like eyes and getting no reaction whatsoever.
“Almost adequate,” she judged poking Alli’s arm with her gloved finger and noticing how firm the body had already become. “Can she hear me?”
“I suppose so. The figure will be ready to be moved in another hour or two after it has hardened completely,” Sakka told her.
Turning to the posed former assistant, Mirra came up very close to her. “Alli, you are going to serve out the rest of your contract with me in a slightly different… position.” The older woman smirked at her ironic witticism. “Nobody does what you did to me, walking away. Never!”
Mirra? Alli’s sluggish thoughts stirred, triggered by the familiar insistent voice. Why are you… talking to me? It was very hard to concentrate; her mind kept wandering into hazy limbo.
“So, I’ve arranged for you not to be doing any walking at all for the next few months, or much of anything else for that matter. You’re going to stay where I can keep an eye on you. Since you showed such scorn for the fashion world while you worked for me, you are going to stand in as a symbolic representation of Glamazon Magazine’s style and elegance. That’s all.”
I… Don’t… Understand… Alli made a great effort to think. Please… not… … … …
Listening to Mirra talk to the mannequin, it finally dawned on Elise that that stiff display figure that looked so much like her recent rival Alli actually was Alli! She had no idea how, but that called for a brief celebration. While everyone else was watching Mirra exact her diabolical revenge on the hapless girl, Elise found a half-filled flute of champagne on the table and raised it to her lips in silent victory. The liquid was bubbly and it made her tongue tingle a little.
“Tell me you didn’t just drink that,” hissed the photographer’s assistant in a hushed whisper. By now the photographer too, the guy Sakko or whatever, was staring at her.
“Why is everyone peeping at me?” Elise asked, suddenly dizzy. “What’s happening? Am feeling truly odd – stiff – can’t mo…” Her words cut off with her mouth open, as she suddenly froze solid while holding the glass in one hand.
Judy attempted to remove the glass from Elise’s rigidly held fingers to put it back on the table, knowing the damage had already been done, but the stiffened assistant's grasp was very firm. No point in having to break the stem. “Don’t you know it’s bad luck to toast out of another’s glass?” she said sarcastically.
Elise said nothing at all, but was thinking with increasing difficulty, Oh, bollocks, now I’ll probably have to miss out on the Milan designer showings as well…
“You there,” Mirra targeted Judy with an icy glare, “This horrid Azarro she has on; was that your feeble impression of style?”
“Uh, isn’t that a Badgley?” she corrected, then realized the Glamazon diva-in-chief was talking about Ally, not the motionless girl standing right in front of her. “Oh, right, yes. That was on the rack your office sent over this morning. It fits her very nicely. Is something wrong?”
“Only dreadful,” Mirra commented obliquely. “That Cavalli gown is much more apropos; see to it before the figure is delivered, and do something about those impossible shoes as well. Sakka?”
“Dear Mirra, how may I be of service to you,” The photographer cringed, while smiling shyly.
“This new technique of yours is quite – captivating – to say the least. Perhaps the magazine can find additional use for it in the future. We have the annual new faces panorama coming up.”
“That would be a marvelous opportunity, Mirra; I really…” he gushed before she interrupted.
“Would someone please tell me why my first assistant is standing there like a wooden soldier?” Mirra had finally noticed the rigid girl gaping at nothing with her empty hand held lip-high.
“Um, we had a little accident,” admitted Judy, casting her eyes downward. “She drank some standstill juice too.” Elise continued to stare blankly ahead, not moving a muscle.
“Well, I can’t say it isn’t an improvement,” Mirra commented acidly. “This one always was a bit of a dummy. Do you have any use for her until she revives? I most certainly do not.”
“Possibly, Mirra, we always have set-ups, lighting tests and such that we can use a stationary stand-in figure for, “ Sakka improvised smoothly. “There’s always that factory downstairs, too. You shouldn’t worry.”
“Fine, take care of it. Thank goodness this day hasn’t been a total disaster,” she observed to no one in particular while pulling out her cell phone and dialing. “Coradelia, Give me my afternoon appointments. …She is no longer speaking to me… Consider this a promotion though you have not done anything at all to merit one.” She listened for almost a minute, and then signed off with a curt “Nothing more.” Another call: “James, please bring the car round; I have finished.” Without saying another word to Sakka or Judy, Mirra Preachy fastened her fur-trimmed fawn-skin coat while standing in front of the entry door, as if waiting for it to open or for Elisa to open it for her. After a few seconds, she pushed it open herself with a look of profound irritation and returned to the elevator lobby.
The Next Day
Already rushing at six-thirty in the morning, Coradelia Carpenter juggled seven searing-hot half-foam lattés and a triple shot espresso for herself along with the latest newspapers, magazines, and trades publications, plus print-outs of what she could find from Elisabet’s calendar files. Today was going to be a nightmare and there would be the devil to pay if she screwed up now. Emerging from the elevators and badging herself in to the office suite, she noticed the ‘elves’ had been busy last night.
Standing under the magazine’s logo, posed on that faux exterior setting in a flood of lights, was a chic-looking shapely mannequin that had been dressed in the latest glimmering bronze Cavalli creation. Looking like a freeze-frame photo from the runway of a fashion show, the stunningly real figure was captured striding forward with a dazzling smile.
Cordy did a double-take. The mannequin seemed familiar somehow, but she couldn’t place where she had seen that face before. “Don’t let this place get to you, kid,” she told herself, walking past the new Glamazon icon.
The stylish couture figure looked happy; why couldn’t she?
Her cell phone rang with a distinctive tone. “Yes, Mirra,” she answered. “Of course, Mirra…”
That’s All (for now)