Private Showing 2

by Dmuk

In the first part of this continuing tale, Elise Parsons took the very unusual job of becoming a living display mannequin for a mysterious and reclusive “art collector”, whose oeuvre consisted largely of scantily or unclad young models, posed provocatively.  She said she was gathering information for a news article, he said his goal was to extend and preserve beauty. As it turned out, neither one of them was telling the precise truth. 

This is the second part of their adventure; you can read the first part via the link.

Prologue: Bemused

Elise Parsons was having that same dream again; the one where she couldn’t move a single muscle and stood, stiff as a statue, on a display platform.  Frequently she seemed to be in some kind of exhibition, surrounded by statues of other beautiful women.  Sometimes she was alone and naked in a place where all she could see was darkness.  Even though she was absolutely helpless, she wasn’t afraid, for occasionally she was overcome by unspeakable pleasure fading into a delightfully warm glow that seemed to blur the passage of time itself.

It was a very pleasant dream; a part of Elise hoped it would never end.



In The Collection

The statuesque young blonde gazed unblinkingly at the blank wall; totally oblivious to the sensual attentions being paid to the shapely curves of her gorgeous body by a dazzling, lingerie-clad supermodel who caressed the motionless young woman hungrily while Elise remained fixed rigidly in place: unmoved, unmoving, and seemingly unaware as the waxwork figure she now closely resembled.  All around her were arranged equally beautiful and equally still young women on similar low platforms or benches.  The scene resembled an art gallery of lingerie models.

“Who’s your new treat?”  The sleek golden-haired model commented, pausing to pull aside the mannequin-like figure’s sheer black lace bra, as she began caressing Elise’s firm right breast with quick light flicks of her tongue, letting her hands explore the immobilized girl’s lower torso.  “Mmmm.  For a cutie like this, you could have woken me a little early…”

The man stifled a sarcastic comment and smiled.  “Relax, Adriana; I’ve had Ellie here for only a little over a month and you’re the first model to enjoy her.  She wasn’t one I’d planned on.”

“A walk-in?” the supermodel chuckled.  “You lucky dog!  How’d you convince her to stay – or did she even have the chance?  What a trusting soul she is; I see where that got her.  Frozen.”

“It’s not what you think; this young lovely actually asked me to be put under suspension.  Seemed downright eager about, too; maybe even a little nutty, thinking back upon it…”

“Even before she discovered the… let’s say distinctive… pleasures of a becoming one of your still-life figures?  Mmm, as I recall, it took a couple of times to convince even me…”

“Yeah.  Go figure.  It’s as if she knew, somehow, what it would be like.   Hey, there, what are you doing?” the middle-aged man said with surprise, blushing faintly as the scene unfolded. 

“Nothing you wouldn’t have done, eventually.   I don’t have the time…” Adriana purred. The supermodel had most of Ellie’s undergarments off or pulled aside now and wrapped her limber body around the stiffened young model like a sensuous snake.   Adriana’s tongue was on its own quest for pleasure.

One of Ellie’s rigid arms and pointing fingers was at the right angle to rub against Adriana’s sex as she assisted her own craving with her left hand while grasping the immobilized model closely with her right.  Reaching climax a half-minute later, she tensed at the extended moment of ecstasy and for a memorable instant there were two erotic statues posed on the platform.   Then the tall supermodel relaxed and unwound, leaving Ellie to continue her solo display performance minus a few of her garments.

“Not bad!” Adriana gasped, with a broad smile that said so much more.  “I wonder how much she’ll remember?”

“She’s not supposed to have any memories at all…” the man commented, gazing longingly at the supermodel’s lithe figure and anticipating when she, too, would again be frozen in place.

She smirked.  “Right.  But we both know better, don’t we?  Quite a gimmick you stumbled onto…”

“Hey, I didn’t exactly stumble…”

“Yo, Jackson!   You two bitches start the party without me?”  The two turned to see a cocoa-skinned swimsuit model come to life, step off her posing platform and approach.  The sassy young black girl had full breasts and an ample derriere, both features well exposed by the tight-fitting garment.  Her shoulder-length hair was done up in cornrows tipped with beads.  Up until a few seconds ago, she had been another of the motionless posed figures before the reactivation drug had finally taken effect.

“So nice of you to you to join us,” Adriana replied, coolly.  For a time there we were wondering if you might rather prefer staying frozen – not that I’d ever suggest anything of that kind…”

“Skinny-ass bitch…” the black girl snapped back.

“Now, now; ladies!  Chill.  You know I’m not playing favorites; each of you gets the awake time that we agreed to.”

“Yeah, but sloppy seconds for me wif miss tightbody over there,” the black model complained as she approached Ellie, who continued to stare into the distance as if nothing had happened.

“Better than no seconds at all!”  Adriana added, cattily.

“Jes’ yo wait, girl.  Soon enuff you be the one standin’ there lahk a winnow dummy, and see how you like that new hairstyle ah’m gonna put on ya!”

Adriana spun around, her long golden hair sweeping around her head.  “You wouldn’t!”

Lena smiled evilly.  “Give you sump’tin ta think about,” she taunted while making a scissors motion with her fingers.

Just then a melodious chime sounded, twice:  Bing-Bong…Bing-Bong.

“Uh, oh!”  The man moved quickly, deliberately.  Producing a filled syringe from behind a pillar, he stepped up to the two squabbling models and injected them quickly in their shapely fannies.

“Ouch!  Yo watch that prick o’ yours…” Lena blurted.

“Sorry to cut your argument short, ladies, but you need to get back on display; we’re about to have unexpected guests.   That’s the quick-acting activator, no time for the milkshakes.  You’ve both got about thirty seconds before you’re mannequins again.   GO.  Now!” he urged, while moving towards his front door.   Two chimes meant two people… but whomHe heard a giggling behind him that trailed off abruptly but didn’t have time to deal with it.

Moments later, there was a firm repeated knock at his front door.  “Open up, please – federal agent…” a man’s voice carried over the intercom.  “We’d like to ask you a few questions; I have a warrant!”

Startled, the man stalled for a few seconds, thinking about his options, which weren’t many. “Ah, just a moment…” He could use the booby-trap freeze mist hidden at the entryway on this fellow, but he had no idea whether there were more agents backing this one up.  Probably… two bongs.  He could run, but there was no telling whether his pathways and garage were being covered.  Where did this guy come from?

“How can I help you?” he asked over the intercom, trying to sound casual and innocent, finger on the button that triggered the defenses, weighing his choices.

The pounding on the door repeated, more vigorously than before.  “You can let me in, right now, otherwise I’m authorized to use force.”

No countdown; none of the melodramatic touches you see on TV; just fact, clearly stated.   This guy meant business.  “No need for that – I’ll let you in – almost there now…”  Turning off the microphone, he yelled back into the gallery, “Ready or not, ladies?”  There was only silence, so he had to presume they were ready as he keyed in the unlock code.

Four deadbolts and a two hi-lo magnetic catches released silently, letting the door be opened.  The middle-aged man inside found himself staring at a shiny gold badge and ID presented by a brawny, determined dark-business-suited man of about thirty years age, who stormed into the room as soon as the opening was wide enough.  About three steps later, he caught sight of the many motionless figures of gorgeous, half-dressed young models posed seductively in the gallery:  “Whoa!” he exclaimed, pausing, then letting out a slow whistle, taken aback by the amazing the static cheesecake show.  Glancing from one lovely mannequin-like figure to the other, his unprofessional distraction didn’t last very long.  “Where is she?” he demanded.

“Who?”

“Mata Hari; you have her stashed someplace in this crazy museum.  How about Agent Parsons; huh?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m talking about Agent Elise Parsons, that’s who, dude.  About five-nine barefoot; blond, slim, attractive, though that description covers most every babe in this place. You’re holding her against her will.”

“There must be some misunderstanding officer?  I’ll take you to Miss Parsons, but want to assure you that she is here of her own choice and volition, as are all the other models on display here.”

“I know; she told you she agreed to be suspended for thirty days.   It’s now been six weeks.  You’re in breach of that agreement, pops.  Stop stalling!”

“I’m not stalling,” he stalled, threading among the many rigid figures within the gallery by a circuitous route, making sure to maximize the distractions along the way.

The agent continued to ogle the suspended models as he passed close enough to reach out and touch some of them, then stopped cold, blurting out “Yowza!” as he took in the spontaneous erotic tableau that Adriana and the sassy black model had frozen themselves into along with a third model.  Looking like two nude statues of the many-armed goddess Kali entwined while pleasuring each other, there were just too many tanned arms and legs, accented by swelling breasts, nipples, soft lips and tongues for the overwhelmed male agent to comprehend.  The trio’s suspended, sensual, Gordian knot seemed like it was just the beginning of something really hot.  Sidetracked, he let his imagination follow that direction into an erotic daydream.

“Hey!” Suddenly aware of a sharp pain, the agent looked down to see a syringe sticking out of his forearm.  “What the fuck?”  He rubbed the spot, but it had already started to turn numb.

“I need you to calm down and take a little time-out for me, Okay?  Ellie’s not going anywhere, and neither are you.”

“Huh?  Wha?” The agent was starting to feel like he’d been drinking for hours; his mind was turning fuzzy and the room had started to shimmer a little around him.  Training and instinct had taken over; he went for his gun, but he seemed to be moving in slow motion.  Quickly there was no motion at all, as the agent froze in position with a very puzzled expression on his face.

“Ah, much better; now let’s see who you really work for…” the middle-aged man reached past the weapon into the immobilized agent’s suit jacket pocket.

“FREEZE!” came the command from behind him.  “Get your hands up where I can see ‘em!”

He raised his arms and turned slowly, catching sight of the cavern-sized bore of a 9mm pistol the agent’s female partner had drawn on him.  She scowled at him, obviously looking for the tiniest excuse to shoot.  Under different circumstances, the middle aged man mused, she might look very nice on display herself.  She filled out that government-issue pants suit nicely and was tall, rather pretty, with excellent posture and latte-shaded skin.

“Look.  I can…” he started to say.  “Explain…”

“You’ve done enough talking for now; don’t make it worse by opening your mouth until you got a lawyer present.  Otherwise, you’ll be seeing the inside of a federal prison for a very, very, long time.”

The middle-aged man nodded.  “I’d rather avoid any unpleasantness.”

“Good, but just a tad too late.” the female agent said, relaxing fractionally, but not lowering her weapon.  “Whatever you juiced Dudley, here, with, give him the antidote.  Now!”

 “It’s not that easy; there’s a time-release factor to consider, the side-effects of…”

Make it that easy!   I want to be sure he’s okay.”

“It’s not going to happen.  But I’ll do it if you fancy; you’re the one holding the gun.  We need to go back there for some of the counter-activator,” the middle aged man pointed and the agent looked that way.

“And wake this one up, too; she’s coming with me,” the female agent demanded, having found Ellie’s display and she was shaking the frozen figure slightly as if that would have any effect.  Ellie wobbled stiffly in place.

Frowning, the middle-aged man nodded his head.  “It’s complicated – but I can revive Ellie, here, right away.”

“You mean Agent Parsons, scum!  Go ahead, but no more funny business or my trigger finger might slip..”

Moving slowly, escorted by the edgy female agent, he walked to a cabinet at the rear of the room. Opening it clearly so that she could see there was no weapon inside, he then removed another filled syringe. 

“This is the stuff?” the agent confirmed suspiciously.

“Yes.   It takes about a minute to…” he began; she grabbed the syringe.  “Wait – what are you doing?” he blurted as she stuck him in the chest with the needle.  “Ow!  That’s not going to do me any good, you know,” he reacted with surprise.

“Just checking that you didn’t try to slip me another Mickey,” the agent replied, covering him with her weapon as seconds passed.   “OK, give it to Wainright here,” she motioned back to the frozen male agent.

“I told you it won’t have any effect, yet.”

“Just humor me, OK?   And give me a shot, too, while you’re at it.”

“Alright, lady, but lower that cannon will you?  You’re making me nervous…”

“Good!” The female agent smiled, but relaxed long enough to take an injection in her shoulder, the same location on Agent Wainright that he picked.   They both watched the man for almost a minute.  When it became obvious nothing was happening, she motioned him back to where Ellie stood patiently.   “Now do Agent Parsons,” she commanded.

Finding a spot not too far down the curve of her shapely behind, he injected the remainder of the dose into frozen young woman, then waited.  Thirty seconds never seemed so long.  He was starting to doubt the size of the dosage when Ellie’s eyelids fluttered, the first visible sign of her reanimation.  The ever-watchful female agent noticed the change too, and smiled at the progress.

Ellie lowered her posed arms and took a step forward, right to the edge of the platform.

“Welcome back, Ellie – how do you feel?” the man asked with honest concern.

“OK, I think; kind of hazy and a little stiff…” she responded, not quite awake yet.

“That’s normal.  Those feelings will pass in a couple of minutes.”

“Oh, Okay…  Hi Francie, what are you doing here?” Elise greeted the other agent dreamily.

“Rescuing you from this freak show, Agent Parsons, “the female agent replied.

“But, I don’t need rescuing.   I was having a very nice rest here, along with some truly orgasmic dreams,” she responded.  Looking towards the middle-aged man, she commented, “You were in some of them, I remember.   I couldn't move, and you…”

“That wasn’t a dream, Ellie,” he replied after a moment’s hesitation.   “You were sus…”

“Not a…?” she interrupted with a shout; Ellie leaned down to slap him hard across the cheek. 

“…huh? What was that for?”

“I think you know!” she snapped, reddening.  “You could have at least bought me dinner first.”

The female agent spoke:  “So, he’s licked the consciousness problem?”

“Yes, along with other things…” Elise replied obliquely. “And he kept me frozen longer than planned, just as we suspected.  Tell me, were you ever going to wake me up?”  She stepped off the platform to confront the man, who had retreated after the slap.  In her heels, she stood taller than he did and looked intimidating, even dressed as she was in skimpy lingerie.

“Sure; just not… yet…” the middle aged man mumbled.

“Should we take him into custody?” the female agent asked, raising her gun one more.

“Certainly; give me a few minutes to get dressed and we’ll escort him to the van.  I see he got the drop on Wainright, too; send another team to pick that buffoon up later.  He’s not going anywhere, but he’s not going to need… this,” she commented, stepping over to disarm the ill-fated agent.  “Inform Central we’re coming in and that the experiment worked, perfectly!”

“Yes, ma’am…” the female agent confirmed.

“Also, collect samples of the compound and the antidote for analysis,” Ellie commanded, stepping towards the changing room.  It was good to be in charge once more.

* * *

“What is this place?” the middle-aged man commented as he glanced around, “It doesn’t look like any FBI office I’ve ever seen.”  Escorted by Elise Parsons and the female agent, they had entered the high-tech facility through an ordinary-seeming service entrance in a nondescript underground garage.   The stainless-and-glass complex looked like a combination medical operating theatre, data center, and mission control, with a healthy dose of mad-scientist’s lab thrown in for good measure, with oddly-purposed apparatus and racks of computers placed around the work area.

“That’s because we’re not FBI, or CIA, or NSA, numb-nuts,” the female agent taunted him. “We’re…”

“…a highly classified branch of the government, whose identity is on a need-to-know basis.  Please don’t reveal any more to our guest than is necessary, Agent Gibbs,” Ellie Parsons broke in with authority, though she spoke calmly.  She wore her grad-student outer garments again.

“Guest?” the man replied, sarcastically.  “Is that why I’ve been handcuffed and brought here against my will?   I want to speak to my lawyer.”

“All in due time; if you want to, after what you’re about to see,” Ellie commented.  “My suspicion is you’ll wish to remain with us.  As for the cuffs, let’s just say they assured your – cooperation – during the trip here.  Gibbs, remove them.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” the female agent, Gibbs, questioned.

“Where is he going to go?   Besides, if it makes you feel any better, you can always shoot him if he tries to escape.”

“Ah; good!” Agent Gibbs smiled evilly as she unlocked the handcuffs and stepped back.

Who are these people?  He wondered, completely confused.  This wasn’t the first time Ellie had casually mentioned shooting him.  “I’ll behave, for now,” he agreed, hesitantly.  “What do you want to show me?”

“This…” Ellie announced, stepping to a wire-glassed double-door and pressed her thumb to a small square button to one side.  The doors retracted into pockets in the wall with a hiss that sounded just like the turbolift doors on the original Star Trek.  She led the way into a lab that was far more mad-scientist than government-issue as the middle-aged-man and Agent Gibbs followed.

The walls were lined with more blinking computer racks, along with oscilloscopes, banks of chemical glassware, and frosty dewars of cryogenic liquids.  Rolling worktables holding other test equipment were scattered around the five three-meter-high cylindrical glass chambers that dominated the high-ceilinged workroom.  Two of the chambers were occupied by female test subjects, who stood rigidly at attention staring motionlessly at the technicians and apparatus surrounding them.  Ellie let the man take in the scene and draw his own conclusions, which he did quickly.

“So, you’re working on suspended animation too,” he observed. 

“You’ve got a really keen sense of the obvious,” Gibbs snapped back.

“Now, folks, let’s keep it civil.  After all, we’re the ones asking for help, here,” Ellie soothed.

“If it’s help you want, you’ve got a strange way of asking,” the man replied, rubbing his wrists where there were still red cuff-marks.

Ignoring his complaint, Elise launched into her semi-obligatory didactic interlude:  “This organization is designated ‘Specialized Tactics, Immobilized Female Forces’, working under the advanced technology directorate.  We’re tasked to perform surveillance and infiltration, as well as the occasional operational mission.  Historically, our…”

“Wait a minute!” the man interrupted with a snort.  “Your outfit is called ‘STIFF’?” he chuckled.  “Who came up with that gem?”

“Uh, it was a group decision…” Elise mumbled, a bit off-balance.

“The name was her idea,” chimed in Gibbs, nodding towards Ellie.

“Well, we all agreed to it,” Ellie demurred, downplaying her role.

“Ma’am, that’s because you’re the commander, ma’am.  Oorah,” Gibbs clarified, totally deadpan, but with a hint of a smile.

Ellie sighed audibly.  “Moving. Along…  To date, the STIFF deployments have been chiefly in surveillance roles, though we have been active in several covert insertions as well.  Technology development has proceeded, but up until now the STIFF agents have fallen short in achieving the complete operational objectives,” she recited in terse mil-speak without quite paying attention to what her words sounded like to an outsider.

“Huh?” the man said, puzzled.

“It didn’t work, she meant,” Gibbs supplied once more.

“Oh, I see.”

“Thank you, Francie,” Ellie replied, a tad icily.

“So, what seems to be the problem?” the man piped up.

“In a word, awareness.  So far, we’ve been able to induce rapid catalepsy in our STIFF girls, but at the same time they zone out.  Here, let me illustrate,” Elise replied.  “Agent Gibbs, do you have any critical tasks due by the end of today?”

“No, ma’am; however… unh!” Gibbs replied, only to be surprised by Ellie drawing her sidearm and shooting her fellow agent at point-blank range.  Eyes wide in alarm, Gibbs stiffened in place and after a few moments did not move a muscle.

“You shot her!” he cried out.

“Yes; it’s not like she isn’t used to it,” Ellie replied calmly.  That’ll silence those catty remarks, too, she thought to herself.  “Now, as you can see…”

“Your guns are tranks?” the man asked.

“Well, of course,” Ellie agreed, “though we prefer to call them chill darts; the sedative formula was developed right here at STIFF.  Now, as you can see…”

“You don’t have any real weapons?” he prodded.

“We haven’t had the need, as primarily a surveillance unit.  Now, as you can see,” Ellie paused, expecting to be interrupted again.  She wasn’t.

“Go on?” he said after a couple of beats of dead air, sans any cricket sound effects.

Ellie sighed again; it looked good on her.  “AS you can see, Agent Gibbs was immobilized quickly and thoroughly by the freeze drug, and in that state she can impersonate a mannequin or waxwork figure very effectively.  However, she is not conscious during this time and thus can’t report on any activities she might witness while frozen.  However, with your formulation, I was able to regain awareness, but not mobility, when I was suitably – ah – stimulated.”  She paused and smiled at the memory.

“Indeed,” the man agreed with a faint grin, knowing full well the stimulus she was describing.

“Yes.  Sorry, by the way, for slapping you earlier; had to keep up appearances for the troops, you know,” Ellie said, nodding towards the rigid figure of Francine Gibbs.  Technicians and

other personnel walked past the instant statue without apparently noticing or caring about her condition.  “Although you do owe me a dinner, even if it is after the fact, er, act,” Ellie smiled.

“Happy to oblige,” he consented.  “So, I take it that you want to use my drug on your STIFF ladies?” He did like twisting that acronym around.

“Um, yes.  There’s an upcoming event that we’ve been tasked to protect.  The National Jewels are being exhibited, in public, for the first time; we’ve had a tip that there may be someone attempting to steal them or hold them for ransom.   This came from a reliable source, and so we’re taking every possible precaution.  As it turns out, STIFF is perfectly suited to this task.”

“How so?”

“The exhibition will present the jewels on a series of mannequins, in more of a high-fashion, upscale, setting than your usual gem show.  The presentation will take place at the National Gallery of Art in DC, less than a week from now.  And STIFF plans…” she explained until cut off.

“…to substitute your agents in place of the mannequins to guard and observe, so you want to use my freeze drug so you can watch what’s going on,” he finished for her.

“Yes; yes, that’s about sums it up,” she concluded, not used to having people finish her sentences.  “Will you help?”

“I think I can be… persuaded,” he allowed.  “Have you thought about how to keep your agent’s attention active during the showing?  Once things get boring, the girls will lose consciousness.”

“I’m aware of that; don’t forget I experienced the full effects of your sneaky little potion first-hand,” Elise reminded him, unnecessarily.

“True enough, and yet you didn’t miss any of the good parts, did you?” he countered.

“No, but that was different, wasn’t it?”

“Slightly, but I have given the matter some thought.  I’ve got three words that will solve all your problems…”

“Oh?” Ellie asked, intrigued.

“Radio.  Controlled.  Dildo.”

“Oh!” she blushed slightly, glad that Francie wasn’t awake to see her losing her cool and at the same time masking her intense desire to try one out; right here, right now.  “Yes, that should do the trick,” she said nonchalantly.

“Trust me; it can work.  I’ve got many satisfied consumers.  You’ve seen some of them already.”

“Wow; that sounds like really… dangerous… technology.   If STIFF deploys it, we’re going to have to harden the device and start training right away!”

“No time to waste, then, Batgirl…” he added, in a very stilted earnest tone, then pauses.  “…Uh, you’re being serious, aren’t you?” he asks in his normal voice.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Ellie seemed puzzled.

“Oh, it’s just this all seems so… absurd?” he covered, taking in the huge room full of bizarre apparatus and earnest young agents.  He’d wanted to say:  Because you’re a frickin’ loon, lady! but he kept his opinion to himself.

“Absurd.  You’re calling my idea absurd? Those words coming from someone who’s created a gallery full of immobilized lingerie models in his home…” she bristled.

“..and who agreed to help you with your little government-funded science project, like I helped you become one of those frozen lingerie models,” he finished for her.

“Hmph.   You’re right, of course.  But you enjoyed it; enjoyed… me!”

“Can’t say the job’s without its perks,” he allowed, with a wry grin.

“We’ve got too much to do to let a difference of opinion get in the way.  I have to get op-tech working on those ‘RCD’s toute suite.  There’s no time to waste…” she decided.

“Ba—” he started to add.

“Don't you dare call me ‘Batgirl’!” Elise barked, but she was smiling when she said it.

*  *  *

Six Weeks Later

The man slouched at a computer console, the latest of many cups of coffee in front of him as he watched seven wavering differently colored lines stream across the display.  Each line had a name hovering over it, corresponding to Ellie, Francie, and five other mannequin-still test subjects who stood like elegantly posed, graphite-gray lycra-catsuited statues in the center of the workroom.  A few held or wore mock jewelry, as they would in the exhibition.  All were in quiet mode; their leisurely rippling brainwave patterns suggested sleep or meditation.

“OK, let’s trigger the proximity alert again,” he mumbled to a very pretty willowy blonde who pronounced her name with the German accented syllables:  Beer Gut.

“Ja,” she replied, adding.  “No lights, please, zis time?”

He killed the overheads, leaving a few dim exit-sized signs to create near-darkness.  ‘Beer’ stealthily approached the nearest of the motionless agents, who turned out to be Ellie.  When she was about two meters away, the ripples in Ellie’s pattern on the monitor increased in frequency and amplitude, followed by the patterns of the statues nearest her.  “She’s triggering,” he reported to the blonde, “wait!”  Birgit paused, creating a sexy silhouette in the murk.  For the hundredth time, he wished he had a syringe full of his immobilizing drug to inject into her shapely behind, then be able to re-dress her in a particularly lovely embroidered La Perla bustier.  All in due time, he reminded himself as a spike in the reading dashed his daydream.  “You didn’t get any closer, did you?” he asked ‘Beer’.

“No; of course not,” she hissed back.

“Fooey; she’s not keeping a lid on her stimulation.  She’s orgasming…” he observed as Ellie’s line on the monitor became a jagged mountain range, resembling a seismograph recording of a cataclysmic earthquake.  Even though Elise didn’t budge a millimeter, he knew she would have screamed out in ecstasy if she could have.  She was certainly feeling it.  Slowly, over the next few minutes, the aftershocks subsided to the point where she could probably respond lucidly.

“Ellie,” he spoke softly into a microphone, “are you hearing me?”  His voice was transmitted into a dermal transducer enclosed in the RCD (amazingly, the acronym had stuck), which also picked up her sub-vocalized nerve impulses and converted them back to speech.

“Mmm, oh, yes!  I want to do that test… again and again…”  Ellie’s sugary voice sounded in his earpiece, even though she remained outwardly stiff and rigid.

Brigit smiled, perhaps in anticipation.  She had been prepared and fitted with a RCD, but hadn’t had her turn in the tableau yet.  The RCD devices actually ended up resembling plump, silvery, tampons with a short antenna wire leading out of them.  They contained mini-ampoules of the man’s freeze drug and fast-acting antidote, a GPS, sub-vocal communicators, along with the more traditional vibrator, all linked via a short range radio link that also served for tracking.

“Um, maybe a couple of minutes longer,” he suggested; the German agent nodded without saying anything.  Eventually, Ellie’s sensual moans and sighs faded away.  “Ellie, how are you feeling?” he tried again to make contact.

“Dreamy…” her blissful reply came back after several seconds.

“Do you want to try re-animating by yourself?” he asked.

“I suppose…”

“OK; think of your initiator vision, focus on it.  Send a strong signal!” he urged.  The pattern of her brainwaves changed visibly, distinctively.  But would the RCD pick it up?

“Ahh,” Ellie gasped; at the same time, the monitor flashed an event icon.  She’d controlled the device with her thoughts, alone, to release the fast-acting neutralizer for the freeze drug.  “I think I just peed myself?” her voice sounded in the headset as well as out on the floor.  She’d come out of the freeze mode in record time and took a wobbly step forward, looking around.

“Beer Gut; go!” the man whispered and Brigit launched herself across the still-dark workroom in a surprise attack.  If there’s any hesitation in Ellie’s synapses…?

“Hai!” the recently revived agent yelled, blocking Birgit’s lunge and feigning a counterpunch.  The slim blonde wasn’t finished though, as she turned her fall into a roundhouse kick to Ellie’s knees, who reacted instinctively, hopping into the air to clear the kicks, then unleashing a series of Kung-Fu moves that left her in a dominant stance and Birgit on her back on the floor.

“How’d I do?” Ellie asked between gulps of air as Birgit picked herself up.  Her hands were shaking, both from nerves and the pulse of adrenaline that had brought her from being a living statue to complete mobility in mere seconds.

“Star pupil as usual!” he affirmed.  “You can review the recordings later, but you were a little slow in triggering out of your quiet mode.  Kind of got, um, distracted there for a little while.”

“Long enough for the theft to be done,” Birgit added critically.

“Yeah; we got to adjust your dosage and the adrenaline balance a little better.”

“Hey, I have an idea,” Ellie piped up, walking over to the consoles for a sip of sports drink and to view the monitors showing the rest of her team, who remained immobilized in place.  “How about you keep my stimulation at a low level, all the time?  That way, there’s less of a shock to my system when I get triggered,” she suggested.

“Something to try,” he agreed, “but you might never get any rest, either.  Right now, you need to get into the metabolite monitor for a quick residual curve.”

“Got it!” she concurred, walking over to one of the open, empty, cylindrical tubes and stepping inside.  Activated by her presence, the front glass panel slid closed and the chamber flooded briefly with cloudy instant-immobilizing gas that quickly shrouded her figure.  When that cleared, Elle was revealed, instantly frozen in place once more as the machine tracked her vital signs for the next five minutes.

“OK, we’ve got time for another screening run.  Like before. This time, you approach from the back so they can’t see you.”

“I zink something different – zis allso might happen,” Birgit smirked, sauntering up to the remaining immobilized agents and planting a sexy kiss on still lips of the petite Asian girl, Kumiko, whose brainwave activity swiftly shot through the roof.  She glided over to the others in turn, stroking Francie’s spandex-smooth body, tickling Ariel, and performing a full-body hug with dark-haired Mai.  Soon all of the living statues’ readings were approaching off-scale high.

“This isn’t proving anything…” he pointed out to Birgit, who wasn’t paying attention to him.  They’re certainly having a good time, though, he reflected. Maybe give them a little chance for payback, too?  Smiling to himself he leaned towards the computer, selected Birgit’s name and clicked on the button next to it labeled ‘de-anima’, dialing her way down, then he chose some of the currently frozen agents for ‘re-anima’.  Leaning back, he watched in amusement at the scene he’d set in motion.  Push-button mannequins; ain’t technology grand!

Birgit must have felt the stiffening in her body come as a surprise, because she only had time to turn towards the man and gasp “Not fair…” before freezing in place, her hands on the full breasts of buxom Agent Collette.  As luck would have it, Collette was one of the first to revive; she started moving at about the same time Birgit stopped.  Taking a half step back, she left the statuesque German girl’s hands groping thin air as she sidestepped them and moved closer to stroke the blonde’s crotch in a circular motion.

“Hey, two can play at that game, huh?” piped up Ariel as she reanimated, immediately running her fingers ticklishly up Brigit’s inner thighs from behind.  Mai seemed unsure of what was going on, but Kumiko wasted no time in returning her earlier kiss, this time in control.  Tricia said nothing as she joined enthusiastically in the group caress.

“WHAT the Blue Blaze Irregulars is going ON!” came Ellie’s voice from behind him, by the meta chambers.  The man, realizing he’d misjudged the time elapsing, dialed in rapid ‘de-anima’ on each of the agent’s monitors, waiting the few seconds for the scene to quiet down into a still life as the team leader strode up with fire in her eyes.

“We were running an alternate failure mode analysis, and it got a little out of hand…” he tried to explain.

“Not much is out of anyone’s hands, from what I can see,” Ellie snarked, seething mad as she approached the now-frozen group of agents.  “Was this Birgit’s doing?” she demanded, seeing the slim blonde posed incriminatingly at the center of attention.

“We sort of… collaborated…” he covered.

“I should have warned you; she told me she wanted more freeze time and it looks like she found a way to get it.  A sneaky one, she is…”

“Hey; no harm, no foul, then,” he shrugged, trying to put he episode behind them.

“Except time, which we don’t have enough of,” Ellie countered.  “In less than a week – six days – these STIFF agents are going to have be in place, in costume, in their poses ready for the unveiling.  Do you think they’re ready?”

“They are readier than if they never knew what a euphoric overload felt like…” he fudged.

“They’re not ready; hell, I barely am.  We’ve still got to fine-tune the background dosage and give them as much experience as possible.  Something tells me we’re going to have to re-animate and step right into a combat situation.”

“Women’s intuition?”

“Advance intell from my informants, not some BS intuition,” Elise shot back, still on edge.

“It can’t be all work and no fun, either.  Otherwise your agents are going to burn out soon,” he changed the subject slightly.  Or you will, his thoughts added.

“They do look like they’re having fun, or were,” she commented, stepping around the frozen agents like a commandant during an inspection.

“Oh, some of them still are,” he reported, looking at the brainwave monitor.  Birgit’s, in particular, had that distinctive multiple-climax profile.

“I’ll bet!” Ellie agreed, with a look in her eyes that said she hoped she had taken part too.  The moment hung on a little too long as the man thought about granting her unvoiced wish at the click of a button, but decided against it.  She might take things the wrong way…

“Say, we’re on a sort of a break; these ladies can easily keep until tomorrow.  How about we call it quits for now?” he suggested.

“Time isn’t our friend right now,” she countered.  “While you were screwing around with Birgit and the others, did you at least check their solidity?  This deployment has us impersonating motionless mannequins, not the poseable models you’re used to.  We have to be stiff as plastic for the deception to work convincingly.”

“Stiff STIFFs, eh?” he said jibed, getting up from the console desk.  “It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it, I guess.”  Approaching Ariel, he touched her forearm lightly; it was as firm as the fiberglass figure she’d soon be pretending to be.   Holding her at the waist so she wouldn’t fall, he was able to tip her frozen body backward while she remained rigid and didn’t bend at all.  OK! Snapping his fingers in front of Mai’s unblinking eyes gave the expected response – none – but her pose wasn’t as solid as the previous agent’s.   He detected some joint movement as he was lowering the Asian cutie to the ground.  Some people’s muscles just didn’t react the same to the freeze drug.  “Um, Ellie, I’m getting some flex here with Mai; Ariel’s fine.”

“Francie’s good too; no surprise, as is Kumi.  Tricia on the other hand, isn’t firm enough either; she has to work on her muscle tone more.  But there’s no time!  Looks like I may need to use one of the alternates.  “How’s Birgit doing?  You just froze her from full-anima, right?”

“Yeah; I can’t say if she might have anticipated, though.  She’s as staunch as you’d expect a fine young German citizen to be; I could crack walnuts on her buns.”

“Not part of the mission objectives, there,” Ellie chuckled at last, starting to calm down.  “The rest will pass muster in the display, once we swap out Mai; Collette’s going to help you out monitoring their comms; she’s a smidgen too zaftig for this assignment.”

“Ah.  So now we’re done for the night?   I suggest we leave them all in their de-anima state with low levels of stimulation; see if they remember anything unusual tomorrow.  Does that meet with your mission objectives?”

“Call it a ‘long-term quiescence assessment’ and I’ll go along, this once.  I’ve got some reports to file, anyways.  Let’s go,” she agreed, walking out of the lab area towards the dormitory.

He followed, making small talk along the way.  “Reporting up to the powers-that-be, eh.  What govvie agency did you say STIFF is a part of?”

Ellie paused briefly before responding, “I didn’t; we aren’t exactly associated with any established intelligence directorate.  STIFF has what some people would call a ‘set-aside’; just a line item in a much bigger appropriation.”

“I thought there were rules against that sort of thing…”

Ellie snorted.   “Rules? More like guidelines, actually.   You see, Senator Halvorsen has been in charge of the Armed Services Finance Committee for years and that gives him a certain… leeway… when it comes to earmarking funds for special projects.”

“Plus, my guess is the military would probably more than willing to chip in a little piece from one of their juicy weapons deployment allocations just to keep him happy, too,” he continued.

“Theoretically… yes,” she agreed, since that sort of baksheesh in the past had gotten people indicted.

“So what gives ol’ Halvorsen a STIFF hard-on, so to speak?” he asked with a sly smile.

Ellie rolled her eyes at the double-entendre. “Hmm.  Let’s just say, he became convinced S/A, suspended animation to you, would be a promising area to pursue with directed R and D into surveillance and monitoring techniques.   Great progress was made in the first year, human trials started in the second, and our first deployment came nine months ago.  Then we sort of stalled out, until we discovered your work,” she explained.

“So, they must have had a tough time staffing this wacko outfit.”

“I volunteered,” she volunteered.

“Of course you did…” he replied with more than a little sarcasm.  Ellie was a bit of a mystery.

“So, here I am.  ‘Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day’,” she announced to the voice lock on her room.  “Oh-six-hundred start.  See you then.”

It clicked open a moment later.  “Welcome, Colonel Parsons,” came a computer-generated greeting.

Colonel, eh? the man reflected, leaving her with a quick “Good Night.”  Curiouser and curiouser. 

Reaching his own designated room down the corridor, he badged in, poured himself two fingers of whisky, and plopped down in the couch.  Sipping, he considered this latest morsel of information as he activated the combination TV-infoport.  No new news, he saw; the real world seemed to have gone on just fine without him for the past half year.  His income investments didn’t need much tinkering and STIFF was taking care of his house and gallery for him.  His own status wasn’t as clear; he wasn’t exactly a prisoner, but he was being detained.  He had no illusions about what would happen if he tried to walk out of here.  Not that he wanted to, just yet.  The work was interesting and the preparations for the upcoming mission were personally motivating.  Face it; you just like playing with these living dolls!

On a whim, he switched to the interweb and pulled up a site he’d found by accident that had somehow been missed by their techs: it was an anonymous relay.  All of the other addresses had been blocked or redacted, so there was no way he could send messages or contact the police.  But then again, what would I say to them? he reflected, knowing his own situation.

Instead, he typed ‘Colonel Elise Parsons’ into the relay’s open search engine and clicked on “OK”.  A few hits popped back seconds later; none exact.  There was however a link for an “E. L. Parsons” that led to a Navy volleyball team roster photo showing a familiar face (and body) that stared back at him from several years ago.   Her hair was longer then.  “Now we’re getting somewhere,” he muttered to himself, refilling his drink and getting ready to do some deeper digging.

An hour after midnight, he came up for air with a blurted “Holy Crap!”  that followed a shocking discovery.  Another old picture of Ellie smiled back at him, taken in high school, pretty as ever, but is was her listed name that gave him pause:  “Eunice L. Halvorsen!”

She’s the goddamned senator’s daughter!

Pieces started to fall into place; mostly how the “black” funding for STIFF had been procured, but he wasn’t sure how he was going to use this newfound information, or if it would actually do him any good.  It’s not going to change what goes on tomorrow, or the mission, he realized.  Taking a last sip of amber fire as a nightcap, the middle-aged man headed off to sleep.

 

E-day minus one

By eight in the morning (which Ellie insisted on calling “oh-eight-hundred”) on the day before the exhibition, preparations were already well underway when the man appeared, half-awake, sipping his first of many cups of coffee that day. 

The STIFF agents being deployed had risen early, eaten a light meal, then began the lengthy process of being transformed into display mannequins.  First slathering their bodies with depilating gel for maximum effect, they showered, and then passed an initial visual inspection before having their RCDs inserted.  Sculpted foam headpieces, looking like solid abstract hairstyles, were applied and seamlessly blended with their skin, as were the custom high-heeled backless shoes that covered their toes and blended in with their feet to give their smooth figures a molded appearance head-to-toe.   Cosmetic putty was tamped into their nostrils and ear canals.  Additional appliance pieces covered their nether regions and any external signs of the RCD.

Now the six young women stood upright at attention, naked, frozen with arms akimbo while several coats of metallic gunmetal-hued body makeup were applied and quick-dried with streams of warm air.   Mai stepped between them, checking for imperfections.  She now wore a STIFF team jumpsuit and ankle boots; her black hair was gathered in back into a long ponytail that swayed with every movement.

“Don’t dawdle there; just make sure they’re not sticky anymore!” Ellie ordered, striding into the prep area in her display heels.  She had already been partially made up, probably the first, but had apparently decided to remain mobile to check on things.   Only the light gray body makeup concealer “undercoat” had been done, giving her more of a statue-like coloration that was already wearing thin at her hands and elbows.  “We’re behind schedule for posing; wake them up and get their contacts in… Now!” she added, making Mai flinch a little at that last exclamation.

“Yes, ma’am, right away,” she squirmed, moving towards the control console.

“I’ll get that; they’ll be full-anima in a minute,” the man piped up, quickly performing the action while taking a seat.

“About time you showed up; not like we’ve got all day to waste,” Ellie needled him.

“Good morning to you, too,” he mumbled.  “Feeling a bit gray today, are we?” he joked, looking her painted body over from head to toe.

“Cute, real cute; how long did you spend thinking that zinger up?” she spat back.

“Not much; you’re an excellent inspiration.  A-muse-ing, I’d have to say,” he chuckled.

“Arrghh – enough with the puns already.  Do you know the directions to get to the NGA?”

“Yes, and my costume is in the dressing room and I’ve got the keys to the car in my pocket.  Ellie, all of this was planned out weeks ago; we’re just following through,” he soothed.

But she was having none of that.  “There’s always a last-minute detail to smooth out, or some unforeseen wrinkle that got to be taken care of, and you’re not helping with that laid-back attitude.  This isn’t simply adding another lingerie model to your collection, it’s…”

“…it’s all under control, Ellie.  You’re just making everyone nervous.  Did you memorize your display pose?” he interrupted.

“Of course.  Now…” she came back, only to be interrupted again.

“…now, take it, quickly,” he suggested, reaching over to the controls and typing something.

“Wait; what are you doing?” she demanded suspiciously.

“This is me, helping.  Now, take your pose or continue to argue with me and I’ll have to pose you later,” he replied.

Ellie noticed a sudden heaviness in her body, the first signs of de-animation, along with a stirring deep in her sex.  “Oh, no, you didn’t…” she gasped.

“Sure did,” he countered.  “I’m trying out a gradient immobilization, reaching twenty-five percent…”

“This wasn’t in my plan,” she grumbled, feeling the growing stiffness in her legs.  Despite her objections, Ellie knew he was going to go through with freezing her.  Reluctantly, she started to move into the pose she’d practiced in the mirror for weeks.  She took a step forward and paused, trailing one foot behind.

“…fifty…”

Arching her back, she looked upwards and reached, trying to touch a make-believe peach that was just out of reach.  Her other arm angled backwards, fingers of that hand in a “fan” position.

“…seventy-five now…”

Not being able to see her expression, Elise relied on her emotions and imagination to conjure up the appropriate look.  It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen – I want it so much – need to have it!  So close, only inches…

“…ninety…”

Her body was almost completely rigid, but she was able to make some fine movements yet as the pleasurable sensations in her crotch seemed to increase.

The man had stood up and stepped close to Ellie as she was being immobilized.  Now he leaned over and whispered in her ear:  “Good luck and good hunting… Eunice.”

Her eyes widened in surprise at hearing her real name, then the de-anima effect reached one hundred percent as she froze with that expression on her lovely features.  He knows; Oh God! circulated in her thoughts as she began to bliss out from the mid-level stimulation setting.

Mai walked up beside the man, whispering “Thank you, she was driving us all nuts,” to him and hoped that frozen Ellie’s hearing wasn’t that good.  If it was, she’d deal with the consequences.  Collette, who’d been hiding in a different part of the facility, appeared in a nicely filled-out jumpsuit.

“Slight change in plan,” he commented to them.   “Take this mannequin here,” he indicated Elise, “and get her make-up finished.  She can be drying while we pose and touch up the others.  I’ll revive Francie, Birgit, and Rhonda now; then we can do the rest in the next batch.  OK?”

“Works for me,” Collette agreed; Mai merely nodded as they lifted Ellie’s rigid figure onto a handcart.   Meanwhile, the man started reviving the first three agents.

*  *  *

Two hours later, the display tableau was taking eye-catching shape.  Four posed agents, including Ellie, held their planned attitudes stiffly. Each was positioned to hold or display a particular gem or item of jewelry, while keeping their eye-lines open and together covering a three-hundred-sixty degree view.  All had been fitted with scleral contact lenses having the same color and finish as their body makeup; they could see clearly but from the outside their faces looked completely painted.

Ellie was the centerpiece, the featured standing figure; her last coat of makeup was drying nicely; they’d made up some lost time now that she wasn’t goading them every other moment.

The middle-aged man sat with his feet up on the console, sipping coffee and enjoying the sexy sight of Collette as she moved about her duties.   The agent possessed an hourglass figure and full breasts that were only enhanced by the tight-fitting jumpsuit.  She’d raised (or lowered) the zippered front to just about the falling-out point and he waited for the inevitable to happen, which it never did.   When the agents had been deployed, he decided he’d ask Collette if she wanted to pose in his gallery during the downtime.  He figured she’d be an easy “Yes”…

Silently the last three agents, Kumiko, Tricia, and Ariel, arrived from the spray make-up tent looking like a trio of metallic androids from the Planet Soryama as their gunmetal-hued bodies reflected highlights from floods shining on the work area.  Moving carefully so as to not mar their paint jobs, they took pieces of mock jewelry and settled into their display poses, as Mai helping with the styling.  Then the man froze them in position, using the gradual de-anima technique to allow Mai to fine-tune their arrangements.

“That’s it; they’re all hundred-percent de-anima,” Mai announced redundantly, since he could see the traces from all the immobilized agents on the screen in front of him.  He’d reduced Ellie’s stimulation to the point where she’d be able to notice something going on in the exhibit, but not fall into a daze due to inactivity.  The others’ levels he set similarly, though he didn’t have as much of a baseline as he did for the team leader.  Something to monitor once they are in place and on display, he reminded himself.

“Time to wrap things up and get them on the road,” he announced, getting a groan from Mai as she put on a headset.  Collette tried unsuccessfully to hide her smile since she understood that he wasn’t as much of a tight-ass as their frozen leader.

Mai appeared with a frown on her face.  “I checked comms on Miz Parsons first; she demanded to speak with you right away, closed channel,” the Asian beauty related, handing over the headset, which he took and donned.

“I’m here; go ahead, Ellie,” he said, anticipating her response.

“That was a really nasty trick you pulled,” her voice accused.  “I’ve got half a mind to re-animate myself and throw you out on your ear!”

“Got things going, didn’t it?” he replied innocently, gazing over at her figure for any sign of movement.  There was none.

“How much do you know about me?” she said after several moments of silence.

“Enough.  There are plenty of sources who’ll pay top dollar for a story like this one…  ‘Secret Black-Ops Unit’, ‘Back-Door Funding Conspiracy’, to name just a few,” he said with some relish.

“What do you want?” she asked at last.

“Less than you might think.  This isn’t really blackmail; more of a quid-pro-quo.  You see, I rather enjoy working with your little band of lucky STIFFs, although I do want my life back when this op is over,” he stated.

“Done,” Ellie conceded.

“As well as having extended – appearances – by some of your agents in my little collection,” he added, clearly enjoying the bargaining.

“I suppose you’d want me to pose as well?” she said; it wasn’t really a question.

“You’d be offended if I didn’t!” he replied.

Her transmitted voice managed a snicker, though Ellie’s lips didn’t quiver. “I suppose you’re right…  Who else?”

“Oh, I don’t know exactly,” he mused, taking a long look at Collette, “how about we keep those options open, hey?  Er, just a second.”  The man noticed an odd spike on the monitor traces just as Mai approached again, concern etched on her lovely almond-eyed features.

“We’ve got more trouble.  It’s Tricia; she’s freaking out a little.  Here,” she related, handing her headset to him again.

“Hold on a moment, Ellie,” he asked, not waiting for her answer as he swapped headsets.  Where is she going to go? he asked rhetorically, glancing at the leader’s statuesque pose.

“Yes, Tricia, how are you feeling?” he asked in soothing tones.

“Don’t want to do this,” her voice trembled.  “Feel closed in; trapped.  I can’t move!” the relayed voice ended in a sob.

“But you practiced this deployment many times; everything was OK then,” he reasoned.

“This is different.  I can barely see; can’t hear much.  My skin feels so tight…” Tricia whimpered, almost a plea.

“Hang in there for a moment,” he stalled, weighing his options.  The rattled agent didn’t seem like she’d calm down, even with stronger stimulation to distract her.  His worst fear was she’d trigger her re-animation while deployed and be discovered as an impostor.  An insistent vibration in his hand, coming from the other headset, pulled at his attention:  Elise’s voice at maximum volume, demanding, “What the fuck is going on?”

He swapped headsets again, keeping the earpiece well away, and brought the team leader up to speed, thinking: She sure doesn’t like being out of the loop!

Ellie wasted no time in reaching a decision either.  “Tricia’s out; we’ll go with six.  She was borderline anyway.  Wake her up and we’re going to have a little chat later.  Tell Collette to put her on light duty until then; no freezing unless she requests it.”

“Alright,” he agreed, relaying the orders to Mai, along with Tricia’s headset.

“And light a fire under Dougie, too,” Ellie continued, “we’re falling behind the schedule!”

“Aye, Aye,” he responded, “B–”

“Don’t call me…”

“Batgirl, sir!” the man concluded wryly, setting about to find the driver.

“Get on with it!” Ellie sighed.

Ever since STIFF’s raid on his home, he’d been on shaky ground with Douglas (aka Duffy, Dudley etc.) Wainright, who had never quite forgiven the man for getting the drop on him and his being embarrassingly frozen as a result.   The STIFF agents had never let Wainright forget the incident either and he’d almost have sworn he was being made fun of behind his back (he was).

Now he’d been assigned to act as the delivery van’s driver and given a workman’s uniform.  Waiting for the agents to be packaged, he waited and fumed, greeting the older man with his usual “Not cool, Dude,” glaring accusation.   That man had drawn the plum assignment of aliasing the visual merchandising stylist who would manage the placement of the STIFF agents and the jewels they would be displaying.

“Once again, sorry about that; let’s get on with the op, can we just put that in the past?” the man replied, moving to the back of the panel truck, where the frozen agents were being loaded. 

Each one had been wrapped loosely in clingy saran, with contoured blocks of white expanded styrene foam taped at their elbows, breasts, and knees.  Since the figures were free-standing or free-sitting, they did not have display stands and so had to be secured with padding and straps so they would not bump around during the short journey to the exhibition.  Collette and Mai handled most of that, with Wainright left to arrange the straps and mostly look useless.  Ellie, understandably, was loaded last and strapped securely into a standing position.

Finally, Wainright had something to do, as he took the driver’s seat and drove the suspended agents across the river to the National Gallery, where the exhibition would take place.   The older man took a different, less direct, route to avoid suspicion, going over the plan in his mind, thinking of all the contingencies they’d built in and imagining things that could still go wrong.   This should be a walk in the park, shouldn’t it? he asked himself.

Jostling inside the darkened payload bay of the truck, unable to move a muscle yet very awake, Elise Parsons was feeling especially worried.

 

. . . To Be Continued


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