This was going to be a super day for Shannon; I could just sense it in my bones. Everything was in place and even now the buzz-o-meter was whispering sweet somethings in my ear. Her numbers were up, higher than that skank Lohan’s kid already. Yes this was, like, going to be a day to remember!
I recited my mantra again, focusing my karmic energy on its quintessence:
Calming my nerves with a hit from my quintuple-shot soy latte, I darted from one side of the limo’s cabin to the other, looking out through the tinted one-way glass to the street outside. So far, most of my preparations were playing out; the picketers had arrived, but her fan club was a no-show. So far. Maybe they were closer in.
“Jeez, take a chill pill, Suzette,” commented the fey looking dude who was setting the ruffles in Shannon’s gown, which was that gorgeous Versace I’d suggested. Our star, the center of attention herself, looked as magnificent as ever with only a smidge of tension in her eyes.
“Bite me,” I replied cheerily to Julio, turning to the window again as we got nearer. “Wow! Look at that turnout – can you feel the energy out there?” I gushed, amazed at the chaos Shannon had provoked. With the help of my skills, of course.
The Los Angeles County Courthouse was a busy place on any given day, but on this Tuesday afternoon it was buzzing with unprecedented activity. The famous actress, socialite, and stunningly beautiful model Miss Shannon Edwards was on trial; for her fourth time in only eighteen months...
Paparazzi, reporters and T.V. news crews alike lined the streets, the steps to the building's glassy front entrance and beyond. I had tipped them all off before, hinting that each could get an exclusive interview. Too bad; so sad. The police were doing their best to hold the frenzied crowd at bay, but were slowly losing the battle.
“Let’s just get through this thing,” grumbled another of the plush car’s occupants, a rumpled fifty-ish man in a crisp dark suit. I’d rather not have another scene.” Under his scowling brow he looked nervous, unsettled. Things weren’t going well for him.
The flood of anxious fans and media had horded towards ground zero of the overly publicized trial, just to get a glimpse of the beautiful, yet defiantly reckless young woman who would once again face the wrath of the eccentric Honorable Lamont Q. Hotchkiss. The irascible judge had cautioned her the last time not to return to his courtroom under another charge, but she had failed to heed that warning; now the gathering of strangers, enemies, friends, and fans could only speculate on what fate might await the lovely celebrity today.
This was the stuff of legends! I couldn’t have written better copy myself; well, maybe I could have but that’s beside the point. Ah, there’s my raving Shannon fanclub!
The restless group ranged from young to old; male to female, and it didn't seem to matter what race or ethnic group one might be from; they were all represented here on this particular sunny southern California morning.
Shannon herself seemed almost bored as she rode along, letting herself be primped, barely glancing out the windows. “Those people are all here just for me?” she pouted, having had to disrupt her daily routine to make this seemingly useless appearance.
“Every last one, sweetie,” I reassured her with a pat on the knee and a wide grin. “Your numbers are going through the sky!”
She seemed not to hear me. “There, there, Muffins, it will all be over soon,” she comforted the little fuzzy lap cushion of a dog. When she thought no one else was looking, she slipped a couple of pills from her purse and swallowed them without water. I didn’t like to see her on peppers today, but it was too late to stop now.
“Yes!” I chimed in, trying to distract her, “isn’t it wonderful? I love the smell of fresh copy in the morning; smells like victory,” I quoted, twisting the famous line from Apocalypse Now.
“Careful where you slop that coffee,” sniffed Julio, who was now fussing over Shannon’s already impeccable hairdo. “Might corrode the leather…”
I ignored his downer attitude and listened to the growing buzz numbers.
While there were those chanting in Shannon's favor, waving posters that displayed her comely images and phrases of support, others chose to deliver hateful, degrading messages urging the judge to throw the proverbial book at her. Fellow celebrities, faithful fans and fanatically religious groups milled within this chaotic mob that was being televised – live – by every cable feed in the land.
When the 'tricked out' black stretch-S.U.V. limousine suddenly rounded the corner onto Hollywood Boulevard, the crowd became even wilder!
They glimpsed for a fleeting moment in the backseat of the passing luxurious vehicle, an extremely attractive young woman, wearing a short skimpy dress that showed a bit too much cleavage and probably more of her shapely legs than was appropriate for a court appearance, sitting next to a chubby, middle-aged Hispanic man in a designer business suit, along with a couple of other people they didn’t recognize.
"Jerome." The man spoke to the driver. "Pull around back please. The Sheriff's Department has agreed to let us use an alternate entrance."
I started to protest, but Shannon, bless her headline-grabbing soul, beat me to it.
"No." The striking young woman protested with the remnants of a New York accent that she'd tried hard to lose. "Pull right up front there," she continued.
The man driving the ridiculously long vehicle glanced into the rear-view mirror to make sure that he'd heard his employer correctly.
"That's right," Shannon smiled knowingly. "I said right up front. I wanna give 'em as many shots as they want!"
"Shannon, babee," the man seated beside her interjected. "We shouldn’t do that. I'm trying to keep this whole thing as low key as possible. We need to avoid this mob scene!"
"You can sneak in back if you'd like Carlos, but I'm going in through the front door and give them what they came for – me!" Her exclamation was determined, and the man only shook his head. What a demented circus this has become, he said to himself.
I grinned broadly; things were happening on plan, I hadn’t paid for this crowd in vain. Oooh, this is gonna make the first page on every newsblog in the country, good oh! My prediction turned out to be absolutely right, but for a different reason.
The crowd parted momentarily as the S.U.V. glided to a stop, but like a rushing wave they poured back upon the idling limo; nearly swallowing it from sight. Flash tubes exploded like artillery amid the throng. Even before the lovely actress and her entourage could open the door to the limo there were microphones and television cameras pointed at the dark-tinted windows.
The door opened a crack and a long, high-heeled, hosiery-coated leg emerged, followed by another shapely gam, then rest of the glamorous celebrity. Against the dark background of the car, her recently blonde locks and matching golden dress looked sun-bright. A volley of flashes greeted Shannon as she squinted smiling into the light.
"Miss Edwards... Lucinda Rivera from CNN." A pretty Latino woman tried to press her way in, probing with her microphone.
"Shannon! I love you!" A supportive fan shouted while religious protesters quoted scripture nearby.
“Shannon, doll, look this way!”
The voices of the hungry reporters and screaming fans became an inaudible roar as Carlos followed, then tried to push his way through the crowd with Shannon in tow. Several police officers waded in to help, but Shannon pulled her hand free of Carlos' and reveled in the enormous amount of attention she was receiving. I hung back, not wanting to distract from their feeding frenzy. Julio stayed in the limo.
Waving and seductively cocking her dark shades at the people, Shannon flashed a toothy smile and strutted confidently toward her impending fate; stopping to strike sexy poses for the cameras more than once. She looked more like she was getting ready to attend the Academy Awards than preparing to be prosecuted for her mischievous, illegal behavior.
That’s my girl; I coached you well… I cheered mentally as I counted the net anchors.
When she and her uneasy lawyer finally made their way inside the Superior Court building, Carlos whispered into her ear. "Shannon, I really wish you hadn't worn that particular outfit today. Didn't you have anything more conservative?"
"Oh lighten up, Carlos." She rolled her eyes. "Suzi recommended it for me, and I want to be stunning, as always. You look like you're going to a train wreck or something anyway."
I laughed at her weak joke, it was only a little bit forced; keeping her energy up.
The middle-aged man rolled his eyes and mumbled to himself in Spanish before turning back to his lovely client; his face becoming more pale by the minute. "I hope you will start taking these proceedings a bit more seriously. You're already in a tremendous amount of trouble," he urged. "Did you forget that you are still on probation?"
"Noo," she smugly cocked an eyebrow. "You’re such a nag and won't seem to let me forget. So;" she brightened, changing the subject completely. "Did you hear that FHM picked me as their sexiest "Hollywood Honey" for 2017? That's so chi."
"Congratulations, of course, but don't you think we've got more important issues to worry about today? I'm going to have one helluva fight on my hands; just keeping you out from behind bars."
"Oh, come on. You worry too much. But, that what I pay you for, right?" She chuckled, her happy expression setting off another series of flashes.
"Please, just don't get cute in there. Not with this particular judge." The experienced attorney cautioned as we walked from the elevator to the packed courtroom. Only a few of the media had made it up the stairs and were sprinting to catch up with her. "You're already not one of his favorite people."
"That old coot Hotchkiss! Shouldn't he have retired – or just died – about twenty years ago? Hey! How long do you think this is gonna take? I've got a spa waiting for this afternoon and am supposed meet some friends down at '1650' tonight."
The disgusted man didn't reply as he held open one of the double wooden doors to the courtroom, allowing his unconcerned young client to enter. He followed her to the defendant's table and gestured toward a seat. She perched on the chair regally like it was a throne.
I took a seat next to the rail, paying off the CBC stringer with a quick hundred. Now I could see and hear everything. The buzz-o-meter told me good news; I flashed a thumbs-up to Shannon.
When court was called to order, the entire crowd stood as a tall, angular, man in his late seventies appeared from a side entrance and walked behind the bench. His thinning gray hair was still trimmed in the old-fashioned military-style crew cut that he had worn since serving his country long ago. A pair of short bifocals rested upon the tip of his long nose. The eyes behind the lenses were sharp and clear.
I happened to know a few things about the old boy that he’d rather not become public knowledge, including some rather unusual fantasies. He knew that I knew; we shared a look as he gazed across the courtroom. The fix is in for sure, I smiled.
“Superior Court of the County of San Angeles is now in session; the Honorable Lamont Hotchkiss presiding!” announced the bailiff loudly.
The judge banged his gavel, once. "You may be seated," the robed gentleman commanded from the high-backed leather chair that he settled into. "Before we begin, I must caution this court. All proceedings that take place here today shall be conducted with the utmost decorum and professionalism. There will be no outbursts, no grandstanding and no displays of emotion; whether they be in favor or disfavor of the decisions rendered. Is that clearly understood?"
The large room was silent. A few people in the gallery nodded quietly. Shannon, to her credit, didn’t crack a smile.
"Speaking of professionalism; Miss Edwards," he frowned down at Shannon. "Did I, or did I not, warn you the last time you attended my court about appearing in appropriate attire?"
"Yes, sir." She agreed meekly, hanging her head; but wasn't truly ashamed. “Do you like it?” she asked, smiling, with just the wrong level of insolence.
Judge Hotchkiss frowned and started to redden.
"Stand up!" Carlos urged her with a whisper.
Before she could arise from the chair, the judge simply shook his head and glared down at the thick manila file folder before him. One straw more doesn’t really matter. "I believe I also warned you repeatedly about violating the terms of your probation. But it is highly apparent that those words also fell on deaf ears. What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?"
Shannon was now on her feet and stammered a bit before speaking. "I'm sorry? Sir, er, ah, your Honor." She attempted a curtsey, but in that short dress only managed to give the viewing gallery a glimpse of her tanned, thonged, ass. There was a brief commotion that quieted quickly after another icy glare from Hotchkiss.
"You're… sorry. Well, you do realize that you have a twelve month jail sentence hanging over your pretty little head, don't you, Miss Edwards?"
"According to these reports, you've not only missed several scheduled appointments with your probation officer, but you've failed to complete the community service hours that I assigned you... and, you were caught driving while intoxicated again just last week. Hmmm, it also says in the charges that you were found in possession of an illegal narcotic. Is that correct?"
"Yes, sir. But that juice was given to me by a close friend, Gi…"
"Your honor," Carlos popped to his feet, interrupting her. "If I might..."
"Sit down Mr. Hernandez. I'm talking right now."
Carlos returned to his seat, embarrassed.
Shannon was starting to look nervous again; she began rubbing her palms with her fingers as if they were itchy. Oh, God! I realized, the peppers are staring to kick in. She’s now a live hand-grenade…
"Miss Edwards," the stern old man resumed his lecture, "you also seem to enjoy making quite a spectacle of yourself in the media. Everybody seems to be agog, wondering... what will she do next? And you never seem to disappoint them!"
“No, sir. I, ah mean, yes, your Honor. Can I say something?” Shannon asked.
“Shut up!” hissed her lawyer, sotto-voce but loud enough for everyone to hear.
“No, you may not,” Hotchkiss concluded, shutting the folder, cupping his chin in the heel of his hand and narrowing his eyes at the fidgeting young party girl. "This court has made that decision for you. You are sentenced to spend the next four months in the San Angeles County Detention Center; one full month for each of your four violations."
A faint rumbling became evident from the crowd, but the judge brought it to an abrupt halt with the banging of his gavel. Belatedly, the bailiff shouted “Order!”
Shannon remained standing, looking thunderstruck; the room seemed to spin.
"Your honor," Carlos tried again. "With all due respect, is the court going to pass sentence on the defendant with no testimony at all?"
"By all means, Mr. Herndandez, if you or your client have some new information to offer that will change my mind; which I doubt you do, let's hear it. I've already gotten all the evidence and documentation from the District Attorney that I need."
"Well, your honor. In lieu of jail time, my client is willing to plead guilty to her other pending offenses and complete her community service hours in an expeditious manner. She has also made arrangements to enroll in an outpatient rehabilitation program to curb some of her less desirable habits. As well..."
“No, I’m not!” Shannon suddenly blurted, looking up at the judge with sudden fire in her eyes. It was Carlos’ turn to gape at her in open-mouthed dread. The judge looked at her contemptuously, raising his gavel again.
“You just, just… wait a minute,” She demanded, seizing the floor by surprise. I wanted to say something and God-dammit I’m gonna say it!”
There was a hushed silence. After a beat, Judge Hotchkiss proclaimed, “Very well. This is extremely irregular, but this court will allow a brief statement. Choose your next words carefully, young lady, lest you find yourself subject to punishment for contempt. What do you wish to say?”
“I’m tired of all this… stuff. This courtroom; these lawyers – sorry, Carlos – you, judge, this whole thing. I haven’t done anything that a hundred, a thousand, other girls have done in this town every day and yet I’m the one getting hauled up before your esteemed presence, then sent off to jail like some petty thief. It’s not fair, and I’m not going to stand for it!”
There was absolute silence in the courtroom. Judge Hotchkiss was aghast.
Taking the pause as permission, Shannon continued boldly, “I’ve got a life to lead, things to do, people and fans who adore me. Why, I may be missing my spa appointment right now because of this… mock trial.”
Her lawyer tugged at one arm, trying to get her to sit down before it got any worse. “Don’t. Say. Another. Word!” he admonished her, but she shrugged him off.
“And you, mister-high-and-mighty,” she glared up at the judge’s bench, “the right Honorable Judge Lamont Q. Hotchkiss,” she read his full title off the nameplate. What kind of a name is that, gives you the right to tell… me… what I hafta do!? What’s a ‘hotch’ anyway, and why does everyone here have to kiss it? Not I…” Shannon turned and, as if walking away from a pushy autograph-hunter, showed him her curvaceous backside as she strode towards the door.
OMFG!! She’s having a meltdown! I bit my knuckle and immediately starting thinking how I could spin this to her favor. Reporters scribbled furiously on their padds. Carlos looked utterly at a loss for words as he stared at the desk.
“Bailiff! Sieze her!” shouted the judge as the guards closed in. Shannon struggled briefly before being overpowered and duck-marched back in front of the bench.
“Hello, again, Hotchy!” She giggled at him with a come-hither look.
Judge Hotchkiss looked about ready to have a stroke, a heart attack, or both. His thin face was beet-red and his hand holding the gavel shook after banging the instrument several times. “Miss Edwards! This court finds you in severe contempt! Thirty days incarceration in a manner of my choosing, in addition your standing sentence. Take her into custody!” Another bang of the gavel closed the session. Without observing protocol, he stood up from his seat and walked off to chambers.
The courtroom erupted into renewed hubbub of conversations and pandemonium as the reporters scrambled for the door or started calling in the startling new events.
“Okey, dokey, hoky,” Shannon mumbled singsong as she was being led away. “Say, waiter, can I get some mineral water… no bubbles?”
The heavy steel door slammed home behind me as I seated myself at the wooden table. The forbidding sound didn't spook me like it used to; as Shannon Edwards’ counsel I had over the months become very familiar with the sights, sounds and smells inside a maximum-security women’s prison. This transient detention center at the courthouse wasn’t much different, but on a smaller scale.
I made myself as comfortable as I could, fidgeted in the unyielding chair, flipping open and closed the clasps on my briefcase as I awaited my client. I didn’t need to review any of the papers within; I knew the transcripts of her unrepentant cases by heart. Today’s outburst was simply the most recent affront.
The attorney's room was small and offered only the table where I was seated, two chairs and lingering memories of the odor of stale cigarette smoke that used to smog the air and yellow the neglected concrete walls. Oh, the stories those walls could tell!
Looking down at my watch, I noticed that it was taking considerably longer today than usual, but that was to be expected. The guards had already apologized for the delay, saying there had been a disturbance of some kind on this particular afternoon, but they would be with me soon. Then echoing footsteps, and the jingle of large keys made me aware that they had finally returned. However, my client wasn’t present.
“Mr Hernandez, could you please come with me,” the gruff guard said in a way that was more of a command than a question and didn’t usually include the word please.
“Is there a problem, Officer?” I asked, gathering up my coat and briefcase, following him through a checkpoint into a section of the jail with fewer barred gates and where the rooms were painted in marginally brighter colors. The guard said nothing more as he ushered me into a large, high-ceilinged conference room, locking the door once I was inside. The scene in the room was the latest amazement in a very surprising day that didn’t seem to be getting any more normal.
An impromptu dressing area had been set up there, complete with lighted make-up table, floor-length mirror, and a tall wardrobe case spilling over with beautiful gowns and other lacy clothing. In one corner of the room a roll of background paper had been unfurled and photo strobes arranged around the makeshift studio set. Several people swarmed around the center of attention: Shannon. Why didn’t that part surprise me at all?
“Oh, there you are, Carlos. Where have you been?” she said upon spotting me. “Things are turning out much better than I had hoped, but I do have a few minutes to talk as I get prepared,” Shannon added, turning back to the mirror as a girl applied eyeshadow to her lovely face with a large soft brush. All traces of her earlier bizarre behavior had vanished along with the drugs in her body. Now she was just back to being her usual vain imperial Shannon.
“What’s all this, who are these people?” I mumbled, slowly taking in the fact she was sitting there almost naked and no longer a blonde; her golden wig had vanished along with her golden dress. There was no sign of the day-glo orange regular prison jumpsuit either.
Suzette Chan rushed by, holding a clipboard and seemingly talking to nobody at all as she spoke to her implanted earpiece, saying something about “opportunity” and “appearance”. A second or so later her attention focused on me long enough for her to say: “Never be surprised at what a few well-placed credits can do; turns out most of the security staff are fans too; even that old hard-ass Hotchkiss seems to be playing along. Now, what do you need? I’m in a bit of a rush as you might have noticed,” she motor-mouthed as I followed her around, trying to comprehend.
“What do you mean? You spoke with Judge Hotchkiss? When?”
“Try to keep up; time isn’t going to stand still for you or anything!” Suzi snarked at me as she riffled through a rack of lacy feminine underthings, searching. “Yes, we met with the judge; it was very quick though I could tell he was pissed. He gave her a suspension sentence or something and said she was going to be making a special appearance. Seems like a great opportunity, no? So as you can see we’re a little under the gun getting her prepped and preened. I already sold the article to two monthlies and that weekly entertainment rag is giving us the upcoming cover if I can give them images tonight. See? Always focus on the positive energy,” she flashed a smile and then was away again in a blur.
This was getting out of hand! First, she hadn’t contacted me, her counsel, for the conference with the judge, which had evidently gone on in chambers, but had also apparently agreed to whatever sentence Hotchkiss had imposed. Now she was under the impression she’d be released in the morning and was turning the whole event into some sort of publicity photo spread. I muttered a few choice curses in my mother tongue as I sought out the object and origin of this increasingly convoluted catastrophe.
Shannon now stood behind a head-high privacy screen as one of the attendants laced up part of her garment. Her chestnut-colored hair was still in big curlers and she wore a little riff of tissue around her neck from the make-up table. Even so, she was achingly beautiful.
“Shannon; a moment of your time if you would?” I asked while looking the other way, but managed to catch a glimpse of her curvaceous figure molded by a lacy cerulean corset-and-panties ensemble. As a client, she certainly had some appeal.
“Of course, Carlos,” she replied, a little short on breath. “What can I… do for you?”
“Start with explaining why you spoke to the judge without counsel present? You apparently agreed to something and I have no idea what that might be. Your little passion-play in the courtroom this morning had to have upset Judge Hotchkiss enormously. I cautioned you not to anger him; he’s a very powerful person.”
“He’s really a dear… man, you know. Even though seemed… really livid, he said I could have…. a suspended sentence for my… contempt and maybe… continue that for my other… punishments, too. So, it sounds… like I may… get off… with just this night in… jail, right?” She seemed really happy with her accounting of the conversation, as if she’d done something good.
I had my doubts. “Don’t know, Shannon. Hotchkiss is usually very careful in his wording of judgments; some of what you said makes no sense at all from a legal standpoint. That’s why you pay me to be your counsel, to interpret such things.
“That’s a really… good point, Carlos. Why am… I paying you… so fucking much? You haven’t even… kept me… out of jail. Suzi said I could have… another three… agents… for what you… cost me.” She panted for air after gasping those last words; apparently the corset was a little too tight. Shannon held her hand up to signify ‘wait’, but I saw that as a dismissive ‘talk to the hand’ gesture and boiled over.
“Fine! You think you can negotiate your own terms with the judge, go right ahead, or maybe let your PR flack over there take over and make sure you get maximum exposure to the media. I’m done with this circus.”
“Fine!” she shot back, eyes flashing with anger.
“Fine, then, you’ll have my final billing at the end of the week; good bye and good riddance!” I started to storm out the door, then realized it was still locked and had to wait there for a couple of minutes until the guards came to let me out. During all that time I avoided eye contact with her, lest I get sucked in again.
“What was that all about? He’s sure got his knickers in a knot,” I commented to Shannon as the fuming lawyer was finally escorted out. My espresso was empty.
“He’s just feeling… a little left out,” Shannon observed, emerging from behind the screen and lying down in a folding chaise lounge as two assistants slid dark nylon hose over her slim legs and secured the garter straps. “Carlos and I go… way back; he’ll return in… a couple of days. He’s got that… Latin temper. It will be okay…”
“Well, by then he’ll be looking at a new Shannon. After this next appearance, no one will be able to touch you! Those other bimbettes; forget them. Your career is about to reach a whole different level!”
“You think so, Suzi?”
“I know so, sweetie! Now, pardon me for a sec; I think Julio’s ready for you and I need to find out where they hide the cappuccino machine in this place. I’m already starting to feel like I’m slowing down.”
Shannon stood up, slipping her feet into backless high-heeled pumps that added a good four inches to her height as the publicist slipped away on her quest for more caffeine. Her stylist hovered nearby as the star moved to the full-length mirror and checked out her sinuous profile in the glass, then he approached with a gauzy wrap to slip over her bare shoulders.
“You, my dear, are the vision of loveliness! What perfect proportions in that darling little cincher and how the color in the lingerie brings out your eyes incredibly well. With this little tulle shell on, you look ready for the runway or someone’s boudoir.”
“Oh, thank you, Julio; you’re so sweet!” she smiled, creating dimples in her cheeks.
“Now, let me brush out your hair; we don’t want it to be flat for the pictures, do we?” he fussed, discarding the pins and curlers, using the handle of a long comb to fluff out the sensuous waves in her hairdo. She kept herself still, watching her image in the mirror as the stylist did his magic.
“You know, I’ll be happy when this whole court thing is over with and I can go back to my normal life,” she commented after a minute or so of silence as other attendants added sparking jeweled earrings and long black opera gloves to her sexy ensemble.
In a way, she enjoyed standing there like some high-fashion model, aloof, letting her underlings be concerned with idealizing her appearance and costumes; preparing her to be seen in the best light by her adoring fans. It made her feel more of a celebrity than doing all that work on her own.
“Yes, Miss E,” Julio agreed, then added prophetically, “After today’s appearance nobody will ever look at Shannon Edwards in quite the same way again.”
Out of nowhere, the publicist appeared in a tizzy, swapping a steaming paper cup of coffee from one hand to the other. “Shannon! Something’s going on; I couldn’t find any of the photographers and when I asked one of the guards he said they’d all been sent away and told to come back later. Then he said the oddest thing.”
“What are you… talking about, Suzi?” Shannon turned away from they stylist as he tried to continue working on her hair despite the starlet bobbing her head around.
“The guy told me, and I quote, ‘your boss is pretty chipper for someone who is about to be frozen solid’.”
“Huh?” Shannon’s eyes were suddenly wide. “What do… you mean?”
“Wouldn’t say, when I asked,” the publicist offered. “He just smirked and said ‘You’ll find out soon enough.’”
“Call Carlos. Right away!” Shannon asked with a tremble in her voice.
“I don’t think – Uh, oh…” Suzi started to say before her voice trailed off.
Shannon turned to see several guards, including a more senior officer, standing by the doorway as another guard approached her. “Miss Shannon Edwards; please come with us.”
“Wha.. what’s going on?” Shannon stammered, suddenly afraid. She felt a shiver pass through her slim body; she’d never liked the cold much. One of the reasons she’d left north Texas at the start of her career.
“Please come with us,” he repeated, holding one arm out politely to indicate the way to the door, although his tone of voice wasn’t one of a request. It was a command.
Seconds ticked by; nobody said a word.
“OK then,” Shannon agreed calmly, as if she’d just been asked for an autograph. This isn’t the time or place for a scene, she decided.
Wrapping the mostly transparent cover-up around her like a mink stole, she held her head high and walked regally towards the waiting guards, ignoring the fact that she was dressed more for a bedroom romp than for any sort of travel. “Call Carlos” she mimed silently as she passed Suzette, the publicist, who started to follow the starlet until the officer motioned her to stay behind. Moments later, escorted within a loose square formation of guards, Shannon was led off down the narrow hallway and the door to the conference room was locked again.
Shannon’s repeated question, “Where are you taking me?” fell on deaf ears as the guards herded her into an elevator down the hall. They went down several floors, stopping at a level she glimpsed as “B3” before she was marched through another hallway, this one much wider. They entered a large workroom via a set of double-doors that were locked once more behind the entourage.
Inside another set of people awaited, along with an unusual apparatus that looked a little to Shannon like someone’s idea of a futuristic shower enclosure. There was a glass cylinder about a meter in diameter sitting atop a small metallic base. Ribbed tubing and cables led from the cylinder to a dial-strewn cabinet full of electronics.
The only person she recognized was Judge Hotchkiss, who stood a head taller than anyone around him, talking with a flustered, nerdy-looking guy in a white lab coat. Shannon only caught a few snippets of what he was saying, little of which made much sense: “…infusion rates haven’t been calibrated and the power levels may be wrong for this subject’s mass. I’m not sure…”
Hotchkiss frowned. “It seems you’re merely prevaricating; perhaps you’ve forgotten your debt to society as well as to me. Do you wish to resume your incarceration?”
“No, judge,” the man sagged. “It’s just… just, risky this soon…”
“Progress always is; let us proceed,” Hotchkiss said glibly, realizing they were no longer alone.
His face lit up as he caught sight of the seductively costumed starlet as the guards melted away. “Ah, the stunning Miss Edwards. Clad inappropriately for the occasion, as always; however that particular choice of attire is, I must say, most fetching. Ironically so, given your circumstances,” he chuckled briefly, an unsettling twinkle in his eye.
“What is going on?” Shannon repeated, a little glad to be finally talking to someone who could give her an answer instead of silence or a run-around.
“The execution of your sentence, of course,” Hotchkiss replied. “Thirty days suspension for contempt of court. Since the procedure is, ahem, experimental and relatively new I have chosen to, ah, supervise your induction,” the judge continued as he ogled her shapely figure from head to toe while the guards looked elsewhere.
“I thought you were going to let me off?” Shannon whimpered, “I want to talk to my lawyer!” She took a step back, and then realized there were guards all around and nowhere for her to go.
“That time has passed; you waived your right to counsel in my chambers, or have you forgotten already?” answered Hotchkiss dismissively. “Of course, he may file an appeal later. Nevertheless, this suspension will be carried out without further delay.”
“What do you mean; someone said you’re going to… freeze me?” she wondered.
“Only in a manner of speaking, Miss Edwards,” the geek in the lab coat replied, stepping away from the electronics console. “The stasis process is better described as an electro-chemically induced state of suspended animation. You’ll be placed into a condition of complete osmobiosis.”
“Basically, we’re going to immobilize you for the duration of your sentence;” he shrugged while attempting to clarify his jargon. “You could say you’re frozen…”
“I don’t like the cold,” Shannon said, little bit in shock. She felt the pit of her stomach drop away; the walls of the room seemed to be receding but the glass chamber kept getting bigger. “W…will it be over quickly?”
“It’s not like, a, you’re being refrigerated or anything cryonic like that, Miss, and yes the actual suspension does occur almost instantaneously; of course it sort of has to because...”
“Let’s move things along, Jeremy; some of us don’t have all night to spend here,” grumbled the judge.
“Oh, all right,” the man in the lab coat conceded, activating a control that caused the glass cylinder to rotate open. There were narrow semi-circular slots in the floor of the tube and matching vents in the top cap. “Now, if the prisoner would step into the suspension chamber?”
“Nooo!” Shannon wailed as the guards grasped her by the arms. “I’m sorry I said those things in your court; I don’t like this…”
“Miss Edwards, this sentence will be carried out; your likes and desires are no longer of any importance to me,” Hotchkiss overrode her pleading. “You can enter the stasis chamber now, of your own volition, or I will have you manacled and placed in the chamber by force.” He glanced over at the sergeant-at-arms.
Shannon took a deep breath, gathering the last of her composure. She took a step forward, then another, keeping her expression neutral, using all her training to keep from breaking into tears. The guy in the lab coat offered her his arm to steady herself on the step up onto the platform. As soon as she was inside, the cylinder rotated back to seal the transparent chamber around her. Looking directly at the judge, Shannon flashed her best thousand-dollar smile and bravely assumed a showgirl’s pose as best she could within the cramped interior.
Hotchkiss nodded to the fellow in the lab coat, who activated another control. With a hissing sound, a cloudy whitish gas flooded into the chamber, filling it completely within a few seconds. “Nothing to worry about, Miss Edwards!” he called to her. “You should just breathe normally.”
Inside, she could barely hear him; the swirling gas smelled awful, like it had come from some rotten swamp and it stung her eyes. She took a deep breath and almost gagged as her smile faded. Panic started to creep into her mind; maybe this was an execution, some kind of mistake. “Wait!” she cried, breaking her pose and starting to pound on the glass with her gloved fists. “Waii…..”
Suddenly, a brilliant multicolored light flooded the glass tube, obscuring Shannon’s figure from those watching. By squinting his eyes, the lab-coated man observed as her movement quickly slowed to an absolute standstill. Remaining bright for just a few seconds, the light faded, leaving a shadowy afterimage of her lingerie-clad figure standing there.
A figure that now seemed frozen in time as fans kicked in to clear the remaining gas from the chamber. Shannon did not move in the slightest way; her lovely face held an unchanging mixture of surprise and fear. Her arms were rigid, stopped in the middle of her useless protest. Her entire body was still; she did not blink or breathe. It was as if she had been replaced in that bright flash by an exact waxwork replica.
Wha? What did you do to me? Shannon’s thoughts echoed inside her totally rigid body. I can’t move a muscle!
There was no outward sign at all that she had stayed conscious throughout the suspension.
Help; let me out of here – I don’t want to be a statue!
“Completely suspended, just as in the tests,” grinned Jeremy, looking away from the motionless young woman to the indicators on his panel. “Heartbeat: nil; brainwave activity: none; cellular metabolism: totally inactive. She’s entirely rigid and stable. Biostasis has been achieved.”
Then why am I still here? Her mind demanded without a sound. This can’t be good…
“Is any further preparation needed?” The tall judge asked. It seemed to him that everything had happened very quickly.
“No, your honor,” answered the lab-coated man. “The subject is in a metastable state; until her suspension is reversed, she can remain immobilized indefinitely.”
“At least thirty days?” the judge queried.
Hotchkiss stepped up close to the outside of the tall glass cylinder. He smiled at Shannon’s motionless blank stare and frozen expression as technicians detached the hoses and cables from the chamber and affixed the protective metallic finial around the base. He said softly, almost to himself, “Finally, Miss Edwards, I’ve heard the last word from you.”
No, you haven’t! Her phantom voice protested.
Turning away from Shannon’s attractive, sculpture-stiff figure, he went back to his official voice. “Very well, then. Sergeant, you may transport the prisoner to the location where she is to serve her sentence,” the judge ordered.
A minute later, the entire chamber with its suspended occupant was tipped slightly and rolled on one end to a waiting forklift truck. Shannon’s solidified body wobbled from the front of the glass to the back, causing a solid “thump” before settling back upright; there simply wasn’t enough space inside for her to fall over. Once the chamber was strapped securely in place, the forklift moved out of the makeshift laboratory through a large roll-up door at the loading dock. Outside it was fully dark; the streetlights were on, creating pools of illumination around the building.
Where are you taking meee? She screamed with her mind but her lips never budged.
Several blocks away, in a dimly lit bar, Carlos Hernandez tipped the bottom of his martini glass to the ceiling and then added it to the pyramid he was creating. It was already three rows high; he’d almost knocked the whole thing over a couple of times. Reflecting on the truly terrible day this was, he waited not so patiently for the barkeep so he could resume construction.
“Hey!” he called out a few seconds later. “Canna get another?” His voice slurred.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, sir? Should I call you a cab?” the young man behind the bar looked hardly old enough to be drinking, let alone passing judgment.
“I’ll take one more… an then call it a night. Because it is,” the lawyer proclaimed.
The bartender hesitated for a few seconds, weighing cutting this guy off, which would surely spark a noisy argument. Then he turned, pulled a fresh glass from the hanging rack, picked up the almost-empty bottle of top-shelf vodka and prepared another serving.
Soon Carlos felt the cool liquor pass his lips and numb his mind to today’s disaster. He’d lost his case, his temper, and his juicy retainer all at the same time. What’s more, that old goat Hotchkiss had triumphed again in their long-standing, mostly good-natured legal rivalry. Giving his client Shannon a suspended sentence was an unusual move, though. She’d made enough of an ass of herself in court to be kept jailed for many days. Thirty hadn’t seemed unreasonable. But, suspended?
“Waita minit,” he mumbled out loud, making the barkeep glance his way before resuming chatting up a pair of flouncers at the other end of the bar. “S’okay,” he told the guy dismissively before finding his wandering train of thought again. In the back of his mind, in his little remaining legal consciousness, something didn’t feel quite right.
He’d never heard Shannon’s sentence directly, just got it relayed by that buzzhead Suzette, who may have gotten it wrong and told that to the bubblebrained starlet, who wouldn’t have known any different anyway.
Hotchkiss always worded his proclamations precisely; what had he said?
Suspended? Suspension? The lawyer mulled the sounds of those words over and over in his thoughts. They were so close; one meant she’d be free to go, the other… something else entirely.
A light dawned in the lawyer’s alcohol-pickled brain and he stood up quickly enough to knock his stool over. Gathering his things, he headed roughly towards the door, signaling the bartender to close out his tab as he passed. Stumbling on the steps, he glanced down at his silenced cellphone: Seventeen missed calls and five messages. Something was afoot. He headed back to the courthouse as the cool night air cleared his mind a little.
There was some sort of commotion near the front steps of the imposing building. Flashtubes were going off and there were an unusual number of people were around for this time of night; normally there were only indigents and drunkards wandering there. Everyone was clustered around a tall, transparent, pillar with what looked like a mannequin figure inside.
As he got closer, it became obvious the occupant was Shannon Edwards, or looked very much like his client. However, the figure inside didn’t move a muscle and held an frozen open-mouthed expression of surprise during the whole time he was able to see her face before more milling photographers blocked his view. What in hades?
Suddenly, someone appeared next to him, saying something. “There you are, been tryin to reach you,” bubbled petite Suzette Chan, paper cup of coffee in hand and as wired as ever. “Isn’t this great! You couldn’t buy publicity this good.”
“What’s going on?” he mumbled, trying to take it all in.
“Oh! Ohh.. oh yesSS,” Suzi gasped as if she was having an orgasm as she held her hand to her ear. “Shannon’s Number One on net searches!” The publicist was literally hopping for joy as little drops of spilled espresso rained on the marble around her like a tiny personal shower. “She’s going through the fricking celestial ceiling on this one – nobody can stop her now…”
Carlos glanced back at the flash-illuminated cylinder and the motionless figure of Shannon within as his mind supplied the sarcastic unvoiced comeback. Well, she seems pretty stopped to me! Shannon did look quite pretty that way, he reflected, sort of like a window dummy, before wrangling his drifting thoughts again.
“Suzi, tell me what exactly is going on. Why is Shannon in that tube, unmoving?” Oh, that’s right. Suspension! The verbal connection dawned on him as the publicist rattled off recent events at a fast-forward pace. So that’s what Hotchkiss had up his sleeve…
The publicist was jabbering, but he missed most of it. “…And so, after they kicked us all out, one of the photogs caught her being put in place here on the plaza. I called some news nets and put out a few press releases and there you have it,” Suzi concluded. “Oooh, look; there’s CNANBCC,” she pointed out a livefeed truck just pulling up. “See ya later.”
“Wait a minute. What does Shannon think of all this?” He called to the publicist as she was walking away.
“She’s not going to be doing much thinking or anything else for the next month, as you can see. Who cares? I’ve got to talk to these newsfolks now; hey, do you want to do a spot interview?”
“Uhh, not really, no,” the lawyer muttered, having enough wits remaining to not give statements to the press while four sheets to the wind. There was a sudden lull as most the photographers ran off to record the newsfeed reporters, leaving Shannon momentarily alone. Carlos walked up close to the fingerprint-smudged glass tube, looking up at his suspended client, who continued to gaze vacantly out into the distance. She didn’t look real; more like a waxwork effigy from a museum of the rich and famous. He had to laugh at her outlandishly out of place choice of outfit. Taking in her skimpy lingerie, he mused, I wonder if she feels a bit drafty in there?
Shannon’s mind wasn’t working quite right; thinking was difficult and what she could see from her fixed position inside the cylinder had a blurry, slow-motion dreamlike quality. The photo flashes looked almost like fireworks going off as they faded slowly afterward; passing cars made streaks across her vision. It took her several moments to even notice that her lawyer was standing outside, leering at her. Her thoughts cried, Carlos, get me out of heeereee!
After another minute, he turned and shuffled away as the news people were now returning.
Nooo! Don’t leave me!
By the next morning, the news had spread throughout the city, the entire world and eventually the known universe. Suzi was in her sweet spot, fanning the flames of celebrity with phone calls, chats, emails, and frequent releases to the newsfeeds when it seemed as if Shannon’s name might drop of out the top spot. Cute tag-lines such as “Frozen Floozy”, “Suspended Starlet”, “Girl Under Glass”, and “Bimbo in a Bottle” appeared, along with the publicist’s favorite, “Shannon Statuefied” since that one included her name. Most of the time, they also ran a picture of her stiffly posed expression inside the chamber. Say what you will, she was certainly photogenic!
Some had thought Shannon’s sudden appearance dressed provocatively in a glass tube on the courthouse plaza was a publicity stunt or some kind of a hoax using a likeness of the young woman, but a tersely worded statement from Judge Hotchkiss assured the doubters that a different style of punishment was being evaluated and that the Miss Edwards thirty-day contempt of court sentence was being served out on public display by the actress herself.
Seemingly, the only one not participating in the whole crazy circus was Shannon Edwards; the personality at the very center of the controversy, the girl in the glass tube herself. Gazing constantly into the distance, unable to move in the slightest way as people took endless photos and images of her body, she had literally been put on a pedestal. In some ways she was the perfect victim, celebrity, and cheesecake opportunity all rolled into one very sexy package. Nobody suspected that she might be watching them in turn behind those glassy eyes and frozen expression of surprise.
Shannon was getting used to the idea of being a “ghost”. That’s what she decided she was: A spirit; inhabiting her own immobilized body. Disconnected from the material world, yet aware, she watched and listened to events unfold around her.
Helllo? Can anybody hear me? Over heeere!
She first tried to call out to the guards, then the newscritters and the curious onlookers once day had dawned. None of them showed any sign of detection, so eventually she had given up. Besides, it was easier to hear outside when she wasn’t “shouting”.
Sound was another thing that mystified Shannon. By what little she had understood of that guy’s technobabble, her whole body was frozen solid, every nerve and muscle totally suspended, yet somehow she could pick up what people were saying. After a time she gave up on comprehending why her senses still worked, since there was nothing she could do about it anyway.
Besides, if I think about it too much it might stop. I kinda like being a ghost… Hey, guys, quit staring at my coochie!
When night fell on the first day, polarized groups of protesters had appeared; some outraged at Shannon’s treatment by the court system; others touting this new method of incarceration as the solution to the country’s prison problem; yet more from her fan club keeping a quiet candlelight vigil until their idolized idol was freed. Picketers circled her location at the courthouse and of course the newsfeeds maintained their round-the-clock coverage. Bouquets of flowers (the first brought by Suzi herself) had started to be placed at the foot of her chamber and occasionally a famous friend or rival put in an appearance too or gave short interviews. The publicist made sure there were always cameras around, which wasn’t difficult.
Shannon heard some things said about her that never would have been spoken to her face if they knew she could hear them. Suzi Chan was chatting up the idea of a tell-all book to the press, nothing left out, and the actress she had thought of as her BFF said her being turned into a statue was “like, typecasting; she’s such a stiff actress, anyway.”
Ooohhh, I’m gonna get you for that one, girlie! Just you wait…
Bright and early that same morning, Carlos Hernandez, suffering through a massive hangover, stood outside the chambers of Judge Hotchkiss, brief in case. Despite his quick action, the lawyer wasn’t sure if he should be present. Technically, he’d been released as her counsel. Yet Shannon couldn’t verify that action; he felt she might not have meant it. At the same time, he felt a fondness for the brash young actress along with the lingering responsibility to help her out of this mess she’d created for herself. He wasn’t sure this was such a good idea though, going up opposing the powerful judge, arguing cruel and unusual punishment so Hotchkiss’ decision would be reversed. Even though the courts gave their judges a lot of leeway in contempt citations, Carlos knew a few judges, too. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
Right on the tick at 8:45, Hotchkiss came striding up the hallway, back straight, eyes ahead as if he were marching on review. Only the hound’s-tooth patterned drivers cap he wore detracted from his military demeanor. He gave no sign of seeing the portly lawyer standing there until he reached the door to his chambers and could not enter.
“Attorney Hernandez, to what do I owe your presence this morning?”
“Your Honor; that should be obvious. She’s on display right in front of this building like some bizarre modern sculpture.”
“Oh, you mean Miss Edwards. I really hadn’t noticed,” the judge fibbed with a slight smirk.
“If I could have a few minutes of your time; I’ve prepared a brief outlining how her sentencing in this matter constitutes…” Carlos fumbled with his briefcase, balancing it on one knee.
“Don’t bother. I won’t hear any motion of that sort. Shannon Edwards’ punishment stands, as does she,” the judge replied glibly, fishing for his keys. “Please move aside; I have a busy schedule today.”
“NO, I will not! Off the record, you’re playing with fire here. What you had done to her is experimental at best and highly dangerous. If you do not choose to vacate your decision, I will find someone who will.”
“Stand aside, Mister Hernandez, or I will summon the bailiff. As for your motion, with the strings I’ve already pulled and the debts owed to me by this State and the courts, I don’t seriously see a reversal ever happening. Now, stand aside, lest I find you also in contempt and you’ll end up out on the plaza alongside your client.”
“But, but,” Carlos stammered as the taller judge pushed him aside to enter the office.
“Good day, counselor,” Hotchkiss muttered as he closed the door in the lawyer’s face. “And, good riddance,” he said once inside, just loud enough to be heard.
Carlos felt gut-punched, on the edge of nausea. He had expected some discussion, possibly a disagreement, but outright dismissal? Clearly the powerful judge wanted to suppress any question of his sentencing and that meant he might have had some other motive for putting Shannon through that suspension nonsense. But what?
Dejected, he made his way downstairs and out into the plaza. Shannon was still there, of course, but the throng around her chamber was already starting to thin out a little. She was becoming “old news”. He was able to step right in front of her and look up into her vacant stare. “Sorry kid,” he admitted. “The first round went to the judge, but I’m not going to give up on your case – I mean, you.”
Oh, that’s sweet, Carlos! Her thoughts glowed.
“Hang in there. I need to find your publicist.”
I’m not going anywhere…
Her thoughts turned out to be very prophetic.
A week later, events had not changed; in some sense they were as suspended in time much like Shannon was. Carlos had been unable to obtain an audience with any other judge, while the glare of publicity continued to fade. Over the weekend, the fan vigil had dwindled to only a few people. The news vans had all departed, but Shannon remained, unmoving and unchanging.
She started to lose track of the days, because every one was almost the same. Her schedule had become quite simplified: Things To Do Today – Stand stiff as a statue. Early in the morning she was almost alone, save for the maintenance workers who emptied the trash cans, swept the plaza and every few days cleaned the glass walls of her transparent prison without ever looking at the person inside.
Busy people going to and from the courts now for the most part ignored her; she had become part of the background, no different than a bench or a tree. Occasionally a group of gawkers, teens mostly, would hang around making lewd gestures or tourists would appear briefly to get their pictures taken with the notorious actress and then move on. But even those events were dwindling.
Towards afternoon came a time when, on clear days, she would be blinded by the sun shining directly into her wide and unblinking eyes. For hours afterwards she had a shadowy afterimage of a streak on her retina where she could not see anything at all. Late in the evening when plaza lighting switched from full brightness to security mode, Shannon seemed also to go into limbo with a gap in her awareness that lasted until the next morning when the whole tedious schedule started all over again and again: Things To Do Today – Stand stiff as a statue.
Only a few events served to break the monotony; on weekends (though she had no way of knowing what day it was) more fans would show up, including an adorable late-teen girl who would cosplay some of Shannon’s more famous roles. That fan even showed up once dressed in similar lingerie and stood on a box miming the actress’ frozen pose for almost a quarter hour. Every two days, like clockwork, rain or not, an old bum would show up in the middle evening, hover just at the edge of the lights, then depart like a wraith. The tall figure reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t quite place who it might be.
She was rapidly forgetting details of her previous life before suspension; it had taken her several seconds – or maybe minutes – to recognize her own publicist when Suzi showed up one day with a group of reporters; she was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a netspot addy “freeShannonStatue.biz” and an image of herself posed inside the tube.
Great; now she’s making money off my predicament, Shannon quietly fumed.
Thus all her days and nights passed in a blur, without incident. That is, until they didn’t.
“Oh, God; oh, crap; pick up, pick up,” Suzi repeated out loud as sort of a summons as she listened to the ringtone repeat over and over. “Oh, God; oh, crap…”
“Hullo, ¿Quién es?” Carlos Hernandez mumbled, roused from a fitful sleep. “Who’s there?” he repeated a moment later, in English.
“It’s about time!” Suzi scolded, continuing without greeting. “Turn on your netfeed.”
“Doesn’t matter; it’s on all of them.”
A few seconds later, he saw what everyone else was seeing: “…minutes ago, the imprisoned socialite and actress Shannon Edwards was abducted from her location in front of the county courthouse by at least three individuals,” droned one of the anchors as blurry pictures from a security camera replayed in jumpy motion. A dark-colored pickup truck careens onto the plaza, smashing into Shannon’s suspension chamber, which topples over backward shattering into a million pieces. Two people jump out of the banged-up truck, clad in black clothing and ski masks, run over to Shannon’s body, which is laying on the ground, pick her stiffened figure up like cordwood and throw it into the bed of the truck. They dash back into the cab and speed off into the darkness just as the plaza lights come on. The same vidstream began again. “There are few details at this time; the police are investigating these recordings now. To repeat, minutes ago…”
“Uh, OK,” Carlos muttered, waking up quickly. “Why did you call me?”
“Because… because, you have to DO something!” Suzi gasped, overamped.
“Such as? This matter is in the hands of the police; filing a motion with the court will not bring our young Shannon back any more quickly.”
“No, you don’t understand; this is a disaster. People can’t see her on the website anymore and so merchandise sales are already dropping – out of sight, out of mind and all – it’ll take about three days to get some new T-shirts designed and printed.”
“So, you want me to…?”
“Do something newsworthy; protest the kidnapping, announce a reward!”
“Pander to the press? Certainly not. Oh, as if it matters to you, but legally this crime would be classified as grand larceny, not abduction.”
“Huh? What are you saying; why won’t you make an appearance for me?”
“In principle, the law wouldn’t consider Shannon as alive when in suspended animation; the pilfering of her immobilized body will be treated like the theft of a vehicle, an artwork, or any other object, not as a kidnapping. She is no longer a person, in the eyes of the law. Would that be of interest to the public?”
“Sounds kinda complicated. Doesn’t matter to me as long as the news keeps spelling her name right. I don’t have much more time to yak. Let’s go with the reward angle instead. Do you think a half-million or so would do it? Not that it will ever have to be paid out, so go even higher."
Carlos felt a suspicion gnawing at his considerable gut. “Do you have information you’re not telling me? It almost sounds as if you know something about Shannon’s current whereabouts.”
“No; not me. Not really. I mean, I only said something once. As a joke. I didn’t know anyone would go through with it. Oh, God; oh, crap.”
“That makes you culpable; you should tell the police what you know. Cooperate.”
“Well, maybe. I could give them the images from the Shannon-cam, but I don’t think they’re any better than what’s on now. I hafta keep a copy for CNANBCC of course; they’re gonna pay top credit. You really think I might be responsible?”
“That’s for a jury to decide, if it comes to trial. For now, cooperate and say as little as possible about your ‘joke’ conversation as you can. Let them do their jobs. Understood?”
“Ok… Oh, God; oh, crap!”
“For the last frakking time, keep your hands off her!” I yelled over to Braun, who had a finger inside the lacy elastic on Shannon’s silk panties and was stretching them outward, trying for a peek inside.
Ahhh, stop touching me, you demented geek! Shannon continued to scream silently, terrified. This place is filthy; you probably haven’t washed your hands in days…
“Aww, but she’s so pretty,” the pimply-faced teen protested, removing his finger but then placing his hands around the immobilized starlet’s slim molded waist. “Likea life size Barbie doll. Lemme be her Ken?” He pulled the stiff figure towards him.
“Leave her alone! Whatever they’ve done to her, she’s still our favorite star and deserves respect – Watch Out!” I called to him when I saw what was going to happen. Braun had let go of the Shannon-statue, turning away dejectedly, but she was not balanced on her feet and started to topple forward.
NOooo! Grab me…
I reached her first, catching her statue-stiff body, or at least trying to. Gorram girl was heavier than I expected and we both almost fell to the floor. By then, Braun had reacted and added his strength to mine, although he somehow managed to grab her left boob at the same time. Together we wrangled her back upright and made sure she wouldn’t fall over the other way.
“Sorry…” he said contritely.
Get away from me! I want to go back in my tube, it was safe there…
“That’s why you can’t be fooling around; Shannon could be hurt or even worse. How would we live with ourselves forever afterwards? It would be, like, so humiliating. We’d be banished from SERF, for starters.”
Oh, about SERF: That’s our club, Shannon Edwards Raving Fans. Though it was getting clear to me that some were more “raving” than others. I glared at Braun.
“Aww, Leena, you weren’t so picky earlier tonight, when we threw your demigod here into the back of that truck.”
“That was different; there wasn’t much time and we’d put an old sleeping bag back there to cushion her. Speaking of, did you take care of it?”
“Yeah; in the ditch, like she said to do. Made some real pretty sparks go’in in the water, too.”
“Good. Nobody saw you?”
“What do you think I am, an idiot?”
I didn’t reply to that, feeling the answer was obvious.
“So, now what?” Braun changed the subject, flopping down in a beanbag chair. They were cheap furniture and almost ideal for watching vids on the wallscreen that took up most of the rental.
“We wait. Someone’s going to contact us, soon. Want to see ‘Luna Vacation Lunacy’? It’s one of my favorites of hers.”
Not torture, too! Oh, please, no…
“Naw; it’s late. Gotta early set call too. You two can have a girls night together.” He lumbered upright and headed for the door. “See ya.”
“Alright. Don’t call me…”
“…we’ll call you. I know the drill,” he replied. With a last lustful look at Shannon’s body, Braun finally left. What an oaf. All Braun, no brains.
It took a few minutes of sitting quietly out of Shannon’s frozen gaze to at last screw up the courage to finally face her.
“Uh, hi, Shannon. I don’t know if you can hear me, but don’t be scared.”
NOW you tell me!
“My name is Leena Wanderly, and I’m probably your number one fan.” I smiled, but her surprised expression never changed. She really was like a mannequin.
Wonderful; now I am scared. Kidnapped by raving fans…
“I’m sorry about what we did, but it’s all part of a cool plan to make you an even bigger superstar than you already are. Please don’t be mad at me or anything.”
If Suzi’s at the bottom of this, I’m going to wring her scrawny neck when I get out of here!
Having a soliloquy with a statue was kind of silly. “OK, then, now that that’s settled, let’s watch a movie. Here, let me turn you a little so you can see better.”
Not the Lunacy, no… I was young, foolish, and the money seemed too good…
This was the first time I’d taken the time to look at her immobilized figure closely, not counting keeping her body from falling over earlier. Though her pose hadn’t changed at all, Shannon looked a bit rumpled. The flimsy shawl she had worn on display at the courthouse was gone and there were a couple of runs in her black nylon stockings. One of her gloves had slipped and strands of her hair were askew.
“You know, Shannon, you really should look your best,” I commented, smoothing her auburn curls back into position, then tugging the glove upward. Her arm was so stiff, like plastic; she didn’t seem real. “Oh, and you’ve gotten sorta dusty; let me brush that off a bit.”
There was a tiny smudge on her cheek, too, but it came clean with just a little spit. Her face was more beautiful than I had ever imagined from her pictures or even from those few feet away when she was in her tube. This chance might never come again.
What are you doing? Stop!
Impulsively, I felt myself being drawn to her, and then kissed Shannon full on the lips like I’d seen Reed Stephens do with her in that delightful beach movie. She didn’t – couldn’t – respond of course; her open mouth felt cool and hard, like a statue. Our moment passed. I backed away, blushing. I’m not that much into women, by the way, so this was weird.
“Hey, this can be just our little secret, OK?”
That’s what you think…
I didn’t do anything more as we watched my favorite Shannon Edwards movie in mutual silence. But I figured she wouldn’t mind if I replaced her torn stockings so she’d be looking her best for the next step in the plan, whatever that would be.
It was suddenly light outside; I awoke with a pounding headache and an odd coppery taste in my mouth. My whole body felt weak and leaden; this wasn’t any normal hangover and besides we hadn’t drank that much the night before.
The rental apartment was cold; a misty breeze streamed in through a broken window five stories above ground and left through the hallway door, which was standing ajar. I never left that door unlocked! Something was wrong.
Shannon was gone, leaving a conspicuous blank space next to the couch; there was a cleaner blank spot on the wall where the flatscreen had been and dangling cables instead of the control module. My shoulder bag and laptop netconn were nowhere around.
Shannon was gone!
I’d been robbed. This was not good, in a majorly not good way…
Stumbling to my feet, I closed the door to the hall so no nosy neighbors would be poking around and took a quick look around. More not good; I’d been cleaned out. Pretty much anything of value was missing and all of the electronics that weren’t bolted to the wall along with several that had been.
Shannon was gone…
For some reason, the thieves had missed my earpiece phone, maybe because I’d rolled over that way on the couch and they hadn’t thought to search my body.
Gathering my thoughts and trying to ignore my throbbing head, I called the one person who could possibly help me out of this increasingly impossible situation.
… to be continued …