Zipping through the traffic-clogged early-evening streets, the bright red mini-Cooper weaves among the slower vehicles, picking out openings between the teeming cabs, lorries, buses, motorcycles, and astonished motorists as the masterful driver seems to always anticpate where the next open lane is going to appear and take advantage of it before anyone can react. To a pedestrian, it would almost seem as if everyone else on the road were standing still, aside from the occasional rude gestures coming from motorists who have just been passed or pavement walkers who get puddle-splashed by the more extreme swerves as the car flashes past into the night.
"Get out out of the way, you grotty great sow! Oh, I didn't mean you, Your Loadship…" For Victoria Plumm, star reporter for the London Times, her goal is simply another appointment to meet as she concentrates on her phone conversation and where she needs to be, not the reaction she is getting as she speeds along. Glancing every now and then at the address sticky on her dashboard, she tries to make up for lost time and hopes her contact has not given up on the meeting. After what seems an eternity to her, she slips out of the flow, parks on the street near her destination, and hops out of the car still wearing her headset. Smoothing out her outfit, making sure there are no creases in the wrong places, she double-checks her strikingly beautiful appearance quickly while walking along.
To the few pedestrians at this hour, the hurrying young woman cuts a very impressive figure in her close-fitting fawn-hued leather pantsuit, stretchy knitted blouse, and high-heeled suede boots. The tail of her ginger-blonde hair is swept up into a sinuous ponytail curl that bounces in an upside-down question mark as she walks along, hips swaying suggestively. Her appearance is a striking mixture of professional chic and calculated tease that Victoria has cultivated over time into one of her secret advantages as a member of the working press. One shapely leg up the 172-centimeter tall beauty is certain the blokes in the news room could never match!
Drawing an appreciative smile from the guard at the courtyard entry gate, she walks confidently by, knowing he's checking out her shapely ass and forgetting for the moment to ask for her identification. Damn, I'm good! she smirks to herself, setting her sights on the side door to the building that is the meeting point. Outside a bell button is mounted high on the wall just as described; inconspicuous to most. She reaches out on tip-toe, presses it twice, then waits. Agonizing minutes pass with no response then, just as she has almost given up, there is a metallic creak and the door opens. Inside is very bright; for a moment she cannot see who belongs to the rather reedy outline that greets her.
"Miz Plumm?" A man's voice; early forties she thinks, with a local accent. "Mmm, of course you are. Silly me. Well, step in, step in; don't want to attract any more attention from the yobtops." The door opens a little wider so Victoria can squeeze in sideways, brushing her firm breasts up against him, as the man quickly shuts and latches the door before actually noticing her. Then his glasses-magnified pupils widen even more at her dazzling figure and he does the expected head-to-toe sweep of Vicky's svelte body with his eyes, pausing in the usual places. Then he looks up again, slowly, finally settling on her oval face.
"Doctor Bignall?" she blinks, still trying to get accustomed to the illumination. "I'd like to thank you for…"
"Yes, yes; well, let's be getting along. The chief inspector won't fancy me talking to reporters much, you see. Even one as comely as yourself!" He turns and strides off down the wide corridor, lab coat flapping in the breeze of his passing soVictoria has to almost run to catch up to him at the lift, which he's already signalled.
"Can I just…?" Victoria asks, only to be silenced by Bignall shaking his head slightly and placing a finger on his lips. She waits, impatiently.
The lift arrives; they ride down several floors in silence, then walk along another corridor before arriving at a cramped office strewn with papers, photographs, and test tubes filled with colored liquids. Along one cluttered shelf are several tall jars with nondescript bits of unknown things floating in the clear fluid. Bignall pulls a sheaf of papers off the only spare chair in the room and motions for the reporter to sit, which she does after a moment's hesitation, worrying that the residual splotch of what looks like blood on the fabric might stain her pants. For once, she's put a little off guard as she crosses her long glove-leather-clad legs nervously.
"We can talk here for a bit, then I'm sure you'll want to see them," he says at last, eyes flicking down to glance at the rise and fall of her impressive breasts as she catches her breath. Like everything else in her ensemble, Victoria has chosen the close-fitting ochre ribbed turtleneck top to flatter her carefully sculpted figure and distract interviewees. "By the way," he continues, "you can call me 'Jasper'; Doctor Bignall is so… formal. Tea?"
"No, not right now. I don't want to be a bother," she fibs with a nervous smile. Mostly she doesn't want to think about what that lab beaker boiling on the sidebar once held. Swtching on the card-thin, solid-state voice recorder in her pocket, she adjusts her earpiece so its microphone is in omni mode. "Ahem, just a few questions if you will. What can you tell me about the victims, Doctor? During our phone conversation you mentioned there was something unique you had seen," she prompts, glancing down for a moment at the flowery pin on her lapel that contains a hidden miniature digital camera. It too is ready.
The medical examiner pauses for a moment before replying. "Most definitely, young lady; but let me be clear first. Very little of what you are about to hear is known to the press or the public at large and I'd rather not have too many, um details, be given out. There is yet an ongoing investigation as well, and the Inspector would have my head if the person who committed these crimes escapes because of something I have said. Understood?"
"Yes, of course, sir. Jasper. You'll be 'an unidentified source at New Scotland Yard' and I will be very discreet in vetting what gets printed," she reassures him with a smile. Yea, right, she's thinking, you're talking to The Times. This is front page material!
"Now, uh, Miz Plumm; there might be some questions you'd fancy to ask later on, so you can contact me at these numbers." The rumpled medical examiner hands her his card, with a couple extra lines scribbled in. "That's my mobile, just in case, and the bar phone at the Rose & Scepter. Just go ahead and ring me up, any time."
Victoria knew this geezer wasn't going to get to first base with her, but leading him on tonight might loosen his tongue a little, even if he was almost drooling on the desk already. "Of course, Jasper. And please, call me Victoria," she answers, leaning a tad forward and touching the sleeve of his coat with her hand. "I'd love to hear more about your side of the investigation, especially about those poor petrified women."
"Very well. As you know, there have been six victims of this diabolical serial killer, including unfortunately one of our own police force…"
"The American copper, Inspector Taggart?"
"Yes. Poor Brenda; she was lost only yesterday. I do wish that she had listened more to all of our cautions; if so she might be still with us."
"She's been petrified like all the others?"
"Sadly so, but saying 'petrified' isn't precisely correct a description of her transformation. That implies becoming more stone-like, since 'petros' is the Greek root, meaning 'rock'. Someone has even gone as far as to label the perpetrator as 'The Medusa Killer' after the mythic Gorgon, though there isn't any lithification involved in the victims to date, though I suppose there could be."
"I will note the difference for our readers. By the way, I was the one who created that tag line 'Medusa Killer'; kinda catchy, isn't it?" She leans forward, letting her breasts strain against the fabric of her top, bringing his focus back to her questions. "So, what exactly has happened to them? I'm very curious."
"Something we're at a bit of a loss to explain, however striking the physical evidence presents. Every molecule in the victims' bodies has been altered, almost transmuted, into an analogue of the original organic compounds that contain essentially a fluorinated hydrocarbon matrix. I can go into the full scientific details if you'd like…?"
"No, that's not necessary right now. What would be the common term for this new matrix, something a typical reader would twig to?"
"Plastic. Yes, I'd say that was close to right. Stiff, impervious, but retaining the original shape and appearance precisely throughout their transformed bodies. Even their insides."
"Really? Go on…"
"We've run NMR scans of all six, and every detail of their structure has been captured almost down to the molecular level. Every organ, muscle, blood vessel and nerve. All suspended, frozen you might say, in permanent plastic-like matrix. They could be the most precise anatomical models ever seen if they were opened up. However, one cannot forget these are living people's corpses, not just abstract display figures."
"No signs of life?"
"How could there be! Are you daft?" Bignall almost jumps up, then takes a moment to calm down, making a great show of setting up his teacup then pouring the water into the bowl and stirring slowly while fussing with the perforated chrome strainer. "Electroencephalographs - brain scans, to you - have not turned up any hint of mental activity. As I said earlier, they are completely inert. Lifeless."
"I am sorry for them, too. So many young lives, stilled forever."
He looks down into his teacup, picking his words. "In this line of work, one sees a good many gruesome things and much death. Fires, drownings, accidents, murders; they all pass through here on the way to the great beyond. But these latest victims, these beautiful plastic effigies, seem very different to me, probably because they do not look as if they are deceased. It is easy for one to imagine they are merely paused, frozen in time, ready to come alive at the next instant and go on about their lives. But that's not going to happen, is it?" He looks over to the corkboard on the far wall, where six photos of young women are posted; under each is a name and a recent date: When their bodies were recovered.
There is more room yet on the corkboard, almost an expectation of more victims, which causes a chill to pass down Victoria's spine. "Let's get back to the case, shall we? What have the forensic scrutinies turned up?"
"Oh, yes, the forensics. Sadly not much a'tall. We know the perpetrator is male, favors wool suits, and has dark brown hair. No pictures, yet, though there are some frames from a security camera adjacent to the park that they're working on cleaning up. There were some fingerprints uncovered at the last crime scene, but nothing has turned up for those yet either. Unless the 'perp' had any contact with the law or was in the service, his prints may not be on file anywhere. Eyewitnesses describe the person as being a little shy of two meters tall and of medium build. That describes about forty percent of Britain!"
"Not much to go on, yet," Victoria sympathizes.
"There is one thing though, that I ask you to hold in the strictest confidence."
She only nods, knowing the tape recorder would not pick up her answer if the question came up later. After all, the people had a right to know, didn't they? And we have papers to sell them…
"Ms. Taggart at the time of her recent demise was conducting a stake-out operation on her own volition. To that end she had equipped herself with a radio link-up. The yanks call that 'being wired'; the device was hidden on her body and secured in place with discreet bits of sticky. The receiver, fortunately with a recorder, remained with her partner several hundred meters away. Close enough to get a clear signal, but not close enough for him to come to her aid. Not in time, that is. By the time he realized something was amiss and reached her position, Acting Inspector Taggart had already been transformed and the perpetrator was nowhere to be seen…"
"But, you have the tape?"
"Yes, the analysis is still ongoing…"
"Can I hear it?"
"I suppose, but remember none of this can be mentioned. A voiceprint is a powerful thing, especially if the person we're tracking doesn't know we have it." While warning the reporter, Bignall turns to his laptop computer sitting on a pile of papers and is clicking on little images of folders on the screen. "Um, right. Here it is, as an mp3." He presses the tiny icon that looks like a speaker, then is quiet as Victoria leans closer to listen.
The voice on the recording was female, but held a bold tone and the distinctive unrefined accent of the American eastern coast.
"It is now. Testing: One, Two, Three. Can you hear me now. . . good!" Silence for a few seconds.
"Don't do this…" A man's voice, presumably her partner, sounding very concerned.
"I have to, we've been over it," Brenda's voice stated from beyond the grave. "I can't stand around and let anyone else become a victim without doing something…"
Bignall clicks on the player again; cutting the recording off. "Ah, let's skip ahead a bit; this is mostly unimportant anyway and goes on quite some time." Besides, he knew, hearing the whole thing again would just bring the pain back. Moving the image of the slider to a familiar point that is almost burned into his memory, he clicks 'play' again.
"Evening, miss. Have you got the time?" a different man's voice asks, with a hint of a north-country accent. In the background they could hear footsteps, including a set of spike-heeled clicks that stopped amid the rustle of clothing.
"Um, it's just gone half past midnight," Brenda's voice repled. "Have a nice night." The clicks of her heels resumed after a few seconds, along with "Whew! That was a strange one. I've seen some odd sights in this country, but I guess it takes all kinds…" Her voice stopped abruptly.
Victoria, eyes closed, was trying to imagine the scene, how they stood, what Brenda Taggart must have been thinking at that moment. Whether the policewoman had realized yet that it was going to be too late for her.
More seconds passed on the tape, then heavier footsteps were heard again along with the same voice once more, this time sounding almost cocky as he said "Looking for someone?"
"Not really, no," Brenda replies, for the first time not sounding sure of herself. "Though one of the guys from the club said he'd be coming along anytime now," she stammers quickly. Victoria thought it sounded like a really gimpy excuse.
Apparently so did the killer. "Found someone, you have, I think. Yess!" he replied triumphantly; film buff Victoria recognized the line from an old SciFi movie. The killer's next words chilled the reporter to the bone; they were the last words Brenda Taggart ever heard: "You must find me fascinating!"
There were more rustling sounds on the recording, signs of a struggle that soon subsided, and a quick "Eep.." that Brenda managed to blurt before she fell silent and still. What seemed like minutes passed but the counter on the reconding had only ticked off twelve seconds since her last cry had been uttered.
Once again the perpetrator spoke. "You're a pretty Penny, you are, but you could look more beautiful still," the man said with an air of finality and overwhelming confidence.
Victoria tried to imagine again what was happening to the hapless police woman, what it would look like as someone was turned into a plastic statue. The tape offered no clues except silence; she could even hear the faint sounds of the night insects in the park and the far-off rumble of traffic. She did not know that Brenda's partner had dropped his headset and was sprinting full tilt, to no avail, towards her position deep in the park.
"Much nicer," the killer concluded, and Victoria knew the deed had been done. Brenda Taggart had become a silenced victim instead of being the apprehender.
Bignall clicked the recording off. "That's the key section you have there, Miz Plumm. There is quite a lot remaining from when her parter discovers what's happened to her and then all the poking around bits done after that. Gets rather boring; in fact the recorder wasn't switched off until they brought her remains to morgue here and I deactivated it myself, just before I examined the body."
"That's really chilling," Victoria comments, herself rattled visibly by what she has heard. Normally she maintains a newsperson's detachment from such events and wonders why this story is different. Trying to put the emotions behind her, she tries to move on with the interview. "So, it seems that the alteration to her body occurred lighting-fast?"
"Um, yes, that's what it appears. Earlier I mentioned how the organic structure has been completely preserved in plastinated form. That precise detail extends down to the molecular level, where it is even possible to track what were once enzymes within her body using the 3D scan process. I've estimated that in Ms. Taggart's case, her body was totally converted in less than sixty seconds; it could even have taken place more quickly. She barely had time to think about what was happening to her. That's maybe for the best. The same tests on the other five victims show similar rapidity of transformation, though interestingly the first ones seems to have taken slightly longer. It is almost as if the killer is getting better at transforming them…"
"Any clues as to why these particular victims? Anything in common between the six?"
"The profilers have found a few interesting items, but nothing that seems significant. Other than Miz. Taggart, who placed herself in harm's way, the others appear only to have largely been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Three students of various levels, an office worker, an out-of-work magazine model; the latter is foreign but the others are from the city. Interestingly, all have an one of two astrological signs so they were all born around the same season of the year. The most common aspect is that all have at one time frequented a dance club near to the park and all are young and female, which could be simply circumstantial. Before you ask, the department is already monitoring that location since Miz. Taggart's demise."
"It seems as if your investigation is proceeding, Dr. Bignall," Victoria agrees, realizing she's probably gotten all the information she can at the moment. Standing quickly, she faces the row of photographs for a minute, giving Jasper a nice view of her profile. "Would it be possible for me to see the victims?" Steering the conversation in this direction, she takes a few steps towards the corridor.
"Don't see why not; they're not going anywhere until this matter is settled. The morgue laboratory bay is this way," he says, heading out the office door at a fast walk. The reporter once again runs to keep up, wondering why this fellow could not be a bit more leisurely in his comings and goings. Then she figures out that he is checking out the hallway beforehand to be sure there is no one around before letting her proceed.
She catches up at the double-doored entryway just as he switches on the lights, which flicker fitfully to life. The large low-ceilinged room smells medicinal, like a hospital ward, with an undertone of an aroma she doesn't want to think too much about but recognizes: Decay.
Bignall shows the way, but that is only a formality. There is no mistaking the six still standing female figures that have been placed in a line along the wall by the cadaver lockers. They appear so lifelike and composed that it would be very easy to get the idea they were merely pausing there for a moment instead of having been turned into plastic statues. Victoria lingers at what she thinks would be a good full-group shot distance and touches the pendant hanging between her breasts to trigger another picture. Medusa's Harem, she mentally captions it. She moves closer to the tableaux.
Suddenly realization hits the reporter as she looks at their hard, slightly glossy skins and graceful attitudes. She has seen figures like this before, in many store windows, displaying all manner of articles. These aren't plastic statues they're mannequins! She has been distracted by all the techno-gobbledegook and missed a critical factor. Aside from their frozen expressions of surprise, they seem to be actively posing for whomever has done this to them. All were clothed, some more completely than others, and all appeared to be positioned to best exhibit whatever they had been wearing in a stylish manner. Even Brenda Taggart, though she now wore only a lab coat with a 'J. Bignall' name tag on it draped over her shoulders. Victoria chose to ignore that, for now.
"The victims have been positioned here in the order they were transformed, starting at the right. The tags on their wrists give the details of their identities and where their bodies were discovered," the doctor notes, approaching the six more closely.
Victoria also comes up to the start of the group, pausing every few seconds to look at each of the stiff figures in turn while triggering her secret camera several times. Inside what would have been their personal space, if they had still been alive, the change was even more apparent as every girl remains unnaturally stiff, unblinking, and staring off into the distance or spookily through the reporter when she stands directly in front of them. They were an attractive bunch of statues, somehow seeming even prettier than in their mug shots on Jasper's wall. One was of Asian extraction, with a petite curvaceous figure, pale porcelain-clear skin, jet black short cropped hair and a surprised wide-eyed blank expression that gave her an almost doll-like aspect. The wrist tag identified the victim as Yen Vuong; a student of dramatic arts. She was twenty-two, or would have been soon if she had been alive. Now she had become a plastic mannequin instead.
It was interesting how total immobility gave the victims an aspect being at once delicate and solid, finely sculpted chinaware juxtaposed with a steel-and-glass permanence. The reporter studied the plasticized girl's figure closely, noting how her lithe muscles and tendons were distinctly rendered, especially in the area of her abdomen where the subtle ripples of Yen's belly caught the side light to show an aesthetically appealing physique. Thinking of her as sculpture was an easy concept.
The next girl in the ghastly chorus line is dressed the most nattily, in a short-skirted business suit, stockings and patent-leather heels, she has her blonde hair done up as if for an office job and wears wire-rimmed spectacles that frame her large, carefully made-up eyes nicely. Around her neck are a string of pearls. Tagged as Wendy McKesson, aged twenty-seven, this stiffened mannequin looks as if she had been removed from a Miss Polly's fashion display instead of found frozen in the park. Her place of employ is listed as being an actuarial agency in West London.
Finally, curiousity gets the better of Victoria and she reaches out to stroke the girl's cheek. It is cold, hard, and smooth, looking even more artificial than at a distance. A quick rap with her knuckles confirms the motionless girl is indeed rock-hard and immovable.
"Harumph," Bignall clears his throat, "I'd prefer if you didn't touch them, if you please."
"Why? They've been dusted for prints, scanned, poked, and God knows what else. They have been most of them standing here for weeks or months like a bunch of fricking dummies in Harrods' show windows and you've been using Brenda's remains as your coat rack? Now you're worried about their being touched?" she snaps back.
"It just doesn't seem right, somehow, when you're doing it. I've had more experience, a doctor's priviledge as it were." Subconsciously he moves closer to the figure of Brenda.
"Wait a minute! You don't think these six ossified cadavers are still living, do you?"
"Not really; there is no evidence, no trace of mental or physical activity," Bignall allows, blushing slightly to put lie to his denial.
"Then. . ." Victoria challenges abruptly, "you wouldn't mind if I did this?" With that, she steps behind the frozen statue of Brenda and places her arm around the rigid figure's waist, hugging the plastic tightly. Brenda's slim torso is as hard as stone.
"NO! Oh, please no, Miz Plumm. Step away from her… Brenda is always so, so cautious about her appearance and decorum that she would never think of having this kind of contact. We should be finishing up anyway, I have more desk work to see to yet."
Sneaking another photo close up before releasing the plasticized policewoman, Victoria appeared hurt. "I'm sorry if I acted improperly towards 'her'; you've obviously not come to terms with Brenda's demise; treating this -object- as if she were yet alive isn't proper." …nor particularly sane, she added silently.
The doctor seems to sag as the wind goes out of his bravado. "I told her, be careful, but she didn't listen to me. Nor to anyone else. Now look what's happened to her. Trapped forever in plastic. I never even got a chance to ask her out for a drink after work."
"She must have known you cared for her, before. In a way, you're still caring for her though she probably wouldn't fancy standing around in nought but your lab coat I suspect." Whew! I pulled that situation out of the fire… Victoria thinks to herself, distracting him from his maudlin moanings by walking back along the line of motionless women. There's something about these girls that I'm missing, something else going on here. This is going to drive me batty!
Following Victoria, half in a daydream, Jasper Bignall realizes he has to find a way to appease how Brenda would feel and make up for this transgression. Maybe something prettier for her to wear. Thinking fondly about the lovely American policewoman, he isn't prepared when the news reporter turns to him abruptly, taking her leave.
"Thank you, Doctor Bignall. Or should I say, Jasper. You have been most helpful, but I really should not be snagging any more of your time. In fact, I can even show myself out to the street. Have a pleasant evening, sir." She starts on her own towards the exit.
"Wait; Miz Plumm. You do remember our agreement? Strictest confidence? Please?"
"Certainly although this story seems far too juicy to keep under wraps; you'll just have to trust me… then pop for the late edition to find out for sure. Cherrio!" With that smirk, she enters the lift for the slow trip to the surface and a quick drive back to her flat. His last view of her is the jiggle of her shapely backside encased in tan leather and that little curlicue of red-blonde hair.
Jasper Bignall feels a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Not only has Brenda been rudely embarassed, the department's entire investigation might be compromised. Even so, he feels a slight concern for Victoria too. She really is a lovely young woman, though a bit brash and impetuous, he thinks, hoping that no harm will come to her as a result of her part in this odd business. He realizes she did not give him her numbers after all.
News travels fast, gossip faster; nowhere is this more true than in the news business. Alerted by a call from the doorman, nearly every one in the city room finds a way to be facing the right way that morning when Victoria appears for work. It is well worth the tip. Normally eye-catching, the female reporter's appearance today is nothing less than stunning. What there is of her cocktail dress clings to her hourglass figure like a coat of crimson paint, barely covering the bottoms of her butt cheeks and plunging into a deep vee in front that reaches almost to her navel. The only decoration is a snaking skein of fabric flowers that flows from one shoulder, along the line of her cleavage, hugging her waist to end at the small of her back with an extra large faux blossom. Her shapely legs are wrapped in sparkling taupe tights and a pair of higher than business wear heels letting her stand even taller than normal. Her striking ensemble is topped off by a wide-brimmed sun-hat accented by the twin of the large flower on her backside. While a radically different look for her, it is one that she has pulled off quite successfully, most agree afterward. Though the fashion editor remarks snarkily to a colleage that the particular designer's creations aren't really suited for the daytime.
Striding rapidly through the newsroom, a woman on a mission, Victoria doesn't care in the least about the impromptu showing she is giving the rest of the staff nor the number of male eyes focused on her figure as she prances by on her way straight to the glassed-in corner office. Pausing to close the door behind her, she stops only when facing the managing editor's desk.
He looks up, unflappable as always. "Bit early for the 'Tarts and Vicars' don't you think, Miz Plumm? What brings me the dubious joy of your company?"
"What would you say if I gave this paper the next Bixby Prize!" she boasts, ignoring his typical jibe about her appearance. She paces excitedly back and forth in front of the large desk, too excited to stand still. Many people are watching the scene from outside.
"I would have to ask what manner of peculiar apothecary you had chanced upon," he replies. "Please sit down, Miz Plumm, and explain yourself before you give me a coronary." He indicates a chair with one hand and a smile, then waits silently.
"Oh, bother!" Victoria says after some seconds, sitting deep into the low chair then crossing her long legs first one way, then the other. There seems to be no way to keep the slippery dress from riding up her thighs, giving the editor an unintended flashing. After a couple of attempts, some shifting side to side, she decides to just keep her knees together. Even so, she's nervous enough to tap her heels on the floor, causing various parts of her and her outfit to jiggle in distracting ways. Finally, she gives up trying to be calm. "I am about to break the Medusa Killer story wide open, sir!" she beams, digging out some pages from her shoulder purse. "Yesterday the perpetrator contacted me through an alias, and wants to do an interview - tell his side of the events - as I proposed and he took the bait! We're going to meet today!"
"You are sure this is the same person responsible for these crimes and not some copycat or publicity seeker?"
She sighs. "No, I am not sure, sir. How can I be until after our meeting? So far, this fellow knows things -facts- about what's been going on that no-one outside the medical office of New Scotland Yard is aware. I was there just last night; talking to a sweet, kind of creepy chap named Bignall. Saw the petrified popsies myself, I did, all six of them. This isn't some run of the mill slasher or alley humper; there is something very strange going on here and I'm convinced the chap who emailed me is involved up to the eyebrows."
"What sort of facts does this fellow posess?" Ever the newsman, the editor follows the meat of the story and hasn't forgotten how to find out information.
"Names, to start with; he correctly identified each of the victims, in order, including the latest one, an unfortunate American police inspector who was only petrified a day ago. None of the papers have this kind of detail."
"However, the police themselves do; are you certain your contact isn't some copper intent on a sting operation of some sort? What other evidence do you have?"
"Something even the renowned NSY have missed, literally," she replies with confidence. Passing over a photo to her editor, she half-rises and leans over the wide desk to point out the image, giving the older man a conspicuous look at her cleavage while nearly hitting him in the face with the pendant hanging around her neck. "This girl here, the first victim, Judith Grayden, only has on a single earring. I was able to view the pictures taken at the scene when she was first found and she was only wearing one, even then. This doesn't look to be a fashion statement."
"Your contact has the other bauble?" the editor concludes. "He took a souvenir?"
"Too right. As you can tell these are not of a common style. The message from this fellow yesterday had an image of the identical earring sitting on a current tabloid. It's genuine. Plus there are similar small details about all the other girls, even the most recent, that I was able to confirm last night. My instincts tell me this isn't some scam; it's the real thing," she concludes, remaining standing, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
The editor studies the photographs for what seems an eternity longer, while Victoria fidgets. Finally, he looks up at her. "So, how is this meeting today going to occur?"
"We're going to take lunch, in a public place so there are witnesses in case you're worried about some kind of foul play; I'm wearing something distinctive so he'll recognize me."
"I should say so," the editor remarks with just the hint of a smile playing at the edges of his eyeglasses.
"This lunch won't run long, and I'll have the story filed before the evening edition locks. Then all you have to do is decide which tux to wear to the presentation dinner when the Bixby is awarded," she sums up, referring again to the prestigious British journalism prize that has been one of her life's goals. Now it appears within her grasp.
"My instincts tell me that you are once again getting ahead of yourself, young lady. However I have been proven wrong in the past, much to your, and this paper's, benefit."
She smiles at her small victory. "I appreciate your confidence as always, sir. I won't let you down on this one!" Quickly she turns, causing a flurry of activity outside the room as her co-workers rush to get back to what they should have been doing; with all the dignity of royalty she strolls leisurely to her desk, sitting down primly to log into her desktop. Off in one corner, someone wolf-whistles, others chuckle, all of which Victoria appears to ignore. She looks exactly as she wants to look, today and is no stranger to attention. Today, however, she's getting more than desired.
After a few minutes and more noises off, she turns abruptly to face the room, surprising a couple of young interns who stand together sharing some secret joke. She yells "Bugger off, ye bleedin wankers!" at the top of her lungs, causing them to scurry off, then turns quietly back to her work.
For the next minutes, there are no additional distractions until a colleague, Nickerson Pike, sits lightly on the edge of her desk. Writing for sports and the occasional op-ed piece, Nick is one of Victoria's few confidants at the paper. Rumors, unconfirmed, circulate about their being 'a number'. In truth they are good friends who occasionally "fall into one another" as Nick puts it, usually after an office party or celebration.
"The Joeys giving you a bit of a gawk today?" he jokes, using their secret nickname for the younger staff.
"I swear they'd never seen a woman's body before!" Victoria grumbles, not taking her eyes off the screen as she types rapidly.
"Certainly not often one so fashionable?" he replies. "I have to say today is a rather different look for you. An interesting fragrance, as well, you are wearing. Jasmine?"
"Blame the MK; he asked to have me wear flowers for today and this is all I had in the wardrobe. Must be left over from last year's Royal Ascot, especially this ridiculous hat!" She takes a moment and thinks about her outfit. "You're right; I must look like a horticulturist's wet dream."
"Ah, the sacrifices you must make for a story. It must be such a burden for you to arrive absolutely gorgeous all the time," he jibes, complimenting her at the same time.
She resumes typing in a flurry of keystrokes, sounding like a rain shower on a tin roof. "Sure, it's easy for you to get the story with your easy charm and abundant good looks; on top of it all you can actually write!" she mock complains while returning the compliment. "It's just not fair, I tell you, being a female in this business. Lacking your set of polished brass balls, a girl has to use whatever advantage she has."
"Speaking of round objects," he continues, bending closer to check out the curve of her bodice, "you seem to have gained some advantage recently. Or, have you had a few too many swiss rolls?"
This last comment gets her full attention; Victoria stops typing and turns to blast him for being so callous then sees he's chuckling at her. She smiles back after a quick glance down at her well-displayed cleavage. "How tactfully you put that could use some work, but yes I took a little side visit last time on the continent. They have a new technique to eliminate any visible marks. What do you think?" she says, facing him full-on.
Reaching out lightly, he strokes the nearest breast with his finger, tracing the curve of her dress, pausing briefly at the tip of her nipple. "Seems right to me; firm, not overstated. Of course, I'd have to give them a taste test to be certain. Are you free later tonight?" he smiles. There hasn't been a party in too bloody long, he reflects.
"A girl has to consider her options," she replies, while lightly removing his hand. "Since you've chosen to banty with me while I'm trying to make copy, I may just have to stay late to finish filing the story…" Victoria smiles wryly, resuming her fast typing.
"This bloke can take a hint," he chuckles, getting up off the desk. "I'll check in later?"
"Mmm hmm," she nods, back deep in concentration so she does not see the grin on Nick's face as he walks away.
Taking the notes from the interview at the NSY, detail from her sneaked photos, and jotting down her own observations, she brings the story together as far as she can. Once again, she's struck by the amazing boldness of the killer. To strike six times, mostly in the same place, with the police alert and ready seems to be insane to the intrepid reporter as these events fly in the face of any of the previous serial crimes she's written about.
Listening to the purloined recording of Brenda Taggart's fateful encounter, she focuses on the killer's words how he always seems to be one step ahead of his victims and of the authorities. Writing 'he's playing with them?' as a placeholder, slugged in a tad for emphasis, she pauses and reflects on one of the killer's own power words: Fascinating. The whole affair is certainly fascinating to her, from any number of angles. She tries thinking up some sample questions to ask this fellow on the interview, but runs into a roadblock. Pardon me, how long have you been turning women to plastic? No, that's too direct, she decides. How would you describe…
Closing her eyes for an instant, she realizes she must have been daydreaming for some minutes because when she next looks down at her desk, that single word is scribbled down several times on her note pad, row after row: Fascinating.. Fascinating.
The story isn't coming together any clearer; she knows she needs to take it to the next level and find out more. Minutes later after doing a few cosmetic edits, she saves her copy, locks down the workstation, and heads off early for her lunch meeting. For their own safety, the interns keep to a distance while ogling her sexy swaying walk to the lift lobby. They are not the only ones watching her departure.
A minute after the lift door closes, the editor dials his desk phone. "Cheers, Marcello? Victoria Plumm just left. Yes, yes, quite a show I agree. Could you discreetly follow her and take some photos of whomever she's going to meet? No, she doesn't know; I'll make amends later. Good, then. Better get cracking," he concludes, hanging up the phone. His eye falls on the photo she had left there, showing a group of six very stiff looking women posed in the morgue, then he gets back to reviewing the day's column on his monitor. Vicky's a smart girl, knows what she's about, he thinks offhandedly.
Sipping a mineral water and lime, Victoria leans back in her seat and tries not to keep glancing over at the ornamental wall clock as the minutes tick away. Her location in the second-floor restaurant is visible from the street; undetected, Marcello shoots another frame of her with his telephoto lens while adjusting the polarizer that dims the reflections off the glass. Sun and cloud are playing tag this noontime, making for highly variable lighting. So far there has been no rain, but many passersby carry umbrellas.
Looking down into the busy street, the reporter lets her mind wander freely, going over plans for the interview, the questions she absolutely must ask, and how to deal with her editor's doubts. Victoria knows she's on the verge of a story that will make her truly famous.
"Pardon, Miss, did you lose this?" Looking up, she glimpses a man suddenly standing there next to her table. Held out for her to see is an ornate earring, jeweled and glinting.
Judy Grayden's lost bauble. "Oh! You startled me," she covers, "won't you please be seated? I did not see you come up."
"That happens quite a lot," he replies with a wry smile, sitting. Holding a fluted glass of champagne in his other hand, he puts the earring back in the pocket of his jacket. She judges him to be middling thirties, quite a handsome bloke in a way - yet somehow different. His clothing, hair, and grooming are impeccable, as if he was ready to go on stage, including a stuck-on mustache that appears to be a complete sham. His clothes appear tailored and fit unusually closely, for a man. Body language shows he has something to hide. As well he should, if his villainous reputation is to be believed.
Victoria also senses something she'd only guessed at from her research. A vast self-confidence and poise that colored every word he has spoken to her. Batting her long eyelashes flirtatiously, she shifts in her chair to distract him with her beauty while mentally preparing for a battle of wits. "You spoke in your message that you wished to discuss… some things." Like six murders, she reminds herself. "I'm here to listen to you and help in any way I can. However, there a certain principles this exchange and any that follow must abide by."
"Go on…" For the first time, his tone seems cautious as he sips from the glass, then crosses his own legs. The reporter glances down to notice he is wearing what seems to be lifts in his short boots and very shiny stockings. An odd counterpoint to the otherwise common denim trousers and high-neck pullover sweater that he was wearing.
Placing a small rectangular metallic box on the table, she presses a button on it and resumes. "First off: All our conversations from here on will be recorded for accuracy. Second: While what you say is kept in utter confidence, whatever you express to me may be published as part of my work. Of course, you will have final review of..."
"and, Thirdly: The Times and myself will maintain this confidentiality in the face of whatever legal proceedings, criminal or civil, that could possibly stem from your admissions here, alleged or actual. Is this agreed?" she sums up, getting it all on her personal recording device in addition to the bulky one on the table.
"Certainly. I have the highest conviction you will never divulge any evidence to the authorities," he concurs obliquely. "Can we get on with it? This is boringly ghastly." Another sip.
Hmm, I never said anything about 'evidence'… "Promise me that I won't end up permanently on display in some shop window?" she adds finally, with a little nervous titter. "This must sound so balmy to you…"
"Not at all," he smiles briefly. "your well being is assured, Miss Plumm."
Nor gave this bugger my real name… "Very well then; what name do you wish to be known by, since you know mine already?"
"Call me Roland. That will do for now. For reasons you'll soon learn I can't give you my true name. And to answer your eyebrow, your likeness is well known from the byline of your stories. You see, I've done my homework." Have You? hangs in the air between them.
"My readers could probably care less about your favorite football squad or whether your mum ran off with a roustabout, so let's cut to the chase as they say in America," she bristles, mentally rubbishing a whole pack of questions. "Are you the Medusa Killer?"
"Well, that's certainly the Victoria Plumm I had hoped to meet!" he replies, pausing while sipping again. "The champers here is quite superb; would you fancy a glass?"
"I had no idea the Orrary served sparkling wine."
"They normally do not. One must know precisely… how… to ask. Oh, and before you try to flag a waitress, let me assure you we are now both quite invisible."
"Come again?" She looks at him, down at herself; all appears normal.
"Oh not literally, my dear, only in their minds. Only in their minds. Worry not what they might overhear, or see, because we are very much alone right now."
Why am I getting a sinking feeling in my tummy? Victoria stands up abruptly as one of the beige-clad serving ladies passes nearby. "Ma'am, can you take my order?" The woman walks past, oblivious, as if the reporter were indeed not there at all. Waving her hands in front of another male patron, the reporter tries to attract some attention, but to no avail. Nobody seems to notice the striking young woman in the dazzling dress and huge hat.
From his vantage point outside, Marcello glances up once more and sees that Plummy, as he calls her, hasn't left her singleton table the whole time since she had arrived nor is there any sign of her luncheon date. He snaps another frame of the reflection-speckled glass, then is distracted by a tall leggy Scandinavian blonde in the walkway and swings his long lens around to track this new subject. This assignment has been a real letdown so far.
"Sit down, Miss Plumm," the man says casually, as if discussing the weather. "Would you like a drink now?" She notices there is a bottle and another filled flute on the table.
"I suppose," she admits, reaching her chair once more. The bubbly is cool and tickles her nose and throat with the first sip; a very good champagne. "But where did this come from? How are you doing all these things?"
"Simply a matter of applying some - skill - I seem to have possessed all along. Possibly something connected with what may have happened before I can first remember. Do you play a musical instrument, Miss Plumm?"
"The cello; though it's been years since I've practised."
"When you stroke the right note, a pleasing harmony, that feels different to you; correct?"
"Yes, but what does…?"
"Can you describe precisely what you do to make that true note, as opposed to any number of sour ones?"
"Not really; it simply feels right when I do."
"Just so. The same for myself, except that my talent seems to be 'playing' an essence that hardly even has a proper name. Some have called it 'manna' or 'life force', others 'Gaia' or simply just 'energy'. My pet term is 'anima'. Whatever it is, I can channel - guide - anima with my mind. I always have been able to; all after has been practise. But don't ask me how, likewise that you cannot say how you stroke that perfect note. Does that make sense to you?"
"As far as it goes. So you are saying you can… influence… things with this energy?"
Over time I've been able to, yes. Thoughts use this energy, as well. So then, is that really an excellent vintage you've been sipping, or rather nothing more than an illusion in your mind?"
"I cannot say," the beautiful reporter begins as the glass vanishes into thin air. "At least until now, I couldn't have! So much for any hang-over…" she grins.
"Makes it easy to watch your figure; but then everyone else does too. You're a very lovely woman," he observes, stroking his faux mustache charmingly.
Despite that being imaginary wine, I'm still feeling a little tipsy - or is that adrenaline? And, did this yobbo just hit on me? Back to getting the story at hand, she decides. "Thank you; I'm charmed. But, you never did answer that one question I posed earlier."
This earned her a direct stare from the man; apparently his banter hadn't distracted her enough. She wasn't a threat, not yet, and appeared sincere. "About being the Medusa Killer? Yes, and no. How is that for an answer?"
"Tell me the 'yes' part?" she smiles, wondering if she'll need to run for her life in the next seconds and if it would do her any good. Unconsciously preparing, she draws up her legs.
"I would much prefer the 'no' as in there have been no killings, despite what the police may believe."
Whew… "But what about all those young women, changed into plastic…mannequins?"
"Oh, those. You saw them?"
"In the mortuary, last night. What you did was horrid!"
"Was it? Did you see their images beforehand, sleuthed into their backgrounds? Was there any one of that lot going to amount to anything? Ever? They are better off now."
"That Yankee po…"
"Ah, Brenda. She was different, only for attacking me. That was clearly my self-defence, so do not include her in your cruel sums. What of the others?"
"Students, mostly; an office worker…"
"Slatterns and layabouts, all of them! Floating through life, taking what they could, selling themselves for the rest. I saw what they really wanted and gave it to them: Beauty and Eternity…" he confessses.
"Surely they must have had some ambitions, desires, value?" she probes.
"Not so as anyone would notice. When I looked into their thoughts, there was more often than not only a banal expanse, save for the few joys gleaming like gems within the dustbins of their sad lives. As a collector would, I know those fond memories now, and savor them. Tactile things, mostly, seem to endure; the slippery smooth sensation of a new pair of stockings, the closeness of tight garments, certainly the moments of sexual exultation to be sure. From each I seem to absorb some memory that lives on, something that is greater than they were." His words are almost melancholy.
"What did you take from Brenda Taggart?"
"Ah; a sense of keen irony, to be sure," he replies instantly, "she was a strong one." There were other traits, too, that he chose not to mention to the reporter. Such as the joy of a plan well executed.
"There was one foreign girl, a model?" Victoria continues.
"She mocked me! Laughed out loud at seeing my appearance one night. Said in her odd accent that I looked like some kind of 'girlyman' and pointed. How insensitive could she be? I replied that she looked more like a dressmaker's dummy from Carnaby Street - and she became one on the spot. They all got exactly what they deserved: A lesson."
"Those poor girls are dead…" Oh, God! He's telling me too much…
He shakes his head from side to side 'no', then reaches for her goblet of water. Victoria pulls back her fingers just in time as his touch the stem; a few seconds later the liquid becomes cloudy and seems to solidify with the pieces of ice embedded inside. With a quick flip of the wrist, he turns the glass upside-down. Nothing spills out. "Is this water now dead?" he asks enigmatically.
"No, but it is frozen," she replies, wondering what point Roland is making.
"Is it cold?" He poses a riddle.
"Not any more so than previous." She touches the hard surface, finding it congealed, stiff, like plastic.
"Just so," he continues, righting the glass again. Moments later the water 'thaws' and turns transparent again. Seemingly no worse for wear. "I merely drained the anima from your drink briefly and then restored it. That's another thing that I can do naturally; don't ask how."
It took a few moments longer for the coin to drop. Victoria gasped, suddenly wide-eyed. "Those girls, your victims, they are alive?"
"Not presently but, yes, they could become living once more when their anima is restored. As long as there has been no physical damage. That's something I can't control, sadly."
"This is incredible! I have to get to NSY, to tell them. There can't be any post mortems performed, not now!" she blurts, half standing. Nobody notices her. This is one hell of a story - The Medusa Killer Unmasked! she's thinking, visions of the Bixby Prize swirling about her consciousness.
"You cannot tell them yet; who would believe you?" he asks.
"Everyone will, once I break this exclusive. You're going to be the most famous person in the UK in a few days…" And so will I!
"Not sure I fancy that," he muses, suspicious for the first time today. "Hold on, now," he asks, reaching for her hand. When he touches her fingers, there is an electric tingle that she cannot help but notice, followed by a strange clarity in her thoughts.
"What did you do to me?" Victoria cries, "I can't move my feet the least bit - they're stuck to the floor!" Her other movements aren't affected, but she remains fastened in place, struggling. "Are you going back on your word?"
"Only a little adjustment to your anima, Miss Plumm. That's all. Why don't you make yourself more comfortable for the next few minutes? Relax. So far, you have been asking most of the questions; now it is my turn. Then, we shall see. Is this agreeable?"
"Yes, though I don’t like this lot; you've gone and tricked me, you bizarre poofta twit!" Oh, bollocks! Did I just say that out loud? she thinks to herself as she sinks back into her chair. What's going on here? Why am I saying every blessed thing that comes into my head?
"Hrmph. Suppose I deserved that, but truth is truth and you canna speak any different. So, had you really intended to help me with my 'problem' at all?"
"Only when that would further my ambitions." Noo! Don't say that… Victoria tries to put her hands over her mouth, finding she has no energy to do so.
"And what are your ambitions?"
"I need to get away from this bloody interview, file my story, then shag Nick Pike's brains out without breaking any more nails." Blast it, hold your tongue…
"Um, what would your long-term ambitions be? I cannot help you with your recent affairs d'amour…"
"Winning the Bixby Prize and having my name known by everyone in the country, then become a newscaster on the beeb, with my own anchor and gossip show. After that, a singing career and movies. Maybe then ambasssador to the UN or queen of a tiny boutique monarchy on the continent. Oh, and also my own line of exercise videos…"
Damn, Damn, Damn! Now he knows about the videos… she seethed mentally while blabbing freely.
"What would be my role in all this grandeur, my dear Miss Plumm?"
"To get me-self started, o'course. Today's scoop will do it, then it's all up to me. You won't matter a gnat's bum to me once I'm famous." Shut up, shut UP!
"I suspected as much, though you are very very good; crafty as well as beautiful," he concludes, mostly to himself. "You almost had me fooled…"
"I hav…" Victoria starts to say, then feels her voice fading. Not NOW, damn you!
A little check-mark gesture is all it takes him to silence the reporter utterly, though she continues to glare at him across the table with a mixture of fear and contempt.
"That is no way to feel, Miss Plumm. Smile! After all, I'm the person who is going to make you famous. You should find this turn of events truly fascinating…" he touches her cheek and instantly all feelings of anger vanish, switching to rapt contentment and an almost sexual anticipation that overwhelms her fear.
Seconds later she smiles warmly; now Roland's best friend in the world. "As you wish, darling…"
"Let us take a little stroll, shall we? It is a wonderful day for a walk down the pavement." He stands up; she is able to also, all earlier restraints have vanished. Taking the role of the gentleman, he takes her arm in his and escorts her out of the restaurant then down to street level. Neither the waitress or any of the other patrons notice anything amiss. Marcello is nowhere to be seen, having followed a certain buxom blonde to the riverbank.
"You're right, dear Roland, this is a delicious sun!" she gushes a few minutes later, flowery dress blowing in the breeze, a bright contrast to the more mottled colors worn by the usual passersby and tourists. "Taking holiday is so much nicer than trying to pry information out of you…."
"Yes, it is, dear Victoria. This way; not much farther. I have a surprise for you."
"Oooh! I love surprises, however this one is starting to scare the crap out of me," she admits, pausing for a moment outside a fashion boutique tucked in between the office fronts. Posed in the narrow window are two elegant mannequins with fancy hairstyles and tiaras, dressed in evening gowns, who stare back at her as if they knew her. "You're not going to plasticize me into another display dummy, are you? You gave your word earlier, that would be so despicable if you lied…"
"No, I wouldn't do that; besides, you are already gorgeous; almost flawless as a fact."
"I know; thank you for mentioning it, Roland…" she grins. They continue their stroll.
A few blocks farther, across from the park, they come upon an odd location with a dome-shaped wing alongside the main building, guarded by an ornate wrought-iron railing running around the grounds. Posters and banners festoon the outside stonework, while a cluster of buskers, sightseeing buses, and cabs huddle at street side. Queues of visitors wait for entry. Busier than the rest of the already busy Marylebone Road, the world-renowed attraction is a tourist magnet of frightening power.
Victoria's eyes light up; even without Roland's influence she would have been interested in their destination for her own curiousity. "Madame Tussauds! I have not visited here since getting my certificate. Mummy used to take me every holidays to see the new figures. You know, they have likenesses of very famous people here."
"Yes, exactly. Shall we go in?" he guides the enraptured reporter past the entry queue, where another wave of his hand grants them a complimentary pass, one that the pretty young girl in the box office is unaware she has granted. As motionless as one of the waxworks inside, she remains stock-still for some minutes, staring vacantly ahead until her shift supervisor arrives to investigate. Then she reanimates, feeling embarassed, with no memory of any recent events.
Once inside, Victoria realizes that much has changed since her last visit, notably their use of open gallery exhibits instead of cordoned-off dioramas, but some features of the vast historic museum remain timeless. Keeping close company, the two progress through the sections devoted to royalty and politicians, past and present, marveling at the artistry being presented. Along with the royal family portrait, there is the obligatory Sherlock Holmes tableaux, then the pair enter a darkened gallery that is kept noticeably cooler than the rest of the building. The walls and floor are made to look like some foul dungeon.
"Oh, 'The Chamber of Horrors'; this used to give me frightfully bad dreams when I was younger," she chuckles. "That's before I found out about the real horrors in this world. Now I see they have put some of them in here as well…" she comments upon seeing a display featuring a replica of a well known murderer among the impressions of vampires, lycanthropes, ghastly ghouls, and other villains.
"Surprising they lack an figure for the Medusa Killer, you think?" He observes wryly.
"Not really, Roland. Up to now, no one has known what your face looks like. After my story breaks, these Tussauds boffins should be able to turn one of you out in no time flat."
"Yes, I suppose so. Pity," he reflects as they continue their leisurely tour.
Moving into the next open foyer, they enter a newer section of the museum where the likenesses of show business personalities are placed free-standing around the floor so the visitors can mingle among them. This is one of the most popular attractions, even on a work day, so the hall is filled with milling flocks of tourists and school groups. Nattily dressed Tussaud's employees wander from one place to another answering questions, taking photos and discreetly keeping an eye on the exhibits.
Victoria giggles with delight as she snuggles up close to a wax figure of the American actor Tom Cruise, who is positioned well away from the likeness of his ex-wife standing on the staircase. Roland stands to one side, looking bemused as one of the roving photographers snaps an image of the playful reporter as she leans close to not quite kiss the doppelganger on the cheek. This isn't the first time today this scene has happened.
He moves towards her seconds later, placing his arm around her slim waist. "Victoria, darling, how about another one of just the two of us? Something to remember this day by…" he suggests.
"That would be divine; let's find a clear space for a good background," she nods, waving for the photographer to follow them as the couple moves a few feet away. Victoria takes a few seconds to tug on her slinky dress and adjust the tilt of her hat before announcing "Ready."
Roland holds her very close and just before the picture is taken,whispers, "Imagine that you've just won that journalism prize and are meeting your peers and fans at a formal reception; think how famous you've become!"
Victoria responds with an even wider, beaming, smile as she looks out at an imaginary throng of well-wishers, letting her fondest daydreams come alive. Holding her arm in the air, using that formal cupped-hand wave that she'd seen the Queen use hundreds of times on the telly, she's thinking about how this award is only the beginning of her success and for a few seconds feels completely ecstatic. What could ever top this? she wonders.
"Now, my dear," he decrees while squeezing her hand, "Hold that pose…" as he nods to the camera girl to take the picture.
Victoria is only aware of the photo seeming to take a longer time than expected, not her body as it slows, then stops in place, smile freezing on her face and her wave stilling as her skin takes on a translucent sheen that she had seen on other figures earlier this visit. He steps away as she remains stiffly in position, seemingly anchored fast to the floor.
"How about one of only her?" he suggests to the photographer, who hasn't been able to notice anything unusual. The girl snaps another photo, this time of only the waxwork, then hands both images over to Roland in exchange for a large tip, moving off elsewhere in the exhibit. He approaches Victoria once more; she has remained posed, statuesque.
"Now you are perfect, dear Victoria; able to experience your fame as desired without all that troublesome work to do in between. What do you think of that?" he says playfully while removing the daydream he had planted, then listens to the sound of her thoughts in his mind. He quickly snatches her shoulder bag containing with her i.d. and gadgets, then touches her pendant to eradicate the recording stored there. None of the museum employees see anything out of the ordinary.
As the veil of illusion is lifted, Victoria comes to the realization she is back in the museum, then notices her body feels unusually stiff and numb. She cannot blink or utter the slightest sound.
Why am I… why can't I move? What have you done, Roland, we had…
Do not scold me about our agreement, my lady, when you had no intention of keeping your part of it. Even so, as long as I remain free I pledge to restore you to normal once this matter has passed. For your sake, hope that will happen quickly… his thoughts reply to her.
No, please! she cries mentally in return. I never really wished to be granted a wax figure of myself in this museum; that was only a silly whim. Anyways, only after the marrying the prince… she pleads, to no avail.
He turns and walked towards the exit, flagging a uniformed employee along the way. "Please give my compliments to your artisans," he admonishes, "that new likeness of Victoria Plumm is superb! Seems to capture the very heart and soul of the lovely lady."
"Thank you, sir. I will pass that along."
"Oh, and one other thing; it seems someone has gone and nicked her name placard. Could you see about getting that replaced? That's a good lad, then."
With a last glance back, he catches Victoria's glassy eyes so he knows she will see him, then winks at her before heading out to the street.
Wait… Don't leave me here… she moans futilly. I'm on… deadline……
To Be Continued…