The Menstrual Maidens were out to dinner in their day-job personas and thus, presumably, unlikely to be recognized. Not that they were first line superheroes like the Dowager Defender, Mister Portland, Ripsaw, or The Street Person, but there was always the off-chance someone might make the connection. Not tonight, not so far. And, as the Dowager once observed, they had yet to suckle at the breast of public acclaim, an image which the Maidens found pretty repellant. Amy Miller, Nicole Riggs, and Kelly Newton had captured a few minor felons, undone occasional domestic disputes, and once stopped a loon who was attacking students at Portland State with a Weed Whacker. The latter had been serendipitous; they were students there themselves.
Their superpowers had materialized from a chance juxtaposition of their iPhones and simultaneous text-messaging. One moment they were ordinary teenage girls, the next, in a peal of thunder and a flash of actinic blue light, they had powers beyond mortal ken, as Mister Portland put it, when they were inducted into the Legion of Sincere Concern. Ripsaw had phrased it better: "You kids are tougher than boiled owl shit! And you're all blondes."
Well, yeah, dude.
They liked Ripsaw, who was a serious ass-kicker. Mister Portland had acquired his powers after being nibbled by a radioactive banana slug. He was okay, if a bit slow. The Dowager Defender was prone to portentous pronouncements, and The Street Person lived in a dumpster behind the Legion's penthouse headquarters. He was just freaking weird, but he had awesome power over garbage and related debris, as well as discarded clothing.
They'd finished their meal and the dessert cart had appeared beside their table, attended by a tall, pale girl with ice-blue eyes. Her nametag said 'Ingrid.' She looked like an Ingrid, all black-haired and Goth, with teeth as white as marble tombstones.
"Do you ladies see anything you fancy?" the tall girl asked in a sibilant Teutonic Brit accent, her thin lips approximating a smile.
"Don't you have anything but chocolate?" Amy asked, examining the cart's contents carefully.
"Not just now," Ingrid replied. A faint vertical furrow creased her alabaster forehead.
Nicole matched her frown. "None of us is into chocolate."
"But chocolate is good for you," Ingrid protested. "It lowers blood pressure, fights depression, and," she smiled in what she probably intended to be a winsome manner, "it tastes delicious."
"I guess we'll have to pass," Kelly replied, shrugging. "Chocolate's just not our thing. Zits, you know."
Now the server got more forceful, raising her voice. "You should try at least the Chocolate Torte. You will like it."
"Jeez, just chill, okay?" Amy said.
"I made these myself," Ingrid said, glaring down at the seated trio.
"Well, super cool, Miz Creature of the Ebon Night," Nicole said sarcastically. "Get used to the occasional turn-down, okay?"
"Nobody likes a pushy bitch," Kelly added, smiling condescendingly up at the tall woman.
"You will regret this," Ingrid hissed, her already white features even more blanched with fury, swiftly wheeling the cart away from their corner table.
"Whoahh!" the Menstrual Maidens chorused, laughing at the retreating server.
"Crap, what was that all about?" Amy said, shaking her blonde head.
"Who knows?" said her partners, equally dismissive.
* * * * *
The Maidens lived on the fourth floor of Legion headquarters, well below the cribs of the mighty, except, of course, for The Street Person. The penthouse housed various gismos of power, the media center, and the powerful AI computer, Chip. Amy Miller found Chip to be more than a little over-bearing and inclined to be a know-it-all. Which he was, she supposed. I mean, you'd want a super-intelligent computer to have a clue. Chip hosted his own call-in talk show on Saturday nights, solving the problems of the so-inclined, and he was a bit full of himself as a result. Amy regarded Chip as gay, but since he was a computer, that might be a stretch.
Still, Amy thought as she exited the elevator on their floor, her arms full of groceries, the Maidens had an excellent gig. Great quarters, high-quality organic food, terrific media, DSL, premium cable, and their own bedrooms. Until she'd gained superpowers, Amy had always had to share with her little sister, Brianna, and was glad to be rid of that inquisitive, tag-along whiner.
Amy even liked their costumes, white shorts and red tops. Low in the back, high in the thigh, and torso hugging. Even her moderate rack looked impressive, and the red leather boots were to die for. The big star on their belts was kinda hokey, but given all the other pluses, no one really minded.
The first thing she noticed when she unlocked the main entrance to their rooms and entered the short hallway was the strong smell of chocolate, and she flashed back to the night before at the restaurant, with that chocolate Nazi, Ingrid.
What the hell! she thought as she walked into the kitchen and set her bags on the counter. Did her roommates have chocolate remorse or something?
Nicole and Kelly stood in the great room, backlit by the descending sun, looking out over the city. Oddly, they wore their full costumes, even the mirrored Lucite eyewear, which all three of them detested.
"Hey, guys," Amy said casually, unloading and putting away her purchases. "Wassup?"
Amy spoke louder. "I said, Wassup? You ignoring me, or what?"
Neither figure said a word. They just stood there, silent, staring out into the early evening.
Amy walked up behind them, noticing their coloration, a uniform glossy dark brown, even their hair. And the chocolate odor grew even more pervasive.
"Guys?" she asked the motionless pair.
Then she realized what she was seeing, and the source of the overwhelming smell.
Nicole Riggs and Kelly Newton had been transformed into twin chocolate statues. Their costumes were unaffected, but their bodies had become rich, dark and solid.
"Jesus fucking crap!" Amy exclaimed, reaching shakily out and touching Kelly on one gleaming brown cheek. Kelly gave no indication that she felt the touch. Behind amber lenses, the blank ovals of her eyes continued to study the outside world, and full, chocolate lips remained smiling broadly.
"Aren't they sweet?" asked a low feminine voice behind Amy, in tones of deep satisfaction. Warm fingers softly caressed the back of Amy's neck, producing a tingling which spread swiftly over her skin.
"Wha...!" Amy started to say, then found she couldn't utter a sound.
Or move. She remained rooted in place as pliant lips kissed her neck, long fingers stroked her bare arms, and the tingling engulfed her entire body. Amy tried to fight the ongoing lethargy, and failed. She was helpless. Her superpowers refused to be summoned. She could only stand there, could only listen.
"Sweet and happy," the seductive voice continued, chuckling. "You want to be happy, too, don't you, Amy Miller? My little thrall."
The tingling had spread into Amy's head. Her brain felt foggy.
"Yes...," Amy replied in a faraway voice. Thinking was getting difficult, not that it mattered any longer. She was a thrall, whatever that was.
"Good. You were mine the moment my fingers contacted your skin, of course, and soon you shall join your little friends in chocolate catatonia."
"Chocolate.." Amy agreed. Dimly, she saw slender golden chains adorning her friends' stiffened wrists, and found she wanted one in the worst way.
"But first you must don your costume, before I change you."
"Costume.." Amy said, smiling brightly.
Long fingers cradled Amy's boobs, gently kneading through the thin cotton of her T-Shirt. "Soon, dearest Amy, your lovely breasts will be sweet solid spheres. I can scarcely wait, and I know you feel the same." The lips were sucking Amy's left earlobe now. "Go to your room and change your clothes, please."
"Yes.." Amy replied, turning and marching woodenly off, her tanned arms at her sides. She returned ten minutes later in costume, smiling beatifically at the woman from last night. From the restaurant. With the chocolate.
"Ingrid.." Amy said, the word barely audible.
Her pale features slightly flushed, Ingrid elevated one dark eyebrow at her helpless victim. "So, you remember. That's quite perfect. You disdained my desserts, and now you shall become one. A fitting punishment. Transformed into a chocolate Amy Miller confection."
"Confection.." Amy echoed.
"Stand next to your friends. Look out the window as they are. Keep smiling."
"Smiling.." Amy murmured, obeying willingly.
Ingrid stepped beside Amy, her right hand on the back of Amy's neck, her left on Amy's taut midriff. Her lips brushed Amy's left cheek.
"So appealing without that nasty attitude, dear Amy. Much sweeter. Let me explain how it will be for you. It begins at your feet and travels upward to your shoulders, then down your arms before ascending your neck. Finally your face, head and hair. Each strand of hair, a crown of chocolate filaments. Very lovely. A lovely chocolate Amy Miller statue."
Unable to speak now, Amy only smiled, her eyes like blue glass.
"Now," Ingrid said, and Amy felt her feet numb an instant later.
The numbness slowly climbed Amy's long, toned legs. Her crotch lost all feeling. Her hips solidified. Her abs and lower back turned glossy brown.
"Perfect..," Ingrid breathed as the tide of change altered Amy's boobs.
Soon Amy was transformed from the neck down. Her heart thuttered to a halt and her lungs became folds of motionless chocolate.
"Not much longer, dearest Amy," Ingrid said as Amy's neck hardened. The sun had dropped behind the high-rises to the west, and in the window, Amy saw her face change, her blonde hair become darker. Then brown cataracts blossomed in her eyes, the world disappeared, and her thoughts froze solid within a chocolate matrix.
"All finished, Amy," Ingrid said to the gleaming brown statue. Then she brought out a camera and took pictures of the smiling trio from several angles.
"So sweet," she said as she slipped a golden chain with a tiny pendant dangling from it onto Amy's left wrist. "And this will insure that you stay that way." Then she kissed each of the chocolate heroines in turn on their smiling lips, and laughed melodiously.
"Now you three have truly received your just desserts," she said, "and of course that's all you are now. You really should have been more kind." Smiling to herself, pleased, Ingrid left the loft and the trio of former teen superheroes for whoever discovered them. It would be a sweet surprise for someone.
* * * * *
"So they're not really dead?" Officer Shiobhan Muldoon said as Doctor Sharon Li examined the transformed bodies of the Menstrual Maidens. Muldoon sat on a fireplace hearth to the left of the three victims, hands together, arms resting on her knees. Her partner, Mahsa Farabi, stood alternately watching Doctor Li and Anisa Skouros, who'd been introduced to the young officers as a Police Consultant. Skouros, tall and black-clad, her olive-skinned hands clasped behind her back, looked out the windows at the city below through her shades, seemingly uninterested in the proceedings. Doctor Li knew this to be a pose. Nothing escaped the consideration of Anisa Skouros, who was one of Lieutenant Boothe Deakins' better spooks, and definitely not one to cross. Doctor Li had met Skouros several times over the past few years, and had great respect for the tall woman's abilities.
Farabi's concerned expression probably hadn't changed since their initial entry into the League building and the discovery of the unfortunate trio. They'd called Doctor Li immediately.
"No, they are not dead," the slim Asian woman replied after a time. "At least not the way you mean. My instruments would seem to indicate that the golden wristlets maintain their altered condition. Were these to be removed, at some point they would come back to life, I believe."
"So take 'em off," Muldoon suggested.
"Would it were so simple. Common sense suggests that these young women would not run around their loft apartment in their costumes. They have not received a call to action in over forty-eight hours. They would be on-line, on their cell phones, watching television, or working out. Perhaps just reading. Instead, we see them in their costumes with identical smiles on their faces, all standing in a row. This argues that mind control was involved. The combination of two abilities, mental subjection and transformation. Very rare, almost nonexistent in the paranormal population." Doctor Li peered around Nicole Riggs' rigid form to look at Muldoon. "I can recall only four other circumstances nationally involving dual powers in a single individual."
"Two perpetrators, then?" asked Fahrabi.
"Perhaps. But the mind-controller almost certainly would have to physically contact the victim, and his or her companion's presence typically complicates the process."
"Then it could not be simultaneous?" asked the young officer.
"I do not see how," Li replied. In their previous encounters, the petite forensics specialist had found Farabi to be a compassionate and caring person, in contrast to her partner. Plenty of Muldoons had served in the Portland Police Department over the past century, as well as other local law enforcement agencies. Muldoons were cheerful juggernauts and up-beat sociopaths, who seemed happiest when surrounded by the unconscious bodies of those who'd been foolish enough to challenge them.
Farabi was Persian, as black-haired and dark as Muldoon, but whereas her partner had blue eyes, Mahsa Farabi's were a beautiful, mesmerising, yellow-green. In an interrogation, Farabi would always be the good cop. No perp could resist that compelling gaze.
"In any event, someone was unhappy with them, possibly," Farabi said, barely able to look at the transformed Maidens.
"Or wished to strike at the more-established superheroes," Anisa Skouros said, speaking up for the first time since introductions. "Finding these youngsters easier targets."
"Good thought," Muldoon replied, "but either way, we need to know their comings and goings for the past week at least. Some perp they collared may have had powerful connections, or maybe they just pissed somebody off."
"You are certain they can be re-vivified, Doctor Li?" Farabi asked.
"Oh, yes, if the bracelets are removed, at some point they will recover. How long that will take, I cannot say. Once my findings are written up and you two have completed your initial investigation, a pair of female officers will take off the bracelets and attend the victims until they come back to life."
"You checked for any other artifacts, Doctor?" Muldoon asked, bending down and peering at the Maidens' crotches.
Li smiled. "There are no orifice inserts, if that is to what you refer." Control dildoes were common in this type of crime, and that had been one of the first inspections the Doctor had completed. "There are only the bracelets."
"Perhaps they will be able to identify their assailant when they recover?" Farabi asked.
Li shook her head. "A good mind-controller would do a thorough erasure of recent memories. That's a given." She gestured to a folder on the kitchen counter. "But Chip has produced a paper trail which you are free to examine to establish their activities during recent days."
* * * *
Sharon Li completed her examination of the three victims while the two young officers poured over the provided paperwork in surprising silence. Anisa Skouros had abandoned the window and sat on the hearth, listening, her eyes invisible behind her opaque mirrored sunglasses.
"One movie together on this past weekend," Farabi said, sighing as she straightened her copy of the report.
"And dinner out last night at Bistro Teutonic," Muldoon added. "Otherwise they went about their business separately."
"Shall we start at the restaurant?" her partner asked, looking up the tall Irish woman.
Muldoon grinned, displaying large even teeth. "Sure, I can use a good meal, and it's my turn to cook tonight"
"Which might not be a good meal," Farabi said, punching Muldoon lightly on her muscular right shoulder.
"Hey, corned beef trumps falafel, little stick person."
"So you say," Farabi sneered. She turned to Sharon Li and Anisa Skouros. "Would you care to join us, Doctor? Miz Skouros? Should you have no better endeavor available. My over-sized and barbaric partner will promise to behave, I assure you. Perhaps we might converse about the case in a more relaxed setting."
"With nobody turned into chocolate statuary," Muldoon said, smiling down at Doctor Li.
Li glanced at the three solidified confections formerly known as the Menstrual Maidens, then nodded to the taller women. "Yes, why not? I will be pleased to accompany you. You will no doubt protect me from becoming a dessert item."
Muldoon laughed, shaking her head. "I can see you in chocolate, Doctor. It's not a stretch."
"That's the problem, Officer Muldoon. So can I. I believe there is some thaumatic leakage from the transformed bodies of these youngsters. We are compelled to think about becoming like them."
"I am not," Anisa Skouros put in, her smile white against her dark features. "And I must beg off on dinner, as I have to work this evening at our family business."
"And please do not speak of such fates, Doctor," Mahsa said, shuddering. She forced herself not to look at the smiling trio. It was oddly seductive.
* * * * *
"The music is all Wagner or something similar," Siobhan Muldoon said, looking around the restaurant after they'd been seated. The walls were covered with breathtaking alpine vistas of intensely green meadows, snowy peaks, and colorful chalets, those classic images interspersed with picturesque villages, cheery cobble stoned street scenes, and jolly burghers raising steins high.
"Perhaps better than the soundtrack to the Sound of Music," Sharon Li remarked dryly, sipping a very nice Reisling Spaetlese. The two young officers, now in tasteful civilian clothing, had surprised her with their maturity and common sense approach to the case. Farabi she'd expected to be thoughtful and professional. Muldoon was, well, a Muldoon, yet she remained subdued and observant. The forensics expert decided both she and the restaurant would indeed survive the evening.
"What are these foods?" Farabi said, looking up from her menu with dismay.
"Go with the Jaegerschnitzel with spaetzles, Mahsa," Muldoon replied. "And, judging from the expression on Doctor Li's face, we need to get a bottle of whatever she's drinking."
"It's quite excellent," Li said, smacking her lips appreciatively. "And I believe I'll also have the Jaegerschnitzel."
Their waiter, a tall, blond boy named Gunter, congratulated them on their choices, assured Farabi that the meat was venison, not pork, then left to give their order to the kitchen and fetch their wine, after leaving a bread plate.
"I think he liked you, Mahsa," Muldoon said, grinning at her partner.
"He did seem quite attentive, didn't he," Mahsa said, taking a piece of bread from the plate. "Better by far than my usual run of Lebanese horndogs and Mexican would-be lotharios."
Doctor Li studied their fellow patrons for a few moments. "There are no other Asians here at all."
"Then you two are all the more exotic," Muldoon said, nibbling on her own bread with surprising delicacy.
The meal progressed at an appropriate pace. The wine, Sharon Li thought, remained perfect, and the schnitzel proved spicy yet marvelously-flavored. At some point, another bottle of wine arrived, and despite the age difference between her and the two younger women, the scientist found the evening relaxing and enjoyable.
"Have you solved the case yet?" she teasingly asked her companions.
"If they created a problem here and pissed someone off," Muldoon replied, her gaze roving over the restaurant, "it must have been difficult. This is a fairly kicked-back place."
"The service has been excellent and the venison was delicious," her partner said. She used a piece of bread to sop up the sauce from the schnitzel, washing it down with more wine. Apparently her version of Islam extended only to pork avoidance.
"Perhaps just one of them was the original target," Doctor Li said.
"If so, it was Miller," the tall Celtic woman said, shaking her head. "Chip indicated she was the last one home. "If she wasn't the target, whoever transformed the others would have been outta there."
"Will you backtrack on Miller, then?"
"In the morning. The evening isn't over; we haven't ruled out something happening here."
"Three chocolate statues," Farabi said, then belched delicately, covering her mouth with a slim hand, her lovely eyes wide for a split-second.
Doctor Li barely had time to wonder how much wine the Persian officer had drank before a low, cool, rather British voice interrupted her thoughts.
"I heard the word 'chocolate.' How timely that I have brought the dessert tray."
The speaker was as tall as Muldoon, but narrower and ramrod-straight, with broad shoulders and long, slender hands and fingers. Though very light-skinned, she was not an albino. If she were, those pale, penetrating blue eyes would be pink, and only a professional dye job would make an albino's white hair that perfect black. The ultimate Goth, then, Li decided.
"What do you have?" Muldoon asked, craning her neck to examine the tray's contents.
The tall waitress' voice -- her nametag read 'Ingrid'-- actually warmed as she described each chocolate masterpiece, and it was obvious she took great pride in her pastry skills. Doctor Li watched the woman intently. There was something going on here. Exactly what was harder to say, though. Here was someone obsessed with chocolate, that was certain.
When Siobhan Muldoon selected two chocolate truffles, Ingrid beamed. "But you must be careful," she cautioned, waggling a long finger. "If you have too much chocolate, you will turn into chocolate."
The forensic scientist tried to keep the startled expression from her face, but the waitress saw it. Color mounted briefly to her pallid cheeks, her gaze narrowed, and a forced levity crept into her voice.
"I am only joking, of course. Such a thing would be impossible."
"I hope so," Muldoon agreed, laughing, after shooting a warning glance at her partner. "I wouldn't want to end my days as a chocolate statue."
None of the exchange escaped Ingrid. Li realized that the waitress might not know to whom she was talking, she might be puzzled, but she damned well knew something was up. Muldoon had covered as well as possible, yet Ingrid's suspicions were aroused.
Still, she wheeled the cart away after off-loading their desserts, but her progress across the restaurant was not as smooth as her approach, and she paused before entering the kitchen, her icy gaze directed back toward their table.
Sharon Li nearly shuddered under that cold scrutiny, and she resolved to get on her computer when the evening was over and find out all she could about Bistro Teutonic and its staff. Most Portland restaurants would have a website touting their provender, and the pastry chef would be there in detail.
"Well, well, that was interesting, wasn't it?" Siobhan Muldoon said. "Her reaction was... not quite right."
"No," Li agreed. "I'll give the restaurant a once-over on the Web when I get home."
"Smart," the two young officers agreed, tucking into their desserts. Sharon reluctantly joined them. As delicious as her Torte was, the images of the Menstrual Maidens in their current solidified states kept superimposing themselves over each bite of dessert. One chocolate smile after another.
* * * * *
Sharon Li had gone carefully through the entirety of Bistro Teutonic's website, and she now knew a great deal more about Ingrid Tobler, the justifiably famous pastry chef. Originally from southern Germany, Tobler had been educated there and in Antwerp, then gone on to New York in her mid-twenties, adding further to an already sterling resume'. After two years in Portland, critics sang her praises in no uncertain terms. Ingrid Tobler was a chocolate prodigy, and the forensics expert thought she knew how. Certainly not one's typical evil adversary, yet able enough to be frightening. The hapless Maidens must have spurned the dessert tray and later paid for their folly, receiving their 'just desserts.'
It was actually somewhat comical, couched in those terms. The mind-control aspect was far more troubling. Tobler had taken over each of the Maidens in turn, turned them into obedient puppets, then transformed them into chocolate statuary at her leisure and left them to be found.
As evil, it was rather supercilious and a bit snotty, a kind of twenty-something revenge.
And how had the pastry chef gotten into the Maidens' quarters? Could there be another power, on top of transformation and mind-control? There had been articles in various arcane forensic journals about individuals who could mechanically and electronically manipulate security systems, but it seemed far-fetched in this instance. Still, it couldn't be ruled out. Her own security could be compromised by such a person. She could be vulnerable.
As she had that thought, Sharon Li felt a movement of air in the room around her, as though a door had silently opened and closed somewhere in her Pearl District condo.
Oh, shit! she thought, briefly panicking before reaching out and tapping the switches of the twin cameras and microphones mounted on her computer monitor. If that's you, Ingrid, there will be a record of your presence here.
No sooner had her right hand returned to the keyboard, than a familiar hand with brown polish on each perfectly sculpted nail grasped her wrist.
An electric shock flashed up her arm, and Sharon Li found herself instantly unable to move even the tiniest muscle. Tingling engulfed her petite form. She stared unblinkingly at the monitor screen, her body perfectly rigid.
"Hello, Doctor Li," Ingrid Tobler said softly into the motionless scientist's right ear. "From what I see on your computer screen, my judgement in coming here was wise, and once you become a pretty Asian confection with a very large hole in your memory, I should be quite safe."
If you don't ask me about the cameras, Ingrid Tobler, you are in for a rude shock, Li thought, even as a desire to absolutely obey the tall pastry chef began to fill her mind.
"You'll do anything I tell you now, won't you, Doctor?"
"Yes, Ingrid. Anything." Just saying the words filled Sharon Li with happiness and completed her entrancement. She would obey Ingrid completely.
"Your mind is blank except for your obedience to me?"
"You cannot think?"
"No." It felt so good to be unable to think, to utterly obey Ingrid. The computer screen in front of her had become just so many meaningless symbols, and Sharon Li had become a mindless thrall.
"Excellent, Doctor. Remove your clothing, please, except for your panties. And smile. I enjoy the experience so much more when my subjects smile."
Smiling happily, the scientist disrobed and stood silently by her chair, awaiting her next command.
Ingrid touched each of Sharon's nipples in turn. "Such a sweet little body you have, Doctor. You will be truly delicious when you are transformed. You want to be turned into chocolate, don't you?"
"Excellent. Now sit down in your chair, in the lotus position."
Li did as she was told.
Next the pastry chef produced a chromed cylinder, one end rounded and the other slightly-domed and chocolate brown. Its surface glistened with lubricant. "Place this inside yourself. It will keep you permanently in your altered state, and whoever tries to remove it will have a very nasty surprise."
"Yes, Ingrid." Li took the control device and slipped it between her vaginal lips with her left hand while holding her panties away from her crotch with her right. When only the chocolate-colored end showed partially between her lips, she let the panties snap back into place.
"Fold your hands in your lap."
"Now, you will remember nothing from the moment you entered the restaurant this evening until you are revived, if indeed you ever are. I can already see that you are going to be one of my nicest pieces, so perhaps you will remain in this state until the batteries run down in the dildo." She laughed evilly. "Which will take many, many years."
"Continue smiling, Doctor." Ingrid bent down and kissed the back of the smaller woman's neck, keeping her lips in place as she covered Li's flat abdomen with the palm of her right hand.
The process took just over a minute. When a satisfied Ingrid Tobler straightened up from her latest victim, what remained of Forensic Specialist Sharon Li was a smiling, solid-chocolate statue, just as with the Menstrual Maidens thirty-six hours earlier.
Ingrid briefly fondled the diminutive scientist's now-firm breasts, and ran her fingers over glossy brown shoulders and slim arms, chuckling as she did so. She leaned in front of Li's vacant gleaming face, addressing her directly. "You are really quite perfect, Doctor, a rare and breath-taking beauty. A pity you cannot see, and thereby appreciate yourself in your current condition. You are the equal of the best of my previous work. I would love to put you in my collection, but that could prove foolhardy."
Then Ingrid checked the appearance of the barely-visible control device, which perfectly matched the altered flesh around it, awaiting a careless touch. Finally she took several pictures of the transformed scientist before letting herself out of the condo and into the night after a last goodbye kiss.
The smiling woman-shaped confection that had been Doctor Sharon Li continued to stare at the computer screen with her blank chocolate gaze, and the cameras continued to record the frozen work of art seated before them.
Only the barely-audible hum from the cameras and the computer marred the absolute silence in the room.
* * * * *
The over-sized blue dumpster smoothly folded up on itself and retracted into the brick wall behind it. Mahsa and Siobhan had decided to pay a visit to The Street Person before their normal duty hours. They'd called ahead on a police contact line, and the reclusive superhero had agreed to see them. Before entering the code which moved the dumpster, the partners had evicted a middle-aged homeless man, who'd grumpily moved off with a ten-dollar bill clutched in begrimed fingers.
"That won't be an allowable expense, Mahsa," Muldoon said as the pair watched the man weave unsteadily off down the sidewalk.
"The Koran says to practice charity," Farabi said.
"That's nice," her partner replied while they walked down the spotless concrete steps and the dumpster returned to its usual position, sealing the entrance after them.
The Street Person's dressing room lay behind hermetically-sealed glass to the left of the bottom of the stairs. Racks of incredibly filthy clothing lined the room's walls, and worn and scuffed boots lay in piles on the floor. Stained unidentifiable garments were scattered near the boots, and some of those moved fitfully, apparently activated by The Street Person's powers. Large flies buzzed around inside the glassed-off room, crawling over everything, and both young officers were glad the room was sealed, keeping the obvious stench inside.
The Street Person himself awaited them in the center of the larger area beyond the dressing room. Tall, tanned, barefoot, white-blond and frowning, he wore silver scrubs, with his muscular arms folded over his broad chest. Neither officer had seen him out of his street persona before, and he seemed much larger and more intimidating. As well as a lot cleaner. His quarters reeked of strong disinfectant.
"I've read the reports on the Maidens," the superhero intoned in a deep, bass voice after shaking hands. "I fail to see how I can help you. It seems unlikely that their transformation was intended to strike at the rest of us. Since he's so even-tempered and compassionate, Mister Portland is the usual target. As a rule, aggrieved persons don't bother the Dowager or myself, and angering Ripsaw is a quick ticket to the nearest body-bag."
"We suspect they brought this on themselves somehow," Muldoon said.
"Doctor Li is looking into the restaurant they ate at the evening before their unfortunate adventure," Farabi added. "They may have angered someone with villainous powers during their meal."
The Street Person smiled. His teeth looked bleached, Siobhan thought, but maybe it was the contrast between them and his dark tan.
"The Maidens can be irritating," the superhero admitted, flicking an invisible something off his spotless clothing, "and they do tend to pack up on individuals who upset them, but turned into chocolate statues..?"
"Villains go with what they can," Muldoon replied. "Remember Big Spitwad and the Awful Poet."
"Don't remind me," The Street Person said, grimacing.
"And Backdoor Buddy."
"What about Mister Flingpoo?" Mahsa asked.
The Street Person laughed. "He was an escaped Bonobo from the Oregon Primate Center. There've always been valid questions about his super-powers."
"C'mon, SP," Muldoon replied. "He could line a turd a hundred yards and seldom missed."
"Then thank goodness he was rehabilitated into a Major League pitching career," the superhero said, laughing again. "I really believe you have the case correctly worked out as a revenge motive, though I'll think additionally on it and let you know if something occurs to me. Would you two like a cup of Earl Gray before going back to the station?"
The two young officer politely accepted, spent a half-hour with the fastidious hero, then returned to Headquarters, which lay only a few blocks away.
* * * * *
By the time Mahsa and Siobhan trotted into Portland Police Headquarters, it was nearly nine o'clock. After clocking in, they took the elevator down to the basement, to Doctor Li's office. The door was locked, the office dark behind frosted glass.
"This's unusual," Muldoon said. "She's always here early."
"Let's check with the Desk Sergeant," Farabi suggested. "She may have gone out on a case."
"I dunno. She generally reserves the afternoon for on-site investigations."
"Maybe. Let's get our butts over to her place. IÕve got a suspicion and I hope I'm wrong."
* * * * *
"Not wrong, then," Siobhan said angrily as they studied the transformed Forensics chief after letting themselves into Doctor Li's condo. "Dammit!"
"She is...just like the Maidens," Mahsa said, a knuckle jammed into her mouth to keep from screaming.
"Solid chocolate," her partner agreed. She crouched down and looked up into Doctor Li's lovely frozen features. "She looks terrific, though."
"We should cover her breasts at least, Sho."
"No, don't touch her. She doesn't have a bracelet like the Maidens did, so she may be booby-trapped, pardon the expression."
"Ah, yes." Mahsa reached into her fanny pack and brought out a pair of nitrile surgical gloves. "Let me examine her crotch." Peeling back Doctor Li's panties, Mahsa let out a gasp. "There is something..."
"Don't touch it! It may have enough of a charge to blast you even through the gloves. She's gotta have some tools around somewhere. A pair of needle-nose pliers might do the trick."
Mahsa looked skeptical. "The object is tucked in a bit."
"Maybe some WD-40 with the needle-nose, then."
"Large Celtic people are apparently eternally optimistic."
After a call to Lieutenant Deakins, a quick search of the condo turned up a surprising selection of small tools, instruments, and several adequate rattle-cans of lubricant. While preparing to move the transformed scientist to the dining room table, slung between them on a beach towel, they noticed the cameras mounted on the computer monitor.
"Computer's still running," Muldoon said. "What if the cameras are, too?"
"Good news, perhaps," Farabi replied, her features red with embarrassment at her proximity to Doctor Li's nearly-nude body.
Moving sideways and very carefully, they discussed the cameras on their way to the dining room. "Rather than stand over you, Mahsa, driving you nuts while you work, I think I'll check those over."
"My thanks ascend to the eternal halls of Paradise, Sho."
"Sure. Double-glove while you try to fish that out, though."
They gently slid Doctor Li onto the table. "I will also cover all but the operating field with towels."
"I understand, Mahsa. I'd do the task myself, but you're more dexterous than I am."
* * * * *
Five minutes later, holding her breath, Mahsa Farabi slowly and painstakingly extracted the chrome dildo from Sharon Li's nether regions. Holding it well away from her body, she walked cautiously into the kitchen and deposited the slippery little cylinder onto an unfolded washrag. Only then did she breathe normally.
"You've got to see this!" Siobhan called from the study.
Sighing, the young Persian officer joined her partner, crouched in front of the computer screen. "By the Prophet! It is the pastry chef."
"One Ingrid Tobler, apparently, from Li's notes under the keyboard."
On the monitor, Ingrid approached the end of her initial short monologue. The forensics chief stared unmoving at the cameras.
"Doctor Li is paralyzed," Mahsa observed.
"Mind-controlled. Tobler'll have her undress here in a minute."
"A kind of violation, isn't it?"
Muldoon nodded, gritting her teeth, and they continued to watch as Doctor Li disrobed, smiling mindlessly before being transformed into a chocolate statue.
"What an utter turd," Siobhan said as a smirking Ingrid Tobler disappeared from the screen and the condo. "I found a three-pack of blank DVDs, Mahsa. One for each of us and one for Lieutenant Deakins oughta do it."
From behind, Mahsa rested both hands on her partner's heavy shoulders. "Promise me it will not appear on YouTube, Sho."
"What do you think I am, for God's sake?"
"You don't want to know that. Promise me!"
"Yes, okay, not a chance. Are you satisfied?"
The condo doorbell rang, preventing Farabi's reply.
"Deakins, you think?" Muldoon asked, rotating from the chair to her feet.
"A bit too quickly."
"Right. You open the door; I'll cover you.
"What if it is the Lieutenant?"
Instead of Deakins, however, it was the reed-thin and perfectly done-up 3rd Assistant to the Chief, Stacy Banek.
"You are here! The Chief heard you were here without her permission, and she sent me over to check." Stacy's artfully-plucked eyebrows briefly writhed as she saw Muldoon's Glock centered on her forehead. "Why are you pointing that at me?"
"I'm thinking," Muldoon replied, lowering the pistol after another long five seconds, grinning at the other woman's discomfiture.
"We do have a crime scene here, Stacy," Farabi said.
The Chief's assistant looked around the condo suspiciously as she walked past the two officers and spied the covered form on the dining room table. "Really? And what's that under those towels?"
"The victim, Doctor Li."
"No," Muldoon replied, winking at her partner, "only temporarily incapacitated. Look if you want."
Banek regarded the tall Celt with a blend of distrust and borderline loathing before approaching the table. She slowly drew back the bath towel, which hid most of Doctor LiÕs transformed body. "This is some kind of cruel trick, isn't it. You two must think I'm a moron, to believe this whatever-it-is is Doctor Li."
"That's not why we think you're a moron, Stace," Muldoon said, grinning even wider and shaking her head.
"It's really her," Mahsa assured the disbelieving Banek.
"All right, I'll play your silly game. How did this happen?"
Muldoon gestured at the silver dildo on the kitchen counter. "See that? A super-villain transformed Doctor Li into chocolate -- as you've seen -- then placed that inside her to maintain the alteration."
Banek's lip curled. "This thing?" She approached the counter and looked closely at the glistening cylinder, sticking out a fingertip.
Mahsa raised a hand in warning. "Stacy! Don't..."
"...touch it," Farabi finished weakly, as Stacy Banek instantly turned into a chocolate statue, her now-glossy-brown features frozen in a startled expression.
"Oh, heck, it was a trap," Muldoon observed gleefully. "Call the Lieutenant and see what she wants us to do. Doctor Li should come back to life at some point, now that you fished out the dildo."
Glaring at her partner, Mahsa flipped open her phone and dialed. As she waited for the connection, she sighed at least twice in resignation. Truly Allah had cursed her in her vocational path.
* * * * *
"I will make this woman feel the wrath which only small Asian women can bring down on evildoers," Sharon Li said angrily as she watched herself being changed for the fourth time. The petite scientist wore a thick cotton bathrobe, which left her shapely legs uncovered. She hadn't bothered with additional clothing, preferring to dive right back into the case. It was personal now. Her anger didn't keep her from chewing steadily on her third piece of pizza, however.
"We have her dead-to-rights, Doctor," Farabi told her.
"The Lieutenant's having the arrest warrant sent over," Muldoon added. "We'll enter the restaurant at eight tonight, read Tobler her rights, then cuff her and hustle her off to jail."
"She cannot be allowed to touch you," Li cautioned. "You must be very careful. You saw what she can do, and I have no memory of any of it."
"Deakins told me she'd have someone there to assist with the collar," Muldoon said.
"One hopes," Li replied, pausing the video clip at the point where Ingrid Tobler had departed and only a tiny, smiling chocolate figure remained on the screen. "I look quite nice, however, do I not?" she asked, obviously pleased at some level.
"Very hot," Muldoon agreed.
"Better than Stacy Banek," Farabi said.
Li snorted. "A blessing that fool sprang Tobler's trap. I assume you took a number of compromising photographs of her which might someday serve to keep her in her place and away from your throats?"
"My partner is shameless," the Persian officer replied. "We have fully a half-dozen of her naked from the waist up."
"Poor Stace," Muldoon said, with a smug smile. "Perky little boobs, though."
"Cheap insurance," Doctor Li assured them. "The enemies one knows are easier dealt with."
* * * * *
Farabi and Muldoon went into Bistro Teutonic in long-sleeved civilian clothing, but with shoulder holsters under their leather jackets, along with two copies of the all-important arrest warrant. They quietly explained their purpose to the Maitre d', who directed them to the Chef after verifying that Ingrid Tobler was on the premises.
They never spoke to the Chef. They didn't have to. Their quarry stood in a quiet area at the far end of the kitchen, away from the bustling meal-preparers, bent over a pan of chocolate desserts. She didn't look up until the officers were halfway across the kitchen.
She recognized them instantly, hurriedly wiped her hands on a clean towel, and bolted down a narrow aisle way between racks of utensils and boxes of ingredients, her long legs scissoring.
"Stop, Police!" Muldoon yelled, motioning Mahsa to a parallel aisle on the right as both drew their weapons and began to run. Kitchen workers scattered out of their paths.
Praying loudly to herself in Farsi, Mahsa sprinted around a stack of what looked like cake pans and barreled down an unoccupied aisle way. She identified the tradesman's entrance, which was closed and likely locked, then swung around to her left, her weapon up.
Just in time to see a crouched Ingrid Tobler step into the path of Siobhan Muldoon and grasp the tall Irish woman by the back of her neck.
Siobhan halted in place as though she was playing Charades.
Grinning in triumph, Tobler turned, moved slightly behind the frozen Muldoon, and addressed Mahsa.
"Put down your weapon and back away from the door, Policewoman, or I will turn your partner into poor-quality chocolate pudding. She will liquefy. There will be no return for her and she will taste terrible."
Mahsa unclenched her jaws. "You are under arrest for Non-consensual Transmogrification, Ingrid Tobler. Release Officer Muldoon and put up your hands!"
The pastry chef shook her head. "Her death will be on your hands."
To her horror, Mahsa saw Siobhan's right hand slowly rising toward her holstered automatic.
"Miz Tobler's control is not complete," said a calm, familiar female voice behind Mahsa. "You are distracting her, and she doesn't yet realize it. At some point in this ongoing stand-off, your partner will surely put a round through her head."
The woman stepped beside Mahsa. Unable to look away from Siobhan and their quarry, out of the corner of her eye Mahsa saw tall and muscular, wearing dark glasses, and recognized Anisa Skouros.
"Back up slightly, Officer Farabi," the woman ordered. "I will deal with the situation." She took off her sunglasses as Mahsa took a step backward.
Fifteen feet away, Ingrid Tobler turned to stone.
So did Siobhan Muldoon.
The tall, olive-skinned woman replaced her sunglasses over her eyes, smiled, and turned to Mahsa. "Situation rectified. Sorry about the collateral damage."
"What are you?" Mahsa asked, gulping, staring at the two statues, scarcely able to believe what she'd just seen. She stuck her pistol back into its holster with shaking fingers.
"You can very easily guess what I am. I did this as a favor for Lieutenant Deakins." She held out two small sealed plastic baggies filled with clear liquid. "Dump the contents of one of these onto each of their heads and they will re-vivify. Perhaps it would be wise to do Miz Tobler when she is safely behind bars."
"Thank...you," Mahsa stammered.
"You're welcome. Lieutenant Deakins will arrive shortly. Have a pleasant evening." Turning, her hands stuffed into the pockets of her long leather duster, Anisa Skouros disappeared back toward the main part of the kitchen.
* * * * *
"Why haven't you brought her back?" Boothe Deakins asked Mahsa as both officers studied Muldoon's solidified body. A police crew had just finished photographing the arrest scene and placing the petrified Ingrid Tobler into a police van after wrapping her in thick blankets. They'd taken one of the baggies with them.
The other lay in Mahsa Farabi's open palm.
Mahsa thought a moment before smiling ruefully. "Maybe I just wanted a few minutes of peace and quiet."
"I hear you," Deakins said, chuckling. "I've worked with a lot of Muldoons over the years. What you're holding, by the way, is gorgon urine."
"What will happen to Miz Tobler?"
"Given her status in the Portland culinary community, probably not much. No one was injured or even truly incapacitated. The Menstrual Maidens are mad as hell, but they'll get over it. Mostly they're embarrassed."
"What about Stacy Banek?"
"She hasn't come back to life. Must've been one heck of a jolt. Anyway, if we were to give Tobler jail time, there'd be a real hue and cry from the restaurant-going public, as well as a lot of bad press. Maybe even the ACLU. She'll get probation and bunch of hours of community service. Probably nothing beyond that."
"What about her 'collection?' She mentioned that in the video."
"We checked it out. Mostly chocolate insects in a small display case, plus a tree frog and a mouse. Not exactly criminal. The Maidens must have been her first human subjects."
"She's not a very nice person."
"True, but we could probably say the same about a few people nominally on our side."
* * * * *
Several weeks later, an exhausted Ingrid Tobler arrived home from four hours of community service at a senior center in Lincoln Heights. Though the elderly generally liked sweets, she'd never seen any who could put down desserts like this group. On the other hand, they were most grateful, and she'd left copies of the Bistro Teutonic menu with several of them. The experience had not proven unpleasant.
None of which made Ingrid less fatigued, however. She dropped her tote bag on the foyer table along with her mail, and walked slowly into her kitchen, too tired to eat, but determined to at least have one glass of Pinot before retiring for the night.
There were two filled glasses of wine on her kitchen table, a bottle of Pinot next to them. Seated behind one glass was Doctor Sharon Li, a Glock 19 leveled at Ingrid Tobler's midsection. From the pastry chef's vantage point, the muzzle seemed only slightly smaller than the opening in the neck of the wine bottle.
"Have a seat, Ingrid," Li said, with an evil smile. She waved a selection of lock picks at the surprised pastry chef. "You're not the only one with a talent for getting into the homes of others."
"What do you want?" Ingrid asked, sitting down heavily.
She hadn't foreseen anything like this.
"Revenge, of course, but I listened to the remark you made after you transformed me..."
"On that verdammt disc we viewed in the judge's chambers."
"Yes. You mentioned you thought I was a particularly lovely piece of art. I gave your statement quite a lot of thought, then I spoke with Anisa Skouros."
"Yes, the gorgon who saved your life. Siobhan Muldoon was not completely immobilized by your talent. She was reaching for her weapon while you argued with Officer Farabi. She is a Muldoon. She would have killed you, Ingrid. So, yes, Anisa saved you." Li laid the pistol on the table and held up her glass. "I propose a toast to your continued existence."
Ingrid warily clicked glasses before taking a long drink of her wine, which had a fine oaky taste and excellent body. "Again, what do you want?"
"Very simple. You, me, Miz Skouros, a few other comely volunteer models of both sexes, and a professional photographer. The result will be the production of a very high-end coffee table art book of erotic sculptures. Limited edition, five hundred copies, a bit kinky, proceeds to charity."
Ingrid Tobler took another slow sip of wine. "I'll do it, of course." Shaking her head in amazement, she added, "It's so Portland."
"Yes, isn't it?" agreed Sharon Li, smiling.