LAX International Airport, Los Angeles, California
"That flight took forever," complained Ariel Landry as she left the LAX terminal, dragging a single wheelie bag behind her. The dazzlingly beautiful blond, a former model now working for the International Temporal Enforcement Agency as an expert on fashion and high society, had made sure her hair was straightened even before leaving London for Los Angeles and sported a cream-colored dress which hung loose in some areas. The outfit almost made the ex-model look like she was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt as an outfit, but the idea was it could easily be removed; plus she was wearing a bathing suit underneath.
"You've only said that five times now since we landed now," snarked Colette Landry, Ariel's younger cousin, who was the assistant director of the ITEA's technical wing. The computer expert was wearing a white sweatshirt-like jacket over a short-sleeved red T-shirt with blue jeans on her legs. On her cousin's advice, Colette had straightened her naturally somewhat curly hair even frosted the tips a bit, giving the attractive young woman a far more striking appearance.
"So can we just go meet my contacts?" asked Ariel, brushing aside Colette's remarks. The two were out in Los Angeles doing follow-up on an incident that had occurred two short weeks ago in Santander. Before a fashion show put on by Zoe Hollander and Models Inc. could start, the entire area was flooded with Type-7 gas, freezing everyone including undercover IT agents Marika Bran and Nessa Kelly. It was a civilian named Kayla LeFer, an LA resident, who'd managed to save the day, stopping Zoe and her assistants from trying to kidnap several models. With no security footage; LeFer was their only witness; by her account it seemed that Zoe was under the control of a chip, as were her assistants. With no clues about the suspect, the plan was to use Ariel's ties to the fashion world to scope out Miss Zoe and her models back in their homeland to see if there was anything unusual. Team Gamma had originally been assigned the case, but they were being detained in New York by the UN Security Council; team leader Hui Lan there to vouch for some Interpol agents that were in the process of being transferred to IT. As it was Ariel's first field assignment, Colette had volunteered to join her cousin and the pair had gone on ahead, though they were only supposed to do some basic interviews and save any potential follow-up interrogation of suspects for when Hui arrived.
"Why don't you go ahead to the hotel first," suggested Colette, flagging down a taxi. "I need to speak with a couple of locals about the possible situation before we get too far ahead of ourselves. It will give you a chance to rest."
"It will be nice to stretch out on a bed and not crammed into one of those uncomfortable business-class seats," agreed Ariel, making a face at the idea of sitting in an airline seat again. "Shouldn't we have a private jet or two if we're a special agency?"
"We only get what we need, and sadly there's been no need for one yet," sighed Colette, actually agreeing with her cousin on that one. A Gulfstream V would be really nice.
* * *
Zoe Hollander sat in her rental townhouse, which she'd picked up just for the occasion. Having recently celebrated her fiftieth birthday, Zoe was feeling old; what was worse was that after working for a few months to create her legacy, it had been stolen from her by Kayla LeFer. Zoe's friend Xavier Alberic had given her a drug he called Type-7, which could freeze people stiffly like mannequins; Zoe had begun using it on some of her best models to preserve them for generations to come, allowing future designers to see the beauty she'd been capable of creating. Then in Santander Kayla had ruined it all by exposing her collection, forcing Zoe to pretend she was being controlled by someone else in order to escape. The only good news was Zoe still had plenty of Type-7; since her deception had worked, she was able to trick Kayla into coming to her rented home under the guise of modeling for a private photo shoot.
"I think today will go well, don't you?" Zoe asked Kathryn Summers, who stood in the corner of the bedroom. Kathryn was posed rigidly in a stance Zoe herself had liked to strike when she'd been on the catwalk in her youth: her left hand on her hip and her right arm straight at her side, glancing to the right slightly with a serious look on her face, her lips a bit pouty. Zoe had just collected her most valued assistant the night before, giving her a full injection of Type-7 and bringing her inside, promptly stripping her down to the underwear she still wore, which was trim and white and lacy. Zoe herself was stark naked as she moved from her bed to admire her frozen assistant some more, stroking her exposed skin, pleased to find no hint of a mole anywhere visible, though she did know the younger woman had one right under her left breast.
"I never understood why you didn't want to become a model yourself," sighed Zoe, feeling slightly aroused as she stroked Kathryn's slender body. "A couple of surgical procedures and you'd do quite well for yourself." Zoe was not a lesbian but her love for the female form had always made her a little bi-curious. In spite of this, she'd never been with a woman in a romantic way save for some experimentation during her youth as a model, which felt far away now. Taking a moment to breathe in the aura of beauty Kathryn seemed to give off, Zoe then finally rose and headed into the shower, as there was much to do before Kayla arrived.
* * *
Culver City, California
Tucker Holmes didn't want to get out of bed; he didn't even want to face the world at all. It was a Saturday and it seemed like a perfect day from what he could see of the outside, but for the past week he'd been miserable. Thanks to an accident with her magic camera, his girlfriend Julie Vaughn was now frozen in time with no way to free her, at least not until they could get at the photo that kept her frozen. The essential Polaroid image was trapped under floorboards that wouldn't be torn up for at least another month or two; while Tucker was currently in possession of Julie’s frozen body, he did feel lost since he didn't even have the ability to unfreeze her and just simply talk. Tucker's relationship with Julie had always been a bit off, he knew, given she seemed to share more of his interests than the other way around, but he had always loved talking with her.
"I miss you," muttered Tucker as he lay in bed next to Julie; both of them were naked. Julie was flat on her back with her arms under the pillow her head rested on, her hair was a mess and her face blank, her eyes gazing vacantly up at the ceiling in disinterest. With a sigh Tucker, rolled on top of Julie and softly kissed her on the lips, then closed her eyes and moved her arms so they were at her sides. That done Tucker, casually dragged Julie’s doll-like form out of bed and stood her up next to Rachel Xanders, the other woman frozen in the camera accident, who was currently dressed in a cheerleader outfit; one belonging to the BC Lions from the Canadian Football League rather than Decker State College. Rachel was posed in a classic cheerleader position, with her left arm raised above her head holding a pom-pom in it, while her right hand was on her hip, a pom-pom in it as well. Rachel's legs were also straight and together, making her seem even taller than normal. Picking up a bra from the floor, Tucker casually placed it on Julie’s motionless figure, lifting her arms forward so he could get the garment over her breasts before lowering them again. Next, Tucker retrieved a pair of black panties that matched the bra and slid Julie into them one leg at a time, having to lift them up in turn while balancing his frozen girlfriend carefully so she would not fall over. With Julie at least wearing underwear, Tucker took the time to pose her like Rachel, though minus the cheerleading outfit, then elected to just get dressed himself.
A few minutes later Tucker had a black turtleneck on, which while normally not his style, was something he was starting to like in the winter, as well as some tattered jeans and a pair of fuzzy slippers, not bothering with socks or shoes. Still feeling glum, Tucker walked past the bathroom and strolled into the kitchen where his current roommate and ex-girlfriend Haley was having breakfast. "Morning," greeted Tucker, saying nothing else as he raided the freezer for some frozen waffles.
"I left your wand on the coffee table," remarked Haley, referring to the Wand of Kronos. This magic wand could freeze time as well as people, Haley had borrowed it the night before in case her friend Ginger got on her nerves. Haley was currently wearing a black silk robe and in spite of her being fairly fresh out of the shower, her hair already looked perfect, straightened and looking silky smooth like the material of her robe, only blond.
"How did it go last night?" asked Tucker after finding the desired waffles.
"Didn't even need it, but I couldn't resist doing one little prank before the end of the night," confessed Haley with a grin as Tucker got to work with the toaster. "What's on your plate today? Work?"
"No, we're shut down today because Bianca's worried there's mold," revealed Tucker, finishing with the toaster and moving to get some coffee. "It's probably nothing, but it it'll be good to check over that area of the store; plus business has been good enough to let us get away with shutting down on a Sunday every now and then."
"That's an understatement," remarked Haley, knowing full well that the niche store was doing amazingly well, having been viral marketed by several influential people around Los Angeles.
"Lance and Bianca were probably going to stop by at some point though; they have ideas on how to keep things moving," continued Tucker, drinking his coffee straight black. Black wasn't usually how Tucker took his coffee, but ever since the situation with Julie, he'd been a bit erratic in his food preferences.
"That's fine," nodded Haley, weighing in on the possibility of people coming by. "I'll probably be going over photos from my last shoot, see if there's anything I think I could improve for next time. Kayla's also got her session with Miss Zoe in an hour or two, so I might go visit her later on."
"That's exciting," commented Tucker, sounding a bit insincere as he quickly finished his coffee and went to pour some juice. "I didn't check the phone. Did Kat call?"
"No, sorry," answered Haley, looking a bit glum as she saw Tucker almost seem to wince at the news. "Look, do you want to talk—"
"Nothing to really say," interrupted Tucker, taking a glass of orange juice with him out of the room. While Tucker and Haley had talked about the Julie and Rachel situation back when it had first occurred, they'd only spoken about it once; ever since Tucker had been a bit of a wreck.
Wandering into the living room, Tucker noticed that, as predicted, Lance and Bianca were indeed stopping by and had actually already arrived. Letting out a small sigh in mild annoyance, Tucker put his juice down on the coffee table, near where his wand was, and decided to just answer the door as the bell rang.
"Hi buddy!" greeted Lance with a grin, giving his friend a high five in greeting. Today’s weather was a bit chilly and Lance was wearing a green hoodie as well as jeans, his normally somewhat long blond hair cut short. Bianca, the third owner of Otaku LA and Lance's girlfriend, had her dark hair in an elaborate Dutch braid ponytail, even having a translucent teal bandanna tied into the base. Bianca was wearing a purple short-sleeved blouse with an anime white tiger on it, black pants on her legs and, unusually, wearing brown leather heels. Tucker was a bit surprised that Bianca didn't at least have on some kind of sweatshirt.
"Come on in; wasn't expecting you so early though," remarked Tucker as he let his friends and business partners in, noting it wasn't even ten in the morning yet.
"Sorry, we were going to hit Chinatown later on though so we figured earlier was better," explained Bianca as, per Tucker's indication with his hands, they sat on one of the couches in the living room.
"So what's the big vision?" asked Tucker with a grin, sitting down perpendicularly to his colleagues, also near his wand and juice. "We're got six people working at the store right now and business is booming. What's next, do you figure?"
"Frankly, expansion," declared Bianca flatly. "We're only in our second quarter but our initial investment is already practically paid off, though formal profits probably won't happen until our third, there’s no doubt about the trend. We’re on a roll. I think we have the wiggle room to open a second store, or at least get a second location to act as a workshop or warehouse. James could use some more space to do his art, I could use a place to work on my designs, and I imagine you could use a permanent studio for any photo shoots?"
"That's true, can't really do any of that in the one store," agreed Tucker. "Still, if we take a hit expanding would be risky from a financial standpoint. Honestly, before we make any big changes I'd like to have formally turned a profit."
"That's the beauty of where we're going with this," countered Lance, nodding at Bianca. "Remember her old job’s location, Pacific Pearl Costumes? The boutique that took over the store is already shutting down in a couple of months and the landlord is looking for someone to take it on the cheap, not wanting a vacant spot on his strip."
"That's not bad distance-wise," noted Tucker, with a nod. "About twenty blocks?"
"Twenty-five," corrected Bianca with a nod. "Krystal has a bit of a problem commuting to our current location anyhow, so we could set her up as manager of that sub-location and primarily use it as a workspace and for storage. I'm thinking no costumes on display, just a catalog of some kind with stuff in the back, and also let James have a more public work area so people who'd like to can watch him work and get a feel for what he can do. The three of us and Umiko can handle the primary store."
"I still see us needing at least two more employees," noted Tucker, nodding thoughtfully. "It’s a well thought out plan, its just timing in terms of finances that I'm worried about. We have a decent track record and plenty of collateral for a loan to make it happen, but I can't say for certain we'll be in the black come two months from now."
"Pearl was located right near Chinatown though," pointed out Lance. "Tourists and such will be curious, and with everything Chinese there, something Japanese would be a nice change."
"There are Japanese people in Chinatown too; technically it should be called Asian-Town, but... oh forget it," shrugged Tucker, not wanting to waste time on semantics when his bladder was telling him to hit the bathroom and he heard the toaster announce his waffles were done. Weighing his options, Tucker decided to not worry about stepping out of the conversation and casually slid his wand into his hand while picking up his juice with the other.
"I still think-" began Lance, promptly cutting off as Tucker stopped time by tapping his wand five times, the action hidden beside his leg. Lance sat motionless while reclining with his left arm around Bianca, his right gesturing towards Tucker almost like he was testing the water coming from a spout, his mouth wide-open. Bianca's right shoulder was nuzzled against her boyfriend, her arms in her lap and her face oddly blank, eying Tucker's glass as it had been held to his lips. Judging from the look, Tucker figured Bianca was thirsty and considering asking him if she could have a beverage.
"To be continued," remarked Tucker to the two statues, getting up and heading for the bathroom. As he used the frozen toilet, he thought about the store pitch and had to admit he was interested, but they really would need at least two more people to replace the loss of James and Krystal at the main store, though they could go back and forth as necessary when things got busy. Tucker began thinking about anyone he might know that they could hire as he unfroze the toilet water to at least flush it, though with the logistics of time being frozen it was likely the flushed water would only go so far before hitting a jelly-like plug of time-stopped water further on. Tucker didn't like to think about it, he was just glad that unfreezing the toilet worked.
Going from the bathroom to the kitchen, Tucker was surprised to see Haley wasn't standing around, she most likely having gone up stairs in the time between when he first came into the kitchen and when time stopped. Shrugging, and feeling a bit guilty for cutting off the earlier conversation, Tucker put his waffles on a plate and decided to just sit and eat them right there after getting strawberry syrup from the fridge. Tucker continued to brainstorm, though; finding the right person would be tricky. Tucker did know people who'd most likely want the job, including friends like Chrissy Pak from the Decker State College Anime Club, but most of them, Chrissy included, had other obligations, making the possibility of employing them unlikely. Umiko herself was a boon, having joined the Phi Sigma Delta sorority and thus living in Malibu, but she was still able to come down for work three to four days a week.
Finishing his waffles, Tucker put the dishes in the dishwasher and returned to the living room, noticing that someone was outside his door yet again. Deciding to just go look, since time was frozen, Tucker opened the door and was surprised to see a familiar face. Standing with her head bowed towards the ground and her right index finger hovering in front of the doorbell button was Colette Landry, a woman Tucker had encountered a couple of times in the past. The sexy blond and Tucker had first crossed paths when Erika Stone had kidnapped his friend Maggie and a second time when Haley had been kidnapped in Honolulu. Tucker also recalled that Colette worked for the ITEA, but as a computer specialist. It was unusual for her to be there alone, assuming he was in trouble. The good news was the ITEA knew about Tucker's wand thus he could get away with leaving his business partners frozen on the couch and decided to just let Colette in.
"This day just got a lot more interesting, and I gotta say, it already was as-is," quipped Tucker as he closed the door, though not before giving the mannequin-still French-Canadian a quick peck on the cheek. Back inside, Tucker waved his wand at Lance and Bianca, ensuring they'd stay frozen after time resumed, and then decided to just get on with things since Haley was most likely doing her lengthy post-breakfast post-shower ritual, which included yoga and fashion choices as well as doing email and such. Satisfied that he was good to go, Tucker unfroze time and moved to the front door just before the bell rang.
"I got it!" shouted Tucker before opening the door, happy that Colette smiled when she saw him.
"Hello Mr. Holmes, it’s been a while," remarked Colette with a nod, then flashing her identification. "Colette Landry from the International Temporal Enforcement Agency, just in case you’ve forgotten."
"Don't worry, I remembered you," Tucker assured the woman with a smile, nodding. "Please, call me Tucker. What's up?"
"Well I'm in town on some official business but I have some time to kill before I need to start my investigation, so I decided to come and visit," explained Colette, glancing around. "Could I come inside? There's actually something you should probably know, in case you ever interact with ITEA again."
"Oh... okay," shrugged Tucker, letting Colette in. The pair, barely having any age difference between them, entered the living room, Colette smiled when she saw the frozen couple on the couch.
"I'm interrupting something, huh?" noted the blond, electing to sit on the empty couch, with Tucker sitting on the opposite end across from her.
"It's fine, I figure you'd be used to this by now," remarked Tucker, then holding up his wand.
"Hey, we deal in cataleptic drugs, generic abnormalities and experimental fringe science, not something that can only be called magic," countered Colette, continuing to smile. "You know in our database we have your wand classified as being 'unknown technology? The UN would cut off our funding if they caught us using the word 'magic' in our reports."
"I've had this thing for nearly a year and I still haven't really gotten over its powers," agreed Tucker. "Since this is the first time we two have ever really interacted like this..."
"'We two have ever really interacted like this?'" repeated Colette in an amused tone. "Relax Tucker, you don't need to talk like some kind of wannabe poet."
"Okay, anyhow..." shrugged Tucker, his skin reddening a small amount. "My point was, if you've got some time to kill, before we get into whatever you wanted to get into, would you like a demonstration of the wand?"
"What did you have in mind?" asked Colette, intrigued.
"Name a celebrity, I'll have them here in a flash," declared Tucker, standing up and producing his cell phone from his pocket. "Give me a name, any name."
"Okay..." agreed Colette, curious to see if Tucker could pull it off. "How about... Ally Landers?" Colette's remark was a bit dismissive, but as the words finished leaving her mouth Colette was stunned by the sudden appearance of the named celebrity right in front of her.
Tucker had done as requested and now Ally stood there, frozen while wearing a light blue flight attendant's uniform with the classic red neckerchief, her dark hair done up in a French twist. Ally's pose had her bent slightly forward at the waist with her right arm more or less forming a V-shape, her hand open almost like a chop, a toothless smile on her face. Since Ally was an actress as well as a model, it was clear she'd been picked up in the middle of filming something.
"How?!" exclaimed Colette, standing up in shock.
"Twitter," revealed Tucker, holding up his phone. "I froze you before I froze time, then found her last tweet, picked her up at a set not far away actually, brought her here, froze her, synched you back with time and finally unfroze it. Simple, really…"
"Nice one," remarked Colette, nodding as she inspected the human statue that was Ally Landers in her current state. "I don't know why he ever gave it up."
"He who?" asked Tucker, confused.
"Your uncle," Colette told Tucker flatly. "Yes, I know Scott Dawson is your uncle." Tucker's eyes went wide, but Colette then put her hands on his shoulders and leaned in, her lips stopping by his right ear. "It's okay, I work for him too."
* * *
Kayla LeFer stood nervously outside of Miss Zoe's townhouse, hoping that her first professional photo-shoot with the famous fashion icon would go well. Zoe herself wasn't known for being a great photographer, but just having her name attached to a photo was usually enough to get a good modeling job. While she did ultimately want to be an actress, Kayla did like the idea of reaching her eventual goal via modeling, as it wasn't uncommon for models to become actresses. Judy Robertson was possibly one of the most famous examples that came to Kayla's mind.
The front door opened; Miss Zoe was dressed surprisingly casually, wearing a tan turtleneck and white pants, her hair left loose but with enough product in it to not suddenly become undone. "Kayla darling, you're right on time," announced Zoe grandiosely, indicating for the girl to come in. Kayla had dressed in the most basic of outfits, just a red tank top and jeans with her hair just straightened, knowing that Zoe would have dresses lined up for her to wear during the shoot.
The living room of the house, which was to the immediate right, had various reflector screens set up as well as background paper, with lights also aimed at the set and a camera ready to go. "Can I get you a drink of water before we start?" asked Miss Zoe, clapping her hands together.
"That would be great, but I need to use the bathroom first," agreed Kayla, glancing around.
"Second door on the left," indicated Miss Zoe. Kayla nodded and headed down the hall as Zoe stepped into the kitchen.
Kayla was flustered by Miss Zoe as well as the shoot, so it was no surprise that she found herself taking the second door on the right rather than on the left. What was a surprise was that the black-haired Belgian model that Kayla knew as Tanya Frost was standing in what appeared to be a guest bedroom, clad only in silky green underwear and posed as if trying to spell out the letter F using her arms. The fact that Tanya didn't even flinch when Kayla opened the door made the somewhat ditzy woman realize that Zoe was back to using Type-7 again, and that could mean bad things for her. Alarmed, Kayla quickly ducked out of the room and headed into the bathroom.
Panicked, Kayla sat down on the toilet and pulled out her cell, texting Haley. Kayla’s plan was to leave quickly, faking illness, and go to her friend with the information, hoping she'd know if it was a good idea to call the police or someone else. Once the message was sent, Kayla wrapped up in the bathroom a bit faster than usual to make it back before Zoe got suspicious.
* * *
Zoe heard a door open and close but then heard it again, meaning Kayla must have gotten the wrong room. Kicking herself for not locking up properly, Zoe was fairly certain her guest had either seen Kathryn or Tanya frozen and would most likely now try to bolt. Pocketing her compact and finishing pouring a special glass of water, Zoe returned to the living room moments before Kayla herself did.
"I'm sorry Miss Zoe, really, but I think I'm coming down with a stomach virus or something," declared Kayla, clutching her supposedly infected area as she spoke. "Can we reschedule this?"
"Certainly, dear; let me know when you're feeling better," nodded Zoe. "Here though, drink some fluids, that should help."
"Alright, thank you," agreed Kayla, while Zoe had to hide her smile as the brunette (though Zoe did note some red in her hair color) took the glass, apparently not realizing that Type-7 also had a liquid form. Kayla froze solid before even finishing the glass, swallowing more than once while drinking, resulting in her left standing with her right hand holding the glass to her mouth, her head tilted back slightly and her other arm holding her stomach.
"Idiot," chuckled Zoe, removing the glass from Kayla's stiffened hand and putting it aside. "About time I got some payback. Now let’s see if you called anyone..." Reaching into Kayla's pockets as the woman stood rigid and unseeing like a mannequin, she having not brought a purse, Zoe found a Blackberry and tried to access it, only to find that it was locked by a three-digit code.
"Drat; maybe not so stupid after all," grumbled Zoe, pocketing the phone. "Okay, lets get you into the back and start packing. There's a private flight tonight for Paris and I intend to be on it, along with you and the others as my guests. I sort of like you like this though, so I think I'll wait until I'm done with my other things to chip you..." Whistling merrily, which she rarely did, Zoe moved around behind Kayla and began dragging her down the hall and towards the guest room where Tanya was.
* * *
"... so I basically work for my uncle on the side because, well..." finished up Colette, but unable to complete the sentence.
"It's okay, I get it," interrupted Tucker, sitting across from the IT agent at the kitchen table, both working on some green tea Tucker had made. Over the past hour and a half, Colette had regaled Tucker with pretty much her entire life’s story, from being suspected of being autistic, to her cousin becoming her best friend, to her time with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and finally to her work for the ITEA. During this time Tucker had developed quite a bit of sympathy for Colette, knowing what it was like to be bullied for being smart and liking things usually seen as being ‘just for kids’, the two even taking a few minutes to speculate on the next Assassin's Creed game storyline. It was right up until Colette's stories about his uncle that Tucker had actually considered pursuing Colette romantically, though granted he had a frozen girlfriend and was living with his interested ex. Tucker had to admit he drew the line at hitting on women who were interested in or had slept with someone he was related to, which was why he'd never taken advantage of his Aunt Ryoshi. Back before Colette had come clean about being in love with Uncle Scott, Tucker had fooled around with Colette while she was frozen, but now he regretted it. Slightly.
"So back to the reason we're in town..." said Colette, shifting the conversation to where it had started much earlier. "The ITEA, as you might know, was in Santander not long ago, covering a fashion show your roommate was supposed to participate in. A Type-7 aerosol attack froze everyone and, if not for Kayla LeFer, someone who was chip-controlling Miss Zoe and her assistants might have kidnapped over a dozen people, including two of our undercover agents."
"Haley mentioned it, yeah," confirmed Tucker, nodding thoughtfully. "You never found out who was controlling Zoe and the others?"
"No, and we've quite frankly run out of leads in Spain," confessed Colette. "My cousin, who if you'll recall is a former model herself and had even worked for Zoe in a Canadian campaign, and I are planning to look into some suspected people, to see if anything stands out."
"Well Haley or Kayla being behind this kind of sinister plot would be the most improbable thing ever, outside of Megan Wolff and Angel Jenly working on a film together," declared Tucker, having a sip of tea. "Can't people function normally while wearing a chip when no program is active? I remember Scott telling me that, though I've never tried anything more."
"Yes, but it seems incredibly unlikely that one of those three that were controlled were actually behind it," explained Colette, shaking her head. "Zoe lost money on her campaign by having the incident happen and we salvaged the chips worn by the assistants; they were definitely active and programmed."
"But you can't be sure of Zoe's?" asked Tucker, seizing on the possibility of Zoe being the prime suspect.
"We considered her for about an hour," declared Colette, seeing where Tucker was going with things. "If anything, it would be logical of Zoe to want to freeze herself, given the fear of growing old and all that. While we couldn't get data off of her chip it was definitely active, plus as I've said, there's no motive for Zoe."
"I guess I'm just speculating then," nodded Tucker, feeling a bit sheepish. "Probably that's why I'm not a cop, then. You have any predictions as to who it will turn out to be?"
"When we thought the perp could be a Spanish local, we suspected just a pervert, but this plot might be even more twisted," remarked Colette. "We've seen models be kidnapped in the past to be sold out as high class sex slaves, with people paying up to a million or more for these women. Some crime family being behind it all is our best guess right now."
"Mobsters and Models; I like it," laughed Tucker, cut off by Colette's iPhone chirping.
"Hi Ariel," answered Colette, picking up the phone. "Okay, I'll swing by the hotel, and we'll head over to her place right away." Hanging up, Colette gave Tucker an apologetic look. "Sorry, that was my cousin; we've got to get started on this case. We're going to talk to Zoe Hollander and find out if she's gotten any unusual threats, things like that."
"Alright, feel free to give me a call when you're done for the day," offered Tucker as both stood at the same moment. There was an awkward moment before Colette moved in for a hug, which lasted a good five seconds before Tucker broke it up.
"Sounds good; I really want to beat you at Call of Duty 4 later!" teased Colette as she headed for the front door, with Tucker joining her. Amusingly enough during this time, Lance, Bianca and Ally were all still frozen in the living room, though at one point Lance had been stood up to stand with his left hand on his crotch and his right arm raised, while Bianca was spread on the couch, resting on the right side of her body with her left knee forward, her right arm supporting her head and her left hand touching her hair.
"Be careful, Colette," called Tucker as Colette headed out the door. Upon hearing his words, Colette turned and gave Tucker a wink before heading to her rental car, a Honda Civic. Tucker closed the door after Colette got in the car but as he returned to the living room he watched the car go, letting out a sigh. In spite of knowing that his uncle had probably done some graphic things with the cute French-Canadian, Tucker did still fantasize about her a bit, though his thoughts were tame as even the idea of nudity and her freaked him out now. "Damn you, Uncle Scott," muttered Tucker.
"Master Tucker, have you seen Mistress Haley's cell phone?" came a sudden voice as Jennifer Yates appeared near the stairs. The redhead, dressed in a white jogging suit with her hair in a bun, was a woman Scott had coincidentally given him as a slave, who he was currently loaning to Haley as a personal assistant.
"I have not, and please don't call me Master Tucker; it makes me sound like a pedophile," shrugged Tucker in response.
"Understood," nodded Jennifer before she began wandering the room, apparently looking for Haley's missing cell.
"Hey, sorry, I think I left my phone down... is that Ally Landers?" asked Haley, going from an apology to a question. The blond was now wearing designer jeans, still blue naturally but fairly light-toned, stiletto heels and a yellow short-sleeved blouse; a green leather jacket also under her arm. She looked ready to head out the door.
"Yeah, sorry, I picked her up earlier to impress Colette," explained Tucker.
"Colette?" asked Haley, having been upstairs for the duration of the IT agent's visit. "Since when do you hang out with someone that has a French name?"
"She's an IT agent; along with her cousin, Colette’s in town doing follow-up on what happened to you in Santander," countered Tucker, letting the barb go. "She actually just left to go and check on Miss Zoe, actually."
"Oh damn; I would have asked her to get Kayla to call the land-line instead of my cell, don’t know where that got to," moaned Haley, looking around frantically.
"Here, silly," offered Tucker, amazed that Haley didn't think of just calling her cell with the land-line. Tucker used the nearby portable phone to dial and a few moments later Eight Days a Week was blasting from under one of the cushions Bianca lay sprawled on.
"Cute poses, by way," complimented Haley as she extracted the phone from under Bianca's arm as Tucker disconnected the land-line call. "Shit, I've got like twenty texts, and almost all of them are from Kayla."
"I bet her next tweet is going to be particularly harsh against you for that," chuckled Tucker as he wandered back towards the kitchen, wanting to finish his tea.
"Oh my God!" screamed Haley as Tucker was about to pick up his tea cup, resulting in him instead knocking it over and spilling the remains all over the table.
"Dammit," muttered Tucker, turning to look back at Haley in the living room, only to be surprised by her running up to him, frantic.
"Kayla texted me maybe an hour ago!" exclaimed Haley, holding up her phone. "She said that Zoe turned Tanya into a statue and she needs help!"
"Son of a bitch!" exclaimed Tucker, pulling out his own phone and trying to call Colette, whose number he'd just received. Tucker didn't have time to gloat about being right about Zoe, but worse yet was that Colette didn't answer. "Shit, she must have turned it off for driving purposes!" growled Tucker in frustration. "I'll stop time, we'll go see if she's still at Zoe's place!"
"Oh, wait; Kayla told me yesterday they were doing the shoot somewhere else!" remembered Haley, stopping Tucker from using his wand. "I don't know the address!"
"I'll try Kathryn!" declared Tucker, calling Zoe's other assistant. After a few moments there was no answer. "Oh crap!"
"She must have been frozen along with Tanya as well!" realized Haley.
"Well, what do we do then?!" asked Tucker, worried not just about Kayla, who'd become a friend of sorts to him, but also Colette and her cousin. Kathryn Summers, Zoe's assistant, was also a friend of Tucker's.
"I have a key to Kayla's place, we could go there and check for clues!" exclaimed Haley. "Get the car warmed up and I'll get the key!"
"Alright," agreed Tucker, considering using his wand again when he realized something. "Oh, crap, traffic will be too dense! I can't navigate frozen traffic on a day like today!"
* * *
Colette was surprised that Ariel was wearing the same clothes that she'd worn in the plane, being used to her cousin changing every time she showered. The pair were a block away from the townhouse Zoe had rented, having gotten the information from Kathryn Summers a couple of days ago before arriving.
"I'm telling you cousin, there's no way Miss Zoe is anything other than a victim in all this," continued Ariel, having spent the last ten minutes or so stating it over and over again. Traffic was surprisingly dense; Colette assumed it was because it was the weekend and there were a couple of big concerts in the area.
"I get it, I talked to someone earlier and actually made that claim myself when he suggested we should look more closely at her," pointed out Colette, making a right turn.
"Who did you talk to anyway?" asked Ariel, curious.
"A local guy in private security; you probably wouldn't like him," answered Colette, figuring Ariel didn't need to know about Tucker. While the ITEA had a file on him and he'd been brought in when he was suspected in a case, he was more or less considered an ally, or at least a contact. Tucker wasn't however listed on any official contact documents, since no one at the ITEA liked admitting that his magic wand seemed to be real.
"Cute answer; I think you're fibbing just to keep him to yourself," remarked Ariel with a smile, getting a small one from Colette as they pulled up to the rented house. "She's got company, by the looks of things. Still, what kind of friend of hers drives a car like that?" The car in question was a 1986 Mustang GT, which while a nice-looking car seemed a bit old and beat-up for anyone in or connected to the fashion industry. The red paint made sense; fashion types frequently favored flashy cars, but it was faded and even chipped in a couple of spots.
"Weird; lets pop in and see, shall we?" suggested Colette, turning off the engine and stepping out of the car. Instinctively, Colette checked that her gun, a modified Glock 17, was in its holster, still a bit nervous about interviewing anyone, even if they weren't a suspect.
Approaching the front door, Colette was about to knock when the door suddenly opened and Zoe Hollander appeared, dressed in a turtleneck and pants and looking slightly flustered. "Hello, Miss Hollander," greeted Colette, flashing her identification. "My name is—"
"Ariel Landry, is that you?" asked Zoe, ignoring Colette and looking at the beauty that was her cousin.
"Good to see you again, Miss Zoe," offered Ariel with a wave; the two women exchanged a hug while Colette pocketed her ID. "My cousin and I are here to follow-up on what happened in Santander."
"Ah yes; I remember getting called about that," nodded Zoe, stepping back to leave the door open. "Come on in. I just finished a photo shoot."
"Does that car in the driveway belong to the model?" asked Colette as she entered.
"Yes, its got engine problems, so she took a cab home," explained Zoe as the trio stood squarely in the house's entrance hub, the living room was next to them with no dividing wall; Colette noted that there did indeed appear to have been a photo-shoot earlier. "Sorry, I think I need a touch up," added Zoe, holding up her compact and opening it, then touching a part of her skin just below her right eye.
"It's perfectly fine Miss Zoe, we won't s—" began Ariel, suddenly unable to finish. As Ariel gestured and spoke, Zoe suddenly turned the compact ninety degrees and blew on the powder, which wafted in the direction of the cousins. While simple face powder wasn't harmful, Zoe had earlier converted the compact into a powdered Type-7 container, keeping it cool as well. As the warming powder mixed with the air around Colette and Ariel, it gave off Type-7 gas, which the unsuspecting pair then inhaled. The chemical reactions all took place in less than a second, resulting in both Colette and Ariel freezing in place instantly before either had realized something was amiss. Ariel stood with her right hand on her hip, her left raised at the elbow nearly the entire way and her fingers semi-extended, almost like she was holding an object at an angle. Ariel's eyes were vacant and her mouth was open, about to utter "-ay." Colette meanwhile, simply stood there, startled while leaning slightly to the right with her thumbs hooked into her pockets and her lips only slightly parted to show a flash of white teeth underneath; her eyes were slightly squinted in a possible reaction to the cloud powder, which by now had dispersed.
"Beautiful," smiled Miss Zoe, admiring the two blond statues. "I was only expecting to have three companions, but I suppose I could live with five... I really have missed you, Ariel."
* * *
Tucker pulled his Ford Focus up to the house address Haley and he had gotten from Kayla's apartment and practically leaped out of the car with his wand at the ready, with Haley joining him. As his blond companion circled the car, Tucker quickly stopped time, having needed it active to use his navigation system, and then promptly unfroze her. "Lets do this," uttered Tucker as they quickly hurried to the front door, finding it locked.
"Got a spell for this?" asked Haley as she took a turn at the door.
"Sort of," revealed Tucker, unfreezing the door and then promptly kicking it in. The trick was that while the door was unfrozen the bolt wasn't, making it even stiffer. The resulting jolt from the kick damaged the door but didn't affect the frame, making it easier to force open.
"Show off," muttered Haley as she proceeded to enter the townhouse, Tucker followed while hiding a grin. The two immediately came across Colette and Ariel, who were standing in the middle of the room as if taking to someone who wasn't there. It looked like they had already been frozen. A couple of suitcases were nearby but that was it.
"I guess if you don't know someone is a danger, you can't be ready for a surprise," remarked Tucker, desperately trying to keep himself from getting aroused as he looked at Ariel, trying not to stare. It was true Tucker wasn't sure if the second gorgeous blond was in fact the woman Colette had earlier identified as Ariel, but he noted a vague resemblance and since she said earlier they were cousins Tucker was confident in his identification. While he was certain that the IT people were frozen by Type-7, he nonetheless tried to unfreeze Colette using the wand, which resulted in no movement.
"She really is under Type-7, I guess," noted Haley, frowning. "I still can't believe Zoe's been behind all this! Why would she even..."
"Hey, we can always ask," Tucker told his ex with a reassuring touch on the shoulder. "Come on, there's got to be more here. We haven't even found Kayla yet."
Tucker and Haley spent several minutes looking around the townhouse, finding Tanya first. As with Colette, Tucker tried unfreezing Tanya but she didn't respond even after that, leaving him to drag her into the front room to stand along with Ariel and Colette. After Tanya, Kathryn was found in what appeared to be a master bedroom, though there was also a second floor to the townhouse. Once again, Tucker tried to unfreeze Kathryn but nothing happened, so she too was dragged into the main room. Finally, Tucker and Haley headed upstairs and found what appeared to be the real master bedroom, though it was about the same size as the one downstairs that Kathryn had been in.
"Two for one," hissed Haley as she walked into the room, Tucker behind her. Kayla was standing immobile next to the bed with her face blank and her arms raised, each holding a coat hanger with a dress on it. In Kayla's left was a leopard dress that had practically no skirt and was strapless while the one in her right was a zebra pattern that actually had straps, though again the skirt almost didn't exist. Zoe, meanwhile, was leaning over a suitcase in the middle of the bed, her hands holding a carefully folded blue outfit while lowering it into the top right corner of the black leather case. "Unfreeze her!" Haley immediately shouted, pointing to Kayla.
"On it," answered Tucker, using his wand to release Kayla from the time-stop effect. Unsurprisingly Kayla didn't move, though Tucker nodded she did seem somewhat active, there being signs of life-like breathing. "Kayla?" asked Tucker, waving his hand in front of his friend's face but getting no response. “Not exactly Type-7, looks like…” he began.
"What the hell did she do to her?!" screamed Haley, moving to hold her best friend by the shoulders, causing the dresses to fall from her rigid hands.
"I think I know," remarked Tucker, looking at the back of Kayla's neck. "Yeah, she’s been chipped. Here." With a quick tug the control device was removed from the back of Kayla's neck and she blinked, looking over at Haley in surprise. Tucker was surprised too, figuring Kayla would have been given Type-7 before the chip, but he assumed whatever amount she had in her system before was gone by now and all that had been keeping her immobilized was the chip.
"Haley, what-" began Kayla, only to get cut off by a powerful embrace from the blond. No one said anything; a moment later it wasn't necessary as Tucker chose to work his wand once more, putting Kayla to sleep while in Haley's hug.
"Good idea," commented Haley as she carefully lowered the limp body of her slumbering friend to the floor, laying her out flat on her back with her head leaning to the right. "Freeze her, too. We'll drop her back off at her place later." Tucker obeyed, freezing Kayla as she slept. "Thank goodness she's okay," whispered Haley as she looked down at her motionless friend.
"As much as I'd just like to ice this bitch for what she's done, I think we could use some answers," declared Tucker, approaching Zoe. Haley turned and moved to stand next to Tucker, looking at her employer and mentor with tear-filled eyes.
"I say we just leave her frozen like that and sell her to a boutique," fumed Haley. "She's betrayed everything she stands for and everyone she’s ever worked with. Honestly, integrity, trust... she valued those as much as talent and commitment. I can't believe this is what she's capable of."
"I hear you, so I say we get should some answers," suggested Tucker, shuffling under the bed. "Bingo!" exclaimed the young man a moment later, producing two pairs of fluffy powder-blue handcuffs.
"Okay, how did you know those were under there?" asked Haley, surprised.
"Same place you keep your kinky stuff," pointed out Tucker with a grin and a shrug, leaving Haley a bit red as Tucker moved over to the time-stopped figure of Miss Zoe. Pushing the suitcase aside, Tucker then let Zoe topple onto the bed, first on her chest, then rolling her over and sliding her legs up onto the bed. "Get Kayla downstairs, I'll secure Zoe and when you get back you can talk with her," suggested Tucker. Haley nodded and moved off, lifting Kayla up carefully by the shoulders before the blond wrapped her arms around her rigid friend's waist and dragging her out of the room on her heels. Tucker, meanwhile, happily moved so Zoe was straddled between his legs on the bed as he cuffed her hands to the frame, taking the time to rub closely against her as he did.
"You may be old enough to be my mom, but seriously, M, I, L, F," muttered Tucker, kissing the fashion icon as he said each letter. No sooner did Tucker get off the bed than Haley returned, raising an eyebrow.
"I moved that fast and I still didn't catch you fooling around with her?" remarked Haley in surprise, "What, the seriousness of the situation make you forget that we have it well in hand?"
"Just trying to be respectful," responded Tucker as he readied his wand. "I'll unfreeze Colette, I left some of the Type-7 counter-agent in my car."
"You kept some?" noted Haley in surprise. "You really are getting pro-active these days."
"Having to deal with an evil genius who created a small army of chipped zombies on a boat off the coast of California will do that to a guy," pointed out Tucker. Then Tucker tapped Zoe twice with the wand and she unfroze, immediately looking around in shock.
"What the hell?!" shouted Zoe, then she noticed her handcuffs as she uselessly on them. "How did you... wait, Haley? Tucker? Why are you..."
"Save it, Zoe; we know what you were up to," interrupted Haley as Tucker quietly left the room. "You really were behind Santander and all those girls going missing. You were going to kidnap my best friend too! Why? You're a multimillionaire! A fashion icon! Why kidnap models?!"
"Money..." muttered Zoe, lowering her face and masking it behind her bangs. "Money just buys you material possessions. Fashion icon... ha. Can you remember the name of the person who first made the turtleneck a trend? Or the mini-skirt? Don't you get it, Haley?! When I die, I'll be totally forgotten by the end of the decade!"
"That's not true!" fired back Haley. "You have your students! They'll owe their careers to you!"
"And after they die?" asked Zoe. "Even if you have a protégé and they remember what they learned from me, the cycle will repeat again and again; eventually someone will miss just a little of my teaching, then a bit more and before long I'll be forgotten. Immortality, Haley, that's what I've realized I'll never have. Even people who have children can get a taste of it. For me, my time for children has passed. All I have are my students and my clothes."
"Why not donate to a museum, or a hospital?" suggested Haley, an ancestor of hers having donated a wing to a hospital in New York during the 1950s. "You can leave your name on something!"
"We don't live in a time where we build things to last," declared Zoe, her voice very low and sad. "Even the Golden Gate Bridge will have to go down some day. The only reason the pyramids are still around is that they were built to last. Monuments fade... memories fade… I wanted something a bit more special."
"Models in stasis?" asked Haley, trying to follow Zoe's reasoning.
"The drug would preserve them forever in their prime, as the daughters I never had," revealed Zoe, now in tears. "I wanted you all to be kept preserved and, when I was finished, I'd join you. We'd be donated to a museum and be safe from the ravages of age. We –I– would become our own legacy, immortal and forever beautiful."
* * *
Having retrieved the antidote from his car, Tucker returned. Ariel and Colette were still standing where they'd been when he'd first arrived while Tanya, Kathryn and Kayla all lay on the ground, arms at their sides; the two fashion aides frozen only by Type-7, not by magic. Kneeling over Tanya, Tucker dripped some of the antidote into her mouth and, as she blinked, he cast a sleeping spell, putting her under. After Tanya's head slumped to the side, her eyes closed, Tucker froze her with his wand.
"I don't think you should sleep just yet," declared Tucker, standing Kathryn up with himself behind her. After pouring a bit of the antidote into Kathryn's throat he tipped her back and, once she started to stumble, Tucker froze her with his wand, her arms outstretched in alarm, her legs spread and her eyes wide.
"Having one of you awake might be a good idea," remarked Tucker as he came around in front of Kathryn and gave her a kiss before carrying her over to the photo background and standing her in front of the camera. Feeling a bit creative, Tucker then reposed the fashion aide so she stood with her right foot crossed in front of her left, her right hand on her hip while her left almost made a tea-spout style shape, her palm up as if holding something awkwardly from the bottom. Tucker then shaped Kathryn's surprised expression into a toothless smile, going for a sort of refined, sultry look over a simple smile.
"Okay, you're up," announced Tucker, approaching Colette next. Tucker was again disappointed in himself since he did find Colette to be quite cute but had absolutely no urge to even try a sexy revival, in which he'd transfer the counter-agent into her mouth using his own. Instead, Tucker just poured some antidote into Colette's mouth and then tipped her head back, returning it to a forward position almost immediately. A moment later Colette blinked and smiled in recognition.
"You magnificent bastard!" exclaimed Colette, immediately hugging Tucker tightly. Surprised, Tucker nonetheless returned the display of affection and was happy that Colette also gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before letting go. "I remember seeing a cloud of powder blown in my face the second I blacked out," explained Colette, then noticing her cousin. "Oh, poor Ariel. Her first assignment and she ends up frozen again."
"Not just by Type-7 either," revealed Tucker. "I stopped time before I came in, just in case there was a surprise waiting. Zoe had you two and three others all frozen, one of them had also been chipped; it looks like she was planning to leave the country."
"Where is she now?" asked Colette, poking Ariel in the side just as a quick test. While Colette was an experienced IT agent, Tucker figured she still liked to make sure that she wasn't being toyed with. Ariel wobbled, but otherwise didn’t move a muscle.
"Haley has her upstairs, she's trying to get some answers out of her," explained Tucker. "I've already unfrozen everyone but your cousin, I figured it would be better to take care of them before the two of you since you'd have more questions."
"So you're going to let me handle this one?" asked Colette, raising an eyebrow. "I’ve gotten the sense that since you and the ITEA first crossed paths you'd wanted to dispense your own kind of justice. You do have that collection..." she trailed off.
"Well, I'd like to hear Zoe out before we decide anything," confessed Tucker. "I know you and ITEA have jurisdiction here, but if there's a way we can end this mess that doesn't involve Models Inc. going under, I'm inclined to favor it."
"Fair enough," shrugged Colette, then nodding at the stairwell leading up. "I'm going to guess she's upstairs? Let’s just get some straight answers and then we can argue over what to do afterward with this crazy bitch."
Heading up the stairs, Tucker was surprised that the earlier raised voices had gotten lower, now almost undetectable as he arrived in the upstairs hallway with Colette. Heading into the bedroom Tucker was surprised to see Haley and Zoe hugging, of all things. "Interesting tactic," muttered Colette.
"Oh, hi!" stumbled Haley, getting up from the bed and holding out her hand for Colette. "We never met, did we? I'm Haley Leone."
"Colette Landry, ITEA," answered Colette as she shook hands, giving Tucker a quick look that puzzled him before she let go and moving next to the bed. "So, Miss Zoe, care to explain your recent actions, including your assault on myself and my cousin?"
"Agent Landry, all I can say is these were the desperate moves of an aging woman who fears her legacy ending," offered Zoe, her face ashen. "I suppose it’s also the regret of my never having a family, or at least a child. I may seem like some strong independent woman, but the reality is that I just want what I never had. Then I found a way to achieve some of it, at least in some small way."
"She wants to live forever, as a beautiful statue in some museum. She also wanted to bestow that ‘gift’ on a few others, including me." summarized Haley, clearly shaken. "I think I can suggest a solution that we all might agree on, hopefully."
"What's that?" asked Tucker, surprised and curious at the same time.
"Her original plan was to collect a group of her models and then freeze herself with them to act as immortalized pillars of fashion," explained Haley. "If we take out that first part, I see no reason why her idea can't work."
"Wait, what?" exclaimed Colette, confused. "So, no collection..."
"I want to be frozen; beautiful forever," clarified Zoe as she interrupted, sitting up on the bed with her arms still cuffed. "I can sign Models Inc. over to Kathryn and then freeze myself. You can then do with my body what you will, but I'd like to be kept someplace I'll always be remembered."
"I... think we can arrange that," replied Tucker dryly, turning to look at Colette. "Would that outcome work for you? A confirmed threat gone for good, and no one but Zoe loses a job or their life."
"It’s a little unusual, even for ITEA, but I can live with that, on one condition," revealed Colette, looking Zoe straight in the eyes. "Tell me: Who got you the Type-7 in the first place?"
"My dear friend, Xavier Alberic," revealed Zoe, causing Colette's eyes to widen. "It must have been last November or so. He had just started a club in Paris..."
"I'm familiar with Alberic," declared Colette, cutting Zoe off. "That makes sense, I guess. Okay, I'm happy. I can just spin it by saying you were gone by the time I arrived here. The ITEA will launch a search but I'll cover things by saying you went off-grid on a sailboat or something. We'll set up auto-searches for you, but with you out of circulation nothing will turn up. You'll be effectively buried from anyone discovering your true whereabouts."
"You can do that?" asked Haley, surprised.
"I know a few things about computers, Miss Leone," replied Colette, a twinkle in her eye. "Okay; you can just freeze me for now if you want. I don't need to be around for—" Colette’s voice cut off as Tucker obliged, quickly waving his wand and freezing Colette in time while she had one arm crossed, the other gesturing dismissively as she seemed to be sighing, her teeth interlocked with her tongue.
"How did you..." muttered Zoe for the second time that day.
"Lets just say you don't always need Type-7 to freeze someone," answered Tucker, twirling his wand in his hand.
* * *
Zoe had signed the papers, which she'd conveniently had drawn up already, after which Kathryn had been unfrozen briefly to countersign them, with Haley acting as a witness. Kathryn knew Zoe would be going away, the handcuffs having been removed by this point, but she didn't understand why, only getting ‘early retirement’ as an answer. Kathryn surprisingly didn't even ask what she was doing at the townhouse, worrying Tucker slightly since she was giving off some of the classic signs of being a ditz. Nonetheless, Zoe had repeatedly assured both Haley and Tucker that
Kathryn could do the job, though she'd need help from Tanya and most likely Amy Spring as well. When the paperwork was done, Kathryn was put to sleep and frozen, the contract on her person for Zoe's lawyer Levy Foster to look over and enact come Monday. The current plan was to drop off Tanya and Kathryn at their homes while Haley would drive Kayla's car with her in it back to her place, where she'd then wait until her friend woke up and then explain what had happened. Tucker's job, after dropping off the two former assistants, would be to then deliver Zoe to her new home at their place.
"A genuine magic wand," remarked Zoe as she stood in front of the photo-shoot area she'd set up the night before, looking at Tucker in amazement. "Seeing things like this almost makes me feel young again."
"Come on Miss Zoe, you're barely fifty," countered Tucker, genuinely feeling sorry for the fashion icon, though excited to have her willingly in his possession.
"Just Zoe, please," offered Zoe with a smile. "In spite of my fame, I've always just liked hearing my own name without the title. I'm not going to lie; I'm a bit sad I never became a missus."
"You sure you don't want to say anything else to Haley before we do this?" asked Tucker, while his was roommate outside putting Kayla into her unfrozen car.
"I think we said enough upstairs," declared Zoe, shaking her head. "She'll go far, Tucker, I guarantee it. She’s got that spark. Just please, promise me you'll stay with her through it. My job can be tough, tougher than you think, but I think she'll be happy to have you beside her."
"We're now just friends, Miss, sorry, Zoe," pointed out Tucker, scratching the back of his head.
"Right, at least for now," smiled Zoe, shaking her head. "Good luck Tucker, but I don't think you'll need it. She loves you. And for you to do this for me... I have to say I, love you too."
"Right back at you," smiled Tucker, raising his wand. "Okay Zoe, one last time... strike a pose and be magnificent!" On that cue Zoe moved her right foot forward and placed her hands on her hips like teapot handles, tilting her head slightly to the right and flashing a half-smile. A moment later, the Wand of Kronos was waved and Zoe stiffened in her pose as time stopped. Tucker then used the wand once more to keep her always frozen, even after time resumed. She would be different, Tucker knew. Tucker had barely known Candice or Tatiana before freezing them permanently. Leslie, Tucker knew, had been a criminal, as had Jennifer. Rebecca, who was now no longer in his collection, had been a bit of a monster in her own right. Now, however, Tucker had frozen a woman he had enjoyed his interactions with. More than that, Zoe had catalyzed Haley's career, taking a personal interest in her future. Zoe was the kind of teacher Haley would never forget. Tucker knew that he couldn't just put her with the rest of his collection. Miss Zoe would need a special place, perhaps upon a pedestal in the basement...
Before Tucker could be finished though, he'd need to perform a spell he'd never thought he'd use. Some time ago Tucker had found yet another spell for the wand online, one that had taken him a week to translate properly since it was in ancient Greek. At first he did not want to learn it; then he felt he’d never want to use it, but these were the right circumstances. Holding the wand in his right hand, Tucker signed a cross, finishing up high and then tracing a circle clockwise in the air. It was then that Tucker hesitated and realized he'd need to start again, promptly doing so. This time he didn't stop when the circle was done, instead he made a different cross, this one ending low and prompting a counter-clockwise circle. Finally when the second circle was done, Tucker flicked the wand up above his head, made a clockwise circle above it and finally touched Zoe's forehead with the tip of the wand. The complex spell, one that apparently had a limit on how often it could be cast, was described as a Time Lock, the invocation of which would permanently freeze someone already frozen in time. Tucker had never tried it before in case he might regret it, but Zoe had asked for “eternal beauty” and he'd delivered.
"It's done?" asked Haley, suddenly appearing in the doorway, her eyes fixed on her mentor.
"Yeah; have a look," confirmed Tucker, eying the shapely, forever-immobilized, body of a woman whose talents had defined a generation of fashion.
"Tucker!" cried Haley, running into her ex's arms, the pair embracing as tears ran down Haley's face. The blond sobbed for a while, Tucker patting her on the back.
"She wanted this, it was her dream; don't forget that," whispered Tucker as he held Haley, feeling half-sorrow and half-glee.
* * *
Holiday Inn, One Mile from LAX, California
One Day Later...
"I know I've been saying this since yesterday, but I still can't believe we fell for that," sighed Ariel as she lay on her bed, clad only in a red bathrobe she'd brought with her on the trip.
"That's the ninth time, one more and you owe me a coke," remarked Colette, having just pulled on a white tank top, her hair a bit curly as she hadn't straightened it yet. "The good news is no one is missing, so we must have spooked her."
"Yeah, but now if what you found on that computer is right, she's headed to New Zealand by boat," fumed Ariel, upset that her first assignment appeared to be a washout. Colette was about to reply when there was a knock at the door.
"Just let me handle this," warned Colette as she moved to open the door to the two-bed hotel room, zipping up a pair of black jeans as she walked. On the other side of the door were three distinct faces, one frowning, one smiling and one neutral. At the front with the frown was Hui Lan, leader of Team Gamma, who was wearing a brown denim jacket over a black T-shirt with matching jeans, her hair in a ponytail. On Hui's right, or Colette's left, was Miranda, her own dark hair tucked behind her ears while wearing a powder-blue vest over a white short-sleeved blouse and a matching short skirt with pantyhose, the outfit almost making the ITEA agent look like a waitress or even a flight attendant. Finally there was the neutral-faced man that Colette didn't recognize but he had big hair, sideburns and had a brown pinstripe suit on with a blue dress shirt underneath.
"I'm a day late and you two manage to identify the criminal, only to have her escape?" chided Hui almost immediately, stepping into the hotel room with the others trailing behind.
"Nice to see you too," replied Colette dryly, though happy that Miranda gave her a pat on the shoulder as she came in.
"Sorry, but the situation obviously isn't ideal," continued Hui, putting her hands on her hips and shaking her head. "You did well while also managing to take a big risk, and we're lucky you two weren't taken as well."
"They had no reason to think Hollander was the one behind it," pointed out the newcomer. "We got the report just a few hours ago that her chip had been blank the whole time. Before that, she had been considered just as much a victim as the others."
"By the way, this is Jason Holland," pointed out Miranda, indicating the man to Colette and then to Ariel, who'd only sat up since the other agents had arrived. "I don't know if you remember, but he helped out in Mexico back when we were still with Interpol."
"I just got confirmed as a member of the ITEA last night," revealed Jason, flashing a goofy but none the less charming grin. "I'm officially a member of Team Gamma."
"Sorry Jason, this whole situation just has me reeling," apologized Hui. "Jason Holland, Ariel Landry and Colette Landry." Handshakes were exchanged at this point, Ariel even getting up off the bed, though careful to make sure she didn't flash the new agent too much cleavage as she did.
"The real problem now is how do we handle the fact that Models Inc. is suddenly without an owner and operator?" asked Miranda once the greetings were completed.
"Her lawyer is already on it," revealed Ariel, dismissing Miranda's worries. "There was already paperwork in place to make Kathryn Summers the new owner. At best all we need to do besides trying to track down Zoe is make sure Kathryn checks out, which she should. Last I checked, her chip was actually programmed."
"That's true, but..." began Hui, nodding, but unable to finish the sentence. While Ariel had been pointing out the change in Models Inc's management, the lock to the room had clicked open though the door hadn't budged. Now Hui and the rest were frozen and the door opened, Tucker entering while wearing a tan T-shirt and jeans, a grin on his face and his wand in his hand.
"Thanks for the key, Colette," said Tucker, looking around the room happily. Colette had given a spare room key to Tucker earlier that day before Zoe had been dealt with. Tucker wasn’t sure exactly what do with the key, since he really didn’t want to do anything with Colette, but Ariel on the other hand, she was for the taking. The Canadian’s cousin was quite the looker and Tucker was looking forward to seeing all of the blond. The girl in question was stood next to one of the two beds, clad only in a red robe. Her hands were held in a gesturing motion in front of her. Ariel’s face bore a slight grin with parted lips and her eyes sultry in mid-blink. Her cousin stood with her hands stuffed into her back pockets and her gaze aimed blankly at the floor.
There were three other people in the room as well, two women and a male. The male stood next to Ariel with his hands in his pockets, his gaze was fixed on one of the two women. The one he was looking at was a petite Asian woman who stood with her arms crossed. Her face held a concentrated look, with her lips parted in mid-speech. Her vacant eyes were fixed on Ariel. The other woman was also Asian, but Tucker pegged her as Hawaiian through her features. She was leaning against the lone table in the room with her hands resting on it and her legs crossed at the ankles. Her face bore a slight grin with eyes aimed emptily at Ariel.
Tucker walked up to Colette and kissed the woman on the cheek, “As much as I would like to keep you around, I think I may get too distracted and an accident might happen,” he said into the French-Canadian’s unhearing ears. With that he leaned her back and dragged her stuck form towards the bathroom at the corner of the room. Leaving her in her pose, Tucker left and returned shortly with the other man from the room. “Don’t know who you are, but I’ll keep you out of my way too,” Tucker said, standing the man back up right next to Colette. “Now you two behave,” he warned jokingly with a smile before stepping out of the bathroom once again, closing the door behind him.
Back out in the room, Tucker turned his attention to Ariel, since he had his mind set on her since getting the key. Leaning in, he planted a passionate kiss on the motionless beauty; pulling back he smiled as he undid the sash of her robe. Opening the robe, he giggled at seeing that the blond was naked underneath. He groped the waxwork-like woman’s breasts. Moving behind the stiff woman, Tucker easily manipulated her doll-like arms to remove the robe from the woman’s shoulders, rendering her naked. Standing behind the French-Canadian, he nibbled on her neck while feeling her up. “You’re going to be fun but there are two more ladies that require my attention,” Tucker explained into Ariel’s unhearing ear. “Excuse me,” he said, slapping Ariel’s naked backside making the beautiful statue slightly wobble as he moved to the next suspended woman.
Tucker looked over his shoulder at the naked athletic blond and grinned. “Let’s get you into the fun too,” he said, looking the Chinese woman up and down before uncrossing her arms. Once that was done he removed the woman’s jacket from her stiff shoulders. Digging into her pockets, he found the woman’s ID, “Hui Lan,” he read, tossing it and jacket aside as he raised Hui’s arms up over her head. Hui kept her concentrated look as Tucker began to tug up her shirt. “Let’s get you naked,” he said giddily as he removed the black t-shirt. Tossing the shirt aside, he rubbed his palms together in delight at seeing the frilly pink bra that Hui had on underneath holding her round breasts in place. “Nice…” he admired, eying the masked orbs. Looking over at the remaining woman in the room he smiled, “Don’t worry, you’re next.”
Miranda Ohala now stood naked and at attention next to an equally naked Hui Lan. Tucker had stripped the two ITEA agents down pretty fast, as his sexual tension – thanks to Colette – was quite high at the moment. The two Asian agents stood like a pair of naked mannequins, flanking Ariel. Tucker, also in the buff, walked in front of the three women, as if an army drill sergeant inspecting his recruits. He stopped in front of Miranda and played with the woman’s nipples before moving past Ariel and over to Hui. He looked the Chinese woman up and down, taking in her nakedness and the tightness of her body. Though she was shortest of the group, her body was proportional to her height; had she not been standing next to taller women, Tucker would never have guessed her height. “You’re first…” he said with a grin as he lifted Hui up like a pole and carried her off to the bed. Ariel and Miranda remained standing at attention, eyes looking ahead blankly as Hui was lowered onto the bed. “This is going to be fun Hui,” Tucker said as he pulled apart Hui’s legs. “For all of us.”
The End – until The Waking Moment...