Chapter 1: Mirror in a Library
Panting raggedly, I bounced my vision around the corner and down the endless aisle of steel shelves. Were the Grips still after me? Seeing nothing, I leaned on my thighs to catch my breath. "Be smart. Be careful. Stay free until tomorrow," I thought.
At last, glancing up, I laughed. Only the government would waste money on something like this in the deepest, darkest, least-used place. Some OSHA inspector must have come around this corner once and tripped head-on into a librarian pushing a cart of Russian novels. Crash! Suddenly there was bleak, monolithic tragedy sprawled across this ugly carpeting. And the next week saw a $200 safety-mirror here, handy as Braille light-switch instructions.
I straightened my reflection's ruffled collar. It occurred to me that I looked like Tom Cruise in Collateral: the dirty, expensive suit, friendly face, goatee. And we shared that name. I winced at the gray in my goatee. Soon I would be that guy in every nightclub who's one step behind in dance-moves and one step ahead in creepiness. Maybe it was time to reinvent myself. "Besides," I thought, rubbing my bristled chin, "you know it's harder to influence women with this."
Suddenly I saw reflected movement at the end of the aisle. The door to the stairwell swung open, paused, and a striking woman took the basement. She wore black leather mini-heels, a white blouse, and fine, black stockings that chased her legs into the folds of a dangerous skirt.
The skirt wasn't the End-of-the-World by flat-earth standards, or maybe even street-corner crackpots'; it just stopped slightly above the knee. But to someone of my sensibilities, "above-the-knee" meant "begging-for-mischief". And, seeing no other mischief at hand, I decided to oblige her.
I was probably safe by now. But even if the situation boomeranged, her table, far from the door, would allow me to fade quickly into the sea of lonely words. As I mashed the carpeting between us, I started the familiar routine: letting go of my concerns and beginning to drink her in.
Exerting Influence isn't what you'd expect. It's not a magic power granted by some trinket, or ancient book, or bottled genie. And it's not some electromagnetic wave, nanotechnology, pheromone, or spinning screen-saver developed by a spurned genius. It does rely on some suggestive ideas akin to hypnosis, NLP, or subliminals, yet the state is never a trance.
It's really just exceptionally well-honed empathy. You've probably noticed, if you're smart and you pay attention, that you sometimes have an epiphanic flash of how someone feels: apprehensive yet amused, cheerful yet weary, foolish but vicious. If you work at that, consummately, you get better: feeling leading to nudging.
Maybe you've even tasted it. Maybe you were that teenager who bickered endlessly with her parents, savoring every drop of their misery. Or maybe you were in the relationship that existed only to feed itself into ever tighter circles of provocation and madness. If so, you've caught a taste of this power, in the same way perhaps that vomiting is catching a taste of delicacy. I haven't noticed how far beyond such vandalism the average person can go. But I do know there are a few of us who have gone far enough that a government, or something worse, has noticed us.
She sat alone. I saw that the blouse cloaking her perfect form was slightly diaphanous, cloudy layers inviting lingering attention as I forced my eyes upward. Above, her lips formed a gently smiling cupid's bow. Both eyebrows and cheeks were high and fine. Her eyes studied the shelved books across from her. Framing these exquisite features was shoulder-length auburn hair caught in a ponytail by a length of gray felt.
She didn't notice me approach. "Hello," I said, sunshine in every letter.
She looked up, smiled briefly, extended her hand, and said, "Hello."
A thousand unconscious bits radiated from her in that moment, to which I had struggled to grow sensitive, then lived to grow accustomed. I immediately knew that like me she had had a good childhood, free from harm; that she loved her parents; that she was calm, focused, and untroubled. She was outgoing and helpful, warm and receptive. She probably had a pet, and was the dog type. Her outstretched hand told me she had no boyfriend and wanted to get to know me further. All of this came instantly, years of experience digesting and responding.
I enclosed her hand with both of mine as I shook it. I smiled fondly until my cheeks creased slightly. Everyone likes someone who reflects their best qualities. Hers were sociability and compassion. And now they were mine too.
I sat down across from her and began drawing my net. Her name was Elise. I normally hide my own needs when I'm working on someone, because you must seem confident and uninterested in yourself to build equity with healthy people, especially women. But I couldn't resist appealing to her compassion by dropping hints. Soon, the library seemed dreary to Elise compared to my captivating peril. I put my arm around her shoulder as she got up to take me home.
Then, far away, I heard the door bang into the wall. Running forward to look through some open shelves, I saw two Grips ooze in. It wasn't the same ones that had spotted me at the Hall of Records and chased me here, but you can always tell Grips: they wear fedoras and homburgs that interfere with Influence. One stopped in the open doorway. The other moved out to flank the floor: ever crude yet ever thorough.
Turning to Elise, I whispered, "It's them."
Concern clouded her eyes. "Can we get around them?" she asked.
"I don't think so. One's at the door," I explained.
She bit her lip. "Can you sneak to the door?" she asked. "I have an idea," she twinkled, hiking up her skirt.
I kissed her hand, said, "Wow," and disappeared into Victorian fiction.
Finally, creeping along some Joyce, I got within a few feet of the door. After a minute, the Grip at the door let out a low whistle and walked off. I caught the door just in time for it to slam my fingers. (!) Sprinting up the stairs, I exited to the parking lot. I caught Elise a minute later. I worried if we were separated too long too early, I would lose my hold.
The danger had aroused her. She exhilarated in a quick exposition as we walked to her car.
"That guy sure got an eyeful of something," I said at last, surveying her stockinged legs and putting my arm around her again.
"Ha! His eyes were too wide to fill," she said, and then, more softly, "but maybe I can fill yours."
"Better for you to say than me," I observed.
She looked confused for a second, then giggled and punched me on the arm.
We ate drive-thru sushi on the way to her place. I tried to steer the conversation away from the library, but finally she couldn't be distracted further.
"Do you own them money, Tom?" she asked.
Her sincerity and goodness begged more honesty from me than usual. "No. No, they work for the government..." I said trailing off.
"You're a criminal, aren't you?" she accused. She could spiral out if I wasn't careful. I should have lied, but I was tired from too many close calls. I needed to rein her in.
"Elise, I have some talents. They want me to join them. Don't ask more," I answered crisply, pouring the last of my reserves into credibility and paternal authority.
"I'm sorry," she apologized, flushing.
To change the subject, I asked what she did.
She flicked down the noisy heater. "I'm an investigative paralegal," she answered.
"Do all paralegals dress so sexy?" I asked.
"I... I don't normally. I just felt like it. I'm doing a lot of strange things today," she said absently, turning to look at me.
"One more shouldn't hurt," I replied slyly, patting her knee.
With one foot in the door of her apartment, Elise was tackled in pounce-licks by some furry ball of love.
"Sammy, this is Tom," she introduced.
"What is he?" I asked.
"A fox terrier," she said, rubbing her nose against his.
"Of course," I laughed. Sammy and I were on the same page.
We took a quick trip down to the park for him. I just held her hand and lobbed softball questions; that's the easiest way to coast when I'm almost tapped out.
A moment of silence fell when we got back. Digging deep, I said, "God Elise. You're breathtaking." This was no lie.
She paused for a moment, unreadable. Damn, had I screwed that up? Then she beamed a huge smile and threw her arms around me. "I can't help myself," she whispered girlishly in my ear, "Please stay."
Her breasts pressed against me as I ran a hand up her back. "Of course," I answered.
Arousal reinvigorated me. I scooped her up and carried her to the bedroom, revealing a small museum of terrier souvenirs. I shooed the wagging one out and instructed Elise to lose her blouse.
Turning back to the bed, I drank in the sight of her arrested in undress -- head to one side, blouse over her shoulders, bra invitingly exposed -- a journey as beautiful as any destination. I planted my cold fingers on her stomach and ran them up her body. She started and shivered. We unzipped her skirt. I tugged it and her stockings off. I pushed her back and sat down.
"Use me," she breathed.
I grasped her knee and gazed into her eyes. "Like an object?" I asked.
"Yes," she answered.
"Like a possession?" I asked. She nodded. "A plaything? A tool? A toy? A tramp?" I continued. With each word, I glided my fingernails gently up the inside of her naked thigh.
She murmured softly and pulled down her bra. I cupped a breast with one palm. A nipple poked between my fingers. I pinched them together, stealing her breath. My other hand cupped lower, beyond the elastic curtain. She began fumbling with the buttons of my dress-shirt.
I stood up to slip off my shirt and pants. She lay there before me: naked, enraptured, exquisite. I gingerly slid my index finger into her, my thumb working her button. She closed her eyes and luxuriated.
"Wow, you're like a tight, wet finger-cuff," I remarked. She beamed like the girl scout who had sold the most cookies.
I released my straining member and picked up a condom. "Don't wait," she sighed, batting it away. Ever so slowly, I began to part her. I'm not long, but I have some width, and she had felt tight even around my finger.
My entry into her was like the melting of a glacier. I was surrounded on every side, inescapably trapped, but at least I had found a crevasse worth dying in. Every inch along that path reflected her pleasured cries.
At the last stretch, she clutched my forearm, first to steady herself, then to draw my hand to her unattended breast. I ground my full length into her for one long, delicious moment, and then began to piston, my free hand molesting her breast.
I gradually sped up until I was thrusting into her viciously, fearing her tightness would finish me too fast. At least the condom would have given me time against that irresistible grip. With each stroke she thrashed underneath me like a dancer caught in a strobe light. Mercifully, just as I could last no longer, she came and came and came. She cried out and spasmed, milking me in a rhythm of damped harmonics, even ecstasy a slave to nature's laws.
The sight of her at long last, spent and ravaged, hair blissfully splayed across the bedspread, is etched into my mind.
We slid under the cool sheets. She curled her naked body against my arm. In whispers she began the story of a faerie princess who lived in an enchanted wood, but God's Joke swept consciousness from me.
Chapter 2: Acute Pursuit
It was Saturday. I awoke late to the smell of peppered sausage. As I drifted back to consciousness, I chanted my mantra, "Be smart. Be careful. Stay free until tomorrow."
I pulled on my pants and wandered out to the common area. She was cooking in a terrycloth robe, her brown hair dark with moisture and ponytailed.
I inhaled deeply. "You are divine," I said.
"It is me you love?" she asked playfully, "Or my hot-dead-pig-smell?"
I laughed. "You're probably the first woman -- person, for that matter -- ever to ask that question," I evaded.
The drapes on the left were drawn, revealing a wall of plate glass. She was 20 floors up a high-rise overlooking the beach. Below us, the skipping windsurfers looked like flying ants.
"How can a paralegal afford this view?" I asked.
"An investigative paralegal," she corrected. "I do OK," she added.
Sammy ran up and jumped on my leg, dumping a sodden tennis ball on my foot like stolen plutonium. I played fetch for a few minutes, then joined the clicking porcelain behind me.
Unbeknownst to Elise, a sliver of cleavage winked at me from the top of her robe. With this and the fresh memory of her wild cries to fire my libido, I plotted a slippery slope of debauchery for the coming week.
On Sunday, I made her masturbate for me. On Monday, I told her she could either skip underwear or finger herself at work during lunch. On Tuesday, she did both. On Wednesday, I had her rent and act out scenes from schoolgirl porn. And by Thursday, she was begging to be called a slut while I fucked her in her car.
I didn't impose all of this on her. There's only so much that Influence can do. Some seed was in her before I met her, waiting for lust to nurture it.
On Friday, she called me from work, her voice heavy. "What will tonight be?" she asked.
"I thought eating out would be a sexy change," I replied. Excursions were dangerous for me, but I had been lulled into complacency by a week of dead-ends and engineered hedonism. When she returned, we dressed like dilettantes. I took her to an intimate restaurant nearby that I had scoped while getting groceries and clothes on Monday.
"Oh, Milo's!" she said. "This used to be my..." she trailed off.
Had I stumbled on an old boyfriend haunt? I searched her innocent eyes. "Everything old will be new again," I promised.
Inside, our waitress was a gorgeous, petite, blond student named Cameron, who dropped innuendo on Elise with casual artistry.
Elise leaned close to me during salads, tipping the table down on a short leg. "I think she likes me," she said.
"What do you mean?" I replied, feigning ignorance.
"I'm not that way," she asserted.
"Aren't you?" I asked with some conviction. Her face indicated she was turning the question over. I paused to let it echo. "Women have a surprisingly flexible sense of sexuality," I added.
Elise leaned back, brushed a long bang from her eye, and asked, "Do you think she's pretty?"
I hummed agreement. "She's not you," I clarified, "but I bet she's one wild ride."
"Why do men find that so appealing? Two women, I mean. Is it the taboo?" she asked.
"No," I answered, "Well not mostly. I think it's just the more-is-more principle." She raised an eyebrow. "You know, if one beautiful, aroused woman is sexy, then two beautiful, aroused women are even sexier," I continued.
"But why no man?" she asked.
"Because most straight guys don't find the other man arousing, or even ignorable," I said. "A guy only wants to see another man in the picture if he can identify with that man, become him," I explained. "Many guys can't perform that shift. For those who can't, seeing the other man is an intrusion, a detraction, even a threat," I continued. "But with two girls, every visual, every moan, every breath is inviting and domitable," I concluded. Then I added, "I think both sexes identify more with an aroused woman than with a man."
"I wonder why that is?" she mused.
"On a deeper level I'm sure it's biological wiring designed to spread the seed," I said. "You know, if something drives the male-to-female ratio so low that that kind of thing is going on, survival demands that aggressive arousal and polygamy instincts kick into high gear. Perhaps even rape. And that programming is still with us, lurking around," I said, gesturing at the air around my head.
Just then, Cameron arrived with entrées. Elise smiled at her.
"Who was the hunk of meat?" smirked Cameron, eyeing us suggestively.
"That's me, baby," I said. The girls giggled.
"And that would make you the 'Wok on the Wild Side'," Cameron offered.
"Why yes," said Elise.
Meeting Cameron's eyes, I said, "Everything looks great. I can hardly wait."
More chips were ante-ed into the flirtation-pot each time Cameron came by. I had been dealt two queens. With a little luck, I might see two pair, a straight, a push, and a flush.
"Are you ready?" I asked Elise. She knew what I meant.
"I guess so," she said.
"Ask her when she's free," I pushed.
"Why do I have to ask?"
"Because she likes you," I supplied.
Cameron stopped by to reap our cups and dessert plates to the dinnerware afterlife. She leaned over our table, steadying one hand on Elise's chair. Elise brushed Cameron's arm lightly to get her attention. Cameron stopped and smiled.
"What time do you get off?" asked Elise, tripping innocently over that old cliché. Cameron's mouth formed a perfect "O" of ironic shock and false modesty. To accentuate, she put her hand to the side of her cheek. "Err, I didn't mean, what I meant was," Elise fumbled.
Cameron delighted at Elise's embarrassment. "We're closed now," she finally offered, "but I have to clean up my section. I can come out and play in a few minutes."
We paid the check and waited outside. It had gotten windy. Elise leaned against me. I rubbed her back to keep her warm. On impulse, I leaned her over and kissed her. When I looked up, Cameron stood there, appreciative.
As I released Elise, Cameron reached up and grabbed the back of Elise's head, kissing her even more vigorously. Elise reacted with surprise, but closed her eyes and gradually surrendered. Elise tentatively ventured an arm around Cameron. Cameron caught the signal, immediately launching a tongue-offensive deep into that virgin territory. Elise's eyes popped wide, then closed again with a murmur. I could have watched all night, but the sublime moments are the most fleeting.
The three of us brisked the cold to Elise's building. Elise and I walked closely on either side of diminutive Cameron, guarding our prize jealously against the groping fingers of the wind. When we got to Elise's bedroom, I set the lights low, took off my clothes and reclined on the big bed.
"Oh cute!" exclaimed Cameron at the terrier décor, before pulling a startled Elise back to her mouth.
In between breaths, Elise tried to explain, "This is my first... I haven't..."
"I know," interrupted Cameron, "That's even sweeter."
Cameron pulled down Elise's dress. Elise stepped out of it. "Mmmm... you're hot," gushed Cameron. She was right. Wearing only a black felt choker, black bra and panties, and her black heels, Elise was mesmerizing.
Cameron bent down and lovingly removed Elise's heels, so Elise didn't tower over her. Then Cameron slid her fingertips up Elise's shapely legs. She guided Elise over to the bed and sat her down at the edge. Elise quivered like a dog in a vet waiting-room.
With ease, Cameron slid off her work blouse and slacks. Cameron's body exemplified the enticing fitness of youth: her breasts were smaller than Elise's, but against her tiny waist they seemed larger.
She gently relieved Elise's bra, sucking one firm nipple into her mouth and massaging the other with her hand. From behind, I watched a waterfall of relaxation cascade down Elise's back. Eventually, Elise's closed eyes, rapturous smile, and delicate sighs proved Cameron's expertise.
"What do you think of us?" Elise asked wickedly.
I pretended to fan my collar. "Is it me, or did it just get sluttier in here?" I said.
"It's probably not you," smiled Cameron as she squeezed another sigh out of Elise. We laughed.
Cameron pushed Elise onto her back, moved down to her waist, and slid off her panties. Like the world's sexiest magician, two of Cameron's fingers disappeared into Elise. "Gawd, she's tight," remarked Cameron over Elise's ragged moans. Of course, since I had performed that trick, I knew firsthand.
Cameron climbed up to Elise's face to show Elise her own wetness. "Somebody's been naughty. Look what I found," she said. She pushed her slick fingers into Elise's mouth, nursing Elise on herself. Then she gave a quick kiss and slipped away.