"You've got to have a sense of humor about this sort of thing, Mouse," Blake playfully instructed his assistant as he carefully dipped his brush back into the thin black paint. He cocked his head to the side, and then brought his brush back down to Mary Cooper's face.
"I always look for a little irony, to keep it interesting. People pay us an enormous amount of money to make their anxieties go away. They want a 'cure' for their unhappiness. Damn, what a shallow society that allows people to believe in such a thing..."
"Amongst other things, Mary was tired of being compared to other women by her husband. It's kind of sick, really. These cultural ideals ... she was worried that she would never compare to the magazine bunny-type that he finds so attractive."
He pulled the brush back from her face, and then dabbed his patient one more time on the nose.
"Truthfully, I think she came here looking for a revival of her feminist ideals, and a boost to her self-esteem. I'm going to go at it from another direction. It's cute, isn't it?"
Mouse nodded her head meekly. That was her outward reaction to everything the doctor said.
Her true reaction was one of shame for being a part of this. The ridiculous whiskers and black nose that Blake had painted onto the woman reminded mouse sharply of her own reflection in the mirror...
... or was that just in her mind. She had trouble knowing the difference these days.
Blake had changed her self-image so many times, it was hard to know where it had all began. Mouse vaguely remembered that she was once an intelligent, competent woman. In particular, she remembered the strong, confident gaze she would rely upon to find the truth in people. Now, her eyes were dark and shifty, and betrayed no sign of the intelligence locked behind them.
Before she became Mouse, something told her that she was sexually assertive, and proud of her body. Now, when she looked at herself, the view was distorted. Her breasts were tiny little nubs of flesh, just barely protruding erectly from her chest. The rest of her curves were diminished too. She had a boyish figure that the other nurses constantly ridiculed.
"I'll need you to sew a costume for this one. Make it a soft pink, I think. Yes, with cute little bunny ears that fit on her head."
Mouse nodded again. This is what her skills had been reduced to. She was an errand girl for the doctor. Sewing. Milking. Grooming the dogs. Feeding the pigs. Again, a rush of shame pounded through Mouse's body. The force of it almost brought her to her knees.
This was all programmed too. He had given her the thrill of a true submissive. Her hairless pussy reacted to all of his condescension with little jabs of pleasure.
Why did he leave her half-finished like this? She was stuck. He had left Mouse smart enough to know how much of a joke she had become to him and the rest of the staff. It was torture. Sometimes she wished she could be like the others. Finished.
"It'll be perfect. Make it a fluffy bunny suit, almost like you'd see on a ski hill. Give her a puffy little tail too. Heck, with all the hopping around she'll do, and the diet of a rabbit, maybe she'll have the kind of figure her husband admires after all. In fact, why don't you call him up and tell him she's requesting a breast augmentation. I'm sure he'll spring for it."
Mouse paused before nodding. Of course he would. The husbands always did.
Playing the part of the hunter, Jackie had expected the expansive thrill of the chase to overcome her. Instead, her hands trembled from a fear she had nurtured for almost five years.
Weakling, she cursed herself silently.
In following her sister's footsteps, Jackie had studied every detail of Blake Calder's career. Maybe that was the problem. Jackie had read every journal article, and every court transcript. She had immersed herself in the theories and techniques that made the man a leader, and later an outcast, in his profession. Jackie had built the man up so much in her mind, it was hard to shrink him back down to size now that she was near.
Her heart was pounding quickly, like the music spilling out from nearby dance clubs. She followed the doctor through the crowded streets of South Beach.
For all of the research Jackie had done, it was troubling to admit that she really knew very little about this man. There was no way to know where the chase would lead next. Jackie wondered if even the doctor knew where he was going. He walked slowly with his small entourage, stopping frequently to check text messages on his cell phone, or when someone caught his eye in the crowd. He would pause, in those moments, apparently fascinated by the way someone was dressed, or the way a couple of friends interacted.
The entourage paused too. It looked like they were accustomed to his strange meandering. Nobody else paid much attention either. In this part of the world, no one seemed particularly concerned with purpose, just with wealth and notoriety. They were here to be seen, so if the Blake Calder was willing to be their audience, the attention was quite welcome.
Jackie was the one who felt out of place. Too much function, not enough fashion. Given some preparation time, she knew she'd fit right in with the beautiful people. Tonight, she was under-dressed, but it would have to do. She'd ditch the bra to add a little sex appeal. Whatever. Whatever it took. There was no way she was losing track of her prey now that she had him so close. His movements were unpredictable. It might take months to get this close again.
The doctor had steered away from the most exclusive places this evening. It was a departure from his reputation. How many other ways would Dr. Calder surprise her, Jackie wondered? All the carefully prepared research was failing her now. It was time to rely on instinct.
Jackie closed in on the group as they entered a dance club. Electronica. Loud. It was early in the evening, and the club wasn't crowded enough to have a line-up yet. As Dr. Calder settled in to a semi-private booth at the edge of the room, Jackie took the time to assess his entourage.
There were two young women with him. They seemed to be fashion accessories more than anything. The two girls looked enough alike that they could be sisters, but maybe that was just the way they coordinated their styles. Jackie had no information on them, but was sure she'd be able to find them somewhere in the 'social' column of a New York or Los Angeles newspaper.
The man who sat at Blake's side was famous. He was a stage magician named Mav Branson. 'Mav' for Maverick? It was a stage name, of course. Dr. Calder stood taller, and seemed to command more attention, but Mav would be better known to the average member of the public. They were similar in a way. Both were well known for feats of hypnosis. Blake was known for his clinical work. Mav was a stage hypnotist.
It was an odd association. Jackie had done her research on both men. They came from different fields, but each had taken an interest in the other. Mav had sought out the academic notoriety of Dr. Calder to lend credibility to his act. Blake had oddly embraced the attention of the younger man. It had cast him into some disrepute with his fellow clinicians, but he had always played the role of non-conformist anyhow.
One other man was nearby. He was dancing by himself without a trace of self-consciousness. His movements were smooth and flowing. His name was Lincoln Romero. In his own specialized circle, that of mixed martial arts, the Brazilian man was a legend. He had dropped out for unknown reasons after an undefeated stretch against several higher ranked fighters. The rumor was that he continued develop his skills privately, but had vowed never to fight professionally again.
His athleticism was apparent. His body seemed lean and powerful, but here in the club, unless somebody knew his reputation, he wouldn't draw much note.
Jackie ordered herself a drink. She didn't care what she ordered. It was just to get her nerve up. Now was the time. She needed to get closer to this clique. She needed to get inside.
Mav was the easiest target.
"Oh my god," she feigned surprise, as she stumbled across the table. " You're Mav Bransen ... the magician. I can't believe it!"
They received her warmly. It was almost too easy, but it seemed like they were used to the attention. After they had invited her to sit down, and had a few rounds of drinks, they actually joked about it.
"If they recognize me," explained Mav, with dramatic flair " they're usually - no offense to you personally, Jackie - just dopey fans of magic tricks or stage hypnosis. There are a lot of groupie-type girls too, who just want bragging right for hooking up with a celebrity."
"Now if they recognize the Doctor, it's a much stranger lot on the whole. There's a whole strange mind control subculture that just idolizes Blake. He's like a cultural icon to these people ... good psychiatrist goes bad, and all that..."
Everyone laughed. Jackie realized how condescending the conversation was to her, but she laughed along weakly anyhow.
"If they only knew the half of it... " Blake added, then stopped coyly. It was the first time he spoke to her this evening. Jackie blushed despite herself.
He was attractive in person. Metrosexual was a pop-culture phrase that Jackie hesitated to use, but given their surroundings, it seemed appropriate. He dressed beautifully. He didn't seem to much care to define himself as masculine.
His eyes were piercing, insightful. Or was that just what she was reading into it? He was focused on her now.
"Jackie, is it? You're a fan of Mav's illusions, I take it. Do you mind if I spoil it for you? Stage hypnotism is a sham. You're a smart girl, right?"
She was thinking of how to respond. Unexpectedly, he raised his hand, and snapped twice, loudly.
"Look at me in the eyes " he demanded. " I'll demonstrate. You'll play <pause> along, won't you?"
Confused for a moment. She'd read all about this. The rhythm of his voice was purposely confounding. Was he attempting hypnosis, or not? His method didn't quite fit what she'd read, but there was definitely something engrossing in his eye contact.
"Now, when Mav does his act, he selects his subjects from the crowd very carefully. Those who are willing..."
He pounded the table, distracting her attention from his words. Everyone was watching her now, seeing if she would play along.
" ... those who are most willing are exhibitionists by nature. Are you? Don't answer. The question is enough to plant the expectation. It's a <pause again> natural impulse for these people to play along. They know they'll enjoy it, all the more so because they'll be held blameless for their actions. A fascinating social context."
"So, " he added loudly, mimicking Mav's stage act, " he'll use some cliche to present them the excuse. 'Look deep into my eyes' - 'you'll feel relaxed' - 'weightless' - all bullshit, of course. I could do a better induction over a cup of coffee - or, for that matter, across the table from a pretty young woman I've just barely met, competing with loud music and ... ahem..."
Lincoln was beside her, clowning for his friends.
" ... distractions."
He was making funny faces, apparently having witnessed Blake do this demonstration several times before. Jackie hadn't even noticed it until the doctor alluded to it.
"I'd do it using little more deep eye contact, and a few changes in voice inflection just to keep her off balance. So now, you decide, Jackie. I'll make a suggestion. <Pause> You'll probably follow it. You can decide how to interpret your actions. Are you just an exhibitionist, playing along with a parlor trick? Or are you really hypnotized - a state skillfully induced by a trained psychiatrist."
He stopped, a smile of amusement creeping onto his face, but he continued to hold her with his eyes.
"Why don't you dance for us?"
An anti-induction? Weird. It was like he was daring her to resist. Call my bluff. Dare to say you're not hypnotized.
But Jackie didn't have time to ponder on his skills. Had he touched her, inside? It didn't matter.
She had to dance as their entertainment to have any chance of getting closer.
The club was still not crowded. Jackie rose to the applause of her new acquaintances, allowing herself to step into the role. The beat wasn't hard to follow, but it would feel strange doing it all by herself. Except it didn't. She allowed it to feel natural. Uninhibited. Sexy.
Stage hypnosis. She'd done her reading. Everyone described it much the same way. Awareness was not diminished, nor even much altered. It was just easier to play along.
Not even Lincoln was dancing now. They were all watching, cheering. She knew what they wanted, and she found a way to give it to them. She was just surprised at how easily it came to her.
But then, she had good motivation. Her sister. Melissa. To find Melissa, she needed to be with these people.
When Jackie woke up, she was in Key West. She was startled at her new surroundings, and just about reacted, but she mastered it.
Breathe slowly, she told herself. Take stock. Assess your memory.
No gaps. No holes. It was just a wild night, followed by sleep.
She had tired herself out dancing, first by herself, then with the girls. They drew a lot of attention. That was the name of the game, she supposed, but would never have imagined herself in that scene. She could almost still feel herself immersed the full-body-beat of the music.
She had danced suggestively. More than suggestively, really. She was buying her way in.
As if reading her thoughts, Mila whispered to her.
"You did good," she assured Jackie. " He has three criteria for anyone who wants to travel with him. You need to be good looking, amusing, or interesting. I'm two out of three, most days. You might be the whole package. We'll see."
Jackie wondered how long the girl had been awake, pressed tightly against her in the back of the van. They were parked. Maybe the others had gone out for breakfast. Or lunch. The way she felt, maybe even dinner. How late had they been out? How long had they driven to get here?
"Hey, about last night... " started Jackie, blushing as she remembered the things they had done together.
"Yeah?" Mila smiled an odd smile. She was attractive. She knew it. Even if she spent the night in the back of a van, and was desperately hung-over, she could flash that smile and appear flawlessly beautiful.
"That isn't like me."
Jackie wondered why she even bothered to make excuses. It's not like anyone here disapproved.
"Oh, isn't it?" teased Mila.
"You know what I mean."
"Assume I don't."
"Well, with the hypnotism..."
Mila laughed out loud this time.
"What?" asked Jackie. " You don't believe in it?"
"Of course I do. Very much so. But what happened last night... " she bit her lower lip. She played cute and flirty almost by instinct. " Trust me, sweets, that was all pretty surface level. He'll do some more work on you if you stick around, but most of what happened last night was still you."
True. She hadn't done anything involuntarily. It was a light trance, if anything. It had just allowed her to do what she needed to do.
And, thank goodness, it hadn't gone too far. She had danced with the girls. There had been some flashing, some kissing, just some provocative stuff to keep the guys interested. It was nothing worse than would happen at any decent campus party.
Only, she had given up that life for this chase long ago.
The hard part to reconcile was that it actually felt good.
Jackie had expected that being around Blake and his entourage would be unnerving. He had been the subject of her contempt for so long. When she planned out infiltrating his inner circle, she had been worried that she wouldn't be able to hide her feelings.
It had actually been almost too easy.
Now she just had to keep herself interesting to him. Interesting enough to stay around until she had her chance.
Jackie was having a hard time with it. All of it.
She was frustrated because she seemed no closer to her goal. She was disturbed by the frequent hypnosis sessions she had agreed to engage in with Dr. Calder. She was confused by his character and goals. She was ashamed about her mental attraction to this scene, this lifestyle.
For over two months, she had traveled with them. It was aimless. They went wherever the next high-society invitation led them. They traveled by whatever means got them there. Blake was usually with them, but sometimes he was absent for a few days.
The times when he was away were the most difficult for Jackie. He was probably at his Retreat. It was the place where Jackie was sure she'd find her sister. He didn't say much about it. He was just gone, and then back two, or at most three, days later. His entourage waited for him. This was a loose coalition of people who had made similar lifestyle choices, and now Jackie was a member. The choice at the core of it all: to drop out.
Lincoln spent his days in his own world. He worked out in the mornings, often finding a local gym to practice at. If not, the hotel room or an open spot on the beach would do. If he was on the payroll as a bodyguard, he never showed it. Seeing what he could do, Jackie hoped it never came to that. He was invariably back for the nightlife.
Mila and Becca never strayed far either. They weren't sisters, as Jackie had first speculated. They were just alike in fashion. Now that Jackie was shopping at the same shops, in the same cities, she could almost see someone putting her in the same category.
The money came from nowhere. Nobody worried about it.
Everything was easy. The Caribbean. Europe. It didn't matter. The arrangements were just made.
On this day, they were at a seaside town in Spain. Jackie was feeling unsettled, as she always did when Blake was away.
Then he returned. He reappeared unexpectedly in the afternoon. At the time he reached the villa, Mila and Becca were taking a nap. The house was quiet as he stepped inconspicuously through the front door.
He paused, looking to see who was around.
"Want to go for a walk?" he invited Jackie.
Everything within her wanted to shout. Yes. She kept herself outwardly calm, trying to keep her eagerness out of his view.
The walked together silently for a while. He knew her very well, and didn't know her at all. In their hypnosis sessions together, Blake had explored her reactions. He had taken her to various states of hypnotic trance, some quite deep. In that way, he knew her quite well. He could bring her there quickly now, without more than a few words.
But he didn't ask her any questions about herself. He never tested that barrier. She would have lied if he did, but Jackie hadn't needed to test her deceptive skills yet. Perhaps the time would come.
In social settings he was normally quite aloof. He was observant, but in a detached sort of way. Then, in moments like this, when he would focus his attention, it was almost too intense.
"You're still with us. Does that make me the symptom, or the cure?"
"I'm not following..."
"Yes you are. In all senses. I know you're intelligent, Jackie. I overheard you talking philosophy with that German couple the other night."
That had been on purpose. Attractive, amusing, interesting. She was working on the third.
"A symptom of what?"
"Of a boring job. A crappy car. A shitty life. Reality. Death. This is easier, isn't it? Why else would you meet us at a club in Miami, and just drop everything ... to do nothing."
"Okay. A symptom then. What now?"
"I'm not the cure," he said, calmly but firmly. " There is no cure. There's only pain relief. It's the only thing I can offer to any my patients - even those who become my friends. But there is no cure."
Elusive. Attractive. Jackie could see why her sister had followed him so willingly. It was hard to see the danger until later, when he wanted to be entertained.
At those times, it was impossible to resist. Of course, nobody was really trying.
That night, she followed him to a local party on a yacht.
Mila was out with other friends, but Becca was pretty much interchangeable anyhow. It was a mixed crowd of wealthy guests on the opulent boat. Blake and Lincoln joined the owner below deck for a few minutes before rejoining the fun.
When they emerged, Blake locked eyes with Jackie from a distance. He gave a quick smile as he approached.
"I have some fun planned for you, " he touched her ear with his lips as he whispered.
That touch. She could feel her mind opening for him. Accept or resist.
"It seems our host is quite taken with you. You'll enjoy him, I think. More than you've ever enjoyed anyone. What's more, Jackie, I know you enjoy being admired. In fact, the more attention you get from the other guests, the more aroused you'll become. You won't be satisfied until..."
Until what? He withdrew his voice, leaving Jackie buzzing with anticipation. He didn't finish the sentence. He just backed away, leaving her with a playful smile, and a final touch of the eyes to insure his message got through.
The apprehension was only there for a moment. She could feel it being crowded out.
This connection. This connection with Blake. It's only as real as you let it be, she told herself.
With the goal of pursuing him, she had let it become very real, and now, for the first time, he was testing the limits of his control.
Yes, the apprehension was fading.
The moment that she saw the host of the party, Yago, emerge from the cabin, she knew she would comply. She could almost envision her physical reaction as if outside of herself, seen by the other party guests. Her face flushed. She pulled in a deep breath. Jackie visibly squirmed when the first jolt of pleasure touched her pussy.
Would she find him attractive under other circumstances? She didn't know. It didn't matter. None of this was like her real life. Here and now, she was willing to do anything to get close to him, until...
... until what?
She still had no answer.
He accepted her graciously, as one does when presented a gift. He made the rounds, greeting his guests on the deck of the boat. Jackie was fully aware that she looked every bit the part she was playing, an American trophy-girl, hanging off his arm, hanging off his every word. From guest to guest Yago went, showing off his prize.
"Where'd you find this one?" one of his quests asked, in English. Most of the conversation on the boat's deck had been in Spanish. Jackie hadn't really noticed until now. She was too busy flirting to give the conversations much mind.
"Just some tourist..." he trailed off. Jackie blushed.
Just some American girl. Just some tourist. Just a piece of ass.
That's all she was right now. A little burn of shame touched her, followed by a rush of arousal. She'd never felt so horny, just knowing that she was being seen that way. All the guests knew it. Hearing him say it out loud was just the icing.
Attention. Blake had seeded a need for attention. As much as the touch of Yago's hand on her ass drove her wild, it wasn't yet enough. She needed these people to be watching her.
"Let's have some music," she begged Yago, interrupting his conversation. It was childish, she knew, cutting in with her request, but she just couldn't wait.
The lanterns on the deck fired up as the sun disappeared over the city. The warmth of the Mediterranean was enough. Yago indulged his trophy with some music.
She began to dance for him, the way that Mila and Becca has guided her in the past. Sexy. Revealing. Intended to get attention.
It wasn't enough yet. She needed to keep on going until...
... she didn't know what.
She pulled off her blouse. It was a boat party, so her bikini top would be fine anyhow. That got some attention. Her body burned in response.
Yago danced with her, calmly. He knew that no one was looking at him. The girl was the show. She pushed herself against him for a kiss, and ground her body against his leg. Like a dog ... humping a leg ... too graphic ... too dirty ... too perfect.
When she pulled away, she could barely control herself.
The arousal was too much. Should she drop her skirt, she wondered? The bikini bottom was too revealing for this kind of party, she knew. And besides, she was so wet, and they would all see it. She was sure they would
No sooner did the thought occur than she was unsnapping her skirt.
Awash in shame, she took that step into inappropriate exhibitionism. The guests were entertained. She hoped that Blake was too, but she didn't see him around. Some of the men were whistling, touching, closing in around her.
"The American girl is moist for you, Yago, " one of the men observed.
Yago was pleased. His toy was proving to be fun.
She pressed into him for another kiss. He grabbed her roughly by the ass cheek. He was asserting himself now - showing everyone who she belonged to.
"Let's take the party below deck, " he suggested.
Below deck to do what? She knew. They all knew.
Part of her wanted to rebel, to reclaim her dignity.
But they were all looking at her, and the perfect ass Yago was cupping as he steered her down the steps.
Humping like a dog.
Showing off her wetness.
Going downstairs to be fucked.
They all flowed naturally from one to the next.
He fingered her pussy through her bikini as he pinned her against the wall in the main cabin. She kissed him breathlessly, desperate for more.
Shortly she realized the they weren't alone. Yago had left the door to below deck open, silently inviting anyone who was interested to follow him and watch.
He didn't ask Jackie if it was okay. He didn't need to.
Many guests gathered around for the show. It wasn't a question of what she was willing to do. That much was settled. She would do anything. It was just a question of what they wanted to see.
Jackie slid down with her back still against the wall, until her face was against the crotch of Yago's pants. She reached one hand down to frig herself through the soaked fabric of her swimsuit.
With the other, she freed his cock. Was it large? Circumsized? She didn't stop to assess. It was for her mouth. That was all she needed to know.
They were all talking in Spanish. Her overheated imagination translated it for her. "American whore." "Slut." "Cocksucker." "Filthy girl."
Another man was stroking himself nearby her face. He was an old guy. Jackie didn't care. When Yago pulled her head back with a slurping sound, and pushed her forward against the older man's cock, she accepted it gratefully. It was just one more step into humiliation ... into having every guest here know what a depraved little whore she was. She needed their attention so desperately.
Yago pushed her forward, away from the cabin wall, and onto her knees.
Yes, she told herself. Let him fuck you. In front of all these people. Men. Couples. Her friends. Let them all watch.
Yago tugged roughly on her bikini bottom, sliding it just far enough down her thighs to give him access. A moment later, he positioned himself behind her and pushed himself into her sex effortlessly. She was so wet. Waves of pleasure roared over her as he fucked her like a dog. Hard. Fast. Primal.
The older man didn't last long, shooting his warmth into her mouth. Jackie shuddered involuntarily, as another barrier was broken. Unprotected. Semen.
"No..." she said. Not because she was refusing. Because it wasn't enough. It was too soon. She begged, " More ... please..."
Another man obliged her request.
With her mouth full again, she concentrated on the pleasure Yago was giving. Blake was right. She had never enjoyed a man this intensely. She wouldn't be satisfied until...
Panic. Until what? What if Blake never released her.
Her mouth full of cock, she whined, and looked desperately around the room for him. Lincoln was there. So was Becca. But where was Blake?
Then she saw him, in the corner, watching with that detached amusement he so often wore.
Good. He would be there to release her, once it was enough.
The question was still there. What would be enough?
It was an internal puzzle, she knew. Not what was enough to him. Or to the crowd. What was enough for Jackie. What was an extreme enough sex act? What would release her?
She reached back, desperate now. She needed to cum so very badly. It was more important than breathing or thinking.
Jackie played with her clit, humping back desperately, much to the pleasure of her audience. She wouldn't cum this way, she knew. She hadn't gone far enough yet. She reached her other hand back to make her final offer; the one she knew would end it.
Jackie held her ass cheeks open for him, inviting him to deflower her butthole. Her intent was clear to everyone in the room. They all cheered for the American girl who was begging to be publicly sodomized by a man she had just met. Yago laughed with delight.
He lubricated her ass by spitting on his fingers and working them into her rear hole. He pulled back, allowing his prick to slide wetly from her. Even though his cock was quite slick from her pussy, it wasn't enough to make the entry easy. She didn't fight it, but when he pushed against her rear hole, the pain was intense, and was only tolerable because the pleasure of having it done to her publicly seemed to offset it by some measure.
She had never even considered doing this with anyone before, but here it seemed natural ... an extension of the character she was playing. It almost would have seemed unnatural to deny Yago this pleasure.
He groaned at her tightness, but couldn't work all of the way in. He pulled back out.
Jackie begged in desperation. "Please..."
He spit a couple more times, aiming at her loosened opening, and then pushed in again with more force. This time, he hit home. Jackie shuddered, letting the intense fullness she was experiencing add to the force of her arousal.
When he really began to pump her ass, his guests cheered him on. Jackie continued rubbing herself. Her orgasm would come now. She could feel it. She just needed permission.
The sequence was quick. The man in her mouth drained his balls down her throat. Yago tensed. She could feel the warmth of his jizz being pumped into her. It was almost enough. But she couldn't release until...
She looked his direction. Blake smiled with is eyes, and then gave a little nod. Her body went wild. Jackie bucked the the most undignified manner she could imagine against her fingers while Yago still held her by the hips. Even if she had some pride left to preserve, it would have been impossible to control the animalistic whines and squeals that escaped her throat.
When Yago released her, Jackie continued to writhe on the floor for longer than she ever thought an orgasm could last. Minutes went by as the pleasure rolled over her.
She was almost alone when the pleasure waned, and the normal processes of her brain began to wash the experience with shame, with remorse.
Blake was the only one still there. He had dismissed the others, she guessed.
The feeling was too intense. She began to cry despite herself. Jackie didn't want to show him this. She couldn't afford to show him weakness.
The question came to her lips nonetheless.
"Why?" she asked.
"It amused me," he answered. " Besides, I want to borrow the yacht."
Mav loved being a celebrity.
It was meaningless, of course. He knew it, somewhere beneath the veneer of fame. It was all meaningless, but it kept him from facing the darkness.
That's where he and Blake Calder differed. Dr. Calder had stripped all of those mental rationalizations away from himself, and now walked the world as a wounded man. His soul was raw. You could see the sadness in him, if you knew how to look for it.
He didn't demand the same discipline from his contemporaries. In fact, escape was his recommended treatment. Pain management.
Jackie was infatuated with Blake, Mav knew. The first time they met, she had seemed interested in him, and he had been flattered. The girl was young, pretty, smart and - this last one he had trouble putting his finger on - driven. Which is an odd character trait, he thought, for anyone who followed Blake around. But she was different. Blake had told him so.
She asked Mav about the doctor often, and on this night, with no other party to distract the consciousness, he shared a bottle of wine with her and talked about his friend. He liked to talk. Or, more, he liked to be listened to. Maybe it was the same thing. It was all part of being a celebrity, that drive.
"He understands it all on a different level than I do. He's right, you know. What I do is trickery. No magician worth his salt lays any claim to truth. Only illusion. People do what they want. And, after the initial thrill of having an expert in clinical hypnosis become interested in my work, I really did begin to wonder why ... why would he bother? His tools are so much sharper than mine, so why did he bother with me?"
"And..." the girl urged him on. It didn't take much urging.
"He loved it for the sake of itself. That's how he explained it to me. It wasn't hypnosis towards and end. The hypnosis was the end to itself. He watched me convince people to become something other than themselves, and act it out. An old standby of stage hypnosis is to make an audience member act like an animal. A dog, a chicken, a cow ... something amusing."
Mav paused to take a drink. Then another. If he wasn't going to a party tonight, he could certainly bring the celebration to himself.
"Then he took it further. My inductions are so surface level ... they're barely more than a polite suggestion. Blake could take them deeper, quickly. Then..."
He laughed, a bit drunk now.
" ... then..." he leaned in conspiratorially, his smile a mask for his own unease with what he was about to reveal, " he left them that way."
"For how long?"
"Days, more even ... I don't know. He went his own way with it, and I was left behind. I'm always welcome as a friend, as an amusing companion ... but he knew I didn't have the stomach for what he was doing. I didn't understand it."
"But why? Why would he do that to people?"
Mav shrugged, quite willing to let the bottom of a wine bottle substitute for an answer.
"What about his research staff? Did they go along with it?"
"I suppose. They were all quite taken with him. They did what he asked."
She was agitated. He could tell. Was it really so hard to believe? Everyone followed Blake. He was a natural leader.
But still she pressed on.
"These were scientists. Students. Wasn't he worried that someone would report him ... call the police... ?"
"Over what? Stage hypnosis?" he mocked. " Now I happen to be a bit of an expert on the subject, and I'm quite sure you can't get arrested for it."
"So they just went along with it? All of them?"
She wasn't satisfied, but Mav had no more to give.
He didn't like talking about it anyhow. He felt like he'd said it all before, at one time or another. He'd rather finish the bottle of wine, and settle in for the night with one of the girls.
It was easier not to think about it.
It was becoming hard to reconcile herself, and it was harder by the day. Jackie had to conceal the part of herself that was growing impatient and frustrated. She had to repress it in front of the others, pretending to live their lifestyle. The problem was, it was hard to consider it pretending anymore. She enjoyed it. The travel. The nightlife. The extravagance.
She was drawn to it. Even in the moments that she wasn't under his influence, she was thinking about the release it provided. It was alluring in a way she had never known. If she continued down this path, it would be hard to ever walk away, she knew.
She needed to keep hold of her urgency. She had to make her move, and soon.
Jackie had come into this with a plan. She had prepared herself carefully. She had researched his work, and followed all of his steps.
She had even come prepared for the flirtations with hypnosis. Jackie had practiced some self-hypnosis, hoping to inoculate herself somewhat with knowledge of its effects. If she understood it, she could control it, she had hypothesized.
Jackie spent time each day assessing her memories and motives, both in and out of hypnosis. She wanted a way to monitor what he was doing to her. She needed a safeguard, she knew before she even came into contact with Blake. She needed a plan to undo his work when it was all done.
It was hard to know whether she could be successful. Every bit of research had told her that hypnosis was an act of consent. It was an act of trust. She could remove herself from his influence simply by reasserting her own will.
Or so went the theory. It was so much more compelling than she would have imagined, however. He was skilled. He was able to touch her in a deeper place than had her flirtations with self-hypnosis. It felt amazing. The release of responsibility for personal actions ... yes, it was amazing, but dangerous.
What about what Mav had told her? People put into trances for days ... weeks ... acting out a stage fantasy. That couldn't be consensual, she cautioned herself.
And her sister would never had abandoned her on purpose.
So there was a danger to this game. Jackie tried to tell herself that she could handle it. She was well prepared, and she'd find a way through it.
Except that she had almost blown it, talking to Mav. She'd pushed too far, asking about Blake's research team ... fishing for news about her sister.
He'd seen through her hypno-groupie facade for a moment, but then went back to his drink. Would he remember it, even as an impression? Would he tell Blake?
Jackie couldn't afford to fail. She needed to have this done quickly.
The problem was that even as observant as she had been, Blake had been equally careful about separating this, his personal life, with his professional life.
The only overlap was in the clients. These wealthy socialites were his client base, she suspected, and that was how he funded his lifestyle. These were the people he invited to his Retreat.