A new shop has opened in the neighborhood, filled with wonderful plush animals and, of all things, model rockets! The proprietor is a friendly sort of fellow with a twinkle in his eye and a smile for everybody, especially children. But he is hiding a secret pain and a secret past. And just what does this have to do with America's most covert special agency?
The Bear Market
by Valentina Michelle Smith
A Men In Black Dresses adventure
Set in the Neighborhood of Bob Arnold’s Café
The new store opened with very little fanfare. There were no Grand Opening banners or sale flyers. People just noticed that a long-empty storefront was now occupied. Cuddly stuffed animals shared the display window with, of all things, model rockets of all sizes and shapes. The name of the new store betrayed the whimsical nature of its proprietor. Antique style gold-leaf letters proclaimed for all passers-by that this particular emporium was called The Bear Market.
There is something about a teddy bear that engenders a visceral reaction in people. Some, jaded by years of cynicism and hardened by a cruel world sniffed in disdain at such an improvident waste of resources. Others found themselves overwhelmed by the adorable faces of these furry little creations. Some wandered in out of curiosity, only to rediscover a connection to the forgotten innocence of their youth. At the other end of the spectrum were those who had enjoyed flying model rockets in their younger days, and were delighted to discover that these marvelous devices were still available. Of course, hard-core hobbyists could sniff out a rocket store from miles away, as could rabid collectors of rare stuffed animals. These folks eventually found their way to The Bear Market.
And so did a rather precocious eight-year-old girl with flaming red hair.
Maggie’s green eyes widened as she peered into the window. She had been playing jump-rope with her cousins when she noticed the store. She reached up to the doorknob and opened it. The hinges squeaked a little as the door swung open, and a bell announced that the door had swung open. With the fearlessness known only to a eight-year-old, she entered.
The shop was clean and nicely lit. There were shelves and shelves of furry stuffed creatures, all waiting to be taken home and hugged. And there were rows and rows of plastic bags containing paper tubes and balsa wood with pictures of miniature rocket ships on the front. Little Maggie had discovered a paradise!
Maggie was still taking it all in when her cousin came in after her. “Maggie!” she said in that authoritarian voice only older girls who fancy themselves in charge seemed to have, and Becky was several months Maggie’s senior. “You know your mommy said not to wander into any strange places! You gets out right now!”
Maggie looked back at her cousin, and then back into the store. “But it’s a neat place! Just look at it! It can’t hurt to just look!”
“You should listen to her, Maggie,” said a voice. Maggie looked up to see a man with salt-and-pepper hair and a round, jovial face. His was the sort of countenance that just seemed to always have a smile. At least, a frown would look very out of place on it.
“But mister,” Maggie protested, “I just want to look!”
“Tell you what,” said the man, obviously the shop’s proprietor, “why don’t you go get your mother and you can all come back together. It’s not a good idea for a little girl to wander away from her mother. If your mommy comes and says it’s okay, then you can come and visit any old time. But only if your mommy gives you permission. And she has to come in here and tell me it’s okay.”
“Do you mean it, mister?”
“Of course I do. Now you run along home before your mommy gets worried.”
It suddenly occurred to Maggie that she just might be causing her mother a fit of anxiety that only a eight-year-old can cause. “Okay, mister, I’ll tell her. Goodbye!” She ran out of the store.
Tom Doyle watched with amusement through the storefront window as Maggie and her cousins ran down the block. Was I ever that young, he thought to himself. Then he sighed.
Tom walked to the small bathroom at the back of his shop. Inside, he undid his belt and let his trousers drop. His pouch was heavy and needed to be changed. He removed the pouch from its flange with practiced precision and put it into a plastic sandwich bag. Using a gauze sponge he cleaned the residual fecal matter away from his stoma. He put the sponge into the bag with the old pouch. Removing a new pouch from its box, he squeezed in a few drops of M9 deodorizer and fastened it to his flange. He sealed the bag shut and dropped it into its special waste container. As a final step, he sprayed some deodorizer into the air. It had been two years since his surgery and he still had trouble with the smell.
It was at times like these that Tom’s smile left him, when he felt the burden of his stoma. The colostomy saved his life, and he was grateful, but there was a part of him that felt mutilated and angry. He reflected briefly on the irony of the toilet seat as he exited the bathroom. It had been two years since he needed to sit on a toilet.
He emerged from the bathroom just as another customer discovered his shop. It was a dark-haired young man who looked familiar. “Hello,” he said. “I couldn’t help but notice the rockets. I used to do them when I was a kid. I work in the Café across the street. I’m Alex Merren.”
* * * * *
Shelly listened to her daughter’s enthusiastic description of the new shop. “Maggie,” she said, “you know that Aunt Jenna owns a toy store. She can get you any kind of toy you want.”
“But mommy, these are special aminals! They can see me, and they can talk, and they can fly in spaceships, and did I tell you that they have spaceships?”
Shelly tried to reason with Maggie and soon remembered just how futile such an undertaking could be. “All right, little kitten, I suppose we can pay a courtesy call on our new neighbor. But we are not going to buy out the store! You have to understand that this is just a visit. Do you understand?”
“Oh yes, mommy, I promise I won’t ask for anything. I’ll just look, and I promise to keep my hands to myself and not make a mess. And can Becky and Cathleen come too? Please, mommy, please, please, please?”
Shelly knew she couldn’t resist the pleadings of her little girl. And so, that next day, she walked into the Bear Market with three little balls of energy in tow. She was impressed at the tidy little shop with shelves of plush animals. As she entered she couldn’t help but notice a sign.
NO SMOKING PLEASE
The Bears are Allergic
Tom grinned and extended his hand. “Well, you must be this little one’s mother. I’m Tom Doyle.”
Shelly grasped Tom’s hand. “I’m Shelly Shalimar, and you’ve already met Maggie. I’m sorry if she bothered you.”
“Oh, not at all!” Tom answered. “She is just so happy and energetic that it’s contagious. How could such joy be annoying? Are these other girls yours?”
“They’re my sister’s girls. The oldest is Becky, and the little one is Cathleen.”
Tom regarded the girls and made a big show of greeting them. “Well, Becky and Cathleen, I am pleased to meet you. And you, too, Maggie.”
The girls all laughed. Shelly said, “Maggie was telling me the most outrageous stories. She said that your animals could talk.”
“Oh, that’s not outrageous. They do indeed talk. It just takes a very special person to hear them.” He turned to Cathleen. “Can you hear them?” he asked.
Cathleen smiled and nodded her head.
“I thought so,” Tom said. He looked around the room, finally settling on a cuddly teddy bear with embroidered eyes, nose, and mouth. It was the perfect plush animal for a three-year-old. He plucked it from the shelf and put it next to Cathleen. “This is Suzie. Can you hear what she’s saying?”
Cathleen nodded. “That’s right. She’s saying ‘Hug me, please. Be my mommy!’ Can you be a good mommy?”
“Then she’s yours.” Before Shelly could protest, he turned to Becky. “I bet you can hear them, too.”
“I think so,” said Becky.
Tom turned to his shelf and selected another bear. This one was dressed in a pinafore and held a little basket. “This is Junie,” he said, handing her to Becky. “Do you hear what she’s saying?”
Becky said, “Yes, she says she wants to come home and have tea with me. Can I have her, Aunt Shelly? Please?”
Shelly tried to protest, but Tom cut her off politely. “No charge. This is a one-time special for my special neighbors. Call it a get-acquainted present.”
“I don’t know what to say, Mr. Doyle,..” Shelly protested.
“Please, call me Tom. And I insist. This little visit has just lit up my day.”
A little voice interrupted. “Mister Doyle,” said Maggie, “I can hear the aminals. Can I have a bear?”
Tom turned to Maggie and said, “I’m sorry Maggie, but you don’t get a bear.”
“But, but,” said Maggie, her lower lip beginning to quiver. But before she could shed a tear, Tom reached up and selected something else.
“This is Pixel,” said Tom as he handed the plush kitten over to Maggie. “Pixel tells me that you are more of a cat person than a bear person. Is Pixel right?”
Maggie just beamed with joy as she hugged the furry kitten. “Oh, yes, I love her! She’s perfect! I’ll be a good mommy for Pixel. I promise!”
“Good! Give her a good home with lots of hugs, but be careful! She can be a very mischievous little cat.”
Shelly was astonished. “How did you know that Maggie would like a kitten?” she said.
“The animals told me,” said Tom, “and they never lie.”
“Mommy, look,” said a very exuberant Maggie, “I have a kitty! Isn’t she pretty? Oh, I just love her!”
“Well,” said Shelly, “you certainly have made my daughter’s day. How can I thank you?”
Tom beamed. “Just look at those little faces. That’s reward enough.”
Becky chimed in. “Aunt Shelly, can we have some of the rocket ships, too? Please?”
“I’m afraid you girls are a little young for rockets,” Tom said. “Maybe in a few years you can try them out.”
Becky frowned and started to pout. “Hey, there,” said Shelly, “you just got a new teddy bear. What’s to pout about?”
Becky thought about it for a moment. Then she said, “Thank you, mister Doyle. I promise to take good care of Junie.”
“And I’ll take good care of Pixel, too, “ said Maggie. “Thank you, mister Doyle.”
Cathleen hugged Suzie close to her. “Thank you, mister Doyle.”
“Well you girls are all welcome. Thank you for stopping by.”
“Goodbye, Tom,” said Shelly. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you.”
“And for me, Shelly. Don’t be a stranger. Drop in any time.”
Another customer walked in. Tom said goodbye to the girls and turned to his customer. Shelly smiled. There was something wonderful about Tom. But there was also something she could sense, something tragic. Tom was genuinely gregarious and warm. But he was hiding something.
Maggie felt it as well.
“Mister Doyle is sure a nice man,” she said to her mother. “He smiles a lot. But I think he’s really sad about something.”
“How do you know that?” asked Shelly, taken aback by her daughter’s perceptiveness.
“The aminals told me,” she replied in a very matter-of-fact way, “and the aminals never lie.”
* * * * *
Over the next few weeks, Tom became a regular at Bob’s Café. At precisely twelve every day, he hung a sign on his door (Closed for Lunch – The Bears are Hungry) and crossed the street to Bob’s. His order was usually Bob’s famous Reuben with spicy brown mustard and a cup of Lumberjack coffee, but sometimes he favored a bowl of Shelly’s chicken soup with a Kaiser roll. Whenever he came in, Alice dislodged herself from whatever terminal she was occupied with to take Tom’s order.
Bob could not help but notice Alice’s behavior. “You know, Tom,” he said one day as Tom attacked his Reuben with gusto, “I don’t think I have ever seen Alice jump up so quickly for a customer since I hired her.”
“Maybe it’s my charming good looks,” said Tom. “Or maybe she has a thing for older men.”
Alice overheard the conversation, but tried to act as though she was ignoring it.
“All I can say is, I never saw her jump up so fast for a customer in my life. Normally I wonder whether I should keep paying her or have her arrested for loitering.”
THAT got her attention. “That just isn’t fair, boss! You know I hustle to take care of the crowd. I just kind of, well, I like Tom.”
Tom grinned. “I think I remind her of her grandfather.”
“Oh, go on, Tom. You aren’t that old.”
“Oh yes I am. I went through Basic Training with Yoda.” Everybody laughed.
“I need to stop in to your shop some time,” said Bob. “I was always curious about model rockets.”
“Maybe you can come along with me on my next launch,” said Tom, “If you are still interested, I can set you up with everything you might need.” He drained his cup. “As usual, Bob, the finest Reuben in the city. And the coffee is good, too.”
Tom got to his feet, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a few bills. Alice came by with his check. He handed her the bills. “Here you go, Alice. Keep the change.”
“Thanks, Tom. I appreciate it.”
Bob shook his head. “You are going to spoil her with such a big tip, Tom. I have a hard enough time with her attitude.”
“Well now you know why she always jumps when I come in,” Tom replied. He winked a conspiratorial little wink at Alice. “I have to get back to the store, now, before the bears get restless.”
Everybody smiled as Tom left. His happiness was infectious.
Tom made his way across the street. He unlocked the door and removed the sign. With a little sigh, he made his way to the workbench behind the display counter. He was preparing a special bear for Shelly. It was a present for her sister Jenna, a momma bear in a country-style dress and hat with two little daughter bears in identical dresses. Tom had stitched the separate pieces together and was now ready to stuff the arms and legs. Then he would attach joints to the limbs and attach them to the main body. This was a very labor-intensive process reserved for his finest creations.
The warning bell announced the entry of another customer. Tom rose to give his customary cheerful greeting. To say he was surprised would have been a monumental understatement.
A tall woman in a conservative black suit had entered. Her blonde hair fell perfectly to her shoulders, framing her subtly made-up complexion. She walked confidently in her mid-heel pumps and extended an impeccably manicured hand. “Good to see you again, Nora,” she said.
“My name is Tom,” he replied, taking her hand. “Nora died on the operating table two years ago. And it’s good to see you again, Mary. Now would you tell me just what brings the director of America’s most covert secret agency into my little shop?”
Mary Risberg was startled. “Is it wise to say that in here?”
Tom chuckled. “What kind of amateur do you take me for? I sweep this place for bugs regularly, and I use state-of-the-art jamming. The only ones who will hear us are the animals, and they know how to keep a secret. Now once again, what brings you to my shop?”
Mary hesitated, but then became resolute. “I need your help, Nor-, err, Tom.”
“Do you? Well, I have an extensive selection of plush animals ready to go, and I can make a special plush on request. Or are you taking up model rocketry? I always thought you needed a hobby.”
“I didn’t come here for a stuffed animal. We have a situation, and it needs your special skills. Damn it, I need you. I need Moon Maid!”
Tom was taken aback. He had never expected to hear his former code name again. “I’m sorry, Mother,” he said, using the director’s code name, “but Moon Maid retired, and you know why. You have plenty of talented agents. Use one of them.”
“I wish it was that simple, but we have a situation that threatens the integrity of the entire organization. It could blow our cover for all time. Sure, I have plenty of the finest agents I could ever want, but there’s only one Moon Maid. Hey, you’re the girl who handled the Monica Affair. That’s the sort of talent I need for this mission.”
Tom remembered the incident. Details of the affair had begun to leak, and damage control was needed desperately. “That was a band-aid job, Mother. If Elvis had used our services from the beginning we never would have needed to run a scam. He didn’t have to depend on a loud-mouthed intern with the same dress size to provide him dresses. We would have done so gladly and far more discreetly. And it’s a sad state of affairs when it becomes preferable for the world to think that the leader of the most powerful nation in the free world is a womanizer rather than to discover he’s a transvestite.”
“It was masterful, hon. And it’s the kind of thing you’re good at.”
Tom hesitated. He had turned his back on the agency when he retired. Yes, he missed the excitement, the adrenaline rush, the hint of danger his work had provided. But…
“We know you still dress up, Tom,” Mother said.
“Spying on private citizens, Mary?” he said.
“Just keeping an eye on our own. Look, sis,…”
“I said not to call me that,” said Tom, his voice beginning to crack.
“All right then, Tom. Just hear me out. Let me explain the situation, and if you say no I’ll walk out of here and never bother you again. But just listen to me. It’s important.”
Tom considered. “You’ll walk out of here for good? And no Gas?”
“On my honor, no Gas.”
“All right,” he relented. “Explain away, and it had better be good.”
* * * * *
Tom was upstairs in the small apartment he kept above his shop, in his seldom-used second bedroom. This room contained the remnants of his former life. The closet and dresser were filled with dresses, skirts, blouses, stockings, lingerie, and feminine finery. A small wardrobe held the prosthetics he used to present a female appearance. A vanity contained cosmetics, and a jewelry case held a selection of accessories.
He affected his transformation with practiced skill that came from decades of living full time as a woman. As he pulled on his panties he was once again aware of the bag hanging from his abdomen. He had bathed and put on a new flange, hoping this would afford some insurance against the bag coming loose.
He felt a moment of misgiving. The bag meant that his choice of clothing would be limited to loose-fitting garments that would camouflage the telltale bulge of his colostomy bag. He sighed, and invoked a classic joke to gather a little courage. “I never did find shoes to match this bag,” he said.
He tried to put the bag out of his mind as he continued his regimen. Breast forms were glued to his chest. The irony of using Hollister adhesive was not lost on him. With practiced ease he hooked up his bra, pulled the slip over his head, and donned a black skirt, a crème shell, and a black jacket. Tan nylons covered his shapely shaven legs. He stepped into the black pumps with ease. He sat at his vanity and applied foundation, blush, eyeliner, mascara, and eye shadow with expert skill. His deft fingers lined his lips and filled them with color. He opened his jewelry case and selected a pair of earrings. And finally he pulled on a dark brown wig.
Male pronouns no longer were appropriate. Neither were male names. Tom Doyle had briefly ceased to exist. Nora Spencer rose from the vanity.
Nora stopped to pick up her portfolio and left the building by the rarely used back stairs. She walked through the alley and across the street to Bob’s Café, attracting little if any attention, which was just as she intended.
Bob smiled as the tall woman clad in black entered the store. Alice looked up from the video game she was playing and started to look back, then did a double-take. She knew this woman!
“Hello, Alice,” said Nora. She glanced around the café, making certain that there were no customers. “Could you watch the door? I need to talk with Bob, and we can’t have any interruptions.”
Bob said, “Hey, wait a minute. Alice works for me, not you. And for that matter, lady, just who are you?” Then Bob realized just who she was.
“That’s right, Bob,” said Nora, “I’m your friendly neighbor from across the street. But for now, call me Nora Spencer. I need your help, Bob.”
Alice locked the door and hung a “Closed” sign. Bob and Nora sat down at one of the tables. “All right, what is this all about. Why are you here dressed as a woman, and what kind of help are you asking for? And just how do you know my waitress?”
“I once worked with Alice’s father on a case. It took several months and I got to know young Alex. We became friendly. I introduced him to model rocketry.”
“It’s true, Boss,” said Alice. “Aunt Nora gave me a beginner’s special that had a launcher and motors and a model rocket. And she somehow managed to get kits and motors shipped to me in Australia. Rockets are kind of scarce there.”
Bob said, “that means you know that Alice is also Alex, and…” He hesitated.
Nora continued for him. “And I know that Alex drinks a cup of Blue Crystal coffee every day in order to become Alice. He gets more tips that way. Although I suspect he rather enjoys being Alice.”
“How do you know about Blue Crystal coffee?” asked Bob. He looked rather glaringly at Alice.
“Don’t get mad at Alice, Bob. We have suspected something like this for a long time. Alice confirmed my suspicion. And there is more that I know.”
Nora opened her portfolio and removed a manila folder, from which she took some papers. “You are Robert Arnold,” she said, “owner of this café and author of several transgender fiction pieces such as ‘Zapped,’ ‘The Genesis Factor,’ and others. You provide the servers and technical support for Crystal’s chat rooms. Your café seems to possess computer terminals that exceed the performance of any known technology. You serve a unique coffee to certain select customers that has the property of transforming them, temporarily, into women.”
Bob was angry. “Listen, Blue Crystal coffee is a highly guarded secret. No government can ever find out about it.”
“And they won’t, Bob,” said Nora, “not even ours. As I said, there was some suspicion about this place, but it is so low on the radar screen that we don’t pay you all that much attention. I just happened to find out about it from Alice, and that was because I knew her as a boy. The secret of Blue Crystal coffee will never find its way to any government database. Word of honor.”
“You still seem to know quite a bit about me,” Bob said. “And you sure seem to have some secrets yourself. Just who the hell are you, really?”
Nora paused, considering her answer. “I am an operative of America’s most covert agency. We are a corps of crossdressers and transsexuals who provide support and cover for transgendered persons vital to America’s security. Our agency has no name and officially has no existence. And I am here to request your assistance in a vital matter.”
Bob began to laugh. “That’s a good one, Tom, but I’ve already read the stories. ‘Men In Black Dresses.’ Nice try, but it’s only a story. Don’t forget, I’m a writer myself. You think I never read anyone else’s work?”
“The agency is quite real, Bob, and I know about the stories. Tina is one of our operatives. She wrote the story as part of our disinformation program. The easiest place to hide is in plain sight, as was discovered by the great Auguste Dupin. By the way, I’m a big fan of yours, as are most of our agents.”
“So you really have a secret headquarters someplace in the city?”
“We do indeed. I could tell you where it is, but then I’d have to kill you.” Bob looked horrified, but Nora laughed. “Oh of course I wouldn’t kill you. I’d just give you a little Gas and tell you to forget about it.”
“So the Gas is real?”
“Yes, a powerful psychoactive drug that creates intense euphoria and a heightened state of suggestibility. Don’t leave home without it.”
“Okay. I believe you. But what possible help can I provide?”
Nora hesitated. “Bob, I need a cup of Blue Crystal coffee. Specifically, I need a cup of Batch 51, the mixture that causes the intense age regression.”
Bob glared at Alice again, who cringed in embarrassment. “Well if I ever hope to keep Blue Crystal coffee a secret, I might have to ask you to Gas a certain waitress of mine.”
“Don’t be angry with her, Bob. She knows I’m trustworthy, and she really doesn’t go around telling the world about Blue Crystal coffee.”
“That may be, but I still want to know just why you need Blue Crystal coffee? And just what is this threat to national security?”
“I guess I can trust you, Bob. But what I am about to tell you can never leave this room.
“One of our agents intercepted a story about to break in a major newspaper. Details about our agency were leaked to a reporter. We managed to squash the story, and thanks to Gas we managed to obliterate it from the memory of anybody who saw it, but we don’t know the source of the leak. Even when questioned under Gas, the reporter would not name his source.
“We believe his source is a high-ranking member of the current administration. We are uncertain just why he would reveal the existence of the agency, but he has tried to do so and will probably try again. I intend to run a game to flush him out.”
“And just where does Blue Crystal coffee come in to this scheme?” Bob asked.
Nora seemed reluctant to go on, as though it would be painful to reveal what came next. But she continued. “I need it for myself, Bob. I need to turn back my personal clock. I know that this particular batch will cause an age regression of about fifteen years. That’s what I need. I have to turn back my body odometer fifteen years worth.’
Bob could see a tear form in the corner of Nora’s eye, which she dabbed with a tissue. “Bob, about two years ago I found out I had colon cancer. I needed emergency surgery and months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The therapy saved my life, but it left me with a terrible legacy. I have a colostomy. And what’s worse, I still have an open wound where my rectum was removed. It is still draining, and I have to wear a pad to absorb the drainage.”
With a small sniffle, she resumed her tale. “Bob, I can still pass convincingly as a woman, and I still have my training, but with this damned bag I am not at the top of my form. What’s worse, I’m still in pain from the open wound. I need to take Vicodin just to be able to function. It’s too risky to run this game while I’m taking a controlled substance. So I really need that coffee, Bob. Please, help me!”
Bob considered Nora’s request. “You say you will never reveal the secret of Blue Crystal coffee, but how can I be sure of this? What assurance can you give me?”
Nora reached into her portfolio and produced a small container of what appeared to be breath spray. She handed it to Bob. “This is Gas,” she said. “You know how it works. All I can give you is my word of honor that I will not breathe a word about Blue Crystal coffee to another living soul. But if you have any doubts, spray me now and tell me to forget about it.”
Bob turned the small cylinder over in his hand several times. Then he handed it back. “If you trust me that much, then I can trust you. Alright, Nora, you can have the coffee.”
“Thank you, Bob. I can’t begin to express my gratitude.”
“So when do you want your first cup?”
Nora said, “Any time. Now would be nice.”
“No problem. Let me brew you a cup. Oh, you really ought to remove your breast forms. I assume you are wearing forms. You won’t be needing them in a few minutes. It would be best if we did this in my office.”
Nora followed Bob to his office in back of the café. It was not particularly neat, but it was clean. It had a sort of cluttered appearance that suggested a hobbit’s home to Nora. Bob was a rather big hobbit, though.
Nora had to disrobe to remove her forms. She had some Unisolve™ wipes to dissolve the adhesive. She replaced her bra and shell. She removed her wig. Then Bob gave her the cup.
“Batch 51,” he said. “Do you need any cream or sugar?”
“Black is fine,” Nora said. “So what do I do?”
“Drink it all. It works fairly quickly.”
Nora regarded the cup. It was a simple white china mug, completely ordinary, and the dark brew it contained looked no different than any other coffee she had ever seen. She lifted it to her lips and quaffed it down in one draught. “Good coffee,” she said. “Mellow but full-bodied with citrus undertones and a pleasant finish. Very much like a nice Columbian. How soon until I transform?”
Bob replied, “Not long. It should be starting now.”
Nora did indeed feel different. A strange sort of warmth made its way from her stomach and flowed outward. She felt a tingling in her groin and chest. She was aware of her nipples and breasts swelling and growing. At the same time her genitals began to shrink and actually withdraw into her body. Her hips began to widen and her waist narrowed. And there was a strange tingling all around her head.
It took about ten minutes for the very strange sensations to subside. “Is it over?” she asked.
“Oh, yes, and I think you’ll like the results,” Bob answered.
“Do you have a mirror?”
“It’s in the bathroom. Through that door.” Bob pointed to a door at the back of the office. Nora entered and shut the door behind her. With equal measures of excitement and fear she looked into the mirror.
The face that looked back was hers, but it was different. Her cheekbones were higher, her chin narrower and pointed, and the ridge above her brow was now gone. It was a woman’s face with no need of cosmetic trickery to hide any male features. Her natural wavy brown hair now came down full and thick past her shoulders without a hint of gray. More astonishing, the subtle laugh lines and wrinkles of her middle-aged complexion had vanished. She had indeed wiped fifteen years from her face. But did this hold true for the rest of her body?
Her hands trembled as she removed her skirt. She had put on a half-slip as an additional layer of camouflage for her colostomy bag. This she also removed as well as her panties. The bag was still fastened to her abdomen by the adhesive flange. She removed the bag, terrified that she might discover that the age regression was not complete.
The stoma was gone! All that lay underneath the bag was her own skin.
She opened another Unisolve™ wipe to remove the flange and barrier. It came off to reveal nothing but the smooth skin of her own abdomen. Could it be true? She had to be certain! She used her fingers to probe her rectum. It was there! For the first time in two years she could feel her own anus and a working sphincter!
She began to laugh. Partly with joy, and partly at the realization that she was probably the only person who ever drank Blue Crystal coffee who didn’t start by feeling her new boobs.
Speaking of boobs, she checked out the new massive additions to her chest. They literally strained from behind her bra cups. She unhooked herself and let them spill out. The only word she had for them was stunning. The feeling of her own breasts now depending from her chest was nothing like the feel of breast forms. And her nipples were so large and sensitive!
She examined her new plumbing. It was completely different in sensation, totally indescribable from her former male frame of reference. She wasn’t sure whether she liked this new arrangement, but she would have to get used to it.
She emerged from the bathroom, fully clothed and hair brushed out. Bob whistled. “So do you like it?” he asked.
“I can get used to it, but I think I need a bigger bra. The important thing is that my stoma is gone. I won’t have to worry about it during the mission. How much more of this stuff do you have?”
“You won’t need Batch 51 for any future transformations,” Bob said. “This is now the form you will have whenever you drink Blue Crystal coffee.”
“Good. How long do I stay like this?”
“About eight hours, give or take a few minutes. But don’t drink any while you are female, or the transformation is permanent.”
“If the mission goes as I plan, eight hours will be more than enough.”
“Good. I’ll have a cup ready when you need it. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
Nora smiled. “As a matter of fact, Bob, there is. Can I borrow your café?”
* * * * *
Misty and Alice whistled as Nora emerged from the back of the café dressed in the steel blue skirt, apron, and off-white blouse that comprised the waitresses’ uniform. “We better watch out, Alice,” said Misty, “or Nora will be getting all our tips.”
“I wouldn’t be too worried,” Bob chimed in. “Nora will only be working today, and not for very long.”
“That’s right,” Nora said. “This is a special one-day-only event. Now do you girls know what to do?”
“Sure,” said Misty, “you handle the order and steer them to the table with the mike. Alice will be listening in on them. When we have confirmation she signals us.”
Nora grinned. “You two sound like a couple of pros. Maybe I ought to recruit you.”
“Don’t even think about it,” Bob said. “Do you have any idea just how hard it is to find good help?”
“Oh, boss,” said Misty, “that’s the sweetest thing you ever said about us.”
“I didn’t say YOU were good, just that good help is hard to find. I had to settle for you two.”
Misty just laughed at Bob’s good-natured ribbing. The truth was, Bob was quite fond of Alice and Misty. He sometimes thought of them as family.
“Nora, I’m curious,” said Bob, his thoughts turning to another trail, “how did you arrange this meeting?”
“Our agent at the newspaper gassed the reporter who was going to break the story. She suggested that he contact his source and arrange a meeting at some out-of-the-way location, a place that would not draw public attention.”
“Oh, so now my café is out-of-the-way? That hurts.”
“Well, it is somewhat off the beaten path, you must admit. You have a good trade with the locals in the neighborhood, but the city doesn’t exactly beat your doors down with business.”
“That’s because they haven’t had one of my Reubens,” he answered.
Just then the door opened. It was the reporter. Nora glanced at Misty, Alice, and Bob, and then went to work.
“Welcome to Bob’s Café,” she said. “Let me sit you down here.” She showed him to a table against the far wall. “Is this okay, or would you like a place by the window?”
“This is fine,” said the reporter.
“Great. Can I get you anything?”
“Just a cup of coffee for now.”
“Great choice. Bob brews the best cup anywhere.” Nora bustled off to fetch the coffee.
The door opened once more. The man who entered was not unknown. He was, in fact, a bit famous. A minor elected official who had lost in his bid to become a representative, he was now an appointed assistant to an agency of the Department of Homeland Security. His appointment had stirred some controversy as he was notorious for being a very conservative and very religious ideologue. But his appointment was shepherded through in the frenzy of the post-9/11 fervor.
He looked around, and then caught the eye of the reporter. He walked over to the table and sat down. Nora appeared immediately with the reporter’s coffee. “Here you go, hon. Can I get your friend anything?”
“Just coffee, please,” the man said.
“Great. I’ll bring it right here. And if you need anything just let me know. My name’s Nora and I’m your waitress.”
“Thank you, miss,” said the man.
Nora fetched the coffee and left it. Alice appeared to be her normal bored self with her attention glued to a terminal. But instead of a video game, she was eavesdropping on a private conversation.
“Well I must admit,” said the very important assistant, “this is certainly a secluded place. I seriously doubt that ten people know it exists.”
“That’s why I chose it. It’s public enough that nobody would suspect, and private enough that nobody will bother us. I’ll get right to the point. I need more information about the agency you mentioned, sir.”
The official snorted. “Agency,” he said in contempt. “Abomination, you mean. The very idea of government agents in women’s clothing, protecting other queers like themselves. I could scarcely believe it when I learned of it. This is an abomination before the Lord, I tell you, and I will see it wiped out.”
“How deeply does this go?” the reporter asked.
“Far too deep. This evil has spread to some of the most sensitive areas of our nation. It must be stopped before it can spread any further.”
“And who else knows about it?”
“Not many, and those who do are unwilling to take the steps needed to stop it. But I shall. I intend to expose this disgrace to the unremitting light of public scrutiny, and drive it from our land for all time.”
Alice looked up at Nora and Misty and gave them a wink. That was the signal. Misty approached the table from one side, Nora from the other. Each held identical cylinders in their palms. Nora said, “Now.”
Misty sprayed the reporter’s neck, while Nora sprayed the official. Both were momentarily startled as the cold liquid was absorbed into their skin. Then they seemed to stare vacantly into the distance. Nora knew that the Gas had taken effect.
She spoke first to the very important assistant. “Good morning, sir. It’s very nice of you to meet me today.”
“Nice,” he repeated.
“You know, sir, your staffers have been playing a very funny joke on you.”
“Yes, a joke. They have invented some crazy sort of agency made up of men who dress like women. Isn’t that just absurd?”
“Yes, absurd.” In the very important assistant’s mind, this all made perfect sense. It just HAD to be a joke. Nora continued to reinforce this notion.
“Of course, you know that no man would willingly wear a woman’s dress, would he? At least, not any agent of our government.”
“Of course.” Yes, how silly of him.
“You know this is a joke. In fact, from now on, whenever you see anything about such an agency, you will just laugh it off. It’s just a big, silly joke.”
“Yes. A joke.”
“In fact, you might just forget all about it, won’t you?”
That’s good. Now why don’t you get a little sleep? You want to be fresh for your job. The president is counting on you. And when you wake up, you won’t remember a thing about this café, or this meeting, or me, or any silly agency.”
The very important man found this to be perfectly sensible, so he went to sleep, oblivious of his surroundings. Nora now turned to the reporter. “You have been having some really strange dreams lately.”
“Yes. Why just the other day you had a dream that a very important assistant to a very important agency director had leaked a ridiculous story to you.”
“Yes. He told you that an agency of the federal government was actually made up of men who wear dresses. Isn’t that just the most ludicrous thing you ever heard?”
And now you’re having a dream that you actually met him at some little café nobody ever heard of. But this is all a dream, isn’t it?”
“And like most dreams, when you wake up you won’t even remember having it, will you?”
“Good. Now get some sleep. You really worked hard last night.”
The two men were sound asleep in their seats. Nora removed a device that looked like a cell phone from her apron pocket. It was, in fact, a secure link for her agency’s communications net. “Mother, this is Moon Maid. Packages are ready for pickup.”
A voice came from the device. “Good work, Moon Maid. We are sending cars from the store. See you in fifteen. Mother out.”
Nora sighed in relief. “That went really smooth, folks. Thanks a lot.”
“Glad to help,” said Bob, “but it’s still hard to believe.”
Alice asked, “Nora, what would you have done if the Gas didn’t work?”
Nora grinned. “I had a plan ‘B’ ready.”
Bob said, “And here it is. A cup of Blue Crystal coffee.”
“I don’t get it,” Misty said, “how would that have helped?”
“I would have given it to our very important official here and let him transform in front of the reporter. Then he would have become one of our protectees.”
“I see,” said Alice. “Blackmail, eh?”
“Not blackmail. Just a way of getting this fellow’s attention and helping him to understand the importance of the agency’s mission. A bit extreme, perhaps, but effective. It’s amazing how understanding somebody can be once he’s walked a mile in your high heels.”
Bob held the cup. “Kind of a shame to let this go to waste.”
“It won’t be wasted,” Nora said. And before anybody could react, she snatched the cup from Bob’s hand and drained it in a single gulp.
Bob, Misty, and Alice were horrified. “Nora,” said Bob, “do you realize just what you have done?”
“Yes, I do. For better or worse, I am permanently female.”
“There’s no turning back now,” Bob said. “You have to remain this way for the rest of your life.”
“Yes. I have to put up with periods and mood swings and water retention and all that comes with it. But you know what else? My colostomy is gone! Now I can sit down every day and move my bowels normally. On the whole, I’d say that’s an even exchange.
“Bob, I have actually had dreams about sitting down and taking a dump! I would wake up and for a brief moment I would think that a miracle had occurred and I was normal. But just as quickly it would fade, and I would be fully awake, and I would know that it was just a dream. Well now it’s not a dream. It’s real!”
“So what are you going to do now?”
Nora smiled. “I think I need to do a little shopping.”
* * * * *
The little bell tinkled cheerfully as Jenna made her way into The Bear Market. Nora was behind the counter arranging some new creations on the shelf. Immediately behind them Jenna caught sight of Alice showing Maggie and Becky the finer points of building a model rocket. “Remember, Maggie,” said Alice, “always line up the leading edge of the fin with the grain of the balsa wood. That makes the fin strong.” Cathy was sitting nearby having a little party with Suzie and a few other animals.
“Hello, Jenna,” said Nora. “Are you here for the girls?”
“Yes, and thanks for watching them, Nora. I really appreciate it, and I know you’re busy.”
“It was no trouble at all, and I had some help. Alice is helping Becky and Maggie build their first rockets”
“I’m surprised that they haven’t made a total mess of this place,” Jenna said.
“Well, they can be quite a handful, but I think Alice has managed to keep their attention. Except for Cathleen. I’m letting her test-drive some of my new models.”
“How is the bear coming along for Shelly?” Jenna inquired.
“The momma is done. Would you like to see it?”
“Yes, I would.”
Nora opened a cabinet and took out a very tall bear, clad in a long hooded robe with intricate embroidery. “I thought that a Celtic Priestess look would be nice, although I also added a suggestion of Galadriel, the elven princess. I still have to make the daughter bear’s robe. Something appropriate for a young apprentice.”
“Oh, Nora, she’ll be thrilled.”
“Good. I should be finished by next week, just in time for her birthday.”
“Are you coming to the party?”
“Of course I am. How could I pass on a surprise party at Amelia’s? I’ll be there and I’m bringing a special plush of my own.”
“That is just wonderful! And thanks again for watching the girls.”
“It was my pleasure. They almost make me want to have one of my own.”
“Well, you could if you wanted to. You have the plumbing now.”
Nora smiled. “Yes, I suppose I do. Maybe if I find the right guy I will.”
“You won’t regret it, hon. These kids can be a real pain at times, but the rewards far outweigh the hassles.”
“I believe it. I suppose if I do I’ll have to permanently retire.”
“So you’re still an agent?”
“In a way. I’m keeping an eye on the neighborhood. Bob is one of our protectees now, and I’ve been assigned to him. Have to make sure that the bad guys don’t find out about you know what.”
Maggie and Becky both ran over. “Mommy, look,” said Becky, “I built a rocket ship! Aunt Alice showed me how! And next week Aunt Nora said she would show us how to paint it and we can go fly it!”
“I have a rocket ship too, Aunt Jenna!” said Maggie. “I’m gonna paint mine orange like Pixel.”
“And I’m gonna paint mine pink,” said Becky.
“Well that sounds exciting,” she said to the girls. She looked at Nora and said, “Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourself into?”
“I think so,” said Nora. “We’ll drive up to a farm I know. I’m taking my camper van with the porta-potty. When a boy needs to go any old bush will do, but girls need different arrangements.”
“Voice of experience, Nora?”
“New experience. This new body has taken some getting used to, and I just got over my first monthly. But all in all I think it’s worth it.”
“I was meaning to ask you,” Jenna said. “I hope you don’t think this is too personal, but do you think your cancer might come back?”
“It probably will, but I’m going to be ready for it. I’ve already talked to Doc Travis and he has agreed to set up an annual colonoscopy for me. This time I’m going to get that tumor while it’s still a polyp.”
“Well don’t forget to get a mammogram and a pap smear while you’re at it.”
“I won’t. I’ve been given a marvelous second chance, and I intend to do it right.”
As they were talking, Nora, Jenna, and Alice managed to gather up the girls’ belongings and get their coats on them, which is quite an enterprise when you are dealing with three wiggly little packages of concentrated girl power. But somehow they got dressed. “Goodbye, Aunt Nora,” they said in unison as they left.
“Goodbye, girls,” she answered. And she smiled as she watched them make their way down the street.
“So did you have a good time?” Jenna asked.
“Yes we did, Aunt Jenna,” Maggie answered, “Aunt Alice and Aunt Nora are lots of fun, and they like to play too.”
“She certainly seems happy to see you girls.”
“Oh, yes. Aunt Nora used to be so very sad, but she isn’t sad any more,” Maggie said, in that very matter-of-fact manner of an eight-year-old.
“How do you know that?” asked Jenna.
“Because the aminals told me, Aunt Jenna, and the aminals never lie.”
(c) 2003 by Valentina Michelle Smith - All Rights Reserved
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