Desperately Seeking Stephanie


Inspired by, but not a direct copy of, one of my all time favourite films. When she wakes up in an anonymous hotel room after a nasty crack on the head, she doesn't know who she is, where she is, or even recognise her own face. But as always in Seacombe, one should not take things too seriously.

This story was first published on FictionMania, with just a few changes from the original.

Author's Note: This story is entirely fictional, and none of the characters or places exist in real life. Enjoy the story!


 
My head felt as though someone had hit the right side with a meat cleaver, and was now trying to force the two halves apart. Somewhere, someone was screaming to get an ambulance, please. I didn't know what had happened; I didn't really care.

 
*          *          *

 
Sometime later: a minute? An hour? A week? I didn't know. It only mattered that the pain in my head had subsided to a splitting headache. Bad enough, but relatively comfortable, compared to the way it had been.

I opened my eyes to stare at a bed quilt. Anyone, who has stayed at any RestEasy Motel, up or down the country, will recognise that same design of bed quilt, covering every bed in their chain of motels. I wondered what I was doing, laying by the side of a bed in a RestEasy, I didn't know where.

But there was something needing more urgent attention than my splitting headache. My right arm was lying trapped underneath my body, and had lost circulation. I had to move, or it would fall off. That's how it felt, anyway.

I used my left hand to push up my torso from the floor, and then got first one knee beneath me, and then the other. Finally, I managed to get one foot flat on the floor and push myself up so I could sit on the edge of the bed, my right arm hanging limply beside me, my hand still grasping its important possession.

I used my left hand to massage the top of my right arm - the pain got worse as the circulation returned, but it didn't matter. At least the circulation was returning. I kept the massage up for several minutes, working my way down from shoulder to elbow, until finally I could lift my arm and ease it onto my lap, all the better to massage my lower arm.

That's when I first noticed it. The item grasped in my right hand - the item I had known, even as I'd regained consciousness, that I must hang on to at all costs. It was a pistol.

Now for those who don't live in the UK, I'd better explain that handguns are illegal here, except for the armed forces and the like. Simply being caught in possession of a handgun would result in a minimum of five years in prison - and a bloody good thing too.

Except that I was holding one!

I placed it carefully beside me on the bed and stared at it, as I continued to massage my wrist and hand. Why did I have a gun in my hand? Was it mine? Had I ever handled a gun before in my life? I didn't know the answer to any of those questions.

Why not? What was I doing in this room? What events had led up to it? What was my name?

The last question rang hollowly around my brain. I didn't know!

I didn't know my name; I didn't know who I was; I didn't know where I was! On the wall facing the bed was a full-length mirror. I slid sideways along the bed until I could stare at my own reflection.

I didn't know the woman staring back at me!

She wasn't pretty, but she was quite attractive, if that makes sense, and with her large breasts, she would be an immediate hit with men. She was quite tall, with a big frame, and was wearing a smart, royal blue, pleated skirt and jacket, over a pale-blue blouse, casually unbuttoned to expose the deep valley between her breasts. She had matching heavily patterned stockings covering shapely legs, which descended to dark-blue, sling-back sandals, with a low, pointed, heel. It was difficult to explain why her face was appealing. It shouldn't have been with the combination of deep-set eyes which were rather too close together, a nose which was too long, and a square jaw line.

But of course, the attractiveness of the woman in the mirror had little importance, compared to the fact that I didn't recognise my own face. The crack on the head was to blame, of course. I guessed I needed some medical attention. Except that I had a gun, and as soon as anyone saw it, they'd be calling the police.

I stood up in front of the mirror, and peered more closely at my face - at my rounded cheeks and full lips, and at every minor imperfection on my skin, seeking to recognise just one element of myself. Nothing.

I did a swirl in front of the mirror, and that's when I caught sight of the man - in the chair in the corner of the room, over by the window. It made me jump, and I turned and started to say, in a voice I didn't even recognise, "Why didn't you tell me you were..."

The blank, staring eyes informed me that he would never be telling anyone, anything, ever again, even before my gaze had taken in his slumped position, and the hole below his left shoulder, through which a bucketful of blood and gore had poured, staining his clothes down to the floor, and forming a puddle there.

It didn't take an expert to work out he'd been shot. From the mess on the wall, he'd been standing up when the bullet went right through him and smacked into the wall behind. He'd dropped into the chair, and there he'd slowly bled to death. Vaguely, I could remember someone screaming for an ambulance. Perhaps it had been him.

Had I been dashing over to the telephone to call for help when I'd stumbled and smacked my head against the bedside table? I wondered: would I really have dashed to call for help, after shooting him?

The question hit me straight between the eyes. The gun had been underneath my body ever since, tightly clasped in my right hand. Therefore, it must have been me who had shot and killed him!
 

*          *          *

 
Salvation! I found another dead body!

OK, that doesn't sound a good reason to celebrate, but it was. I turned away from the body in the chair and immediately saw the other body, lying in the hallway by the hotel door. All RestEasys have that same hallway just inside the hotel room, with the door to the en-suite bathroom on one side, and a hanging space for clothes on the other.

He was lying on his back, half in the hanging space. He also had that vacant look in his eyes. But he had a third eye in his forehead, and judging by the amount of brain splattered on the door behind where he would have been standing, and the lack of anything coming out the hole at the front, death must have been instantaneous.

Still doesn't sound a good reason to celebrate? Next to his right hand, there was another gun lying on the floor. Now that opened up all kinds of possibilities.

For my money, it was him who'd shot the first guy in the shoulder, and me who, obviously in self-defence, had shot the second guy in the head. That made me feel a little better, and in turn, it made me start to think with a little more cunning.

Firstly, the scenario I'd just imagined was only one of several the police would consider. Since I couldn't remember a single event that had occurred in the few hours before I awoke, or even the whole of my life, I wasn't in a strong position to argue in favour of mine.

Indeed, there was, for me, an even better scenario. Still alive for a few seconds after being shot, the guy in the chair had managed to lift his gun and shoot the other in the head. Afterwards, he too had passed on to the next world.

The only problem with that scenario was that his gun had miraculously transferred itself into my hand, and my fingerprints would be all over it. A problem, I surmised, which could be overcome.
 

*          *          *

 
The TV clock indicated 09:52. Any minute now, the chambermaids would be knocking on the doors to make up the rooms. Even if there was a 'Do Not Disturb' sign outside, they'd still come in shortly after the eleven o'clock check-out time. I had to make haste.

I'd flicked on the safety-catch of the gun and then took a bunch of tissues from the complimentary box and spent ages wiping the gun clean of fingerprints, especially around the trigger and the butt.

Then, holding the gun in a tissue, I went over to the body in the chair, carefully took his right hand (I just hoped he was right-handed) and wrapped it around the barrel, and forced his index finger onto the trigger. Finally, I dropped it onto the floor.

Dimwit!

I'd left the safety-catch on. A dying man would hardly think about flicking on the safety-catch before expiring. I leant over and used the tissue to pick up the gun again, and that's when disaster happened. My skirt touched his left leg, which was covered in blood and gore.

I stared down at it, aghast. The royal-blue skirt had a huge patch of purple, running from mid-thigh to hem. Shit! Shit! Shit!

I flicked off the safety-catch on the gun, and left it lying beneath his right hand, before stepping back towards the safety of the bedside. I painstakingly took off the jacket, careful not to get it covered in blood as well, then unzipped and stepped out of my skirt. I folded it inside-out, and then looked around for the plastic laundry bag, provided, I noticed, "...for my convenience by the Seacombe RestEasy Motel". Seacombe! At least I now knew where I was.

With my dirty washing safely concealed, I reviewed my position.

I was almost naked on my lower half. No panties, I noticed, only stockings and suspender belt.

Hanging in the open wardrobe were some men's clothes, but a quick inspection showed they had been sprayed with the brains of the second man!

I desperately looked around and then my eyes alighted on the small vanity case by the side of the bed where I'd been lying. Mine, without doubt.

I popped it onto the bed and opened it. Inside, was a large toilet bag with all kinds of cosmetics and pills; a change of underwear; a white swimsuit; and then, neatly folded underneath all that, a dress. I slipped it out and held it up for inspection.

I gasped. It was the yellow sundress, the one with black polka-dots, and the deep V halter-neck. It was that dress which had started it all off; the one which had been recognised. I couldn't even explain what I meant by my statement, but I knew it was that dress which had got me into this mess.

I couldn't put it on!

Does that sound stupid? Here I was, half-naked in a hotel bedroom with two dead bodies, I'd wiped my fingerprints off a gun and planted the gun onto one of the bodies, got my only skirt covered in blood, and I couldn't bring myself to put on the only spare dress I had, because it was a yellow dress with black polka-dots.

It may have been stupid, even insane, but I couldn't do it. I stuffed it back into the vanity case, and did the only other thing I could.

I took off all my clothes: blouse, bra (nice firm tits, I noticed - hardly any sag, in spite of their size), flat-heeled sandals, stockings and suspender belt. Then I took the swimsuit out of the suitcase, stepped into it and pulled it up over my body.

I slipped my jacket over the top to give a slight air of respectability, put my shoes back on, and stuffed everything, including my dirty laundry bag into the case. Thirty seconds later, I was stepping into the hotel corridor and rapidly walking towards the stairs, my vanity case in my hand.

"Have a good day, Miss Stewart," the hotel receptionist bade me as I got to the bottom of the stairs opposite Reception. She was dealing with a customer, and I'd rather hoped to avoid her notice, but it was an exceptionally useful, albeit short conversation. I had a name!

Miss Stewart. Stewart. It was familiar, but what was my first name? Suzie Stewart? No. Sandra Stewart? No. Sheila Stewart? No. Stephanie Stewart? YES!
 

*          *          *

 
The other piece of knowledge that came back to me as I stepped outside the motel was that the Seacombe RestEasy was only one block away from the seafront, on the edge of the town - but I guessed I'd subconsciously known that already, which is why I'd put on the swimsuit.

Seacombe still got a fair number of holiday visitors, especially families, who loved the wide, safe beach, so there was nothing unusual in seeing people in swimming things walking a short distance from their hotel rooms and bed-and-breakfast houses to and from the sea.

Once on the seafront, I could take off my jacket and stroll along almost inconspicuously. Well, I would have been able to do that if my rounded tits hadn't been poking out my swimming costume like large grapefruit. I drew the glances of every passing male, which felt a bit strange. Why it felt strange on that occasion when it must happen every time I went out, I could not explain.

As I walked towards the town centre, I realised I had virtually jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. There was a limit as to how far a swimsuit-clad woman could wonder from the seafront and not look suspicious. So, I could hardly go to the station and get the train for London, even if I had the fare.

I HAD NO MONEY!

The thought struck me rigid. There had been no purse inside the case, and a quick examination of the two pockets in the jacket revealed they were totally empty except for a set of keys - to what? I was penniless, dressed only in a swimsuit, and by now probably wanted for murder. Not an enviable position.

"Bingo hostess urgently wanted. Uniform provided."

The notice was in the window of Seiza's Palace, Seacombe's answer to Las Vegas. Imagine a Vegas casino without a couple of billion dollars investment, continual sunshine and the good taste(!), and you have an idea what Seiza's Palace was like. Absolute tack!

On the other hand, a uniform was a uniform. I went inside.
 

*          *          *

 
OK, the uniform looked more like a nightdress than a uniform, made of white chiffon through which my breasts could tantalisingly just be made out. It had a full skirt down to mid calf, which conveniently hid the fact that I had no underwear worth wearing. Harry Jones, my new boss, found some white sandals with three-inch heels left by a previous worker, who had been only about two sizes smaller than me, so I had to stagger around in those.

My job was fairly straightforward. The bingo session started at eleven, and the customers - most of them elderly - were already flocking in by the time I'd got kitted up. I had to help behind the bar in that first crush period, and then once everyone got seated and Harry had started calling the numbers, I had to serve customers at their seats.

It was pretty hard work but I really enjoyed it. For the first time that day - and I suppose you could say in the whole of my living memory - I knew what I was doing, and why I was doing it. The pay wasn't good, but at least I'd have enough to buy myself a meal. If I did alright, Harry said, he'd hire me for the afternoon session as well.

The customers were great - everyone was there for an enjoyable time and you don't get the hassle you would with younger people. All the old blokes leched at me, and at the end, Harry was really pleased because bar takings were up - we both reckoned this was solely because the old geezers wanted to have another oggle at me as I bought over their Horlicks and pulled their half pints of bitter shandy.

I, too, was more than delighted because so many customers left tips - only a pound here, and fifty pence there, but it all mounted up. When Harry told me he would employ me for the afternoon session, I thought I'd probably earn enough to pay for a bed-and-breakfast overnight.

I was behind the bar finishing off the cleaning-up when the man's words took me by surprise.

"A pint of bitter, lass, and it's on the house."

"I'm sorry?" I peered at him, a huge, incredibly ugly-looking man in a well-used suit, who was openly leering at my tits - the dirty bastard.

"You heard me."

"Give him what he wants." Harry's voice came from over by the bingo area, where he'd been cashing up. He shut his till, and strolled over to us. From his expression, there was no love lost between him and the visitor. "I'd better introduce you, Stevie."

Unfortunately, Harry had insisted on calling me Stevie all morning, a diminutive I hated. Stephanie was my name. Twice I'd reminded him of it, before giving up when I realised he was deliberately doing it to tease me.

"This," Harry continued, "is Detective Inspector Godolphy, from Seacombe nick." Harry turned towards him, "Have you come here to ask if I'm responsible for the double murder?"

Godolphy looked at him sharply. "How do you know about that?"

Harry smiled. "It was on local radio five minutes ago," he said. "So what's it all about?"

Godolphy looked around at me. "What happened to that beer, then?"

Harry nodded at me, and I proceeded to pull a pint of beer. The hand-pumps in there were incredibly stiff, and Godolphy enjoyed the picture of me straining my tits off to pull his pint just as much as the old geezers had, half an hour before. Except that I didn't begrudge making their day a bit brighter, whereas I really hated being leched by this fat slob.

He sank half a pint down in one go, and wiped the froth off his lip with the back of his hand. "Not fucking bad," he said, and then added, whilst eyeing me up and down, "The beer's alright as well."

"So what's with the murder," Harry asked.

"That's what I'm here for," Godolphy replied. He took another swig from his beer, and then reached into his inside pocket for two photographs. "Seen either of these guys in here before?"

Harry glanced at them and shook his head. "Naw. We don't get murder victims in here."

"Don't give me that bollocks. You get every kind of law-breaker in here, and these two were certainly that." Godolphy passed the photos in my direction. "What about you, love?"

I looked down at the faces of my two dead bodies. I pulled a face, shivered and was about to speak when Harry said, "Stevie's only just started here. She won't have seen anything."

"Let her answer for herself."

"No." I shook my head.

He shrugged, and put the photos back in his inside pocket. "It's alright," he said. "We'll have this thing fucking solved by the end of the day, anyway."

Harry grinned, unbelievingly. "That simple, is it?"

Godolphy grinned back, obviously wanting to see the expression on Harry's face as he revealed how easily he would crack the crime. "It's obviously drugs related," he said. "Guy called Brian Mitchell, telephones the RestEasy motel last night."

It was a good job that Godolphy was looking at Harry at that point, rather than at me, for I recognised the name and I'm sure my eyes would have shown it.

"He books a room for the night," Godolphy was continuing, "and an hour later at 9:57 he checks in to Room 107. He lives over at Dorton, so everything lines up with him suddenly deciding to stay here, and then driving over from his house.

"This morning, he goes down to breakfast at 8:12 - fucking marvellous these computers in hotels. They almost tell you the exact time anyone farts. Anyway, he starts his breakfast at 8:12." He sank another enormous gulp of beer, and repeated the exercise with the back of his hand.

"Around 8:20," he continued, "another guy sees one of the chambermaids outside Room 107, and tells her he's left his key inside the room, and it's a fucking emergency, so can she let him in? Against all the rules, of course, but she opens the door for him.

"Now it looks like chummy waited in the en-suite for Mitchell to return from breakfast. Mitchell walks in, goes over towards the window, and then hears chummy coming out of the en-suite. He swivels around to find chummy has a gun on him. From the position of his body, it looks like Mitchell goes for his own gun, but chummy shoots him. He was probably aiming at the heart, but the bullet goes a little high and doesn't kill him outright.

"Mitchell already has his own gun out, and he shoots chummy straight through the brain, and then, according to the doc, it probably takes Mitchell a few minutes to die. So, we've got two stiffs, both of whom are obviously up to no good, since they've got shooters, and incidentally, there was over a thousand quid in Mitchell's jacket pocket. All we have to do is identify the other stiff - and his fingerprints will probably be on record - and work out what they were up to."

He held up some keys in his hand, and added, "I'm going over to Mitchell's house in Dorton after lunch, to have a snuffty around, and probably find a few million quid's worth of drugs. After I've pocketed my share, I'll be rolling in it, but in the meantime, one of your baguettes on the house will set me up very nicely, Harry."

Harry started to look expectantly at me, so I quickly said, "I need to go off to my lunch, now, Harry. See you at three."
 

*          *          *

 
I walked as quickly as I could back to the RestEasy, trying to put everything in my confused mind into order. Firstly, the police appeared to be buying the clues I had left at the scene of the crime.

Secondly, I knew Brian Mitchell. He lived at 23 Laburnum Crescent, Dorton. At least, I thought I knew him, and how else would I have known his address, presuming that address hadn't come from a figment of my imagination.

Thirdly, that had not been Brian Mitchell lying dead in the chair in the hotel room, but please don't ask me to describe what the real Brian Mitchell looks like, because I can't.

Fourthly, I needed to see Brian before Godolphy did, and discover whether he could throw any light on my circumstance, and also ensure he didn't tip the police off about me.

And fifth, one of the keys on the key ring from my jacket pocket was a car-key, so presumably, I had a car which, I hoped, would be parked at the RestEasy.
 

*          *          *

 
In the old days, trying to match a car-key against a car park full of cars would have meant the highly suspicious behaviour of trying the keys in every car door. Nowadays, I only had to stroll around the car park, pressing the button on the remote until a BMW flashed its indicators at me. I went over to it.

"Did you stay at the motel overnight?"

I turned. This time it was a policewoman who'd surprised me. She smiled at me, and remembering I was a totally innocent member of the general public, I smiled back at her. "That's right. I've just called to collect my car."

I had a brainwave. "There isn't a problem with me leaving it here for the morning, is there?"

"Oh no." Her smile was very broad now. "But there was a serious crime committed here in the hotel this morning. Can I ask you your name?"

"Stewart. Miss Stewart." Better not be too clever about my assumed first name.

She looked at a list on her clipboard. "Oh yes, Stephanie." Not only had she confirmed my name, she'd also said it properly. "You were in Room 108. Is that right?"

I nodded, non-committally. I'd seen on TV how Columbo lays these traps for the victims to fall into. "Some number like that."

"OK, so your room was immediately opposite where the crime was committed. Can I ask whether you heard anything unusual between eight and ten am?"

I shook my head. "No. Why? What sort of thing?"

"An argument? Shouting? Gun fire?"

I shook my head. "No."

"Did you see the man in the room opposite?"

"No."

"Could you look at these photographs?" She held them out.

I shook my head. "I've already seen them. Your Sergeant Godolphy was showing them around, down at Seiza's Palace."

Her face crinkled into laughter. "Gosh, don't let him hear you call him that. He's Detective Inspector Godolphy, and God help anyone who forgets it." She eyed my dress. "Do you work at Seiza's?"

"Just a temporary job. I... had a bust up with my boy friend - walked out on him. I needed the money."

She nodded, sagely, looking at her clipboard again. "I wondered why you were staying here when you lived close by. Men are shits, aren't they? He let you go without any cash?"

I nodded back.

"Well just be careful down at Seiza's. There are some right villains down there, not the least of them is Harry Jones. We reckon he's into all kind of things - drugs, prostitution, fencing stolen goods - but we've never caught him at it. That's why Godolphy went down there just now. Harry's certain to be mixed up in this murder. You take care if you continue to work there."

She delved inside her pocket and produced a card, and then wrote something on it. "Here's my card, and I've put my home number on it, just in case you need any help when I'm off duty. Don't hesitate to call at any time of the day..." she paused for a second and stared me in the eye as she added, "...or night."

What did that mean, I wondered. I glanced down at the card. "Well, thanks for the offer, PC Wright." I started to get into my car.

"Call me Sally," she said.
 

*          *          *

 
The drive over to Dorton took about forty-five minutes, and when I reached the outskirts of the town, I simply let the car drive itself until I was turning into Laburnum Crescent - it certainly seemed to know the way better than I did.

Number twenty-three, I knew, was the white painted house, halfway down on the left side of the road. I drove slowly past, making certain there was no one else around - such as a police patrol car, waiting for Godolphy to arrive. I parked almost at the end of the road, and then got out and walked back, my heels making a loud clack-clack-clack. Fortunately, this was a commuter area, with no nosy neighbours peering through their windows all day long.

I knew that Brian kept a key behind one of the white stones bordering the edge of his drive, and I picked it up almost without pausing on my way to the front door. From my detailed knowledge of Brian and his house, I certainly knew him pretty closely. I guessed he was my lover - but why the hell couldn't I remember him?

I rang the doorbell, and waited a few seconds before slipping the key into the lock and letting myself in. Inside, there was that empty feel about it, and I knew I was not going to be talking to Brian that lunchtime. Never mind, my instincts were telling me, there were other pressing things to do. I let my instincts rule.

The lounge was on the left of the hallway, and I went in and turned directly to the computer, just behind the door. That's what I needed to get at.

It took forever to boot up, but once on, my fingers flew over the keyboard. Onto the internet, into Favorites, and then clicking on a site from the list. "Desperately Seeking Stephanie" flashed in front of my eyes in lurid purple and yellow - an obnoxious combination.

An instant later, a photograph filled the screen of a man with his arm around a girl wearing a yellow sundress with black polka dots! A photograph of me.

According to the caption, the guy standing next to me in the photograph, with his arm casually around my waist, was called Billy, although when I'd last seen him, he was lying in a RestEasy bedroom with a bullet through his head!

This, apparently, was Billy's site. He was in love with me, but we'd had a stupid argument about whether we should get married in Hawaii or Las Vegas. I had walked off in a temper, and had never been seen again. Billy was desperate to find me. If anyone could tell him where I was, he would pay for them to go to the wedding, wherever in the world it was.

It wasn't a very professional site, but the whole story had a certain charm about it. One could imagine people all over the country coming across the site and wanting to help. If that resulted in a trip to Hawaii, so much the better.

But when I looked at the photograph more carefully, I reckoned that his image had been carefully superimposed onto the photograph, so that presumably meant we hadn't really been lovers at all.

I didn't have time to think. The very fact that this site was in Brian's Favorites would be incriminating evidence. It was easy enough to delete from the Favorites, but with computers, life is never that simple. My fingers started to fly across the keyboard again.
 

*          *          *

 
Fifteen minutes later, I'd logged into the account of the "Desperately Seeking Stephanie" web address (don't ask me how I knew the password), and made a few changes to it. The photograph had gone and the text now read: "Thanks to a tip off from a user, I have made contact with Stephanie. Unfortunately, I realise we have nothing in common, so there will be no wedding, and we will not meet each other again. Thank you to everyone who helped. I'm sorry it hasn't worked out."

The response form, which allowed users to give information about where Stephanie had been seen, would automatically send off an email to two addresses; one was to [email protected], the other was to [email protected] I removed the response form along with both email addresses.

I logged onto Brian's email account and located the email which had come the previous evening from the one of the chambermaids at the RestEasy in Seacombe via the website. "Stephanie had just checked into the motel," it said, "and I will love to come to your wedding, wherever it is." I deleted the email.

I also logged into Billy's email account and deleted the same email. Then I changed his password. Hopefully, the police might not even make the connection between Billy and the account. Finally, I went into all those places on the computer where Bill Gates insisted on storing extra copies, just in case the police wanted to find out what you'd been up to, and deleted everything of relevance. I had just finished, when the front door crashed open, and Godolphy stormed through!
 

*          *          *

 
Fortunately, the half-closed door to the lounge concealed me from the hallway, and I only caught a glimpse of Godolphy through the crack in the door as he dashed into the downstairs toilet. I heard the toilet seat crack as it was smashed back against the cistern, then a noise like Niagara Falls abruptly commencing, with a, "Oh fucking hell! I needed that."

I brought up the screensaver on the computer and, offering a silent prayer of thanks to Brian for his wall-to-wall carpet, crept out of the lounge and past the open door of the toilet. Godolphy was making a pretty poor job of aiming the yellow deluge streaming from his elephant's trunk of a cock in the general vicinity of the toilet bowl. I made a mental note to ensure the whole area had been thoroughly cleaned before using that toilet again.
 

*          *          *

 
"I'm glad I've caught you."

I had parked my car in the town car-park, and was heading towards the casino when the voice I recognised came from behind me. The words were scary, but even so, I turned and smiled at PC Sally Wright.

"Is there a problem?" I queried.

"I need to ask you some more questions. Can you come down to the station with me?" Sally opened the passenger door of her police-car, which she'd drawn to a halt, immediately behind where I'd been walking.

"Don't Panic! Remember, I'm totally innocent," I thought to myself, whilst actually saying, "Couldn't it wait until later. I need to start work at Seiza's in ten minutes time."

She continued to hold open the car door. "I'm afraid not. We need to talk now."

I sighed, and got in.

Once we'd set off, Sally said, "I'm glad I caught you. Godolphy has decided to raid Seiza's this afternoon, and I thought it would be better if you were out of the way when it happened. Some of our guys can be right pigs when there are half-dressed, pretty women like you around. And of course, we don't have to go to the police station; we could go round to my place, instead."

I nodded. I thought I was starting to get an idea of where PC Sally Wright was heading.
 

*          *          *

 
"You did say white, no sugar, didn't you?" Sally asked, holding out towards me a large, yellow mug of coffee.

I nodded and took it from her.

"Same as me," Sally said, as though having things in common was important. She took a sip from her green mug and flicked her tongue around her lips in a rather suggestive manner.

The strange thing was, I found her rather attractive. If I had been having an affair with Brian Mitchell, I was presumably a normal heterosexual woman. Yet here was this big-breasted but rather butch-looking policewoman, who was obviously making a play at me, and the only issue I was worrying about was whether my criminality made it too dangerous to have sex with her. I was quite convinced that I seriously wanted to.

"It looks a nice place you have here."

"Oh, it certainly is," she said. "I've just had my kitchen refitted. Come and have a look." She put down her mug onto the tiered stand packed with hi-fi equipment and marched through to the kitchen.

My mind must have been on other things, because as I went to put down my own mug next to Sally's, I knocked her mug over, and its contents poured liberally down the back of the hi-fi.

Common decency said I should have called Sally back and confessed to buggering her equipment, but that would definitely have put an end to the dalliance we were both leading up to. Instead, I took a quick glance round to make certain the coast was clear, and then righted her mug and poured the contents of my own mug into it.

As I followed her into the kitchen, I was pretending to drain the last dregs from it. "Mmm, excellent coffee," I said. "I really needed that." I held the mug under the tap and rinsed it out. "Thanks." I gave her a nice smile to follow it up.

We spent a few minutes in the kitchen, whilst she showed me all her built-in units. When we went back to the lounge, I got rather worried as Sally went over to the hi-fi unit, because I thought she might be going to switch it on, and she'd be electrocuted, or the whole thing would explode. Fortunately, she only went to pick up her coffee and drink it.

"Oh, I didn't tell you, did I?"

Since I didn't know what she was referring to, I could only shake my head.

"Well, I shouldn't really gossip like this, but we are good friends, aren't we?"

I nodded brightly. Even if we weren't at this moment, the way things were shaping, we certainly would be before the afternoon was over.

"We got the ID back from the fingerprint check. It seems that the guy just inside the door who'd been shot through the head was called Billy Walker. He was released from prison three months ago, after serving five years of an eight-year sentence for armed robbery of a British Museum security delivery.

"But what was really interesting," she continued, "was that other the body wasn't Brian Mitchell, as we thought. It was a guy called Stuart Stevenson, wanted for questioning in connection with the British Museum hoist, six years ago."

"So they pulled the same job together."

"Of course. Didn't I just say that?"

It may have been glaringly obvious to her, but I had to work it out bit by bit. "Billy Walker got caught and sent to prison," I continued, "whilst Stevenson got away with it. Did they recover the stolen goods?"

Sally shook her head. "Nope - a load of artefacts which we believe have gradually been seeping their way onto the black-market. Difficult to put a value on them, but certainly worth millions."

"So presumably, when Billy Walker was let out of prison he got in contact with Stevenson, with a view to sharing the booty," I said.

Sally nodded. "The police in London think he's been looking for him ever since being released," she said.

Or perhaps, I conjectured, looking for the woman who would lead him to Stevenson. Did that mean I was Stevenson's girlfriend? Then why didn't I recognise him?

"And this morning," I brightly interjected, "it looks like he found him and demanded his share. They had a row and killed each other." All very nicely sewn up, I thought, without the need for anyone else to be involved.

"It's not quite as simple as that."

I frowned. "Why not?"

"There are a few problems. For example, where's Stevenson been hiding all this time, and where are the missing artefacts now? Then there's something which is really strange - the guns had been reversed. The gun lying next to Billy Walker was the one which had been used to kill him, fired from a distance of three to five metres.

Oh shit!

"The gun used to kill Stevenson, again fired from a distance of three to five metres, was lying just beneath his fingertips. We thought it was the gun he had just used to kill Billy Walker. But both guns had Stevenson's fingerprints on them. So explain that."

I shook my head. I knew from watching Columbo how hazardous it was for the guilty one to try to put an answer to these kinds of questions. "Don't know," I said.

Sally smiled, pleased that the police could work out things which others could not. "Neither Stevenson or Walker could have shot themselves, or were in a position to mess about rigging fingerprints after they had been shot. Therefore, someone else rigged the evidence. Our assumption must be that this third person killed both Stevenson and Walker, probably in order to make off with the stolen artefacts. In the heat of the moment, this person fouled up rigging the evidence, and got the guns confused."

God! This policewoman was far cleverer than Columbo. She completely had me sussed, and must be about to arrest me. I had to ask the question - it would sound even more suspicious if I didn't. "So who do you think that was?"

"Why, Brian Mitchell, of course. He obviously set up a trap so both Stevenson and Walker would be killed and he could get away with the loot. We suspect Harry Jones is involved, simply because this is all happening in Seacombe, and he's involved in everything around here. Perhaps he'd been fencing the stuff that Stevenson was slowly selling off, and got greedy. That's why we're raiding Seiza's anytime now. Hopefully, we'll find both Brian Mitchell and some of the stolen goods there."

She looked me fully in the eye, "That's why I wanted you well out of the way."

A little shiver ran all over her body, and a beautiful smile spread across her face, and she said, "We've been talking about serious things for far too long. Why don't you have a look around the bedroom now? I think you'll find it's really pretty."

It was too. Pretty Dutch drapes at the windows; matching bed linen, which looked totally fresh, as though Sally had only put it on a few minutes before; pleasant furniture which blended nicely together, and a large bed with brass bed-posts - the kind which are so useful for tying up your partner.

"Oh, how beautiful it is, Sally. It must be lovely to go to bed in here." Was I misreading all the signals and pushing my luck here? I'd soon find out.

"Oh, it's a bit hot in here, isn't it?" she said. "I think I'd better take off my tunic."

Nope, I think I'd read her correctly. She slipped off her tunic and went to hang it on the back of a chair, but missed it and it dropped to the floor. Her hat dropped besides it, and then she sat down on the edge of the bed and stated to untie her shoe-laces, except she got them in a knot.

"Oh, what must you be thinking of me?" she said, giggling slightly. "It's just that I seem to have gone very hot, all of a sudden, and I need to get my clothes off." She seemed to find that even funnier, for she giggled some more.

Then she flopped right back on the bed and stuck her left foot up in the air. "Do you think you can get my shoelace undone? I seem to have got it knotted." Another giggle.

I smiled back. Her transformation from police officer, about to nick a murderer, into a giggling girl had been almost instantaneous. I took her ankle in my one hand and carefully picked at the knot on her shoe with the other. It wasn't difficult, and I was able to pull the shoe off and drop it on the floor. Rather than simply dropping her leg to the floor, I carefully lowered it, using both hands, my one hand creeping up her calf beneath the trousers she was wearing.

"It was so much more convenient when we wore skirts instead of trousers," she giggled. "We didn't even have to take them off for a quick bit of fun. Can you undo the other shoe, now." She obligingly lifted her right leg in the air and waved it at me.

I grabbed hold of it, removed the shoe, and this time slid my hand as far up the leg of her trouser as it would go.

"Ooops! I think I'm getting your drift, Stephanie. And don't you know you should never put your hand up a police officer's trouser leg?" She paused a second before adding, "It's much better if you pull the trousers down, first." This was enough to send her into a fit of raucous laughter.

She waved both legs in the air in an open invitation to do as she had invited, and I willingly assisted her in that action, also in removing her panties and tights.

"Do you know," Sally said, "I have never before been with a girl who has got me undressed so quickly. Why it's almost like..."

Her voice dried up as a flash of enlightenment crossed her face.

Then, "You switched them, didn't you? You switched the mugs of coffee. That's why it's me giggling like a schoolgirl, and you who's pulling off my knickers. Why you randy little bitch on heat. But how did you know I'd slipped you a happy-orgasm pill?"

The idea had hit me at the same time. Sally had slipped something into my coffee with the direct intention of getting me into bed. I had accidentally reversed her plan by spilling her coffee and replacing it with mine.

I was about to start the explanation, when Sally said, "Oh hell! Don't bother with the excuses, just get your tongue on my pussy."

I don't know what the pill was, but crikey, it was a superb advert for illegal substances. No sooner had my tongue slowly traced a path along one lip of her pussy, and then back along the other until it reached her clit, than she hit the kind of orgasm that many people only dream of.

She screamed so loudly, it was a wonder the neighbours didn't call the police, except that perhaps they'd heard the effect of these pills before, and knew she was the police. Her climax must have lasted for about ten minutes, until I thought she ought to come down before she had a heart attack.

Then she was frenziedly applying her tongue to my nipples, and my clit. Unfortunately, with my headache still throbbing, I could hardly feel a thing. I really did not want to use the old headache excuse, so I simply suggested we reversed roles again, with me going to work on her tits. Another deafening blockbuster!

I have to say, I was feeling incredibly frustrated, for I was giving her everything she wanted and wasn't getting any reward myself. I'm not certain how much longer we'd have gone on together like that, but Sally's next orgasm was cut off in its prime.

"Bravo Tango One. Come in please." The metallic voice of a police radio interrupted.

"Oh shit! I gorra ansa dat. Werisit?"

I picked up her tunic from the floor and pulled out the radio. She desperately tried to sit up on the bed, and I helped to lift her to a sitting position as the radio repeated its message. Looking at the size of Sally's big tits, I wondered which wag at the police station had allocated her the BT1 call-sign.

"Bravatangawonere." As she finished speaking, the radio slipped from her hands, and dropped to the floor. Sally tried to catch it, but ended up collapsing onto the floor after it. I went around the bed and turned her over so she could sit up again, and rummaged between her legs until I found her radio. She started to giggle again as I pulled it out.

"Bravo tango one. We've just heard the School Crossing Warden at Seacombe Middle has gone sick. Can you fill in for him? His duty starts at 15:55."

"Bravatangawon. Noproblum. Owt." Sally dropped the radio on the floor and struggled to get upright. "Gemeup. I gorrahelpthekidsacrosstheroad."

"Sally!" I shouted at her, to try to get through. "You can't do that in this condition. Why didn't you tell them you were ill?"

She shook her head. "Lookinforascusetagerridame. Elpmegedressed."

"No way. You'll get one of the kids killed if you work in this condition." I eyed her uniform lying around the floor. "I'll do it for you."

She looked puzzled for a second, and then enlightenment lit up her face. "Goodidee," and she flopped backwards, her eyes closed, and an enormous snore started from her mouth.
 

*          *          *

 
For the first time that day, I felt as though I looked pretty good. Sally's uniform fitted me really well. Sally was right - it was a shame that policewomen no longer wore skirts, but even the cut of her trousers suited my well-rounded arse to a 'T'. I'd found a fresh blouse and tie - you know, the one with the black-and-white check - in Sally's wardrobe, and simply taken the rest of her things from the floor as I didn't have that much time, especially as it had taken me so long to pin-up my hair underneath the cap. It was almost as though I'd never before had to pin-up my hair.

Fortunately, my sub-conscious knowledge of Seacombe served to get me to Seacombe Middle School, just before the kids all came streaming out.

Within seconds a whirlwind of kids descended on me, and I was kept busy helping children and parents across the reasonably busy road. The first time I stepped off the pavement and held up my arm in front of a car, I felt terrified the driver wasn't going to stop. But after a few attempts, I was enjoying the fantastic power of halting huge juggernauts to let across children who were so tiny, they didn't come halfway up the wheels.

Quite a few of the drivers, particularly the lorry drivers gave me whistles, or shouted things like, "You've stopped me - I'll buy one," or "You haven't got a lollipop, luv, do you want to grab hold of mine?" - a play upon the round STOP sign-on-a-pole carried by the normal Crossing Patrol Wardens, or Lollipop Men and Ladies as they were usually called.

I guess I should have come heavy with them, got out my truncheon and whipped them for being so cheeky, but it was all good-natured fun, and what's more - I really enjoyed it. The kids were lovely; one showed me a picture she had drawn, and another, a birthday card he'd made for his mum. So by the time the flow of kids had stopped, I had a really big smile on my face.
 

*          *          *

 
I'd borrowed Sally's police car to take me to the school and I was still smiling as I got back inside it and noticed the clipboard on the back seat - the clipboard upon which Sally had the details of every guest who'd stayed overnight at the RestEasy motel.

Room 108 - there I was: Miss Stephanie Stewart, Sea View Court, The Promenade, Seacombe. No wonder Sally had remarked how close I was to home when she'd checked my details in the RestEasy car park.

The strange thing was, I didn't have any recollection of that address, in the way that I had so certainly known Brian Mitchell's address in Dorton. Obviously, I knew Seacombe Promenade - it was the road that ran along the sea front, with the beach on one side and, on the other, all the large Victorian edifices which at one time had been splendid hotels, but were now either rather seedy bed-and-breakfast places or had been turned into apartments. Sea View Court was presumably one of the latter. It would only be a minor diversion to pass it by on the way back to Sally's house.

By now, I'd got so used to my uniform, that I never gave a second thought to the fact that I was parading around the town, masquerading as a police officer in a police car. At least, I didn't until I was driving along the Promenade and I saw a policeman about one hundred yards in front, walking towards me.

Shit! He'd be sure to give a wave towards the driver, and then notice that the policewoman inside was not someone he recognised as one of his colleagues. A call on his radio, and every police officer in the area would be looking out for me.

As those thoughts flashed through my mind, I saw Sea View Court on my left. I wasn't driving fast, so I gently braked and turned in to the car park at the front of the building. I gave a silent sigh of relief as I parked, at the same time noticing the man casually looking out the window, and then doing a double take on the police car. A look of panic crossed his face.

What it was, I revelled, to have the power to cause such concern. If I'd really been a police officer, I'd have been asking him some questions. As it was, I simply had to go through the entrance door and get out of the way before PC Plod walked by, outside.

When I got inside, I realised the man I'd seen would have been behind the porter's desk. He appeared to have disappeared now, no doubt to ensure he wasn't asked any embarrassing questions. Well, that suited me fine. I, too, didn't want to be asked any embarrassing questions about why I, a resident of these apartments, should be dressed in a police uniform and lurking in the entrance foyer, waiting for a police officer to walk by. And it was hardly as if I could go up to my apartment, as I'd failed to include the number on the motel registration card.

"Can I help you?"

I turned. The woman facing me had a friendly smile on her face, but she wore a crisp, grey dress with a white collar and a wide leather belt with a large buckle, indicating she was some kind of nurse - probably a very senior one; a matron I guessed.

Hell! This was some kind of nursing home. If I lived here, did that mean I was a nurse? She obviously hadn't recognised me in my change of uniform, and there would be hell to pay when she did.

"Stephanie Stewart," I murmured in a tiny voice.

Matron continued smiling. "Do you want to see her?"

Gulp! But then I recovered sufficiently to realise she must be talking about a patient - and clearly not me! I smiled and said, "Yes please."

As she led the way up a wide staircase, she turned and asked, "Can I ask why you need to see her?"

I smiled back. "I'm sorry. It's a bit like patient confidentiality. We're not allowed to talk about our cases."

"Of course." She accepted it without question, and led me along a corridor to the rear of the building, and then into one of the bedrooms.

"Stephanie, you have a visitor," she announced.

As I'd been following Matron, I'd been inventing my inquiry, based partly on the truth. I was checking that she was not the same Stephanie Stewart who'd been staying at the RestEasy...

My inventions came to a halt. Stephanie was a woman of about thirty, lying on her bed, eyes closed, with absolutely no trace of movement to betray the fact she was even alive.

"Stephanie's parents were both killed in a car accident almost ten years ago," Matron said. "Three days later, Stephanie took a massive overdose of heroin. She's been in a coma ever since."

"I didn't realise."

"Does this mean she's not guilty of whatever heinous crime you thought she might?" she asked, the broad grin taking the sting out of her words.

No, I thought, but I've been illegally using her identity. But if I wasn't Stephanie Stewart, just who was I? I smiled at her again, hiding my thoughts. "No, I don't think she's the person I need to see, but thanks for showing me."

I glanced at the cards displayed by the side of her bed. "Is it her birthday?"

"Yesterday. The cards are mainly from the staff here, but the big one is from the solicitors who act as her trustees."

As we left the room, I noticed the sign on the door: Miss Stephanie Stuart - so it was even spelt differently. It made me think some more.

"What happens to her post?" I asked.

"Apart from things like that birthday card - which is marked 'For her personal attention' - It gets sent to the trustees. They're in London, I think, but you'll have to check with Eric, our porter. I'll take you back down to him and ask him to find the details."

But when we got back down, there was no sign of Eric. "Where on earth has he got to?" Matron bristled. "Wait here. I'll see if I can find him."

She disappeared down a corridor, and thirty seconds later, I could hear her voice returning. "...and what would have happened if Mrs Whitely had wandered out onto the road? She could have been knocked down and killed, and it would have been your fault."

Matron was obviously giving Eric an earful for disappearing, and as he and Matron appeared, he looked incredibly sheepish.

"Sorry Matron. It won't happen again." Without even glancing at me, Eric returned behind his porter's desk and started busying himself with some paperwork.

"And you can give this officer the forwarding address for Stephanie Stuart's post." Matron called over her shoulder, as she disappeared down the corridor.

"It gets sent to her solicitors," Eric said, again not looking me directly in the eye.

"Here," he abruptly turned to a set of pigeonholes behind him, extracted an envelope and passed it to me. "That's something that needs forwarding."

It was junk mail, advertising a magazine promotional offer. The address of Sea View Court had been crossed through, and written in felt pen was another address in Lincoln's Inn, London WC2. Stephanie's parents must have been very rich, I surmised, to afford solicitors in one of London's Inns of Court. Why, even to discard a redirected junk mail envelope, they probably charged a hundred pounds.

"Do you forward everything to the solicitors?" I asked. "Even this junk."

"We're not allowed to exercise discretion," Eric said. "Everything must go to them."

"But what about," I asked, inspiration suddenly hitting me, "mail addressed to the other Stephanie Stewart. The one spelt S-T-E-W-A-R-T?"

He physically jumped. "Don't know nothing about another Stewart," he said. He was shaking like a leaf.

"I think you do," I said. Annoyed he still hadn't looked directly at me, I snapped at him, "Look at me!" God! I was really enjoying this police work.

Slowly, he looked up at me and then I saw recognition dawn in his eyes, followed by hope, and then by shocked horror.

"It's you!" he cried. "You're in the police. That's entrapment. I only did it..."

"Quiet!" I said the word quietly, but with sufficient force to cause him to stop.

I glanced around to see if we'd been overheard, but we were still alone.

"Actually," I said, "I'm not a police officer. I simply borrowed this uniform to give you the shock of your life. And I think I've succeeded, don't you?"

"You're not police? Fucking hell, that's dangerous! Where did you get the uniform?"

"I have connections."

"Fucking hell!" And then, "Look, I'm sorry about the delay."

What delay? No point in revealing I couldn't remember what he was talking about, so I ad-libbed. "I should think so, too."

He bent down and rummaged under the desk in a big cupboard. He pulled out a large, bulging Jiffy bag and hesitantly pushed it towards me. "Sorry," he said.

I took it from him. This envelope had been originally addressed to Miss S. Stewart at Sea View Court, and that had been crossed through. At first glance, the forwarding address appeared the same as before. I looked more carefully and noticed the change: Lincoln's Inn Mews, London W2.

London W2 instead of WC2 meant West London, rather than West Central London. I thought it was probably the area behind Paddington Station, rather than the hallowed cloisters of the Inns of Court - quite a difference.

The date on the postmark, for once entirely legible, gave the date of posting two weeks before. Eric noticed me looking at it.

"Sorry," he repeated. "I was just about to take it to the post when Matron came round, and I shoved it into the back of the cupboard to get it out the way."

"And?"

He looked extremely embarrassed. "Well, I just kinda forgot about it. In my mind I'd posted it, you see. It wasn't until you appeared in your police car that I had a little check around and found it still lying there. I almost shit myself.

"Look," he continued, seeing the impassive look on my face which was actually hiding the total confusion reeling through my mind, "why don't we say half price for this delivery. Five hundred. How's that sound?"

"Why don't we say this is a freebie, and if you make another cock-up like that, you pay me five hundred?" It wasn't as though I had five hundred pounds to give him. But hadn't Godolphy said that Stevenson had one thousand pounds in cash in his pocket? That would have been Eric's full payment.
 

*          *          *

 
It was almost eight pm by the time I reached Lincoln's Inn Mews. I'd had to go back to Sally's flat, get changed into my Seiza's uniform, write a note for Sally as it was impossible to awaken her, get a taxi to the car park where I'd left my car, and then drive to London in the rush hour traffic.

Oh yes, and as soon as I got into my own car, I opened the Jiffy bag just wide enough to see it was packed with bundles of fifty pound notes. It should have been a jubilant moment, but the money just served to heighten my confusion, not reduce it. It had been a long day, and the headache, which had been nagging me all day long, had returned with a vengeance. I felt shattered.

Lincoln's Inn Mews was like most other mews in London. Originally, the mews were the roads leading along the backs of the grand houses, used to access the stables and garaging for the carts. Now the stables were mostly converted into twee flats with a garage beneath - highly desirable bijou residences.

There was a remote device in the car glove-box which operated the auto garage door, and the key on my ring fitted the interconnecting door to the flat. Inside, the burglar alarm started beeping. Shit!

A moments thought, and I punched in yesterday's date - Stephanie's birthday. It worked.

Then I went upstairs to the flat and spent only a few minutes looking around. Once I'd wandered into the bedroom, and seen the bed, I simply pulled off my shoes and slipped between the sheets.
 

*          *          *

 
I slept like a log all night, and then as it was getting light, I lay awake for a few minutes, recapping the events of the previous day. It was too much for a girl to take in, and I felt my eyes growing heavy with sleep, again.

The dream was quite strange, because in it, I was someone else - a computer security consultant called Brian Mitchell. I had come across the "Desperately Seeking Stephanie" website by pure chance, but had been absolutely captivated by a photograph of Stephanie wearing a yellow dress with black polka-dots. They say there's no fool like an old fool, and as Brian, I certainly proved that true.

Thirty-eight years old, and I fell in love with the girl who could only be in her late twenties, and whom already had a guy called Billy wanting to marry her. It wasn't even as though she was a classical beauty. So what? When a man gets an obsession with a woman, logic doesn't come into it.

As a computer security expert, I had no problem hacking into the website and adding my own email address to that of Billy's. The site had been produced by Microsoft software, so there was a shed-load of extra garbage in the HTML that no one wanted, or ever bothered to read. I was pretty confident that Billy would never notice my unauthorised addition hidden amongst that lot.

Slowly, messages started coming in, from locations as near as London, or as remote as San Francisco. I suspected the majority of them were false, some even maliciously false, but what the hell? I lived the dream that someday I would beat Billy to find - and marry - the beautiful girl.

Then, one evening, I'm watching TV when an email drops onto my computer from the website. Stephanie is staying in Room 108 at the RestEasy in Seacombe, barely thirty miles from where I live.

I don't hesitate. I telephone the RestEasy. Yes, they have accommodation for the night. Yes, there's no problem in allocating me Room 107, although all their rooms are to the same high standard.

Within the hour, I'm checking in. As I'd guessed, Room 107 was immediately across the corridor from 108. I could keep an eye on her door through the security spy-hole. A walk around the outside of the building shows that Room 108 is in total darkness. She's either asleep, or out for the night. I keep a lookout for a while, and then decide it would be better for me to get an early night, and restart my vigil early next morning.

Next day, my patience is rewarded. After a two-hour wait, at just after eight am, she emerges from the room, looking as beautiful as she did in the photo, only wearing a smart blue suit. She's not carrying any luggage, so I assume she's going down to breakfast. I am about to go dashing after her, when I remember I haven't got my key card handy, and I panic, wasting precious minutes trying to find it.

Eventually, I get down to the crowded dining room and check-in, resisting the waiter's offer to allocate me a table. I'm looking for a friend, I tell him.

I grab a glass of orange-juice and a coffee from the self-service table and wander the length of the room looking for her. There she is, right at the end, by the window.

"Hi," I say. "It's a bit crowded in here. Do you mind if I join you?"

She looks up with a not unfriendly expression and shrugs her shoulders to indicate acquiescence.

I'm never any good at chatting-up women, but within minutes we fall into a natural conversation - talking about computers, actually, although every time my eyes wander to her fantastic cleavage, my logical mind shuts up and my words almost fade away. She is obviously clocking my eyes, but the tiny smile at the corner of her mouth indicates she doesn't seem to mind.

Then, her glance locks on something outside the window, and hardens for a second. I follow her gaze. Shit! Billy is outside, just getting out of a car! I guess he'd responded to the same email, but obviously lived much further away than me. How am I going to make certain he doesn't snatch the girl away from me? I needn't have worried.

"Tell me," she says, "do you want me to fuck you?"

"What?" I say.

"You heard," she said. "I was hoping to get off quite quickly, but there's someone outside I'd rather not meet, so I need to keep out of sight for a while. You look very suitable for my needs. I was wondering if you'd like me to fuck you."

In my dream, we seem to float upstairs and suddenly we're inside her bedroom, and she has her tongue down my throat, and I'm pushing my rock-hard prick against her tummy, and she's wriggling against it and murmuring all kinds of sweet things.

"Get undressed and into bed," she says. "I need to go to the bathroom."

She's in there quite a long time, before the bathroom door opens and a naked man comes out, carrying some kind of garment over his arm.

"Fuck!" I say. "Who are you?"

And I'm leaping out of bed because he's moving very quickly and aggressively towards me. As I stand up, he punches me in the stomach. It didn't seem a very hard punch until it landed, and then I'm folded up double on the floor, gasping for air.

"You said you wanted me to fuck you, so I did," Stephanie's voice says, and I look up, and the words are coming from the man's mouth.

I think that even if I'd been able to speak I'd have been speechless. As it was, I simply shook my head from side-to-side, uncomprehendingly.

"I'm afraid you were deceived by the bodysuit I was wearing." He points at the garment he'd thrown onto the bed.

I stare at it. It looks like a skin, but it seems impossible it could transform the athletic looking guy standing in front of me into a beautiful woman.

"Now I need you to help me get rid of my admirer," he continues. "I want you to put on the bodysuit, get dressed in her clothes and drive off in her car, whilst I borrow your clothes and your car. We can meet up later on."

As he speaks he's putting on my clothes, and I'm too frightened to argue with him. He gets a bundle of money out of a vanity case and waves it at me.

"I'll pay you one thousand pounds," he says, "if you do as I say. Otherwise, I'm going to get very angry with you." He puts the bundle of money into his jacket pocket - that is, into the jacket pocket which ten minutes ago I'd been wearing, but he has now taken for his own. Then he folds his right hand into a fist and starts massaging it with his left, his knuckles making horrible, cracking noises.

"I only have to break a few of your ribs," he says, "and it will be very, very painful, and take a long time to heal. So," he nods at the bodysuit, "just put it on. Now!"

I put on the bodysuit. It's in two halves - the bottom half is like a pair of flesh-coloured tights, only with individual toes and painted toe nails. There's soft, thick padding around the hips and buttocks to give a shapely rear end, and at the crutch, there's a slot to allow my genitals to poke through.

The top half is like a matching leotard, with a face mask and wig, and individual fingers and finger nails. Again, there's plenty of squelchy padding to give me enormous breasts. The guy helps me on with the top, and shows me how to get my head inside the mask, and feed my tackle into the bag on the underside of the gusset, and then pull it between my legs and fasten it without causing me too much pain.

When I look in the mirror, I'm looking at a naked Stephanie, not Brian. Now I truly know what is meant by the expression, "Beauty is skin deep." (By this time in my dream, I'm bloody confused about who I actually am.)

"I was right," he says, admiringly. "I thought you'd be just the right shape to fit inside the bodysuit. Do you know, in Seacombe they make the best bodysuits in the world? Kept me out of trouble for years. That's one of the reasons I'm down here, to have a new fitting - that and to sort out someone who was supposed to be doing a little job for me."

I tell him that I hadn't known they made bodysuits in Seacombe, but I could see they were very fine quality bodysuits, and actually quite comfortable, but I really wasn't very confident about being able to fool his (or did I mean her?) friend.

He grimaces at the sound of my voice. "Take this pill," he says, handing me a capsule. "It'll change your voice so you sound more like me. Put it on the back of your tongue until it melts, and then swallow it."

I'm not over-enthusiastic about taking strange pills - indeed I hadn't been over enthusiastic about any of this, but another look at his face convinces me to do as he says. As the pill goes down, it starts to burn and I think he's given me a cyanide capsule, but after a minute's agonising pain, I manage to get over it. A few trial sentences show that my voice has dramatically changed, although still not very much like Stephanie's.

He hands me Stephanie's clothes and I start putting them on, fumbling with the clothes a little - more used to taking such things off than putting them back on again. Then he says that if I don't get a fucking move on he'll hit me seriously hard, not like the little smack he'd just given me. Within a few seconds, I'm dressed, and looking, for all the world, just like Stephanie had appeared at breakfast.

"Where are your car keys?" he asks, patting his (that is, my) pockets.

"They'll be in my hotel room," I answer, "by the side of the bed. Room 107, just across the corridor."

He doesn't look very happy about that, but there's nothing he can do about it, so he finds my key card in his pocket, and hands it to me. Just before we leave, he takes something else from the vanity case and puts it into his right jacket pocket, something large and heavy; I don't see what it is, but I can guess; it's something which makes me very frightened.

He passes the vanity case to me. "Now, you carry this and we'll go to your room. And I'm certain you won't try to run away," he says, seeing I've guessed what is in his pocket.

By this time, I am seriously shit-scared. I step outside the room into the corridor, whilst he hides behind the door.

"Is there anyone around," he whispers.

"No," I whisper back.

"Open your own bedroom door then," he says.

I put in the key card and open the door to Room 107, and then he dashes across before I can close it on him. He follows me inside and shuts the door behind him.

"Get the fucking car-keys," he says, so I walk up the side of the bed towards the bedside table, whilst he goes over to look out of the window.

"Hello, Stuart," another voice says, and fucking hell, Billy has appeared from behind us and he's holding a gun. He must have been hiding in the en-suite when we came in. Presumably, he'd got into this room for exactly the same reason that I'd chosen it - so that he could keep a lookout for Stephanie in the room opposite.

Whilst these thoughts are racing through my head, I'm standing there mesmerised like a rabbit in front of a stoat, and that's when everything starts to happen in slow motion. My captor, the one whom Billy had called Stuart, is spinning round like a fucking spinning-top, and there's a gun coming out of his pocket, and I'm thinking it was time to hit the floor.

The two guns go off simultaneously, and whilst I'm still in that slow motion fall to the carpet, one of the guns comes flying past my nose. When I was at school, I made the First XI cricket team purely on the basis of my skills at First Slips. I hadn't forgotten them; as the gun sails past, I reach out and grab it, and hug it to my body.

But I'd forgotten that landing in a RestEasy bedroom is far more hazardous than on the cricket field. The crack as my head hits the bedside cabinet feels as though someone has hit it with a meat cleaver, and is trying to force the two halves apart.

Somewhere, someone is screaming to get an ambulance, please, as he's bleeding to fucking death. And he'll throw down the gun, just so as I'll know it isn't a trick.

I hear a thump somewhere behind me, but I don't really care about anything, except my poor head.
 

*          *          *

 
You have probably been ahead of me all the way through this tale. I can only say that the accidental crack to my head not only made me temporarily lose my memory, it also stopped me thinking clearly. I should have realised right at the start that I wasn't really a woman, but I was in such a daze, I had trouble challenging the obvious.

After I'd properly awoken, rather than being in the half awake/half asleep phase, when I wasn't really certain which was dream and which the return of my memory, I lay in bed, retracing the fantastic events of the previous thirty-six hours.

I really was computer consultant Brian Mitchell, hopelessly fallen in love with a picture of a woman on a website who had never been a reality - but instead, the disguise adopted by wanted robber Stuart Stevenson. He had evaded capture by the police for five years, living in the female bodysuit, and totally becoming Stephanie Stewart - and why didn't I suss out the similarity of the names?

Obviously, Billy Walker had known of Stevenson's transformation, but never knew where s/he was living, although, he'd somehow obtained a photograph of Stephanie in her polka-dot sundress and used it on his "Desperately Seeking Stephanie" website, after suitably doctoring it to include himself in the photograph. Eventually, the site had come up trumps as, one evening, a chambermaid reported that Stephanie had checked into the Seacombe RestEasy.

Next morning, he had come hot-foot from London down to Seacombe and managed to talk a chambermaid into letting him into the room opposite Stephanie's, from where he'd kept watch.

He must have had a nasty surprise when Stephanie came out of her room and stepped straight across the corridor to open the door of the room he was in. He'd darted inside the en-suite, and waited as first Stephanie walked past, and then Stevenson! That must have given him cause for thought!

So Billy had his gun in his hand as he stepped from the en-suite and greeted Stevenson. I'm pretty certain that he had never intended to have a shoot-out with him - but instead to use the gun as a bargaining tool to convince Stevenson to fairly share out the proceeds of the robbery.

But Stevenson's lightning reaction had led to their mutual self-destruction. Maybe Stevenson, too, had never intended to kill Billy - only to meet him on a level footing - which only goes to show what bloody dangerous things guns are.

Personally, though, I'd thought Stevenson was a very nasty piece of work - just look at how, as Stephanie, he led me on to get undressed and into bed, and had then come out of the bathroom without his disguise and hit me. I'd been convinced he was going to murder me when I'd completed all he asked, so I could understand why Billy didn't give him the benefit of the doubt when Stevenson was spinning round with the gun in his hand.

Certainly Stevenson appears to have been the more expert gunman of the two - which, in itself, to me indicates he was the more evil. Stevenson was spinning round, yet managed to put a bullet directly through Billy's forehead, whereas Billy was standing, with the advantage of surprise over the other, yet he only managed to wing Stevenson - although that wound also proved fatal.

There were two items that really confused things for me when I regained consciousness. The first was that when Billy was hit, his gun flew from his hands, and as I was diving for the floor I had caught it as it sailed past my nose. So, I arrived at the point I could only vaguely remember as my first recollection of Stephanie's life - I was lying on the RestEasy bedroom floor after hitting my head on the bedside cabinet.

Stevenson was screaming for an ambulance. He obviously thought I was hiding from him because I suspected his screams were a trick and that he would shoot me when I popped my head above the bed. In desperation for me to call an ambulance, he had thrown away his gun towards the centre of the room. That's when the second highly confusing event occurred, for the gun had landed next to Billy - the gun I had thought Billy had been holding when he killed Stevenson. So, when I rigged the evidence, I got everything the wrong way round.

Still, you could say it all turned out for the best. As I lie on the bed, I'm looking at a statuette on the stand in the corner of the bedroom. It could, of course, be a worthless novelty made of concrete - I'm no expert - but I reckon it's more likely to be some priceless antiquity from ancient Greece. Well, if the British Museum can take the Elgin Marbles and not give them back, I don't see why I need to worry about a few little things like that hanging around the flat!

Of course, I'm hardly in a position to come clean and return them. According to the report I heard just now on the radio news, the police are still searching for Brian Mitchell - well convinced that he performed the double murder of Walker and Stevenson, and also walked off with the British Museum artefacts. I'm quite certain that if Godolphy was ever to find Brian Mitchell, he would twist the evidence as necessary in order fit him up with a double-murder charge.

So from now on, Brian Mitchell is no more and Stephanie is starting on a new phase of her life. Fortunately, there seems to be no shortage of money in her life. When I popped into the bathroom just now, I noticed all the fittings were made of gold, and I've just counted up the notes in the envelope I got from Eric the porter. Fifteen thousand pounds! That's enough to keep me going for a few months, and maybe then, if I can't find any more cash around the flat, I'll have to sell off another antiquity.

But the main thing is that, as I look in the dressing table mirror facing me, I again realise that Stephanie is one hell of a good-looking woman. OK, she'll never be a beauty queen, but right now, she has one hell of a Narcissus complex! I may have been Desperately Seeking Stephanie for a long time, but now I have definitely found her.



THE END


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