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"A chat?" asked Mary worriedly, glancing about as if looking for a place to hide. "About what?"
"You know very well what," replied Kayla, crossing her arms and sitting up in the couch.
"No, no I don't," Mary lied, and very poorly at that.
Kayla sighed. "Fine, be that way if you want. Last night, when I finally crawled into bed, I was awake a long time, thinking about what I was going to do. I was still awake when I heard you pretending to sneak down the hall, as if I couldn't hear your thundering footsteps in those slutty white boots of yours."
Mary gulped, bristling momentarily at the use of that distasteful word, but didn't say anything. She was caught, the jig was up. What was she supposed to do now, lie even further? Clearly she'd been seen, probably when she made her way to her hiding place around the back side of the tunnel wall. Kayla must've glanced down from the shelf at that point, and shadowed as she was, Mary would never have noticed her.
So she could've kept quiet, Mary thought, and for some reason she didn't. After a moment of silence, Kayla answered that unspoken question.
"I thought about just keeping my mouth shut," said the tired-looking brunette, "but I decided it was better to not have any secrets. We're all in this together, after all, wouldn't you agree? All of us little toys in our little glass houses. Tell you what, if you're honest with me, truly honest, I promise not to throw any stones."
"O-okay," agreed Mary shakily. "I guess so."
"Good, have a seat." Kayla pointed at one of the nearby recliner chairs that Len had seen fit to provide them with. As Mary settled in, Kayla said, "There's no point in pretending we didn't both see each other last night. I suppose you're wondering what I was doing up there."
"Yeah, that's true," admitted Mary. "It was your climbing skills that got us out of our last predicament, so I guess you were just practicing."
"No, that's not really it at all." Kayla sighed. "Well, it was at first. I was just bored, I guess, and I had to challenge myself. I wanted to see if I could get out of here. Maybe I just didn't trust Len, or that's what I told myself, anyway. He's great and all, and nice to us, but I've seen the worst in people and I know things could just as quickly go bad. So call it planning for the future if you like, but I wanted an escape route, pure and simple."
"Did you find one?" asked Mary, curious despite herself, managing to forget for a while that this was eventually going to be a two-sided conversation.
"Yes, actually, I did," Kayla replied, with no small amount of pride in her voice. "You can get out through the vent, above the drop ceiling there. Whenever I can't sleep, which is rather often, that's what I do. I go outside."
"Outside?" Mary was horrified. "You mean alone? You go out of the house, in the dark? That's where you were last night?"
"Yes." This time Kayla didn't sound quite as proud of herself. "Yeah, it's incredibly stupid of me, but I feel like I have to do it. I go out and explore the yard, fight off bugs, avoid mice and such, and scare myself silly. Sometimes, like last night, I go lie on the lawn chair on Len's porch, and look out at the street and imagine I'm big again, driving to work or going shopping or whatever. Sometimes I think that's my only real connection to my old life, and I don't want it to slip away."
"I can't--I don't even think I can imagine doing that," said Mary, shaking her head. "Go outside alone...I'd be scared out of my wits! The last time we went out there, I didn't have much choice, but now...why would you leave the Estate here, where you're safe? Why would you take that kind of risk? What would happen if you didn't come back?"
"I know, like I said, it's about the stupidest thing I can do, but I have to do something, Mary. You can't possibly understand, because you don't really know me. Not the real me, anyway, from before all this miserable business started. I've always been independent, and I value my freedom. I always knew, as long as I was successful, I could go anywhere I wanted, and do whatever I wanted, with nobody ever able to stop me. That's why what Howard did to me was so horrible. He took away everything I ever believed in. He made me totally dependent on others. Just being able to go up there by myself, to experience just a taste of that freedom I lost so long ago, is the only thing keeping me sane."
"Kayla," said Mary after a moment, "don't sell yourself short. I think you may be the sanest person here."
She raised an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, for one thing, you survived what Stephen did to you," commented Mary. "I don't think I could've lasted very long. In fact, I know I couldn't." She moved on hastily, eager to avoid that particular subject. "But it's not just that. Look at Renee. She's completely blinded herself to what's been done to her. She has Len wrapped around her little finger, if you don't mind me using that particular saying."
"I know." Kayla sighed. "She has it so good, and she doesn't even know it. Oh, she knows what we went through, but still, I don't think she can really relate. I don't think she's even really tried."
"Give her some credit," Mary pointed out. "She's a cop, so she at least knows what people are capable of. Maybe she's just armored herself against that, with all the things she's seen on her job."
"Yeah. Her job." Kayla shook her head. "I miss my job, Mary. I miss it a lot. Working was everything to me. Sitting here all day, doing nothing...it drives me crazy. I can only work out and watch TV for so long. I need something else to do."
"That's why you climbed up there."
"Yeah. Exactly. And Len offering to take me to his office isn't any better. That would be worse, I think. I'd still have nothing to do, just in a different place. I bet if they took me there, they'd forget about me, and the only thing I could do to amuse myself would be climb down to the floor and sneak around."
Mary giggled. "I can just see you doing that. Going out into the rest of the police station, hiding under things, listening to conversations..."
"That's me, all right." Kayla nodded slowly. "Maybe I should do that. Yeah...that's not a bad idea. Next time he offers, I'm gonna try it. Who cares if I get caught, anyway? I'm sure Len would figure out a way to explain."
"Oh, I bet." She lowered her head and tried to talk in a deep, booming voice, which only came out sounding ridiculous. "Yeah, this is Kayla Robertson, and she's not really dead, and I've been keeping her in my basement for the last six months, along with Mary Blaisdale and Renee Allen, and yeah they're four inches high, too. No, I can't really imagine why I'd want to keep something like that to myself. Can you?"
Kayla laughed for a while. "Yeah, that's him, all right! That's probably what he'd say. Sometimes, you know, I wonder if we'd be better off with people knowing. Maybe then I could get out of here and find something useful to do. Crawl around inside computers, maybe, or whatever."
"You could write," suggested Mary. "I know you're a good writer."
Kayla shook her head. "I tried, but I just can't. I get bored too easily. Every now and then I go back to my deposition about Stephen, and add something else I'd forgotten about. That's what I did last night, when I couldn't sleep. I wrote down one more thing to add to his list of crimes."
Mary took a deep breath and put her hand to her forehead. "I was wondering when you'd get around to that," she remarked.
"I didn't see you actually do anything," said Kayla, suddenly becoming quite a bit more intense, "but there's only one reason you'd be dressed like you were, and climbing up from the floor all worn out like that. You know, I got really pissed at you last night. I was lying there thinking I was going to come strangle you."
"Thanks for not doing that," replied Mary weakly. "I really appreciate it."
"Well, it was a near thing." Kayla leveled a threatening gaze in her roommate's direction, and the volume of her voice began to steadily increase. "I came pretty close. To think you actually went down there, to him, on purpose...after what he did to you, and to me! How could you do that? How could you stomach it, letting him touch you, and...oh, it makes my skin crawl!"
Mary tried to shrug that off, looking away, focusing on a spot along the kitchen wall just above the refrigerator. There was a tiny imperfection there, where the slabs of wood Howard used to build the place didn't quite fit properly.
"I don't know," she finally said, voice very quiet, still not taking her eyes off that spot on the wall. "I've asked myself that many times. I just...need companionship. Male companionship. And he's the only man we've got."
"Yeah, but he tortured us!" hissed Kayla accusingly. "He abused us and raped us, and me far worse than you, but you know that, and even knowing it you still go to him? What's the matter with you?"
Mary was silent for a long time, shivering under that fierce gaze coming from across the living room, an accusing stare that never wavered. Finally, after mulling it over in her mind for a while, she tried to explain.
"When I was little--well, I mean, when I was younger," she began, "I didn't look like this. I was overweight, had braces, and didn't fit in. I tried to go out with boys, but it never lasted long. There was one guy, though. Mike was his name, but I can't remember the rest of it now. We saw each other a few times, and then he wanted to have sex. He was pretty insistent about it, but I was still a virgin, and I wasn't really sure, but he said it would be okay...you know, all that crap guys spill when they want to get in your pants. So I agreed, and it was...okay. That's all I can say, really. Well, for him, I guess it might've been better, but for me, it just seemed messy and unsatisfying.
"And then the next day at school, everyone's looking at me, and pointing, and I come to find out I was the subject of a bet, a pool to see who could get laid first, and Mike won. I sorta lost control then and tracked him down, and when I saw him laughing with his stupid friends, I couldn't take it. I put my fingernails in his face and my knee in his crotch and got myself suspended for a week for my trouble. At least I didn't get pregnant, or pick up some stupid STD, which I guess was lucky for me, but I still learned my lesson.
"The thing is, something about the whole experience just sort of flipped a switch inside of me. I still wanted sex, now more than ever. I started dreaming about it all the time, and spending a lot of hours looking at men's magazines, and all those other things adolescent girls do. But I couldn't stand the idea of getting it on with some boy at school and then getting talked about behind my back. So instead I had another idea. One night, when my parents thought I was asleep, I put on something skimpy and snuck out of the house. I took the bus across town, to a place the boys at another school hung out, and flirted with them until I got lucky. I knew it was wrong, and I was so scared I could barely stand it, but damned if it wasn't just what I needed. And it was pretty good, too, much to my surprise. The fact that it was wrong, and forbidden, and secret seemed to make it all the better.
"Ever since then, that's how it's been for me. I won't sleep with any man I know, although I'm perfectly happy to lead them on for a bit, like I did with Stephen when we first met. Instead, whenever I feel that urge, I go out of town, and have some meaningless fling with someone. I never even ask their name, because it's not important. The thing is, I always know it's wrong, but that's all right, because I know I'll be gone the next day, so I can do whatever I want and there are no consequences at all.
"It's not like that here, though. There's no one I can go to except Stephen. The only thing I have going for me--had going for me, I mean--is nobody else knew. It was a secret, and it was sick and wrong and dirty, and that's what made it so goddamn exciting! Every time I go down there, to that man I just can't stand, it's like the animal side of me comes out and I forget everything else. Then I hate myself in the morning, just like I do right now, but I know I need that release."
Mary turned then to look at Kayla, meeting her gaze for the first time since beginning her long soliloquy. "It's just like you, you know. It's just like when you go outside at night--you need that fear, just like I need my lust. That's all there is to it, really, when you think about it. We both have our needs. It's as simple as that."
Kayla, who had remained silent through this entire speech, finally lowered her eyes and gave a slow nod. "Yeah," she said thoughtfully after a moment, "I guess that's as good an analogy as any. We're both slaves to our passions, aren't we? I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive you for sleeping with Stephen, but at least I can understand why you do it."
"Oh, I'm not asking for forgiveness," Mary stated flatly. "I can't even forgive myself, for God's sake! When this is all over, and we all go our separate ways, I have to live with what I've done, and I'm not sure I'll even be able to. But even knowing that, I'll still to go back to Stephen again eventually. I won't be able to stop myself."
"I could stop you," Kayla pointed out. "I could, you know. I could tell Len about it. He'd probably lock that bastard up a bit better, or put him upstairs so you can't get to his cage."
"You can't." Mary shook her head. "I'd go insane. I'm not bisexual, either. Believe me, I've tried. It would have to be a man. That leaves only Len."
Kayla considered that, and then frowned. "No, that wouldn't work, would it? He'd probably be good at it, considering all the practice he has on Renee, but I don't think she'd like it much if she knew he was doing that to you. And if he tried to keep it a secret from her, it would destroy their relationship when she found out. The only thing keeping her from going nuts like us is what they have together."
"I know. I've thought of all that before. Why do you think I was so careful to hide what I've been doing? You can't tell them, Kayla. You just can't."
"Fine." She got to her feet, picked up the cereal bowl, and carried it out to the sink. "If that's what you want, I'll keep your little secret, as long as you can keep mine."
"Agreed. Thank you, Kayla." Mary sucked in a breath, happy that this conversation had gone so well. Her roommate certainly could've gone a different way with that, if she wanted to.
"You're welcome. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to go for a swim. Maybe that'll clear my head."
"Good idea," said Mary. "I think I'll join you."
The door high overhead slammed shut with a loud bang, making Stephen Matthews wince slightly. Not that he expected that giant bastard to ever consider the effect that noise had on his miniature prisoner's eardrums, of course. Leonard never thought about Stephen at all, except when he dangled him like bait over his three pet ladies, or tossed a few tiny leftovers into his cage.
Stephen waited, listening patiently to the tromping around upstairs. Eventually, the detective would leave, which was what he was waiting for. Certain that the giant cop wouldn't come back now that he'd collected his tiny lover, Stephen reached back and twisted the connector on the collar about his neck. After a few turns, he released the broken clasp and the useless fetters fell away.
He stood, stretching, twisting his head and rubbing at his neck. At night, and any time he thought Mary might show up, he had to wear that ridiculous tether, but not now. Nobody would come down here, and even if they did, he could see them coming a mile away across the vast expanse of cracked and broken concrete that served as the basement floor. He was content to let them keep their illusions, their mistaken belief that he was trapped here and helpless in his metal prison.
Fools. They were all fools. He had the run of this place, and they didn't even know it. They put him away, out of sight and out of mind, not even bothering to check on him any more, not that there was any reason to. He couldn't do anything, anyway, or so they all believed. He could move around this place at will, but that was all. There were no phones, and no one to call for help. He couldn't even try to turn the miniaturizer on its owner, for Len was careful to keep the device locked securely away when he wasn't using it.
All Stephen had was his freedom, but at least for now, that was all he needed.
He pulled on a pair of pants, a ragged shirt, some dirty socks and a pair of well-worn sneakers. He'd been wearing the same few sets of clothes since they put him here, washing them every now and then just to appease their pathetic sense of civility.
Stephen sighed. This could've been much worse, of course. They could've given him nothing. They could've just put him in this empty cage and made him lie on the cold metal every night. He probably would've done that, if he were in their shoes. He probably would've done much worse.
Not that he was thanking them, of course. Far from it. Leonard Oliver was the man who shot him, after all. Still, even prisoners in jail had better conditions than this. They had access to libraries and work programs and computers, and televisions that didn't pick up only a few weak pathetic black-and-white channels. The food was better, too. At least, he was pretty sure it was.
Stephen Matthews was a practical man. He had no illusions that what he'd done to Kayla, and later to Mary, was anything other than a crime. He knew he'd tortured them both, but no more than they deserved. That didn't excuse his actions, of course. Still, if he had it all to do over again, he'd do the same thing, just with a few changes. Things like better security on the premises, and some means to ensure his little prisoners couldn't escape quite so easily.
Of course, they were now repeating those very same mistakes, weren't they? He smiled at their foolishness as he leaned out all the way through the bars until he could just reach the latch that opened the front gate. A moment later he was out of the cage, tiptoeing up to the edge of the shadow under the stairs, where he peeked carefully around the corner. There was no sign of any movement. Kayla and Mary were still upstairs in their pristine "Estate," living a life of luxury while he suffered down here, in the dark and dusty corner, all but forgotten.
The scar under his shoulder itched, and he scratched at it absently. Sometimes, when he was trying to sleep, the pain of that bullet came back to him. What was worse than that agony, back when he was recovering, was the way Kayla Robertson would come in and glare at him, saying nothing at all. Just...staring. She could've attacked him at any time, done all manner of things, and he couldn't have stopped her, but all she did was eye him with that baleful glare.
He had to applaud her restraint, actually. Much as he hated to admit it, that was the most effective torture at all. She had won, in the end, despite her tiny size and all that power he once had over her. Somehow, despite everything, she turned the tables on him, and now, without saying a word, she clearly demonstrated her superiority.
That was the part he couldn't stand. He should be the one in charge here, not that idiot Leonard Oliver! Well, okay, "idiot" wasn't the right word. Len Oliver might be many things, but he wasn't stupid. He was smart and persistent and more than a little bit lucky, but he was also overconfident and a bit too sure of himself. He didn't think Stephen Matthews was a threat, and maybe right now he wasn't, but someday...well, someday, there would come a reckoning.
He began to walk, cautiously at first as if afraid he might be seen, and then with more confidence. Soon he'd crossed the vast open space between the stairs and the underside of the huge custom-built table on top of which stood the sprawling Estate that Howard Taylor built. The glass houses Stephen hoped to shatter one day, if only he could figure out how to make that come to pass.
At any time, he knew he could destroy those two tiny women in their miniature paradise above his head. He could simply climb up there, sneak inside, wait for an opportunity, and wrap his hands around their slender necks. So easy...and yet, he shuddered at the thought. Despite all the terrible things he'd done, Stephen was no murderer. He could torture and sexually abuse a helpless woman, but deliberately ending someone's life was beyond even his twisted sense of morals.
Besides, even if he did somehow pull that off, what would happen then? Leonard would never accept their deaths as an accident. Well, perhaps he would in Kayla's case. Stephen knew he could arrange for that one easily enough. Just throw her off the wall to her doom. He'd seen her climbing around, scaling walls like Spider-Woman. One of these days, she'd probably break her fool neck on her own.
Stephen didn't like that idea much, though. He wanted Kayla alive. He hoped, one day, to have her back in his clutches. He had a few more things he wanted to do to her, a few new ideas he wanted to try...
Then there was Mary Blaisdale. Ah, Mary, the one constant in his pitiful little universe. Every few nights, without fail, she would sneak out of the Estate after the lights went dark up there. He'd grown to count on her late night visitations, even plan ahead for new things to try when she arrived. He truly enjoyed verbally sparring with Mary, working her up into a frenzy until she fairly threw herself on top of him. When she was finally done sating her lust, slinking away like the whipped dog she was, he had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing.
He had no delusion that Mary did anything other than hate him. The loathing was clear in her face, and everything she did and said. For some reason that defied all explanation, she came to his cage anyway, and let him have his way with her. Just thinking about it made him smile. The way it had to torture her, knowing he was the only way she could get the sex she craved so desperately...why, it was like he already had his revenge, and kept getting it every few nights, over and over again...
In a very real way, he still owned Mary Blaisdale, and that was no small measure of comfort to a man in his position.
Stephen liked being in control. When he used to work at the bank, under Kayla's domineering rule, she was the one with all the power. That was why he abused her so relentlessly, when he had her literally in the palm of his hand. That feeling, that overwhelming rush, was what drove him to be so cruel. That kind of power would've corrupted anyone, no matter how pure.
Even Leonard Oliver wasn't immune. He had his little partner, Renee Allen, whom Stephen got to see only very infrequently. The two were rarely apart, at least not at times when Stephen had a chance to look in on her. He found it funny how they pretended and played at being equals, when in fact Renee was little more than Leonard's pet. Oh, the giant cop said all the right things, and gave her what seemed like a partnership of sorts, but they were both lying to themselves. She was his plaything, nothing more. Stephen was as sure of that as he was sure that Kayla was a heartless bitch and Mary a pathetic little slut.
Honestly, though, he had no real beef with Renee Allen. He'd never really been wronged by her, as far as he knew. Shrinking her had been something of an accident, not pre-meditated as it had been with Mary. Sometimes he wondered how things would be different if she hadn't been miniaturized during the brief gun battle that fateful night at his old house. Would Leonard still come down here as often? Would he sit and stare through the glass at his little dolls, while working daily alongside his normal-sized partner? Or would he have done the unthinkable and shrunk Renee eventually, on his own, just to keep her as the pet she now was?
Probably the latter. Stephen nodded to himself as he stared up at the distant table high above. In fact, Len very likely would have done exactly that. That collapser seemed inherently corrupting. If Len didn't have Renee already, what might he have done with that thing in her absence?
Stephen had no way to know that, so he put it out of his mind. Renee didn't matter, anyway. She was nothing more than a useful distraction. As long as she was there for Leonard to play with every night, he wasn't tempted to come downstairs and torture the supposedly helpless prisoner under his stairs.
In fact, thought Stephen as he started carefully making his way up the wooden stool Leonard so thoughtlessly left alongside the table, the giant cop really owed him one. If not for that lucky shot in the darkness, Len would've had to make the choice to shrink Renee himself, or arrange for it to happen by "accident." Stephen did it all for him, making it possible for things to be as they are now.
He climbed for several minutes, making sure he had firm grips on the rough stool legs as he shimmied steadily upwards. Kayla wasn't the only one around this place who knew how to get around. Besides, at his size, Stephen could easily find handholds and grips to latch onto. All it took was time, and a little courage not to look down.
In due course he reached the padded surface atop the stool, pulling himself onto it with no real effort at all. When he worked at the bank, the only exercise he ever got was the occasional game of golf. Here he had little else to do, and the constant workouts left him strong and fit, his thin body tough and wiry. Strong enough to climb up here, and with enough stamina to survive even the frenzied attacks Mary leveled on him in her frequent nocturnal visits. Not so long ago, such things would've worn him out, but not anymore.
He took a running start and leapt up to the edge of the table, making the jump easily and tumbling to a halt. Momentarily he paused, listening, worried that someone might've chosen that instant to jog or ride past in the covered tunnel that circled the Estate. There was no sound, though. He was safe, for now.
Quietly he made his way over to where the control panel waited. This was the spot where Howard built the sound and environmental modulators for the interior. By twisting a dial or two, he could listen in on any conversation going on in there. Without hesitation, Stephen climbed up top, leaning out over the glass, looking to see where Kayla and Mary might be on this particular morning.
They were in the pool, he discovered quickly. Kayla was swimming laps and Mary was simply resting, head leaning back and eyes shut, as if taking a nap. After adjusting the volume dials slightly, so he could make out the noise of Kayla's splashing, Stephen walked out on the glass a short distance, getting a better view. They weren't talking now, but they would eventually, discussing all manner of things, none of it ever really very interesting. Not that he cared, really. He just liked watching them.
After a minute or so, Kayla finished her laps and stood up, climbing out of the pool. Stephen smiled as she began a few cool-down exercises from her workout. She was dressed in a black one-piece that seemed to shine in the artificial light, shimmering and slick with miniaturized water. She was amazing to look at, the very pinnacle of feminine perfection. Stephen could remember the wonderful sensation of his fingers sliding across her soft skin, and the way it felt to taste her. He wished he could do that again.
He would do that again, he told himself. Somehow he would find a way to have her in his palm once more, screaming and begging, crying, and finally calling him master, like she did not so very long ago.
But for now, all Stephen could do was watch as the two tiny women below moved blissfully about in their perfect little home, safely hidden under glass, with no idea anyone could see. All he could do was watch, and smile, and dream his pleasant dreams of revenge.
For now, he was content with that.
"Len? You in here?"
The voice was loud, booming, and deep. Renee Allen gasped at the sudden thunder echoing through the room. For an instant she froze. How had anyone approached the office without her hearing their footsteps? Too focused, she realized. She'd been so focused on what she was doing, she forgot to pay attention to her surroundings.
Stupid, stupid! Dropping her tools, she made a mad dash across the desktop towards the inbox, where she usually hid when anyone besides Len showed up. She wriggled underneath, not even caring if she tore her clothes, holding her breath as a huge shadow passed by just where she'd been standing moments ago.
"Not here, huh?" someone said from almost directly above her. She didn't recognize the slightly muffled voice, but it was male, and one she'd heard before. A fellow cop, no doubt, but not one she'd ever dealt with directly. Someone who joined the force since...
She sighed, closing her eyes. Since before that terrible night when she'd been forever changed.
"Funny, I could've sworn he lived in his office," muttered the man indifferently. He seemed to realize he was just talking to himself and swiftly departed, but not before dropping something on the stack of papers that lined the plastic box above Renee's head. The sudden shift of weight, slight as it was, made her gasp, only to slap her hand over her mouth reflexively, horrified that she'd dared to make a sound.
There was no way the visitor could hear her, though. She usually had to shout just to get Len's attention, even when his face was right in front of her. At her size, her squeaky little voice was almost inaudible.
She waited, sucking in deep breaths, calming herself down, until finally the door slammed shut of its own accord. Cautiously, Renee peeked out, listening carefully to make sure the office was still empty. After about a minute, satisfied that she was alone, she emerged, straightening out her hair and checking her clothes to make sure they were intact. No damage, as near as she could tell.
That was a close call...too close for comfort, really. She made a habit of working from a position out of sight of the doorway, which was fortunate. Had the intruder seen her, he would've easily been able to lift up the inbox and get a better look. Then the secret would be out.
Renee shuddered. That's what she lived in daily fear of...that someone besides Len would spot her, and show her around. She could imagine what would happen then. They'd point and stare and ooh and aah in amazement at her tiny size. They'd demand the entire story of how she came to be that way. Len would be all right...he had a contingency plan for that, should it ever come to pass, so she wasn't worried about the effect on him. She was more concerned about herself.
What would happen if they knew? Would they let her work at the station, like Len did, without any interference? Would they appreciate her contribution? No, they wouldn't. They'd think she was a victim. She'd be pitied at first, and then sent off somewhere to be studied by people who had no idea how she got to be this way. They'd take her out of here, maybe put her on display, and that would be the end of it. The end of everything.
Ever since she first heard about what happened to Kayla Robertson, Renee had lived in fear of meeting a similar fate. Then, while trying to rescue Mary from Stephen's clutches, the unthinkable happened. That terrible machine focused its beam on her, and Renee awoke to the horrifying truth that she, like the others, was now only four inches tall. If it hadn't been for Len...
She couldn't imagine what things would've been like without him. He was her savior, really. The stories Kayla and Mary told of life with Stephen left her numb and cold. Rape and torture, those were things a policewoman had to learn to deal with on the job, but they always happened to someone else. Not to her. If Stephen Matthews had picked her up in those cruel hands, and did the things to her that he did to Kayla...Renee was sure she would've gone mad.
Leonard wasn't like that, thank God above. He was gentle and kind. When he lifted her into the air, he always did so with the greatest of caution. He made sure she was comfortable and had everything she wanted. She loved him for that, and she was sure he loved her, too.
But that wasn't enough. In her heart Renee knew it could never be enough. Len was sixteen times her size. He might hold her and care for her, and satisfy her needs, and she would do the same as best she could, but that was just a pale shadow of how things should have been. They could never really be together. Not like this. She knew it, deep down, and she was pretty sure he did, too.
Before she changed, she liked Leonard Oliver. He wasn't just her partner. He was something more, a friend and confidant, but as long as they were together on the force, that was all they could ever be. Back then, she often wished it could be otherwise. She had her private fantasies, but never acted on them. She kicked herself these days for never taking that risk, never even making the attempt. Especially once she heard his confession, in those first terrifying moments after she realized what had become of her. They could've been together long before this happened, if only they'd cared to try.
Now, it was too late. She was stuck like this, totally dependent on him, unable to live or work without his constant aid. So frightened of discovery that she hid and cowered whenever anyone else came near.
At least she had something to do. She sometimes wondered about Kayla and Mary back home in the Estate. What did they do all day? How did they keep from going crazy? All they had was the faint hope that Howard Taylor would someday return to give them back their lives. That was the only thing keeping them going. At least Renee could throw herself into her work and forget all that as best she could.
She picked up her magnifying glass and brush and went back to the pile of spent shell casings on the desk. They came from at least four different guns, she knew that much already. She'd shoved most of them into separate piles, but there were still a few that didn't seem to fit in. That's what she'd been trying to figure out when she was interrupted.
She stared at the dull gray metal for a while, but her thoughts were elsewhere. Howard Taylor...she'd never met the man, but she knew all about him. The short little ex-scientist who invented the device that made her the tiny thing she was today. How would she react if she ever met the man? He didn't directly shrink her down, but he made it possible. If not for him, none of them would be in this mess.
What if he showed up right now? What if he walked in that door with some device that could restore her? Renee closed her eyes, letting her gloved palm rest on the rumpled metal before her, the rugged depression where, sometime that morning, a firing pin had slammed home, setting off a miniature explosion that sent a bullet hurtling towards a fatal rendezvous with someone's chest. Perhaps not this bullet, but one of those exchanged in that firefight had killed someone. It was her job to try to figure out which, if any, of these came from that gun. If she could do that before the lab finished its work, Leonard would have a head start in finding the killer.
If she could be normal again...Renee knew she wanted that, more than anything. To be able to walk into the station like she used to do, without people staring and pointing, or gasping at her tiny size...that would be wonderful. Yet the prospect of it frightened her as well. How would Len react? Would they be able to carry on, as if nothing else had happened? Could they possibly have a real relationship, now that she'd spent six months living like this? Living as his...as his...
As his pet.
Renee cringed as she forced herself to admit it. She was his pet, wasn't she? Oh, he pretended well enough, and said all the right things, but she could hear it in his voice. She wasn't a real person. Not like this. She was just a pet he could take along with him to the office, and play with when he got home. As much as she liked to pretend otherwise, they both knew that's what she was. That's all she could ever be to him, as long as she was only four inches high.
So what would that mean when she got back to normal? Would Len ever be able to see her as a woman again? Or would he always think of her as that tiny little helpless thing he used to fondle with his fingers? That would be his toy, when that's what he asked of her? How could she ever be anything else to him, after the life they were living now?
Sometimes that life didn't even seem real. Renee often felt detached, like what was happening was a movie she was watching from a distance. Anytime she looked around herself, like now, and saw nothing but gigantic objects, like the huge computer that towered over her, and the shell casings as big around as trash cans, nothing felt right. There was a certain dreamlike quality to everything. She wished she could just wake up, and find herself back in time six months ago, before that horrid beam reached out of the darkness and irrevocably wrecked her life.
There was no way to go back to those days, though. There weren't such things as "undo" buttons in the real world. She had to go on like this, being Leonard's pet, working with him in secret, keeping herself busy so she didn't lose her mind. One day, Howard Taylor would return, and she'd be normal sized again, and everything would change once more. When that happened, she had no illusions that things would ever be like they were. They would be different again, and there was no way to tell what things would be like. Part of her wanted to find out, and part of her didn't.
There was a very real and very unsettling fraction of Renee Allen that never wanted to be normal again. A little neurotic side of her psyche that liked things exactly as they were. She tried to deny that, of course. Her practical side insisted she was being foolish, and of course she was. But if she became normal again, what she had with Leonard would have to end. Maybe they'd pursue a relationship of some kind, and maybe not, but what they had right now was real enough. She was his pet and he was her master, and at least that was one thing that could never be denied.
If Howard showed up now, and offered her a choice...said to her, "Renee Allen, do you want to be normal again?"...what would she say to that? How could she possibly answer? She would say yes, of course...she would have to. To do otherwise would be impossible, unthinkable. And yet, deep down, she had to wonder.
What if she said no...?
The sound of footsteps interrupted her chaotic thoughts. Instantly she sprang across the tabletop and hid alongside the monitor, peering out at the door. If she didn't see Len's face appear, she could be out of sight in an instant. But it was him, casually entering as if no one was inside, shutting the door like he did whenever he returned to his office. She relaxed and stepped out amidst the casings as he sat down, the rush of air as he moved wafting over her like a soothing breeze. The smell of his aftershave was still strong, even after several hours at the station. She smiled up at him and said, "How was the meeting?"
"Just fine," replied Detective Oliver. "The typical amazement at my uncanny ability to predict what the lab reports will say. I owe it all to you, my dear."
"Thanks," she replied, leaning back against one of the shells, taking care not to put too much weight on it lest it roll aside and send her sprawling. "As usual, I do all the hard work, and you get all the credit." She feigned a scowl and crossed her arms. "When am I going to get a little recognition around here?"
He chuckled. "Not anytime soon, unless you want me to show you off. You could let me, you know. I know Captain Harris would be able to keep your secret, if you want. It might even help things go more smoothly sometimes."
Renee shook her head. "No, I don't want to risk it. The less people who know about me and the others, the better. It's not that I don't trust him, it's just..."
She let her voice trail off, unable to admit what she was really feeling. Len nodded, for he understood completely. "I know, I know. You don't want to be treated like a victim. I'm sorry if I do that, you know. I try hard not to think about it, but what happened to you is so awful, and every time I look at you, I feel like I should be rushing you to the hospital, or to some secret government lab in the desert where they have alien machines that can fix this stuff."
"Yeah," replied Renee with a sigh, slumping up against the shell casing in a posture of defeat. "I know you try, and I really appreciate everything you do for me." But I'm really just a pet to you, she added silently, and we both know it, don't we? Not that I'd ever bring it up, and if I did you'd deny it, but I see it in your eyes...even now, that look you're giving me...that much pity ought to be illegal.
For a moment, Len's gaze lingered on her tiny form, and then he blinked and pulled away, as if he knew what he'd just been doing. He turned his attention immediately to the casings. "Any luck with these?"
"There were four different guns," she replied, glad to be changing the subject, "but these three over here, I can't tell for sure which ones they came from. They have scrapings on the front--you probably can't see them from up there. That means they either came from a fifth gun with very similar characteristics to one of the others, which I doubt, or..."
"Or," she went on, "they were deliberately placed at the scene. I suspect those fingerprints you lifted will match what's on here. I'm thinking it's a frame-up job. Someone wanted these to be found, and matched to the murder weapon. Careful where you tread on this one, Len."
"Thanks," he replied with a smile. "You did great, Renee. That's just what I needed. I think I know who I need to talk to next."
"You're welcome," she replied, grinning up at him in satisfaction of a job well done. Then he reached down and gave her head a loving tap, taking a moment to run a gentle fingertip through her dark brown hair, before returning his attention towards the computer screen a short distance away.
In doing so, he didn't see the frown cross his tiny associate's face. She sighed and turned away, hanging her head ever so slightly.
Another job well done, thought Renee morosely. And another pat on the head for the policeman's happy little pet.
Leonard Oliver glanced down at the seat nearby, where next to a bundle of books and file folders, the padded glasses case wobbled back and forth. A moment later, his tiny partner wiggled out, brushed her shoulder-length hair back, and stood, taking a moment to stabilize herself against the car's constant shaking as he drove along the highway.
She seemed distracted, he told himself, which was why he chose to return home for lunch today, rather than go out somewhere. He was going to put her in the Estate for the rest of the afternoon, so she could have a break. She'd been at the office every day this week, putting in long hours, helping him at every turn. For once she deserved some time off.
Truthfully, he didn't know what he'd do without her. Renee was his little secret weapon, the lucky charm that kept him ahead of everyone else on the staff at the office. Nobody had a higher success rate on cases than he did, and it was all because of her. He would've given her credit publically, if he could have, but she wouldn't let him, and he understood her reasons why. Understood them all too well.
He glanced her way several times as he drove. She moved over to the seat belt and scampered upward, until she took her usual spot straddling the protruding lock. From there, she could look out the tinted windows, invisible to anyone outside, and watch the giant world go by. She didn't say a word, or even glance in his direction, as she settled in and stared with longing through the glass.
He took his eyes off her with some reluctance. She was so precious and adorable, he almost couldn't stand it. He wanted to pick her up even now, to hold and comfort her, and stroke her long brown hair, until she stretched out in his palm and sighed with bliss. He wanted her to be happy, and seeing her like this, with that unmistakable look of melancholy on her lovely face, was like a dagger through his heart.
He could tell she needed some time off. She wouldn't admit it, but she did. He was going to let her stay at home the rest of the day, and then this weekend, if nothing important was happening, they were going away for a bit. He was going to take all three of them for a drive into the country, to a little cabin in the woods, where they could be alone and out of that Estate of theirs.
Oh, it was comfortable enough, all right, but by now it had to be terribly stale and boring. How many times could Kayla bike around that track, or Mary lounge around the pool, before they got sick of it? No, a weekend in the country would be the perfect sort of therapy. He smiled to himself as he imagined watching little Kayla ride her bike around the wooden floor, or Mary taking a dip in a chilly babbling brook.
And Renee...his gorgeous little Renee, sunning herself on his lap while he fished in the lake, or diving from a two-foot waterfall into a pool of crystal mountain water...he could see the life coming back into her eyes already. Yes, that's what she needed, all right. That was what they all needed.
After a few more minutes of driving, he exited the highway and turned down the main road that led to his subdivision. Renee glanced over at him curiously, and yelled something in his direction. He didn't even hear the faintest squeak over the car engine, but he knew what she'd asked. "Yes, we're going home for lunch," he told her. "And you're staying put."
She yelled something else, hands on hips, and again he correctly guessed her words. "Yes, you are. You need the afternoon off, and that's that. I can do without you for a few hours. Don't worry, I'll come home early, and we can do something then."
She seemed to accept that, nodding, and clambered down off the door, making her way sullenly back to the glasses case. At least she didn't sulk and pout, thought Len as he made the few last turns to his cul-de-sac. He didn't like it when Renee was unhappy.
"Do I have to stay?" she complained as he lifted up the case. "I always get bored when I'm not with you."
"Yes, you have to," Len insisted. "I'll only be a few hours. I can tell you're getting frazzled at work."
"I can take time off this weekend," she protested.
"Don't worry, I'll make sure of that. Now come on, I'm sure Kayla and Mary will enjoy having someone else to talk to for the rest of the day."
He stood up and went inside, not noticing the small rental car parked two houses down, or the shadowed face watching him from inside.
Howard Taylor frowned and flexed his hands, as he often did when he was nervous. He hadn't felt this way since the first time he held the collapser in his hands and thought about using it on Kayla. The risk he was about to take was terrifying, and once he took that fateful step, there would be no going back.
He didn't know who else to go to, though. He'd spent the entire morning driving around trying to find someone who knew what became of Stephen Matthews. If anyone would know, it would be the police, who would surely have kept tabs on him following their investigation of Kayla's disappearance. The one man in all this city he knew would have done that was Leonard Oliver.
Finding the man's home wasn't all that difficult. The name on his mortgage was a matter of public record. Sure, getting into those records wasn't supposed to be something just anyone could do, but Howard had his ways. He had, after all, managed to hack into a few computers in his day, especially when forging his own false identity back in Brazil. That identity, and his false passport, should've been enough to get him back into the States, yet his old boss found him nonetheless. If Jerome could find Howard, so could others, and eventually the word would filter down to Detective Oliver anyway. So he might as well approach the man now, before he learned the news from some other source.
Even so, even with all that in mind, Howard hesitated. He knew he was still wanted by the police. Jerome Koranski might've offered him amnesty, but Howard wasn't sure he wanted to take that job yet. Some of the things the man said were very tempting, but Jerome also had a way of being very intimidating. He was an ex-Marine, after all, and knew how to carry himself. Yet even so, he hadn't really attempted to force Howard into anything. He left the choice with his old employee. That had to count for something, didn't it?
Nonetheless, the idea of working on such a project left Howard chilled. All he wanted to do was destroy this terrible machine he'd created. In fact, he'd promised to do just that, back when he last saw Leonard Oliver. Yet now, after what he heard from Jerome, that seemed somewhat pointless. If a private company had the technology to collapse matter like he could, then what his old boss said was true--it was only a matter of time before they figured out the rest of it. Before miniaturization technology really entered the mainstream.
What then? Would people like him be able to build, or somehow acquire, their own personal collapsers? Would they keep tiny pets, like poor little Kayla, for their own amusement? He had little doubt that they would. After all, even he hadn't been able to resist the temptation. At least if he worked with Jerome, and that private company he mentioned, Howard could provide them the means to reverse whatever they did. At least then there would be hope for the victims of anyone like him.
On the other hand, maybe he'd be better off not bothering. Maybe the company would fold for lack of funding, or fail in their research. Howard's breakthroughs in collapser technology were nothing short of accidents, anyway. Maybe the other researchers wouldn't have those serendipitous moments of clarity that led to the final formulas in the equations. Maybe they would fail, without his help, and miniaturization technology would never see the light of day.
He shook his head. He couldn't decide yet. He had to think about that more, but not before he finished what he came to do. He had to find Kayla Robertson, and the only man who could help him do that was in that house.
Steeling himself, and ensuring the collapser was close at hand under his jacket, he got out of the car and headed for Leonard's door.
"Dammit!" swore Stephen Matthews, ducking behind the Venetian blinds as Leonard unlocked the front door and stomped past. "Why'd he have to come home now?"
Stephen grew tired watching the girls under the glass after they finished their swim and sat down in front of the television. He might've stayed if Mary bothered to leave on that skimpy pink two-piece bathing suit, but instead she emerged from the bathroom with a sweatsuit on, which did nothing at all for him. Kayla, meanwhile, put on a halter top and shorts, but rather than go jogging, she stretched out on the sofa and pulled a blanket up over those long, sleek legs of hers. Then she proceeded to take a nap.
Bored, Stephen slipped away and back down to the floor. So much for his daily entertainment, he thought morosely. With nothing else to do, he headed back to his cage, grabbed a bite to eat, and then climbed up the back side of the stairs. Here, through a small circular cut used by the house's cable lines, he was able to sneak under the floorboards, and from there to another hidden gap that led to the home's ground level.
Among his many daily rituals, Stephen made sure to check and make sure the miniaturizer was locked away. He lived with the daily hope that once, just once, Leonard would forget and leave it on a table, or somewhere else accessible. Stef felt sure he could operate the controls even at his current size. All he'd have to do was point it at the doorway and blast the giant cop when he came home.
Of course, he knew that was a risky plan. If he zapped Leonard down to size, there would be no one to miniaturize food and water for them, so they'd have to find someone else to trust. Someone who might be convinced to take Stephen's side. He didn't know if he could find someone like that, but those were better odds than he had right now.
He could, of course, sneak out of the house at any time. He knew any number of ways to leave this place. The trouble was always Leonard Oliver. The man was a cop, which gave him a certain amount of power, and resources beyond what Stephen knew about. All Len had to do, upon learning of Stephen's escape, was pack up and move somewhere else. With no source of food and water, Stef would quickly perish. He had some stockpiles here and there, in case that ever came to pass, but they wouldn't last forever. He wasn't yet ready to take a chance on the great unknown. Better to stay here, and see if some better opportunity presented itself.
So that's what he was doing when Leonard came home--sitting in the window, watching the street outside and looking for an opportunity. He saw a small car drive up, pause at Leonard's driveway, and then move on, which gave him a fleeting burst of hope. The vehicle kept going, though, moving out of sight, and so far it hadn't left the cul-de-sac. Stephen was starting to wonder if he should move to another window to take a closer look when Len showed up.
Now Stef was stuck here, trapped behind the blinds, hoping the giant cop wouldn't notice he was gone from his cage downstairs. Not that there was much chance of that--Len seemed to prefer to forget Stephen was even there. The tiny fugitive waited, listening, as Leonard tromped down the steps and across the basement. His voice prattled on, barely audible, talking to the tiny ladies in their glass houses. Something about leaving Renee there for the rest of the day. Good, thought Stephen. I can go down there and watch all three of them, at least for a little while.
That was when a sudden motion outside the window caught his eye. He froze, watching the giant figure stroll past and up onto the porch. Then his whole body went numb as he realized who it was he was looking at, and what this had to mean.
Before the doorbell rang, Stephen was already making his way swiftly down the back of the chair towards the floor, heart pounding like a jackhammer in his chest.
Len kissed little Renee on the forehead and lowered her down to the ground, where she hopped out onto the miniature sofa. She gave a half-hearted wave. "See you in a few hours, I guess," her tiny voice called out.
"Yep, be back then. You girls have fun!"
The others bade him good-bye as he closed up the ceiling. He hesitated, watching Renee settle in, and listened to the first few moments of their conversation. Curiously, the volume on the speakers seemed a bit high, so he turned it down. Must've bumped the knob last time I was here, he thought to himself.
He was halfway up the stairs when the doorbell rang. The sound was muffled down here, so as not to shock tiny eardrums, but he heard it well enough. Probably some solicitor, or someone looking to talk about religion, he thought, quickening his pace. No reason to bother the ladies with that one.
He got to the front door and glanced outside, through the blinds. There was a man there, dressed in a rumpled jacket and blue jeans, with large glasses and short, windblown hair. A brown leather case was slung over his right arm. He looked very mousy and nervous, and there was something familiar about him. In fact, he looked exactly like...
Leonard felt a shiver run up and down his spine. No, it can't be, he thought. It just can't be!
He pulled the door open slowly, as if the man beyond might suddenly grow claws and lash out at his face. "Howard?" he heard himself say. "Howard Taylor?"
"Yes," replied the nervous little man. "Yes, Detective, it's me. I hope you don't mind, but I need to talk to you."
"Was that the doorbell?" asked Renee curiously, glancing up at the distant ringing. "Did you all hear that?"
"Not sure," answered Mary. "Hard to tell over all that stomping around. You need to tell your boyfriend to step more lightly."
"No problem," Renee replied with a grin. "I'm sure he'll be more careful."
"He pretty much does whatever you ask him to," offered Kayla. "Sometimes I wonder which one of you is the pet and which is the master."
Renee looked shocked at that comment, but only for a moment. Then she forced another smile, realizing Kayla didn't mean anything by it. "Neither of us are pets," she insisted, lying despite herself. "He treats me just like he did when we were both the same size."
"Oh really?" chuckled Mary. "Did he rub his fingers up and down your legs when you were partners?"
Renee flushed with embarrassment. "No!" she answered in a protesting tone. "No, of course he didn't! That was before we...before we knew how we felt about each other."
Kayla and Mary exchanged bemused glances. With a brief wink towards her roommate, Kayla remarked, "I'd ask what else he does to you upstairs, when those stomps lead into his bedroom, but I'm pretty sure I already know."
"It's not like that!" Renee was completely red-faced now. "He's kind and gentle, and...well, you know what I mean! We're in love, after all, and we can't exactly have sex, so we do the closest thing we can. You know how it is! Right? Mary, you understand, don't you?"
"Yeah, I know, I know," replied the grinning blonde. "Don't worry, Kayla's just teasing you. It's not like you're around all that much for us to make fun of. Besides, we're both just jealous. You think we could have a piece of that action sometime?"
"Yeah," Kayla added, "is it still a ménage a trois if some of us are the size of dolls? Or would that be a ménage a toys?"
Mary busted up laughing at that, but Renee just got redder than ever. "Oh, you two are impossible!" she insisted, stamping her foot. "Just have your fun! I'm outta here!"
She stormed off, back to her room to get out of her work clothes and into something more comfortable. Let them be jealous, she thought to herself. They only wish they had a loving, gentle giant like I do.
Ménage a toys, indeed...!
"Of course," said Leonard shakily, recovering quickly from the shock of Howard's sudden and unexpected appearance at his door. "Come on in."
"Sorry to bother you," said Howard, "but I have some news you might be interested in. You might want to have a seat."
"Before I do that," said Len, "do me a favor and put that thing away."
"That." Len pointed an accusing finger at the brown case hanging from Howard's shoulder, the one shaped very much like a large camera. "I know what you have in there, and I don't want it anywhere near me."
Howard let the strap slip off his shoulder, so that the device dropped softly onto the carpet. The container was buttoned securely shut, so that it would've taken Howard a bit of effort to open it and dig the collapser out from inside. Nonetheless, he pushed the container away, so it was leaning up against the nearby sofa, safely out of reach. Then he moved off, towards the waiting easy chair, and sat down, praying that Leonard Oliver would at least hear him out.
Len nodded. "All right, then, since you obviously trust me, I'll do the same." He opened his vest and removed the service revolver from the shoulder holster, setting the weapon down on the dining room table. Then he returned and took a position on the couch, still tense but not nearly as worried as before. "Now go ahead and say what you came here to say."
"The last time we spoke," said Howard, the little speech obviously rehearsed somewhat, "I made some promises. One of those was to come back here when I found a way to reverse what I'd done. In that, I've been successful. Let me show you."
He reached into his inside jacked pocket, a move that made Len suddenly jump halfway out of the couch, eyes flashing immediately to his weapon. Howard stopped instantly, freezing in place, face suddenly pale. "It's not going to hurt you," he insisted, drawing the device slowly into the light, holding it with thumb and forefinger only, so the rest of his hand was splayed outwards like a fan. "This is what I've been working on for most of the last two years, Detective Oliver. This is the anti-collapser, if you will. I call it a CFR, or 'Collapsing Field Remover,' if you want to get technical about it. Or just call it a restorer, if you want, because that's what it does."
Leonard stared at the device, which resembled a short length of aluminum topped by a cerulean crystal. Circling around the tip, a series of miniature pipes extended outward, terminating in what looked like beads. The whole thing was no more than a foot long. "That's it?" Leonard inquired, pointing over at the camera-sized lump on the floor near the couch. "That's all it takes to reverse what that thing did to people?"
"Yes," said Howard, with an obvious note of pride in his voice. "Well, of course, it was originally much larger, but like the collapser itself, it's more portable when it's been reduced in size. And no less effective, I might add."
"Well, then, congratulations," said Leonard. "I guess you did it, then. You figured out how to undo what you did. That was one of the things you swore to accomplish, when I last saw you. Does that mean you're ready to do the rest of it? Destroy that evil device and turn yourself over to the police?"
Howard sucked in a deep breath. "I knew you'd get around to that," he remarked, "seeing as you're the detective and all. Yes, I'm ready, except for one small problem."
"What's that?" asked Leonard, despite the fact that he already knew exactly what the answer would be. In point of fact, he was simply buying time, and couldn't afford to let Howard know it. Only now, his time had run out.
"I need to find Kayla Robertson," said the pudgy little scientist, nervously fingering his thick glasses. "Do you have any idea where she is?"
Down on the floor, hunkered behind the couch, Stephen Matthews heard everything. He even risked looking out when Howard mentioned the CFR, too curious to resist seeing what it looked like. Fortunately, both the giants were intent on their own conversation, and didn't even have a good view of the shadowed spot where Stephen was hiding.
He did get a pretty good view of the anti-collapser thing, though. Enough of a look to recognize it if he saw it again. A surge of energy shot through him. Energy and hope, for the first time in months. All he had to do, somehow, was arrange for that device to be pointed at him and activated, and he'd be normal sized again!
He could hardly believe his good fortune. Of all the days for Leonard to come home with Renee at lunchtime, this was the perfect time to do it--when Howard was waiting outside, obviously in that car from earlier, and Stephen was up top, ready and available to take advantage of the situation. All Stef had to do now was get Howard's attention when Leonard wasn't looking, get restored to normal, and get the drop on Len before anything else could happen.
Then it would be time for some glorious, well-deserved revenge!
He thought about stepping out right now. How would Leonard be able to explain having a miniature Stephen running around his home? Howard would only be able to draw one conclusion from that. Stef stopped himself before taking the plunge, though. If he went out there, and Len saw him, he'd easily reach his gun before Howard could get to the collapser. That damnable cop would have the advantage once again. Worse, that would be the end of Stephen's freedom to move around. He and Howard would probably share a much more securely locked cell, then, and Leonard would have all the power for himself.
So instead, Stephen waited, listening and waiting for his chance. Sooner or later, he told himself, Len would go downstairs to get Kayla and the others. When he did, that would be the time to get Howard's attention. In fact, he thought as he heard Howard ask about Kayla, that moment was about to arrive.
He tensed, getting ready to move when Leonard's giant form stood up and headed for the basement door. Any second now, he told himself.
But then, Leonard Oliver did something Stephen didn't expect. In fact, it was so surprising he almost fell over from shock. Even as he heard those amazing words, though, he knew it was just what he needed to hear.
In that instant, he knew exactly what he had to do, and before anything else could happen, he put his plan into motion.
Leonard paused for a moment when Howard asked that simple question. It was an easy enough thing to answer. "Do you have any idea where she is?"
Well, of course I do, Mr. Taylor, she's right below us in the basement, along with two other tiny women and the man who shrunk them both. Let's go down there, shall we, and give them back their lives, and then we can put this all behind us.
That's what he should have said. Those were the words that ought to have come out of his mouth at that moment. Had Howard arrived a week or two after Stephen's capture and Renee's miniaturization, Leonard probably would've uttered those simple sentences without hesitation.
But now...now, he hesitated.
Recently, he'd become aware of how much he loved Renee. Not just as a person, or even as a pet. He loved what they had together, the way he could hold her in his hand, and play with her, and let her walk across his body. He loved that she could work alongside him during the day, and be intimate with him at night, and be such a perfect part of his life. He was happy, happier than he'd ever been before, happier than he ever thought it was possible to be.
Whenever he considered the possibility that Howard would one day show up and return Renee to normal, Leonard was unsure of himself. That, in and of itself, was rather unusual. In the weeks following her miniaturization, when he helped her get through the shock and terror of it all, Len would've done anything to have Howard arrive and fix everything on the spot. But those weeks turned into months and now Renee was like a part of him. Letting her go would be like cutting off his hand, or something worse. He didn't know if he'd be able to survive.
There was a chance she would stay with him, after she went back to normal, but she just as well might not. What if she didn't really feel anything for him then? What if the only reason they were together now was because she had to be, and she clung to him because he was her only protection from the great and terrible world around her? If she went back to normal, and turned her back on him, he couldn't bear that. He couldn't stand not having her in his life.
And that's what Howard was offering right now. By presenting this de-miniaturizer, the anti-collapser, he was giving Renee the opportunity to say goodbye to Leonard, if that's what she chose to do.
Len knew, in that flashing moment, that he didn't want to give her that chance. He liked things the way they were, right now. Why should take that perfect world he'd built downstairs and let Howard Taylor tear it all apart?
He didn't have to do that. There had to be another way.
"I'm sorry," he said after what was, in fact, only the merest instant of delay. "I have no idea where she is. I thought you had all that taken care of."
Howard nodded slowly. "Damn," he muttered under his breath. "I thought for sure you'd have some idea. No, I didn't have her. I left her with someone else."
"We continued the investigation after you ran off," Leonard began, launching immediately into a cover story that was grounded quite heavily in fact. "We checked out your friend Stephen Matthews, and a few other leads, but everything went cold. I kept my eye on Mr. Matthews, too, for a while, but he was clean. He got a promotion at the bank, and moved away some time later, so I lost track of him. There was no reason to suspect he was involved."
Howard nodded slowly, not looking up. Len took the opportunity to pretend to spot something in his reaction, and press home with the tale of misdirection he was so easily contriving.
"Wait," Leonard said slowly, "are you saying it was Stephen Matthews you gave Kayla to? That's who had her all that time?"
The sad-looking man threw up his hands. "Yes, damn it, that's where I left her! I probably should have told you, and trusted you, but I couldn't take the chance. I figured Stephen would at least leave me a way to find him, but there's no trace of him at the bank. Apparently he left the company, but I don't really know the circumstances."
"I don't know anything about that," Len lied smoothly, "but I'll tell you what, when I get back to the station, I'll look into it for you. Do you have a way you can be reached? If I get any more information, I'll pass it right along. I want to see this whole thing resolved as much as you do."
He stood up, reaching into his pocket to withdraw a notepad, which he handed to Howard. Morosely, the much shorter man scribbled down a phone number and hotel address, before heading to the door. On his way there, he picked up the collapser and slung it back over his shoulder.
"Thank you for at least listening to me," Howard said after a moment. "I didn't really know how you'd react when I showed up. Thanks for not slapping cuffs on me the second I walked in the door."
"Part of me still says I should be doing that," admitted Len, "but that's not going to help Kayla, now is it? Here, follow me out. I should be heading back to the office now anyway. Too late to fix myself lunch--I'll grab some fast food on the way back. If you want to join me, you're more than welcome."
"No, that won't be necessary," said Howard, moving outside and starting towards his car as Len locked the door behind him. "I should let you get back as soon as you can, so you can get started. Thanks again."
"You're quite welcome," said Leonard with a smile, taking a quick note of the car Howard was driving, and the license plate and rental car company advertisement on the bumper. Always good to know such things, he told himself.
Neither he nor Howard noticed the extra bump on the side of the leather satchel where a tiny stowaway now lay huddled against the collapser, his mind working feverishly on the story he was going to tell his friend.
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