Stratus Fear

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Chapter Twenty-seven

On my way to Alpha Village to see Koz, I went over the meeting I just had with Arianna and Fauna Vixen. As always, Arianna looked stunning in a two-piece lounging outfit of plum-blue chiffon, billowy pants and a midriff top with puff sleeves. When I arrived at Gavin McAllister’s old place, I skipped the pleasantries and told her about the Progerus experiments on the Midnight Lace Club dancers and that Faun’s name had come up as a possible recipient of the drug. Arianna kept her cool as she called the girl and told her to come immediately to the apartment.

I still don’t remember too much about Fauna Vixen the time I visited Arianna when she had been entertaining her co-workers. To me, Faun had been nothing more than a dun-brown backdrop; but today, after I explained about the drug, she took on a sickly green pallor. She admitted to two sessions with the “recruiters” Talitha Rusk and Devon Brand, and then showed us her hands which she had kept stuffed in the pockets of her sundress. They looked older than she did overall, with tiny lines around the knuckles and dark spots along the backs.

“I told them,” Faun said, ready to burst into tears. “I told Talitha and Devon about my…hands. They said it was just a side effect and it would go away, that I shouldn’t worry. The benefits outweighed those side effects.”

“What benefits?” I asked as gently as possible.

She took in a deep breath, her hands back in her pockets. “That I would instantly lose weight, that my face would thin out, and that I would look mature and sophisticated…just like I always wanted.”

Since I had no idea what Fauna really looked like before, I simply nodded. I did note that she appeared svelte all around. Her heart-shaped face came with concave cheeks and firm lips. Only the faintest tracks of crow’s feet near her brown eyes betrayed her premature run on aging.

Her gaze remained on me, begging me to do something. What could I tell her? Those arrogant sadists at Senesco had given her empty promises and empty dreams. They had taken away her youth, and eventually her life. “Are you willing to make a statement about what happened?”

Once we had Faun’s witness testimony we could take it to the district attorney who could start a real investigation, one that would lead to prosecution. Of course, Faun didn’t want to go through the humiliation of testifying. Frankly, I think she was afraid of retaliation. How could one scared girl go up against an entire corrupt corporation? It had been done before, and empires had collapsed because of it.

I told her that Sergeant Libby Farah at the police station would be happy to help her, and she could give her statement in private. Arianna even promised Faun that she would go with her.

“I don’t know,” the girl kept saying as tears began to run down those sophisticated cheekbones. “I don’t know.”

“Can you tell me,” I said, changing the subject so she could calm down, “your legal name? I take it Fauna Vixen is a stage name.”

Not bothering to wipe away her tears, Faun nodded. “It’s Paisley Weeks. I used Fauna Vixen when I danced at the club.”

She didn’t have to tell me which club. I already knew, but I repeated it anyway. “That would be the Midnight Lace Club.”

She nodded again. “Yes. The other dancers helped me pick out the name. I like it much better than Paisley Weeks.” She assumed a sing-song voice. “Little Paisley Weeks from Leesburg, Kansas who wants to make it big in show business, even if she has to be Fauna Vixen. Sad, isn’t it?”

I merely smiled. “The club, is that where Talitha Rusk and Devon Brand approached you?”

This time her nod was barely perceptible. “Yes.”

“Did they take you someplace private to fill you in on their proposal?”

“Yes, a suite at the Royal Palms Hotel. They—” Faun suddenly glanced down, her cheeks stained with embarrassment. “They…did certain things.”

“That’s okay,” I soothed. “You don’t have to go into details. But did they ever discuss monetary compensation with you? Did you sign anything?”

Raising her head, Fauna arched her slim, innocent brows. “What do you mean?”

“If you found you didn’t like the results, they might pay you for your time and trouble. But you’d have to sign a statement saying you won’t sue them.”

“Oh, I see.” For a moment, I thought I saw her brighten with the prospect of getting a shitload of money because her hands had aged beyond her comfort zone. I should have told Fauna that the rest of her body would catch up soon enough. But I certainly didn’t want to be the bearer of devastating news.

“No,” she told me truthfully. “They didn’t mention anything about signing a paper or what you said…compensation.”

I nodded. Hopefully, we had gotten to her before the recruiters could swoop in and dazzle her with money to keep her mouth shut while she aged ungracefully. I gave her an alternative offer: “Would you like to go to the hospital to see if someone can help you?”

Faun looked at me with wide, glossy eyes. “No…thank you. It wouldn’t do any good. They told me the effects are permanent. It’s okay really. I can live with this.”

Poor trusting kid! I asked about her current living arrangement, and Faun told me she had just been employed as a companion for a man recently retired from the commodities market.

“He’s sixty-eight,” she told me, “and he takes me as is. So I don’t have to pretend around him.”

“So, will you tell him about the injections?” I wonder what her employer would do when Fauna caught up in age to him.

She shook her head slowly. “No. If it gets bad, I’ll just go back home.”

Attempting a positive smile, I told her I would stay in touch. What else could I do for her?

Arianna, who had been standing nearby, came over to place a comforting arm around Fauna’s shoulder. “She’ll be all right. We take care of each other.”

I felt a little better knowing that the poor girl had someone on her side.

Now as I pulled into the underground parking garage at Alpha Village, I felt that everything had come together at last, nice and neat. We just lacked Fauna’s testimony to confirm it. Before I left Elysian Towers, Arianna took me aside and said that she would try and coax Fauna into giving her statement. It might take some time, but she felt confident the young woman would agree in the end. I could only hope so.

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