As the sounds of the costume ball carried on faintly behind me, I let 
curiosity get the better of me. Walking down the richly carpeted 
hallway, I let my hand stray to a doorknob. Locked. Walking a bit 
farther, I tried another. Locked. I strolled on, and as my fingers 
closed around a third doorknob, I was a little surprised to find that 
it turned. I look guiltily back the way I had come, but saw nobody. 
Well, what could a peek hurt? I pulled open the door and slipped 
inside the room, pulling the door closed again behind me.

I turned and let my eyes adjust to the dim light of what seemed to be 
a large study. Something was definitely out of place, however. A 
bookcase looked as if it had been angled away from the far wall. 
Almost before this oddity could register fully with me, I noticed one 
of the security staff sprawled--apparently unconscious--on the floor 
near the bookcase. I started forward, and had only taken a few steps 
when I realized I was not the only person moving about the room.

A beautiful woman stepped out from behind the angled bookcase. 
Dressed as one of the party guests, she wore what appeared to be a 
magician's outfit, with long tuxedo tails, a silk tophat, fishnet 
hose, and stiletto heels. Her dark hair was short and framed her 
pale, lovely face. She seemed to be sizing me up, and I found I 
could only stare dumbly at her, though I was aware of feeling vaguely 
foolish in my rented pirate costume. After a moment or two, her 
painted lips smiled at me...almost relaxed and casually. Her hand 
came up holding what looked to be some sort of large jewel, which she 
tucked into her not inconsiderable cleavage. It was as if she had 
taken my measure and decided that I was not an immediate threat.

Incredibly, she started to walk out, giving me a wide berth. Not 
knowing what else to do in this bizarre situation, I took a couple of 
steps to the side, placing myself between her and the door. This was 
nuts. I was a book seller, for god sakes. She stopped for a moment, 
giving me a somewhat amused look, then moved to pass by me again. I 
found myself stepping between her and the door once more, as more 
realistic options refused to come to me.

She was stopped now right in front of me. She was gorgeous. She 
gave me a look that was part annoyance and part bemusement. This 
close, I could smell her enticing perfume.

"Don't," she murmured in a level tone. Again, she made to move past 

Just reacting and not thinking now, I reached out and caught her by 
the shoulder, turning her towards me. I couldn't just let her walk 
out of here. Her white-gloved hands came at me, but I managed to 
grab them with my own. Her strength was surprising, as she tried to 
pull her hands away.

"What are you doing in here?" I demanded needlessly, as it was 
obvious what was going on.

Wordlessly, she tried again to pull away from me--nearly succeeding 
in breaking free--but I held tightly to her delicate hands.

"Calm down!" I said, as we grappled.

Her struggling ceased for an instant, and her narrowed eyes met 
mine. "Let me calm *you* down," she answered.

Suddenly, a spray of pink gas hissed from her bowtie and into my 
face! The gas had a too-sweet, but not choking fragrance, and had 
the alarming property of making me immediately feel warm and sleepy. 
I shook my head, trying to clear the sensation of grogginess. 

We struggled again, as she renewed her effort to pull away. With a 
subdued hiss, another spray of the narcotic gas from her bowtie hit 
me in the face. It was unexpected, and I had gotten another whiff of 
the stuff. I felt even sleepier now, and my vision began to waver. 
Reason came rushing back to me, even through the gathering haze. I 
had to abandon this fight or she was going to gas me to sleep!

I tried to push away from the woman, but now she was the one holding 
*me* fast--her hands locked around mine.

"Uh-uh," she said reproachfully. "Nap time for you now, baby."

A third spray of the pink gas enveloped my face. She must have been 
wearing nostril filters to protect her from the gas. I had become 
too weak to pull free now...too weak to even stand. She still held 
my hands as I dropped to my knees.

"" I managed to gasp ineffectually.

The woman simply smiled at me.

"Too late, luv."

My eyelids felt impossibly heavy.

She smiled and nodded. "Thaaat's right," she said happily, releasing 
another pink cloud from her bowtie. "Sleepy time."

Nothing left to breathe but her sweet gas. Couldn't stay awake.

The mysterious woman playfully kissed the air.


I sighed and slowly fell forward. The woman smiled, still holding my 
hands, as I slumped against her. Her quiet laughter was the last 
sound I heard before sleep took me entirely.