The Arts Conference

by Zack

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© Copyright 2017 - Zack - Used by permission

Storycodes: MF/f; bond; cuffs; reluct/nc; XX

Brent Kelly, CEO of AK Software, gently shook the shoulder of the young woman sleeping with her face on a keyboard.  "Wake up, Persephone.  Aunt Gi called, and she's worried about you." 

Persephone yawned and stretched her arms.  "Oh, Brent.  What time is it?" 

"It's just after eleven; Friday morning, in case you've lost track.  Aunt Gi was worried when you didn't come home last night.  She also wanted to remind you that the Arts Conference starts today." 

Persephone grimaced.  "I was hoping that she had forgotten about it.  I promised her that I'd go, but I don't want to." 

"Why not?  It's quite an honor to be chosen for this conference.  It's intended to give promising young artists a chance to meet with more established, professional artists." 

"That's just it.  To me an artist is a painter or a sculptor.  All I do is write poems.  I write because it sometimes makes me feel better to put my troubles down on paper.  Aunt Gi is the one who sent my poems in to that McDowell Foundation contest.  I feel like I've taken a place that should have gone to a real artist." 

"Well, it's too late to refuse now.  The conference is held up in the mountains near Crestline, isn't it?  That's not a bad place to spend the Labor Day weekend.  Anyway, what would you be doing if you didn't go?" 

"Work here.  I've got some ideas for my next project now that I've finished with the relational database." 

Brent exclaimed, "It's finished?  I didn't know that." 

"Yeah, that's what I was doing last night.  I don't mean we have a product ready to ship, but all of the theoretical work is done.  I have the flow charts, the UML models, and some pseudocode for everything, and I've coded and tested the key parts of the software.  It looks like our estimates weren't optimistic enough.  This database should be three to four times faster than anything on the market now, and the new compression technique will let it store more data per byte of memory." 

"This is brilliant, Persephone.  When we start selling this we'll run Oracle and every other database vendor right out of business." 

"Anybody could have done it, once they saw the trick.  I've got to go.  See you Tuesday." 

After Persephone left Brent spent some time going through the product files.  He thought, "Yeah, sure, anybody could have done this.  If Einstein were alive today and a computer scientist he might have been able to do it."  This product would make the company hundreds of millions of dollars, and it never would have happened without Persephone.  He thought, "She has her father's shares in the company, plus her own options, so she'll be in good shape financially.  I only wish she was as OK emotionally." 

He dialed the phone and said to the woman who answered, "She was here last night, Aunt Gi, but she's on her way home now." 

* * * 

'Aunt Gi' was only called that by Persephone and people close to Persephone.  Other people knew her as Ginger Mulveny, attorney-at-law.  She specialized in litigation, and some of the people who had been on the many losing sides of battles with her had their own choice names for her.  She and Persephone's mother had been roommates in college and had remained friends. Persephone had been living with her for almost two years, and she regarded Persephone as the daughter that up to now she hadn't known she'd always wanted. 

Persephone entered the kitchen and said, "Hi, Aunt Gi.  I'm sorry if you were worried.  I was busy and I forgot to call." 

"That's OK, Honey.  I guessed that you were at work."  Aunt Gi took a closer look at Persephone and said, "What happened to your hair?  It looks like you cut it yourself." 

"I did.  It kept getting in my eyes last night so I chopped it off." 

"Oh, Persephone! How are you going to find a boyfriend if you keep mutilating yourself?" 

"I don't want a boyfriend.  How long do you think it'll take me to get to this conference?" 

"Depends on the traffic.  It's up in the mountains just west of San Bernardino, so you have to go across all of Los Angeles, and those narrow roads in the mountains can plug up, too.  If you want to be sure to be there before everything starts don't leave here later than one." 

It didn't take Persephone long to eat lunch and throw a few clothes into a duffel bag, but then she started thinking about her next project, and when she looked at a clock it was almost one-thirty.  She found Aunt Gi in her office working on some papers.  She kissed her and said, "Goodbye, Aunt Gi.  Be careful." 

"I'm going to be right here all weekend, reading these depositions.  Why would you worry about me?" 

"Because I love you, and everyone I love gets hurt." 

* * *

It was after five when Persephone arrived at the building where the conference was being held.  It had originally been built in the 1950's as a hotel, but the McDowell Foundation acquired it twenty years ago and now used it for their arts activities.  At this time there were fifteen artists in residence.  Most were painters or sculptors, but there were three novelists, a poet, and even a `performance artist'. 

Persephone checked in and was given a key to her room on the second floor.  The room had two single beds, and there was already a suitcase on one of them.   She put her duffel bag on the other bed and came back downstairs to find that it was almost dinnertime.   When dinner was announced Persephone joined the crowd moving into the dining room.  A buffet was set up, and there were eight tables, each set for five.  It was a large room, and the tables were arranged in a U-shape around the outside, with a clear area in the center.  There weren't any assigned seats, so Persephone got some food and picked a place at random.  Eventually four other people sat at the table and there was some casual conversation.

After most people had finished eating a middle-aged man moved to the center of the room and said, "Good evening, and welcome to the fourth annual Arts Conference.  My name is Phillip Garcia, and I administer this facility, and this conference, for the McDowell Foundation.  Over there next to the wall is my assistant, Alice, who does most of the work.  As most of you know, the purpose of this conference is to bring together our artists in residence and talented newcomers.  We hope to have an exchange of ideas that will benefit everyone, but also to give the newcomers an idea of what a full time career in art requires, and perhaps induce some of you to give up your day jobs." 

After the polite ripple of laughter subsided he continued.  "Now I'll introduce everyone.  I'll say the artist's name and field and, for the non-residents, give a brief quote from the award citation.  If the artist or anyone else has any questions or comments please jump right in.  Please stand when your name is called." 

Persephone stood up when Phillip said, "Persephone Andropolis.  For poetry that illuminates the effects of loss, loneliness, and despair on the human spirit."  There was a polite round of applause.  Persephone sat down and Phillip continued with his introductions.  No one noticed the hate in Alice's eyes when she looked at Persephone.

After the introductions there was some idle conversation and then everyone drifted off to their rooms. Persephone went to her room and found a young woman who introduced herself as Sue Scott, painter.

Sue said, "I read the excerpts from your poems that were printed in the contest bulletin and I really liked them." 

Persephone replied, "Thank you.  I didn't see the bulletin, so I didn't see any of your work.  Is it going to be displayed here?" 

"No, I think the resident artists will give demonstrations of their work, and then there are workshops of some kind." 

"Sounds interesting.  I was up late last night so I've got to sleep now.  See you in the morning.  Good night." 

* * * 

The next morning the resident artists did indeed give demonstrations of their work.  A sculptor named Robert Lopez gave the last demonstration before the lunch break.  His artwork was a life-size clay statue of a nude young woman, lying on her stomach, with chains on her wrists and ankles.  Robert said, "The title of this work is `Love'.  I am attempting to express how emotion can act as a restraint." 

Sue asked, "Is this the finished statue?" 

"No, this is the clay master.  I'll use this to prepare a mold and then cast the statue in bronze." 

Another voice said, "Robert, this is wonderful work.  I have never seen anything finer." 

Robert replied, "Thanks, Greg.  I hope the critics will like it as much as you do." 

Phillip announced, "We'll break for lunch now.  This afternoon the painters will display their work." 

The crowd filed out of the studio.  Alice and Persephone were at the end of the line, and when they were close to the statue Alice tripped Persephone. She fell across the statue and smashed both of its arms and damaged the torso.

Alice shouted, "I saw it! She deliberately broke the statue!" 

Persephone answered, "I did not! You tripped me!" 

Alice continued, "I heard her.  She said, 'This statue degrades women, and I'm going to trash it.'" 

Greg asked Alice, "Can you swear to that?" 

"Yes, I can." 

Greg grabbed Persephone, pushed her against a wall, and handcuffed her hands behind her back.  He barked, "You're under arrest for criminal damage." 

Phillip asked Greg, "What do you mean?  Who are you?" 

Greg replied, "My day job is Detective Sergeant, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office.  This woman has vandalized a great work of art, and I'm going to take her to jail." 

Phillip was appalled.  This was not the kind of publicity the McDowell Foundation encouraged.  He said, "Let's talk about this before we do anything drastic."  He asked Robert, "How long would it take you to repair the damage?" 

"About a day, if I had a model." 

"Could you use Persephone as your model?" 

Robert replied, "Turn her around."  Greg turned her so Robert could see her handcuffed arms.  "Yes, she would be a good model." 

Phillip chimed in, "This is what I propose. Persephone will model for Robert, and if she does well Greg won't arrest her."   Phillip saw a scowl on Greg's face and realized that Greg expected Persephone to be punished.  He added.  "Until the statue is repaired Persephone will be under the control of Robert.  She will obey all of his orders.  She will not speak except to answer his questions or acknowledge his commands.  She will address him as sir. Persephone, do you agree to this?" 

Persephone thought about it.  It wouldn't take Aunt Gi long to get her out of jail, but going there would still be unpleasant, and Aunt Gi had her own work to do.  Persephone now remembered where she had seen Alice.  About three years ago she had given a statement to the police confirming Alice's guilt after Alice had been arrested for shoplifting.  When this became known it would so discredit Alice as a witness that the criminal damage charge was sure to be dismissed.

On the other hand, Persephone had admired the statue and she was sorry that it was damaged.  Modeling didn't seem to be that hard, and she hadn't expected to get anything out of the conference anyway.  Taking all into consideration, she responded, "I agree." 

Phillip said, "Greg, Robert, is this OK with you two?" 

Both Greg and Robert indicated that they agreed, and Phillip said, "Then it's settled.  It's time for lunch." 

Greg said to Robert, "I'll let you use my handcuffs.  Do you know how they work?"  Robert nodded yes, and Greg continued, "Don't forget to double lock them.  She could get hurt if you don't.  Here's the key." 

Robert released Persephone's hands.  Greg said, "Just to be sure, let me see you cuff her." 

Robert cuffed Persephone's hands in front of her and carefully double-locked the handcuffs.  Greg nodded his approval. 

After lunch Robert took Persephone into his studio and locked the door.  He removed the handcuffs and said, "Take off all your clothes.  You can put them in this closet."  When Persephone hesitated he added, "Don't worry, I already have a lover, and he's very jealous." 

She smiled and undressed.  There was a robe in the closet and she put it on.  In the meantime Robert had been positioning a padded table next to the damaged statue.  When he had it arranged the way he wanted it he said, "Take off the robe and lie face down on the table." 

Robert pulled Persephone's hands behind her back and loosely handcuffed them.  He manipulated Persephone until she was in the position he wanted and started to work. Persephone found that she could hold the position without too much strain.  She occupied her mind by thinking about her new software project. 

After a couple of hours had passed Robert said, "Time for a break."  He removed the handcuffs and helped Persephone stand up.  He said, "Go to the potty, get yourself a drink of water, and be back here in ten minutes." 

"Yes, sir."  Persephone put on the robe and waited until Robert unlocked the door. 

When Persephone returned Robert resumed work.  The session was productive and he was pleased.  Just before dinner time Alice knocked on the studio door, and when Robert opened it she said, "Robert, you have a phone call at the front desk.  They said it was important."

As soon as Robert was out of sight Alice entered the studio.  She said to Persephone, "Get up.  Robert has appointed me to take care of you when you're not modeling."  She helped Persephone to stand up and draped the robe over her shoulders.  Alice looked out the door, and when she saw that the hallway was empty she hurried Persephone down it and through a door that opened onto a narrow back stairway. 

Alice forced Persephone up the steep stairs until they were at the top of the building.  She opened a door and led Persephone into a small room whose sloping ceiling and dormer window showed that it was right under the roof.  Alice pointed out several shiny new eyebolts that had been screwed into the wall and said, "Robert had me visit the hardware store and fix up this room.  He wants to be sure you don't leave during the night." 

She pulled the robe off of Persephone's shoulders, backed her up to a waist-high eyebolt, and padlocked the handcuff chain to it.  She saw that the handcuffs were loose and tried to tighten them, but they were double-locked and she couldn't do it. 

Alice said, "Having you stand up all night is Robert's idea, but this is from me."  She slapped Persephone's face twice with forehand and backhand blows, and then punched her in the stomach.  Persephone moaned and bent over. 

Alice went to the door and said, "Have a nice night.  I'll see you about fifteen hours from now."  She closed the door behind her and a lock clicked. 

Persephone was frightened.  Modeling for Robert had been easy, but she hadn't expected him to be cruel, and to stand here until morning would be torture.  She struggled to escape from the steel grip of the handcuffs. 

Meanwhile, Robert returned to the studio.  There had been no phone call.  He saw that Persephone had left and he assumed that Greg had released her.  He cleaned his tools and then went to the dining room.  Robert didn't see Persephone in the dining room and so he asked Alice, "Do you know where Persephone is?" 

Alice replied, "She's too embarrassed to face anybody.  She is going to eat in her room, and she said she'll see you in the morning." 

* * * 

After a struggle and some scraped skin Persephone had managed to pull her left hand free of the loose handcuff.  She was relieved that she could now sit down, but as it got dark a new worry intruded.  The sun had warmed the poorly insulated room, but now that heat was dissipating as the outside air got colder.  Persephone knew that hypothermia was a real threat, and that it could be fatal. 

She could see her robe on the floor where Alice had dropped it, and by stretching as far as she could she just managed to reach it with her foot and drag it to her.  She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped the robe around her, grateful for the meager warmth it provided.  She hooked the fingers of her right hand around the eyebolt to keep the handcuff from cutting into her wrist, and they were soon numb. 

It was still too cold to sleep, and she spent the night shivering.  During the long hours of darkness she fought against the panic she felt when she realized how helpless she was.  Alice and Robert could keep her here until she died if they wanted to.  She knew why Alice might hate her, but she wondered why Robert would treat her so harshly, even if he believed that she had broken his statue on purpose. 

In the morning Alice returned to the room.  She sneered, "So you managed to sit down.  Robert will be disappointed.  He will have to think of something more secure and much more painful for tonight."  She unlocked Persephone from the eyebolt and returned her to Robert's studio.  Persephone was too cold and too tired to resist, and as soon as Alice left she stretched out on the padded table and fell asleep. 

When Robert arrived in the studio he saw Persephone on the table and thought that Greg had brought her.  He woke her up with a playful swat on the bottom and said, "Time to get started.  Did you have a good night?" 

Persephone answered, "Yes, sir."  She was very afraid of this man who had treated her so badly.  What had been a lark the day before had become very serious, as she realized she was in the power of somebody who would hurt her or even let her die. 

Robert handcuffed Persephone and arranged her on the table.  As he worked on the statue Persephone occupied her mind by considering what she should do.  She didn't want any more pain, and if she was going to die she wanted it to be her choice.  She decided that being very obedient until she had a chance to escape would be her best plan. 

Robert was oblivious to Persephone's concerns.  He was totally involved in the work on the statue, which was going well.  After several hours he announced that it was time for a break.  Persephone was relieved.  Her bladder was full, and she was very thirsty.  When Robert removed the handcuffs she thought about escape, but her clothes and her car keys were still in the studio, so she decided not to make an attempt yet.  If Robert let her get dressed for lunch she would have a better chance then. 

About an hour into the next session Robert had almost completed the repairs.  He was very pleased with the result.  He'd originally hired a professional bondage model to pose for him, and this had been just another job to her.  Persephone had an entirely different attitude, and he had been able to capture the effect this had on her posture to produce an impression of betrayed innocence that had been lacking before. 

Robert was so pleased that he became loquacious.  With all of the innocence of Bambi skipping into a minefield he started a conversation, "Tell me about yourself, Persephone.  Have you lived in California all of your life?" 

"Yes, sir." 

"Did you go to college here?" 

"Yes, sir." 

Robert became annoyed.  "I want a conversation, not an interrogation.  Give me a narrative description of your life." 

There was a pause, and then Persephone spoke in a flat, emotionless voice.  "Both my sister and I were born in California.  My father worked in the aerospace industry, so we moved every three or four years, but it was always in California.  Mostly in LA, but we also lived in San Diego and Sunnyvale.  About nine years ago, just about the time I started at UCLA, he and his friend Brent started their own software company.  I majored in computer science, and when I graduated four years later I went to work with my father.  We worked together for three years." 

Persephone stopped talking.  Robert waited for a few minutes and then he commanded, "Well?  Go on." 

Persephone begged, "Please, sir, don't make me say any more." 

Robert didn't know that a psychiatrist had worked with Persephone for several months without being able to go beyond this point.  He demanded, "I want to hear more.  Keep talking." 

Persephone continued in the same flat voice.  "In my family we had a tradition that we would go out together on the last Friday of every month.  Sometimes we would go to a movie, or for a pizza, or something like that.  On the last Friday in October, two years ago next month, my mother, my father, and my younger sister Ariadne wanted to see a movie.  I had already seen it and I had work to do, so I didn't go with them.  On their way home a drunk in a pickup truck ran a red light and hit their car.  Everyone in my family was killed instantly." 

"It's been hard sometimes, but I've been able to cope.  Our house was too big for just me, so I went to live with Aunt Gi.  She wanted me to keep seeing a doctor, but I didn't need to.  Whenever I feel bad I write a poem, and it makes me feel better.  I don't use any medication, and I don't cry." 

Persephone's story had shocked Robert.  He asked, "Didn't you ever cry?" 

"No, sir.  My parents might cry, for losing their life together and the love they shared.  My sister might cry, for the life she never had.  But I wasn't with them.  I'm not allowed to cry." 

Robert ordered, "Cry.  It will help you." 

Her psychiatrist had never been able to get Persephone to cry, but he had never tried using handcuffs.  Now Persephone didn't have to give herself permission, and she was soon sobbing violently.  Robert, belatedly aware of the dangers of amateur psychiatry, removed the handcuffs and hugged Persephone.  She put her arms around his neck and wept on his shoulder. 

When Persephone stopped crying Robert said, "If I had known what you had lost I never would have made you talk about it.  You should go home now.  Put your clothes on and then I'll help you pack and escort you to your car." 

Persephone was surprised.  She said, "You mean you aren't going to chain me to the wall in the attic again tonight?" 

"What do you mean?  I never did anything like that.  Tell me what happened." 

Persephone describe her ordeal and her previous encounter with Alice.  When she finished a grim-faced Robert said, "Torturing you was all Alice's idea.  Greg and I will take care of her later." 

When Persephone was in her car and ready to leave Robert said, "I read your poems last night.  They are very good.  I hope you don't have to write any more." 

"Thank you.  It hurt to talk about my family, but somehow I feel better now.  Strangely enough, even being chained to the wall last night has helped.  I knew I could die, but when I thought about it I realized I didn't want to any more.  I think I'm ready to call my doctor and start therapy again." 

She started her car, and then said, "Your statue is marvelous.  Let me know when it's going to be exhibited."  She kissed his cheek and drove away.

The End

Author's Note: Photographs of a statue similar to the one described in this story are on page 40 of John Willie's Bizarre, Number 20.


My thanks to Suzi for her editing and advice.
Copyright© 2001 by Zack.  All rights reserved.
I welcome your comments.  Email me at [email protected]


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©–2002 | updated - 06.05.17