The second week after the fire was spent on endless work on the new sets.  I was being optimistic, of course, assuming the settlement would be big enough.  On that Friday morning, Frank came into my office.

“Just got a letter from the insurance company,” he said.  “They’ve completed their appraisal and have set an amount.”  He handed me the letter.

The number was not as big as I was expecting, and I think I said something foul.  It would not get us into our new building free and clear, as I had hoped, and the construction we had done might have to come out of the bottom line.

“Before you throw me out the window,” he said, “I think there’s something you haven’t considered.”

“What?” I asked, probably a little too harshly.

“You still own the land the old building was located on, and it’s now a prime piece of real estate.”  He handed me a second letter, this one from our realtor.  “They’re offering us a trade that will cut the cost of this building a lot.”

I read the letter, did the math in my head, and smiled.  “This will just do it.  Thanks, Frank.  Next time, you might want to tell the whole story a little quicker, you know?”

He smiled back at me.  “Let’s hope there isn’t a next time.”

I hadn’t seen much of Zoe that week, except for grainy pictures on, so I was kind of looking forward to her coming in for her shoot with Nick.  Even so, I was surprised when she came into my office and said, “Hey, Polly!”

“Oh… hey yourself!”  I got up and went around to hug her.  She was dressed like a student, jeans and T-shirt and quirky vintage denim jacket and a beret that had to be vintage too.  “How’s college suiting you?”

“Oh, I’m doing okay,” she said, “just have to get back into the swing of things.  Oh, and I have good news too… I got a job on campus, working in the administration offices.”

“How’d you swing that?  I thought you needed someone on the inside to get a job like that.”

She grinned.  “When I told them the whole ‘recovering from cancer’ story, they just ate it up.  I guess they felt they should give me some extra help.  So anyway, this weekend I’m going car shopping!”

“So I can have my bug back, then?”

“Exactly,” she said.  “Will you go with me?”

“I’d love to,” I said.  “I haven’t gotten out much the last few weeks.  Well, since I cheated death, anyway.”

“Great!” she replied, grinning from ear to ear.

Just then I heard the elevator door open, and then Nick walked into my office, followed by Tabatha.  Her clothes were almost like a uniform… I practically never saw her in anything but that white shirt, dress pants with suspenders, and black pumps.  “Zoe, are you ready?” Nick asked, ignoring me.

“Yeah, just need to touch up my makeup,” she replied.  “Tabatha, can you help me out?”

“Sure, no problem,” she started to say, but then her phone buzzed.  “Okay, just a minute, got to take this.”

As Tabatha walked out into the corridor, Nick said, “So tell me, Zoe, what are your limits?”

“You can do whatever you want,” she replied immediately.  “I’m pretty tough, I can handle pain, flogging or clamps or whatever… just tell me how much you want me to respond.  But no needles… that’s a hard limit.”

“No problem with bondage or gags, then?”  Zoe shook her head, and Nick continued, “What about sex acts?”

Zoe nodded.  “Whatever, I can handle it.”

Nick cocked her head sideways, looking Zoe in the eye, but Zoe met her gaze calmly.  “Interesting,” she said finally.  “You might be a challenge… good thing I like challenges.  Come with me.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” said Zoe.

Mistress.  ‘Yes, Mistress,'” said Nick, and Zoe repeated it.

The whole scene made my skin crawl.  I just don’t deal with that stuff very well… I’m the sort who mentally puts myself in the place of whoever I’m watching.  I always try to see things their way, you know?  But I couldn’t put myself in Zoe’s place, even if I were invulnerable; trying to imagine being Nick was almost as hard.

I got up and closed my door… I didn’t want to hear any of it.

I poured myself a fresh cup of coffee, then sat back down at my computer.  I checked the site statistics, read my email, and spent a little time on Facebook and Twitter, and finally on (it was becoming an addiction).  The coffee seemed to go right through me, though, and I had to hit the rest room.  When I stepped out into the corridor again, refreshed, my curiosity got the better of me and I looked out into the big room.

I could see Will standing near the living room set, but the partition wall around it blocked everyone else from my view.  I could hear muffled squealing, Zoe I thought, and I figured she was really playing it up because there was nothing Nick could do to her that would hurt her.  I could also hear Nick’s voice… I couldn’t understand her words, but her tone was taunting.

So I walked around to see what, exactly, she was doing to Zoe.

Zoe was bound face-up on the heavy coffee table in the middle of the living room set.  Tabatha was watching a few steps behind Bill, who was of course shooting video along with Will.  Zoe was naked except for her panties, her arms tied back to the legs at one end of the table, her ankles bound to the other end, and there was a rope around her waist and a ballgag in her mouth.  But Nick wasn’t flogging her, or pinching or clamping or whatever.

She was tickling her.  At the moment I came around where I could see them, she was tickling Zoe under her arms.  Zoe was thrashing around as much as she could, bound the way she was; Nick had used a thin rope, maybe a quarter of an inch thick, but she had used a lot of it, wrapping it around and around Zoe’s wrists and ankles to secure her to the table.  And Nick was being absolutely merciless in her attack on Zoe’s ticklish spots, moving from her underarms down her sides.  Zoe wasn’t squealing in pain, she was laughing, as much as she could with the ballgag in her mouth.

I shook my head… I mean, I know people are into a lot of freaky things, and I’m even okay with most of them, but tickling?

Then I heard a strange, loud pop.  For a long moment I couldn’t figure out what it was, and then I saw it.

Zoe had bitten through the heavy strap holding the ballgag in place.

I tapped Tabatha on the shoulder and said, “Uh, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”  Well, I started to, but I didn’t get halfway before there was a sudden crash.

Zoe had pulled all four legs off of the heavily-built table, and both she and it had fallen hard to the floor.

“Zoe!” yelled Nick, obviously shocked.  Zoe reached up and pulled the remains of the ballgag out of her mouth.  “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” replied Zoe.  “Guys, we probably need to cut here.”

Will had already lowered his camera, but Bill was still shooting.  I slapped him on the shoulder and he stopped.  “I guess going to the used furniture stores wasn’t such a good idea,” I said.  “At least not if we’re going to be roughhousing on the coffee table.”

Nick quickly removed the ropes (and thus, the broken table legs) from Zoe.  “I’m so sorry,” she said, an expression on her face I’d not seen before.  Nick, it seemed, was actually human after all.  “I had no idea that would happen.”

“Can I add to my limits?” said Zoe, and Nick nodded.  “Let’s make tickling a soft limit… you can do a little, but nothing like that.  I couldn’t get the safe word out.”

“I understand,” said Nick.  “Are you still in, or are you out?  I’ll understand if you want out.”

“No, I’m in,” she replied.  We had put hooks on the backs of the set’s partition walls, and Zoe had hung her robe there.  She put it on and said, “I need a break first, though.  I’m going to hit the little girl’s room, okay?”

As she walked out, Nick stood up, watching her carefully, and I heard her say, “No one’s that tough.”

I couldn’t think of a thing to say that would change her thinking on that, so instead I said, “Want a coffee?  I have a reasonably fresh pot in my office.”

Nick followed me into my office and closed the door behind her.  She was still topless, wearing those dress pants and pumps, her suspenders hanging at her sides.  She put her hands in her pockets and said, “Did you know Zoe is Mystery Woman?”

I almost dropped the coffee pot.  It wasn’t that she figured it out… it was the matter-of-fact way she said it.

“Yes,” I replied, after a long moment.  “Can we count on you to keep your mouth shut?”

“You bet,” she said, smiling that electric smile I had come to hate.  “I can enjoy the fact that I’ve dommed a superhero without having to share it.  It’s not as good as having, oh, say Avenger at my feet, or maybe his hot daughter, but still pretty cool.”

“As long as you keep it to yourself,” I said, handing her a cup of coffee.

She took a sip and smiled at me over the brim.  “I just couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t hurt her.  She fakes pain pretty well, but y’know, I always know the difference.  It’s why I tickled her… I was looking for a way to get to her.  I just didn’t expect…”

“Didn’t expect her to break the furniture?”  I chuckled without really meaning it.  “You should be glad that’s all she broke.”

“I supposed so.”  She grinned broadly, her pose showing that she still felt in control of the situation.

Someone knocked at the door, and Nick opened it… it was Zoe.  “Ready when you are, Mistress.”

“Ooh, very good,” said Nick, taking her by the hand and leading her out.  “Right this way.  Boys, bring on the cameras, we’re ready for the next round!”

Nick ran long, really working Zoe over.  I think that knowing she had someone she couldn’t wear out made her try harder.  When they were finally done, I heard Will and Bill and Tabatha outside my door, waiting for the elevator.  I considered stepping out to speak with them, but I didn’t really feel like it.

Then Nick opened my door again.  She was dressed, jacket thrown over her shoulder like some rakish guy in an old movie.  “Hey, a question for you.”


“Have you decided whether you’ll do a shoot with me or not?”

I frowned.  “Nick, I know your stuff is selling right now, but you have to understand, I’m not into it.”

“How do you know?” she said.  “You’ve never done it, right?”

“I did a little fetish work before.  When I was starting out.  I didn’t care for it, and I still don’t.”

“Polly, look, this stuff does sell.  I understand your position, but trust me, if you do a shoot with me it will pay.”

I sighed.  “Fine, dammit!  I’ll do a shoot with you.  Happy?”

“No, but I will be,” she said, smiling.

“Next week?” I asked, not smiling at all.

“No, the Friday after next.  I’m doing a shoot with Bella, Jana, and Tabatha next Friday.  I want to work up to you, you know?”

I nodded, and without another word she turned around and left.  I was about to yell for her to close my door when Zoe walked in, still wearing her robe.  “Hey, Polly,” she said.  “Sorry about the table.”

“It’s no biggie,” I said.  “I’m more bothered by Nick than anything that happens to the furniture.”

“I know,” she said.  “I’m sorry… she doesn’t bother me.  I can play slave girl for a few hours if I’m getting paid for it… it’s just a job.  At the end of the day, she’s not really my mistress.”

“I guess I understand, a little,” I replied.

She looked out the door, then closed it, pulled up a chair and sat down.  “I never asked you… do you mind me using the office as my base of operations?”

“No, that’s fine,” I replied, though inwardly I wanted to deny her.  “Just be careful no one sees you coming or going.”

“Oh, I know,” she said.  “I take a roundabout route to and from the building.”

“How’s the superheroing going?”

“Okay I guess.  We haven’t fought any supervillains yet.  Troll is teaching me how to fight, and I’m getting pretty good at the parkour thing.  At least I don’t fall as often as I did.”

“That’s always good.”

She laughed.  “Well, hey, now that everyone else is gone, I’m going to go change and get my evening started.”

As she got up to leave, I said, “Car shopping tomorrow?”

“Yeah, thanks!”

I waited half an hour or so before changing into my own costume.  I had my own practicing to do.