tagExhibitionist & VoyeurThe Experiment Ch. 01-02

The Experiment Ch. 01-02


Part 1: The Screening

The room she stood in was vast, quiet and dim, and the windows running from floor to ceiling on two sides gave her a magnificent view of the city while insulating her from the noise and confusion of the streets below. From here on the fortieth floor she could make even make out her own flat. It wasn't far, but for all the connection she felt with it it had might as well be on the moon.

This is what the world looks like when you're rich she thought. Like a big, shiny toy, wound up and running just for your own amusement.

As large as it was, the room gave off a muted sense of wealth and refinement that enclosed her like a cocoon in air conditioned serenity. The room reeked tastefully of wealth, of old, established, and comfortable money.. The colors and fabrics were rich but unobtrusive, the furniture seemed to good to use, and the art on the walls complimentied the mood perfectly, evoking just the right level of interest and appreciation from her as she strolled about, trying to appear at home, as if this kind of wealth were nothing new to her. The signatures on the paintings were all of artists she had heard of, and she was no expert.

"Miss Alexander?"

The voice, as soft and pleasing as the room itself, belonged to an stunning oriental girl who entered from a large door at the far end. She appeared to be in her twenties and had the form and the grace of a professional model, yet without the studied artificiality. Her dark hair was shoulder length, and she wore an exquisitely cut suit of a subtle yet striking sapphire blue. In her hand she carried a leather folder.

She maintained her expression of polite but professional pleasure as she silently crossed the vast expanse of thick pile carpet to Zoe's side.

"How do you do," she said, taking Zoe's hand, "You must be Ms. Alexander. I'm Miss Liu, the Doctor's personal assistant. It's so good of you to come."

"Thank you, Miss Liu." Zoe said. "I couldn't very well stay away."

Miss Liu gave her a sly smile of understanding, and guided her to a leather sofa. "Please, sit. Can I get you anything? Tea, a soft drink, alcohol, anything at all?"

"Thank you, no, I'm fine." Zoe said.

"As you wish, but if you change your mind at any time, please feel free."

Miss Liu sat down on a matching sofa to Zoe's right, her folder on her lap.

"Now why don't we dispense with first things first. You have the money fragments and the invitation?"

"Yes." Zoe said. "Right here." She reached into her purse and withdrew the cream colored envelope she had received in the mail two days ago and handed it to Miss Liu, who bowed slightly in acknowledgement.

Miss Liu took out the invitation and glanced at the outside, then opened it and withdrew the five fifty-dollar bills. Or rather, the five fragments of fifty-dollar bills, for each bill had been cut neatly in two so as to be worthless without its missing half.

These missing portions she now produced from the leather folder, spreading them out on the table, and arranged them so that each half met its match.

"There." she said. "Two-hundred and fifty dollars." Just be certain that you join each with its proper half, and when you tape them together they will be as good as new."

"Of course." Zoe said, collecting the bills. Miss Liu returned the envelope to her, and Zoe put all the bills inside and put the envelope back into her purse.

"Now," Miss Liu said, "I imagine you would like to know what this is all about, and why someone has paid you two-hundred and fifty dollars just for stopping by."

"Yes." Zoe said. "Very much."

Miss Liu allowed herself a small laugh of delight.

"Forgive me," she said, "I am not laughing at you. This is part of my job, telling people why they have been invited here, and it is always so interesting. People are all so different in their reactions."

Zoe nodded and smiled in return.

"Really, it is very simple, and very complex." Miss Liu went on. "My employer, whom I shall refer to only as 'The Doctor' is a very wealthy man, as you have perhaps observed." Miss Liu made a gesture with her hand indicating their immediate surroundings, and Zoe nodded.

"He is also a serious and dedicated student of psychology and human nature, and, having made his fortune many times over, he now spends much of his time on research in these areas. More specifically, he is interested in motivation, in why people do what they do; and in sexuality, why they desire what they desire. His wealth has allowed him to do much original research in these areas, yet it is a never-ending task, an inexhaustible field of study."

Zoe's ears pricked up when she heard the word "sexuality", and she felt the stirring of those familiar suspicions that had bothered her since she had first received the strange invitation.

"Quite briefly, the Doctor would be interesting in using you as a subject for a study he is doing on sexual values."

Here she stopped, and looked at Zoe, obviously waiting for a reaction.

"Yes?" Zoe asked politely. "What sort of study?"

"Well, that is difficult to say." Miss Liu said, "As in so much work in psychology, to tell you the nature of the experiment could ruin the very thing that the Doctor seeks to study. It might bias you to act one way or the other. So I cannot go into the details nor disclose the purpose of the experiment."

"Well would I be answering questions or taking tests or solving puzzles? Things like that?" Zoe asked.

Miss Liu gave a sad little shrug. "Unfortunately, Ms Alexander, I do not know. I myself am not party to the workings of the experiment, so my knowledge is very limited.

"But I can tell you this: you would not be required to do anything against your desires or principles, nothing like that. And you may quit the study whenever you like, at any time. Your participation will be kept in the strictest confidence at all times, during and after the experiment. In fact, the results of the study will never be published. They are for the Doctor's eyes only.

"I can also tell you that a number of subjects have already been recruited, and that the study has been underway for some time.

"Furthermore," she went on, "you will be paid for your time, and paid quite generously. What you have received so far is merely a token of good faith, a very small token compared to what you stand to earn for a few evenings of your time."

Two-hundred and fifty dollars was not a token as far as Zoe was concerned. It was a comfortable amount of cash, especially for something as trivial as coming up to this lavish penthouse and hearing Miss Liu's pitch. The Doctor must be truly loaded to toss around cash like that.

But still, Zoe was no fool. Money like that does not come free. She had no doubt that she would be required to earn it in some way, but it appeared Miss Liu was not going to tell her how.

"Tell me, Miss Liu," she said, deciding on a different approach. "Just why was I chosen to participate in this study?"

Miss Liu nodded. "I cannot say for certain. As I said, I'm not a party to the protocols of this experiment. But the Doctor chooses his subjects himself."

"I see. But I don't know him, I'm sure." Zoe was going to add that she didn't know anyone with this kind of money, but she held her tongue.

"I'm sure you do not" Miss Liu said. "The Doctor's friends and acquaintances are strictly ineligible to participate in the study, so if you did know him, you would not be here now. All participants must be strangers."

Seeing that this didn't quite satisfy Zoe, she added, "It is most likely that the Doctor noticed you some place in public, perhaps where you work, perhaps even on a bus or walking in the street. You would certainly not be the first to be found in such a way. And he has ways of learning your identity. Nothing intrusive, nothing that would compromise your personal privacy, I assure you, but sufficient to allow him to send you an invitation. Your name, your address."

Zoe sat back in the wonderfully comfortable sofa, and looked at Miss Liu with a level gaze. "Do you mean he'd find out who I was? Where I lived? Things like that?"

Miss Liu tipped her head in sympathy. "These things are all a matter of public record. I'd hardly consider it prying to find out what any taxi driver or service person might already know."

Zoe considered this and Miss Liu added, "In any case, that's the way the Doctor has recruited for this experiment. If he hadn't, you wouldn't have your money now."

The mention of the money brought Zoe's attention back to the two hundred and fifty dollars in her purse. She could hardly complain about being given an opportunity to be that much richer.

The two women sat together, and Zoe opened her mouth as if she were about to speak several times before saying, "I'm sorry, Miss Liu. I really don't understand what's going on here, but I can't help but wonder how much of this 'experiment' is concerned with sex, and I'd really have to know more of what's expected of me before I could give you an answer on participating."

She looked at Miss Liu for reaction. There was none.

"Forgive my frankness." Zoe said, "but where I live, no one pays another person money without getting something in return, no matter how rich that person is. So you'll pardon me for being a bit suspicious."

Miss Liu smiled gently. "Of course." she said. "I understand that it is a very remarkable offer."

"At the same time," Zoe said, "I won't pretend I couldn't use the money."

Miss Liu watched her calmly. Her look told Zoe nothing, but Zoe noticed that Miss Liu was not as old as she had originally thought. The girl appeared to be in her early twenties. She wore her perfectly applied makeup a bit diffidently.

"Of course, Ms Alexander, this meeting is just a preliminary screening to assess your interest in participating. You would still have to be screened by the Doctor himself."

"And I could quit the experiment at any time?." Zoe asked.

"At any time." Ms Liu confirmed. "You may get up in the middle of a session and walk out. Or you may just call us and say you won't be back. There is no penalty, but your termination will be final. Of course you get to keep whatever you've been paid up until that time."

Zoe wished now she had taken Miss Liu up on the offer of tea. It would have given her somethingto do while she tired to think this out.

"Have many people quit?" Zoe asked.

"I wouldn't really know." Mis Liu replied. "But I would say no. Not to my knowledge."

This sounded too good to be true and Zoe was suspicious. But it also sounded too good to ignore. Maybe there was such thing as a free lunch after all.

"May I think it over?" Zoe asked.

"For twenty-four hours." Miss Liu said. "No more, I'm afraid."

Zoe nodded.

Miss Liu waited an appropriate time, then, sensing that Zoe had nothing more to ask, she stood up, and Zoe did likewise.

"You have the number on your invitation." Miss Liu said with a warm smile. "You may call us with your answer, any time between now and tomorrow night. If we don't hear from you by this time tomorrow night, we'll presume you're not interested and the offer will be withdrawn."

As she said this she subtly guided Zoe to the enormous foyer.

Zoe stopped and turned to her. "If I do accept, what happens next? Can you tell me?"

"Yes, certainly. The Doctor will schedule an initial interview with you where he will tell you all he can about the nature of the experiment and your role in it."

"There are no contracts or legal agreements?"

Miss Liu smiled. "There is a nondisclosure agreement to assure confidentiality, and a liability agreement, but that's all. The Doctor is a very honorable man and prefers to keep lawyers and legality out of it. He likes things as simple as possible"

Zoe nodded thoughtfully.

"Any last questions?" Miss Liu asked as they stood by the open door. "I'm afraid we won't be able to take any questions over the phone; only a yes or a no."

Zoe thought for a moment. She had thousands of questions but she knew that the chances of getting Ms Liu to answer them to her satisfaction were remote.

She shrugged. "No. Not that I can think of."

Miss Liu shook her hand again. "Then thank you again for your time, Ms Alexander, and have a very pleasant evening. We'll look forward to hearing from you."

Part 2: First Interview

The interview room, as Miss Liu had called it, was not as large as the living room, but enormous nonetheless and very dark and strangely empty. Miss Liu, dressed in a cream-colored suit tonight, led her across the same deep pile carpet to a chair of chrome and white leather, very simple, and like everything else in the penthouse, very elegant. "The Doctor will be with you shortly." she said, and she left.

Zoe heard the door whisper closed behind her.

It was very quiet. The noise from the evening traffic below was soft and muted, almost drowned out by the soft hum of the ventilation. Next to her chair was a matching table, and on the table was a pitcher of water and a glass, a box of tissues, and an ashtray, unused.. Some distance away from Zoe, perhaps twenty feet of so, was a simple teak desk, Deep in shadow. She assumed that would be where the Doctor sat, and she realized that the light, what there was of it, was arranged so that she shouldn't be able to see him very clearly.

She wasn't especially nervous, but neither was she totally calm. The room, she decided, felt like a cathedral, like a place of simple profundity.

A door she had not noticed before opened behind the desk, and a figure entered. A man, but that's all she could say for sure, it was so dark. And now she tensed with uncertain fear.

"You are Miss Zoe Alexander?" he asked.

Zoe cleared her throat. "Yes. That's right."

"Very good. They call me the Doctor, or Doctor M, and I apologize but it is important that I remain in shadows for the time being. Does that bother you too much?"

"No." Zoe said. Then, "Well, yes. Actually. It does."

"I'm so sorry. It is only temporary though. I must keep my identity hidden for now, and I feel that shadows are much less threatening than if I were to wear a mask, or speak to you over an intercom. You understand?"

His voice was polite, educated, but not exceptional in any regard. He might be anywhere from thirty to sixty, Zoe guessed. He did not whisper or attempt any affect.

She could just make him out as he moved from the door and sat down at the desk. He turned on a lamp which spilled a bright cone of light on his hands only. A man's hands, nothing exceptional there either. He was wearing a gray shirt buttoned at the sleeves. No jacket. He had a folder which he opened on the desk and seemed to be perusing.

"Now, you've accepted our offer to participate in our study?" he asked.


"And you've signed the confidentiality agreement?"

"Yes. Miss Liu gave it to me."

"Fine." he said. Then "Well. Do you have any questions before we start?"

Zoe just blinked in the darkness. "Start?"


"The experiment?"


Zoe stuttered for a moment. "But I thought this was just a preliminary interview. I thought you were going to explain the study to me."

He was quiet, but for some reason Zoe thought he was smiling.

"Oh, that's really not necessary. You'll pick it up as we go along." he said.

As he said this he seemed to reach into a desk drawer and pull out another folder, a more substantial one. Then he reached in again and pulled out what appeared to be stacks of bills; money. He placed these on the desk to his side, in the shadows.

Zoe was confused. "I just want to be sure," she said. "I just want to be sure that I understand this. I'm to be paid for my time?"

"That's right." he said.

"And I can quit anytime I like?"

"Right again."

"I can just get up and walk out whenever I want? And the money is mine to keep?"


She thought this over once more although she'd already gone over it in her mind a thousand times, looking for some loophole, some scam. Unless he were simply lying to her outright, she could find no way she might be conned.

"Okay." she said.

"Then you're ready to begin?" he asked her.


"Very good." he said.

"Now: I'll give you two hundred and fifty dollars to take off your clothes."

Zoe was aware now that not only was he sitting in the dark, but that her chair was illuminated by several overhead spotlights. They weren't especially or exceptionally bright, but they were arranged so that he could see her perfectly. Therefore he must have been able to see the look of shock on her face, but he made no sound.

"I'm sorry?" she asked.

He cleared his throat. "If you'll take off your clothes, Miss Alexander, I'll give you two hundred and fifty dollars. Right now. Cash."

"You're joking."

"I am not." he said.

Zoe laughed once, harshly.. "So that's what this experiment is about? To see people's reaction when you ask them to take off their clothes for money? That's it?"

"Not entirely, no."

"Not entirely." she repeated knowingly..

She waited for him to say something further, but he didn't.

She was not surprised at his offer, but she was disappointed. She had expected something more sophisticated from a man of his wealth and intelligence.

Zoe sighed and picked up her purse. "No thank you." she said, standing up, "I think I understand it now, and I'm not interested."

He didn't seemed surprised. "First impressions may be very misleading, Miss Alexander." he said. "If you should leave now, that will immediately terminate your participation in the study. There will no be coming back. So I would consider it carefully were I you."

Zoe looked into the darkness where he sat, weighing his words. Possibly he was right, maybe she was being premature. But she was tired of this ambiguity and mystery. She knew when she was being played with, and it made her angry..

"With all due respect, fuck you and your experiment." she said. She turned and headed for the door.

"Four hundred." he said.

She stopped. "I beg pardon?"

"Four hundred dollars if you'll take off your clothes."

Four hundred dollars was a considerable amount of money for doing something she really didn't mind all that doing for free for the right person. She stopped and looked back at him, or rather, at the cone of light where his hands still appeared.

"And if I do 'take off my clothes'," she asked, "what happens next? As if I had to ask."

"I'm not going to have sex with you, if that's what you're thinking." he said. "As to what happens next, well, if you won't accept my offer, I suppose we'll never know."

Zoe stood on the Deep-pile carpet in that warm and dark and expensive place, and weighed her self-respect against his offer of cash. She had nothing against taking off her clothes per se. It was the idea of being paid for it that insulted her.

"Eight hundred dollars." she said, pulling a figure from the air.

He laughed, a light chuckle of recognition and appreciation.

"Five hundred." he said. "I'm afraid that's as high as I go."

"Six hundred." Zoe said,


She knew from the amusement in his voice that he wouldn't budge. "Five hundred dollars?"


"To take off my clothes and just sit here?"

"That's right."

She walked back to her chair and sat down. "Okay." she said. "Where's the money."

His hands disappeared, and when they came back into the light he was holding a fan of ten fifty-dollar bills, all crisp, all new. He laid them down on the desk in the edge of the light.

Zoe looked at where he should be, seeing nothing. She looked down at the money on the desk. Money that was waiting for her.

She put down her purse. She kept her eyes on the money as she unbuttoned her blouse and pulled it from her skirt. She unbuttoned the cuffs, then sat forward and removed the blouse, pulling down her arms, still staring at where he should be. She folded the blouse carefully and put in on the table, taking her time.

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