Sarah paused again (Nina was now smart enough to realize) for effect. “Some of what you are about to see will be shocking, I must warn you. ALL of what you see, and all of what you hear, must be kept secret. I can’t tell you how I’ve obtained some of these pictures or this information, and that’s because I don’t want even you to know. Deniability, you know.”
She cleared her throat and walked over to dim the lights. Then she pushed a button on her laptop. “This is Tami Smithers.”
It took a while for Nina to recognize the picture on the screen. A smiling girl in a white high school graduation gown, being hugged on both sides by what must be her parents. Fully clothed, a white face, much paler than Nina had seen, red hair unstreaked by gray -- this young, innocent girl seemed so different, but after looking a moment, Nina could see some resemblance to the tanned naked girl who was staying at Brian Cook’s mansion.
“Corliss High School, Providence, Rhode Island, Class of 2000,” Sarah continued. Now, a picture of an oldish, drab school with graffiti on the side. “This is her father John Smithers, an engineer with a local electronics firm.” A close-up of the man hugging the graduating girl. “He has an associate’s degree from the community college.” Now, a close-up of the mother. “Her mother, Martha. She never” -- Sarah decided to rephrase this -- “she is a high school graduate. There is also a brother, Joseph, one year younger.”
The next slide showed a line of girls in modest gymnastics leotards and tights, smiling at the camera, with a circle drawn around the third girl from the left. “Miss Smithers was on the gymnastics team, and also on the swim team. Because of her high intelligence and work habits, she was accepted to Campbell - Frank on a gymnastics scholarship, the first person in her family ever to go to a four-year college. Needless to say, her entire family was very proud.”
Another picture of the girl in her graduation gown, this time in the middle of about ten people who appeared to be uncles, aunts, cousins.
A picture of a wedding party in front of a worn-down church, the maids of honor in matching pink dresses. The bride, dressed in white in the middle, has a suspiciously large tummy. There is a circle drawn around the second girl from the left. “Miss Smithers comes from a working class, conservative Catholic background. This is her in front of her home parish, as they call it, St. Ann’s, at what we think was her cousin’s wedding.”
A picture of an ivy-covered building, very old and distinguished-looking. “Campbell - Frank College. One of the best, most prized schools in the Northeast, with a strong program in mathematics, which Miss Smithers decided to choose as her major. It would be an Ivy League school except for its small size and Baptist origins. Obviously quite a step up for a working class girl from Providence.” Some more pictures of the beautifully landscaped campus grounds. And now, a picture of a grand-looking portico ornate, Greek-themed entrance. “Also, home to the Chalfont Institute. Though not a household word, it’s one of the oldest and most distinguished centers for biophysical research, dominated in the past couple of generations by German biologists who had escaped the Hitler regime, and more recently by accomplished biologists from Asia and Africa.”
A picture of three girls sitting at desks busily filling out forms. A circle around the middle one, red hair flung back over her shoulder, dressed in a T-shirt, long jeans, white socks and sneakers. “This picture found its way into the college yearbook. Miss Smithers and some classmates at freshman orientation.”
Sarah paused. “I’m afraid that after this, my presentation gets a bit . . .darker.”
Nina West looked at Helen and Helen looked back at her. What was going on here? Why had Tami changed so much from that ordinary girl in the graduation gown? One of the things that turned them off about their guest was how she seemed so ostentatious about displaying her lack of shame. This morning, for example, when Nina and Helen came down to the living room getting ready to go to the office, they found Tami sitting cross-legged on the couch, reading a magazine. The teenage girl nodded at them in acknowledgement, then went back to reading. And then, slowly and almost casually, she leaned back and unfolded her legs, and then extended them widely out to each side. Still reading, she extended them with trained limberness -- she must be a gymnast or something, the two young women thought simultaneously -- until each bare foot lay on top of the armrests on the ends of the couch, toes flexed and pointing up. Her bare, tanned pussy was thrust forward, the inner lips opened just a bit, showing the pink inside, her little teenaged clit poking out above. And she kept on reading like it was nothing. Nina and Helen almost felt like rolling their eyes before going to the garage to put on their clothes.
Nina’s thoughts were interrupted by a picture on the screen of a line of a dozen or so undergraduate girls in matching blue skirts with yellow blouses. They seemed snooty. A circle around one of the girls on the right, a thin girl with dark hair. “This,” Sarah said, “is the Alpha Omicron sorority at Campbell - Frank. Every year, of course, they initiate new freshmen, with what we would think of as pretty innocent dares. Such as streaking past the Student Union building late at night. All perfectly ordinary. The young woman in the circle is Wanda Percival, in charge of initiations. Last September, one of the freshmen who signed up as initiates was Miss Smithers.
“This, perhaps, is where the seeds of disaster begin. This man is Robert Burdick, who had just been promoted to Chief of Security at the college, after three years as Acting Chief. The, uh, previous chief,” Sarah said in an aside, “had run off with his male dispatcher. The college relies mostly on fundamentalist Baptist benefactors and, as you can imagine, it was lucky that the incident was not publicized.” Nina looked at the picture of the stern-looking man in a pressed brown uniform and mirror sunglasses.
“Chief Burdock was brought in to crack down on any weakening of morality, and one of his goals was to make sure any hazing was done behind closed doors. He had gotten a tip on when the sorority hazing would be, so he had his two officers patrol the area. And they caught Miss Smithers, who had gotten separated from her fellow initiates and had hopped out from behind a bush, wearing only her sneakers.
“She was taken to Dean Percy Jorgon,” Sarah continued. A picture of an impeccably dressed, pale-faced man of about 50 with rimless glasses. “Mr. Jorgon has been a college administrator for many years. He has been Dean of Campbell - Frank for five years, his first job running a whole college. Not an easy job, because he has to deal with a board of trustees filled with headstrong religious types, and benefactors of much the same stripe, from old Puritan families. To return to our story, Miss Smithers, like all freshmen, had been carefully lectured on the college’s strict rules of conduct during orientation and surely knew that to be caught streaking was an expellable offense. When Dean Jorgon asked her why she was without clothing, she answered, apparently in desperation on the spur of the moment, that it was her religion.
“Now we get to Henry,” Sarah said, shaking her head with practiced exasperation. “I’m not going to show you a picture of him, but let me tell you, he is a good man to have as your lawyer, but he is also a sadist. And he doesn’t mind seeing naked women, in chains if possible, but unfettered is also o.k. with him.”
“You seem to gravitate to those kinds of people,” Brian Cook said with a smirk. Donald Bell rubbed his eyes and nodded.
“Let’s not get into that now, gentlemen,” Sarah said, a little peeved by the comment. “Let’s get back to Henry. Anything involving naked people grabs his attention, and he was certainly aware of the Moonbeam decision -- ”
“Moonstone,” Martin interrupted, not irritated this time because he saw it coming.
“Right,” Sarah said, “and he advised Dean Jorgon that nudism was a protected religion under the United States Constitution. Which was almost true. Martin?”
Martin finally disengaged his mind from how to undo the Cronenberg disaster and sat up. “Just because Rhode Island says so doesn’t mean Vermont has to follow suit. If this were litigated in Vermont, the Vermont Supreme Court would be free to hold that nudism is not protected.”
“Exactly,” Sarah said. “But still, Henry told the Dean that nudism was protected and Miss Smithers had the right to be naked. I might also add that the previous year the college had settled a sexual harassment suit for a large sum, alerting the sensitive noses of civil rights attorneys, and the Dean was wary of any further civil rights claims. So Henry hatched his devious idea. The only way to fix the situation, if they could not expel Miss Smithers, would be to make it impossible for her to stay. On the advice of Henry, Dean Jorgon told Miss Smithers that she would not be penalized, but she would be monitored to make sure that this recently acquired religion was authentic and not just an excuse to avoid expulsion. In other words, Miss Smithers was expected to go naked at all times, and any putting on of clothing would be taken as a sign that her claim of religion was false. And she would be expelled.”
Nina and Helen sat there in horrified disbelief -- horror that grew upon seeing the next picture. “This is a candid shot of Miss Smithers on her way to class the next week.” A girl, naked but for sneakers and the bookbag slung across her back, walking stiffly across a sunlit leafy path, passing other students who are staring in shock. The expression on the girl’s face is of pure fright and mortification. “Miss Percival, who was also her R.A. in the dorm, was put in charge of monitoring Miss Smithers’s ‘religion’. A cruel twist of fate, and one that matched Miss Percival’s temperament exactly. You see, we have found that despite her youth she has been an active dominant in the S & M scene, fully as sadistic as Henry. She had all Miss Smithers’s clothes taken away, leaving this petrified girl to go through her freshman college semester totally naked.”
“Why didn’t she just go put on clothes and appeal to the Dean for a little leniency, maybe a lesser penalty?” Donald Bell asked.
Dr. Maber spoke up in a warm but troubled voice. “Because she was afraid to. You must understand, to a young girl from her background the workings of the college environment are alien and intimidating. And she, and her parents, felt very lucky and full of pride at her being able to go to such an elite school. To be expelled would be a crushing blow, and a bitter disappointment for her family. This poor girl had no choice but to do exactly as she was told.”
“It might be added,” Sarah said, “that she had no clue as to how to defend herself legally. She didn’t know of any Moonbeam decision -- ”
“MoonSTONE,” Martin said.
“-- or of any rights she had. Probably not even her father knows any lawyers, at least not any who could handle a civil rights suit. All she knew was she had to stay naked until graduation or her life would be ruined.”
Donald Bell seemed to enjoy playing the skeptic. “What about when she came home for holidays? Did she have to be naked then too? Would her parents put up with such a thing?”
Dr. Maber spoke up again. “From what we can gather, her father was contacted by the Dean and knew the religion claim was a lie. But he was very upset that the girl broke a disciplinary rule and insisted that she face the consequences of her behavior.”
“He sounds almost too dumb to live.”
Dr. Maber shrugged. “We know he’s headstrong. It’s pretty clear, though, that Miss Smithers has kept from her parents any knowledge of the more . . . extreme details of her ordeals.”
“More about that in a minute,” Sarah said. “Also, Miss Smithers knows that whenever she’s home she’s being watched. One of the trustees went down to visit during Christmas intercession and intimidated her into making her usual attendance at midnight mass.”
“Midnight mass?” Nina said, intrigued.
“It’s a big deal for Catholics,” Brian Cook said. “Almost a hangout for the teenagers.”
“I’m sure after seeing a naked girl walk in, those Catholics went home and started producing even more babies,” Donald Bell said jovially. A couple of people chuckled.
Dr. Maber was not amused. “Let’s spare the cultural stereotyping, shall we?” Donald shut up and nodded obediently.
Sarah said, “Henry has his own network of spies, too. He has worked closely with Miss Percival on certain, um, aspects of this. And it gets worse, much worse.”
A picture of the totally naked Miss Smithers, this time barefoot with a little pouch around her ankle, walking through autumn leaves with a thin black girl in tights and a sweater. “After Thanksgiving a further stripping of Miss Smithers took place. They took away all her footwear, any large towels, the blankets and sheets on her bed. The college maneuvered dorm arrangements so that she had two new roommates so that her nakedness would always be on display in front of someone. Fortunately for her, these roommates were not ‘in’ on Henry’s plan and became good friends, though, and this is another terrible irony, they were under the impression that her ‘religion’ was real and they admire her for sticking with it.”
Brian Cook shook his head. “And she still held on.”
“Indeed. Even when the weather got cold. Look at this.”
Another picture, and this time gasps and shudders from everyone. The naked girl was standing in front of a supermarket on an icy cold day, bare feet planted in snow, heavily-clothed people walking by her, stockboys staring at her from the supermarket window. The girl’s eyes are closed, her arms are straight down at her sides, her hands clenched. “Here she is waiting for friends in front of the local supermarket.”
Another picture: the girl on a campus path, walking toward the camera, behind a couple of other girls in bright coats and heavy pants and boots. The extreme cold is clear from the fogging breaths from the two girls, who are cheerful and talking to each other. “Jesus,” Donald said softly. Nina felt herself whimpering, “Oh . . . God . . .”
“January in Vermont,” Sarah said. “The temperature on this day was one degree below zero Fahrenheit. Yet Miss Smithers walks nakedly on.”
“Isn’t she getting frostbite? Or hypothermia?” Donald asked.
Dr. Maber said, “Walking a few minutes between buildings would be safe. But that is not to mention the intense feeling of cold, which is like pure pain.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in zero degree weather,” Donald, a California native, said.
“I have,” Nina said dully. “I grew up in Kansas. It feels like your face is cracking because the ice gets into your pores.”
“Well then,” Dr. Maber said, “imagine how it must feel with your whole body exposed like that, including all those parts that have never gotten used to being cold.” A collective shudder went through the room.
Sarah let the silence sink in. Then she pointed to the coat on one of the girls, and the miserable, longing look on the naked girl’s face. “When Miss Percival took away Miss Smithers’s clothes she distributed them to her friends. This is -- or used to be -- Miss Smithers’s coat. Notice her look of longing, almost agony.”
Another picture, surreal and hardly more comforting. A full-figured Mexican-looking girl and the black girl from before, both bundled up, walking along casually with the naked Miss Smithers in between. They are chatting and smiling, the naked girl playfully kicking up the snow with her toes. “Miss Smithers does have a circle of close friends, and when she’s with them she seems o.k. with being naked.” Another picture, this time walking hand in hand with a young black man with a shaved head and glasses. “This is her boyfriend, Rod Sykes, an engineering major.”
“She seems like Little Miss Diversity”, Donald said.
Dr. Maber exhaled, obviously trying to control her irritation. “That may be related to her plight, we don’t know. Probably she’s merely unprejudiced,” she added pointedly.
“Because she is so unassuming and apparently dedicated to her ‘religion’, Miss Smithers is one of the most popular, admired even, freshmen on the campus. As you put it, Brian, she ‘held on’. So Henry and the Dean intimidated her into signing a statement that modesty was against her religion too. Not only must she be naked, she must never show any sign of wanting to cover herself. That is why her arms were down at her sides in front of that supermarket, instead of clutching herself for warmth. And they plotted to put her in increasingly exposed and humiliating situations.”
A dramatic silent beat went by. Finally Donald said, “Situations? Like what?”
“Like this,” Sarah said, switching to the next picture. And everyone gasped. Helen put her hand to her mouth and whispered, “Oh my god!”
They couldn’t see her face, but of course they knew it was her. What they did see was a brown-ringed anus practically leaping out at the camera -- between butt cheeks spread by the naked girl’s hands. She was standing on top of a gyno table, bent over, bare toes curled over each side. Below her and around her, students crowded around, watching intently. Next to her, a long-haired, brown-skinned woman, obviously an instructor of some type, was pointing and explaining something.
“Miss Percival ‘volunteered’ Miss Smithers to be a demonstration model for what she thought would be a short lecture on breast self examination by this well-intentioned but clueless professor, Dr. Vanessa Congi. Henry got the Dean to tell Miss Smithers that she could prove her genuineness, and therefore put the whole nudity thing in the past, if she went through it without flinching. In other words, she would have the right to wear clothes again. She accepted eagerly, or maybe I should say desperately. Of course, Henry graciously offered to do the monitoring,” Sarah added mordantly. “When the breast part was done Dr. Congi went on with her planned segments on sexual health which she had been told Miss Smithers had agreed to. Miss Smithers had no choice but to do as she was told and expose herself in the most intimate ways. Such as this.”
In this picture the naked girl lay on her back, her legs spread almost impossibly wide, her bare feet in the stirrups. Under the professor’s supervision a young man was using his hands to insert something into her widely spread vagina. A line of students, male and female, waited behind him. “Here the students are getting a hands-on demonstration on how to insert a diaphragm.” The naked girl’s eyes are looking up at the ceiling in what could have been a look of slight pain or mild sexual arousal, but which everyone sitting at the table recognized as an agony of shame.
“Jesus,” Brain shook his head. “Where does this end?”
Donald said, “Who took these pictures? Did Henry have a hidden camera?”
“Could have been,” Sarah said cryptically.
Nina, being just a new paralegal, felt like she shouldn’t be doing too much talking, but she couldn’t stand the suspense. “So, did she ‘flinch’?”
Sarah sighed. “Apparently she did. When the Dean next met with her he told her Henry’s findings. She denied it, which I suppose was a strategic mistake, because it made her look like she wanted to wear clothes again. You must remember, this is an 18-year-old girl with no access to legal advice. The Dean increased the monitoring, and afterwards assigned Henry ways of humiliating her further to break her will. Which was really throwing red meat at Henry.”
“You make it sound like she’s a prisoner being interrogated,” Brian said.
“That’s exactly what it is,” Sarah said. “Henry has a morbid fascination with psychological torture. He used to be a prosecutor for a particularly vicious district attorney. So using the threat of expulsion, he got Miss Smithers to agree to things like -- ”
A picture of the naked girl standing on a platform, legs and arms stretched out into an ‘X’, in the middle of an art class. “Five mornings a week posing for art classes. The art professor is as bad a sadist as Henry is. She does not like demure poses.” The naked girl’s upward gaze is of hopelessness. Her nipples are erect, and everyone else is heavily clothed in sweaters and coats; it is obvious that the air in the room is freezing.
“Or this.” The sweaty girl, legs spread, working a double treadmill with each bare foot in front of a wooden wall. The sweat has plastered her hair to her head. More sweat trickles down between her breasts, into her pubic bush, down her thighs. A couple of men in dirty grounds crew uniforms are standing around watching intently as they sip their coffee.
“And now this.” A platform in a little lab with huge dildos sticking out of the base. Everyone suddenly shifted in their chairs. “And this.” The naked girl, sitting over the dildos planted deep within her, surrounded by three men in lab coats. Her wide eyes are screaming right into the camera. “Orgasm research at the Chalfont Institute.”
This horrible picture caused a muttered chorus of “God!” and “Good Lord!” Most shielded their eyes. Sarah watched their reactions, then changed to an equally horrible picture of a man being zapped in the electric chair. His eyes are bugged out at the camera in the exact same expression.
Donald, who was not being affected by this presentation as much as the others, said, “What the hell is this?”
“This is a picture of a political prisoner being executed in an African country. Who it is is not important. Note the similarity in facial expressions.” She shifted back to the girl in orgasm and then to the prisoner again.
“Oh come on Sarah, you can’t compare this to getting executed.”
“My point is, this is clearly ‘cruel and unusual punishment’. Without due process. It hardly needs saying that it is also actionable harassment. Which she agreed to, but only under duress.”
Sarah hit a key on her laptop and the screen went blank. She turned the lights up. The sense of shock was pervasive and palpable. Nina and Helen were actually in tears; Nina let out a sniffle and then tried to suppress it. Everyone pretended not to notice. But then she said in a broken voice, “We’ve got to do something . . . get that girl some clothes . . . that poor girl . . .”
Sarah continued, “This summer Miss Smithers was intimidated into serving as a demonstration model for this, um, orgasm machine on a cross-country itinerary. She got homesick and now she’s staying at Brian’s for a few days before going back home to Rhode Island. What awaits her next semester, what she’s agreed to, is even more shaming than what I’ve shown you.
“This girl has obvious legal arguments to get her back into clothes. She’s under duress, she didn’t know what she was agreeing to, the college has grossly violated its duty of parens patriae, and most importantly for the potential publicity for this firm, she can get the local court to declare that nudity is not a religion with Constitutional protection. In short, she can wear clothes again. But we must have her consent to proceed, to get a statement from her to begin with. I’ve tried on two occasions to get her trust, but she thinks I’m just an agent of Henry’s and trying to trap her. We need another approach. Now is our chance.”
Some more silence except for Nina and Helen sniffling and wiping their noses with tissues from a little box on the table. Then Brian said to his two boarders, “How does she seem to you? Is she o.k.?”
Nina took a deep breath, her head clearing. “She seems so. Though she’s pretty standoffish. No shame, though -- she’s always spreading her legs like it’s nothing, or peeing on the lawn right in front of us.” Helen nodded in agreement.
Dr. Maber said, “That’s just her effort to prove herself as a dedicated nudist who does not believe in modesty. She thinks everyone is a spy of Mr. Ross’s. You can’t really call it paranoia, in light of the fact that there is a network of spies and she has fallen into their traps in the past.”
Donald said, “I hate to say this, but maybe she’s gotten used to it. She’s been naked for what -- almost a year now?”
Sarah looked at Dr. Maber. The psychologist then said, “She’s done a good job of hiding her feelings of shame, but the stress is corrosive. That she seems standoffish is a bad sign. If she were naked in a world full of naked people, it would be a different story. But she is forced to be naked when everyone around her is clothed, in a society that celebrates and constantly mentions clothes. I’m sure she’s a typical teenage girl who obsesses about clothes constantly anyway. The extreme tantalization, over an extended period of time . . .” She shook her head. “It reminds me of people who were starved to death in the middle ages. They were chained to a wall and every day a hot meal was placed on the floor just out of their reach.”
“Oh come on,” Donald said. “This is not starvation. You can’t die from being naked.”
“That’s not my point. The extreme frustration caused most of those people to lose their minds long before they actually died.” At this everyone cringed.
No one said anything for a while. Then Brian said, “So what do we do? How do we get her trust?”
Donald grunted. “Why don’t we get this over with one-two-three? Trap her in a room with fine clothes, run them right over her body until she says ‘uncle’. Make her crack. It’s for her own good.”
“I already tried that,” Sarah said. “I recited her various shames and she did seem to get agitated. But that would be . . cruel.”
Brian snorted and hid his face, chuckling. “Cruel? . . .Sarah Wickland, you are a real piece of work.”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Let’s keep to the subject, shall we?”
Dr. Maber, her eyes big blue pools of kindheartedness, turned to Nina and Helen. “What she needs is for someone her own age to get her trust.”
Nina and Helen knew themselves to be on the spot. The purpose of this meeting was suddenly clear. Defensively Helen said, “She’s not our age. She’s quite a bit younger.” But this was obviously a lame excuse.
Sarah said, “Given the, uh, atmosphere where you are staying, you two would have a lot in common with her.” In other words: at Brian’s all three of you are naked against your will. That much was undeniable. “And you have several days to work on her. Just be friendly.”
“And be honest,” Dr. Maber said. “Say you want to help. That’s true isn’t it?”
Nina nodded her head wearily, thinking of those pictures. “There’s nothing I want to do more than find a way to get that poor kid into clothes and out of that awful . . . situation.” She thought of the naked girl in the snow and hugged her arms across her chest, shivering. “She was so . . . cold . . .”
“Then you see the moral imperative,” Dr. Maber said.
Brian cleared his throat and shifted in his chair. “Excuse me, and I do want to support whatever Nina and Helen do at my place, but I just don’t see how this is going to work. This,” he pointed at the screen, “is a very unusual young girl, very strong. She’s got a will of iron. If all that . . . torture . . . didn’t break her will, I don’t see how a couple of days of make-nice will suddenly make her cave in and admit to everything.”
Sarah said, “Well, what do you suggest?”
Brian thought for a moment, then said, “I don’t know.” He shrugged. “This is a tough nut to crack. I just don’t know.”
Sarah said, “Nina, Helen, I want you to hang out with Tami Smithers for the next few days. Take her out to places, try to get her to open up. You can even tell her the, uh, particulars of your own situation. Maybe that will form a bond that will lead her to trust you . . . and us.”
The meeting broke up soon afterwards. Nina and Helen, walking together to the elevator, kept exchanging looks. This was going to be some assignment. But Dr. Maber was right -- this was a “moral imperative”. That poor girl! She probably prayed every day to God begging for clothes. They absolutely, positively, had to help her. Here we come, poor naked girl. We’re coming to rescue you. . .
It was in this frame of mind that Nina and Helen stepped onto the elevator and watched the doors close.