Saturday, July 1, 2023

“Valet of the Dolls” • by Hillary Lyon

“So I said to him, look Terrence, I don’t care if you are Empire's CFO, if you want to do business with us,”
here Joel paused to pull the valet ticket out of his vest pocket. He handed it to the waiting valet without looking at him. He continued, “Then you’re going to have to accept—”

Joel droned on as the valet searched through his small cabinet which held the customers’ key cards. The cabinet contained one hundred cubbyholes, with metallic cards in every numbered slot. The valet glanced down at the ticket in his hand, and searched yet again for the corresponding number glowing below the cubby.

“Excuse me, sir,” he interrupted with reasonable trepidation. The people who frequented this particular restaurant were famous for their impatience, attributed to their sense of self-importance based on their wealth, whether earned or inherited. “But there is no corresponding slot for this ticket,” he handed the small white card-stock square back to Joel. “Perhaps this is a ticket from another establishment? Or, perhaps the ticket is in another pocket.” The valet smiled weakly; he hated dealing with entitled children, which he suspected this man to be. Why else would he eat here? The place catered to Joel’s ilk.

A light rain began to fall, hardly more than a mist. Joel looked at the ticket in his open hand, both being dampened by the rain. He ran his thumb over it, smearing the ink, smudging the numbers.

Joel jerked his head up and looked the valet over. Under the amber-colored streetlight, the brass buttons forming a V on the front of the young man’s uniform glistened in the mist. It was hard to tell if the uniform was navy blue or black; either way, Joel thought the outfit made the valet—whose name, according to the gold letters sewn into his coat, was Toby—look like a circus performer. Or a monkey bell-hop from an old cartoon.

“Damn it, kid,” Joel started impatiently, “I got this ticket here—from you—when I checked in.” He crumpled the ticket in his fist. “I’ll have you know my personal assistant—my doll—cost more than you make in a year—so you better find her before I complain to your manager.”

Joel, shaking his head with disgust, turned to Bob, his business associate and dinner companion, and the two of them grumbled and snarked while Toby again searched his small cabinet. Every numbered cubby, from 001 to 100 was full. There was no cubby numbered 358.

Toby cleared his throat. The two businessmen turned in sync to glare at him. “Perhaps, gentlemen,” Toby interrupted, using the flattering nomenclature, thinking these two were anything but, “if you describe your doll, I might be able to locate it amongst the 100 parked in our storage space.”

Joel raised his head, looked down his nose, and went into a detailed description, partly to inform the valet and partly to impress Bob. “Her name is Xene, and she,” he emphasized, “is an Elan model XJK 1412, tinted cerulean blue overall, with polished molybdenum accents. Animated Medusa curls, rose quartz crystal eyes. As tall as I am. Fully articulated joints and digits. Jupiter processor, Typhoon physics engine. Cathedral memory chip.” Joel paused and sniffed. “Furthermore, she has no dents or scratches—and when she is returned to me, she’d damn well better be in the same condition.”

“Aye, sir,” Toby chirped over his shoulder. “Thanks for that description. I’ll check the storage units now.” He pressed his hand against the palm-reader lock, and when it beeped and clicked, he pushed through the door to the banks of storage units stacked inside. As the door slowly closed behind him, he could hear Joel say to Bob, “I swear to Bezos, I don’t know where they find these incompetent dawdlers—” then the door hissed shut, cutting off any further disparaging remarks.

“Incompetent, am I?” Toby snickered as he strode down the softly lit hallway. “A dawdler, huh?” When he reached the stacks numbered 97-100, he leaned his shoulder against the bank and pushed. The bank of stacks pivoted, revealing a doorway. Toby knocked lightly, three times. The door quietly slid open.

“So how’s she coming?” he asked as he stepped into a brightly lit workshop. A swap-shop, as the police called it; for here a snatched dolly would have her particulars successfully swapped out, making her untraceable.

Four lab-coated technicians were flitting around Xene, tweaking her appearance—she was now a lovely shade of sage green—replacing her memory chip, exchanging her crystal eyes with pearls. A new key card was already programmed for activation and access.  Ah, what a price she would command on the market, especially as she had nary a dent or scratch on her.

“Just about done,” the chief of the swap-shop offered. The crew here were fast workers. “All that’s left is to give her a new head of hair—I’m thinking with this coloration, something in a glossy coral pixie cut. Would be very striking.” The head of the crew looked at the dolly with pride. “This is some of our best work. I think we should call her Thalia, after my grandma.”

“Sounds good to me,” Toby replied. “She’ll move fast.” Toby circled Thalia, and nodded his approval. “She’s a beaut, all right.” He laughed out loud. “I bet we can sell her back to her previous owner and he'll never know the game.”


After fifteen minutes, Toby pushed back through the storage space’s door and approached the two men waiting in the rain. “Sorry, sir, but there’s no dolly matching your description.” Which was true, now.

Through clenched teeth, Joel demanded to see Toby’s manager. Toby complied, and Pierre the manager—a tall, thin, nervous man with a pencil mustache—appeared before them wringing his hands.

“May I see your ticket, please?” Pierre asked delicately. “Ah,” he said as he smoothed the crumpled, wet ticket. “Our tickets are red, you see,” Pierre held up an unused ticket for comparison. “Yours is white, and our numbers stop at 100—we do not have the capacity to park more dollies than that.” He tilted his head. “Perhaps you parked her somewhere else? At a larger, less exclusive establishment?”

“No!” Joel hissed with anger tinged with embarrassment.

Pierre turned his attention to Bob. “Monsieur, did you see your friend check in his dolly with our valet?”

“Joel arrived before I did,” Bob answered, cocking an eyebrow, “and immediately mentioned to me that he had just checked in his dolly.”  Bob shrugged.  “I did not see the transaction.”

Joel scoffed. “Thanks a lot, Bob.”

“I do apologize, sir,” Toby interjected, “but the dolly you described to me is not parked in our storage space. Maybe,” Toby caught Pierre’s eye, and Pierre, with an almost imperceptible movement, nodded his assent, “you would like to scan our stacks, and see for yourself?”

“Indeed I would,” Joel huffed. Together, all four of them entered the storage space. Joel stomped down the hallway and back again, occasionally stopping to mash his face against the glass of this or that unit. He did not find his dolly. Because she wasn't there. They exited the storage space.

Pierre held out his hands. “Sir, as you see for yourself—”

“I will sue!” Joel yelled. His dinner companion took a step back, ashamed of his associate’s behavior. Bob motioned to the valet. “Order me a cab, please.” Toby nodded and punched the cab code into the illuminated pad of the valet stand. The car arrived quickly; Bob passed a hefty tip to Toby before jumping inside the warm, dry interior of the cab. As the vehicle sped away with a muffled whoosh, Joel, too swept up in his rant, failed to notice.

“Monsieur,” Pierre said gently, finally breaking through the wall of Joel’s flaming rage. “You have no standing here: You possess no ticket, and as you saw for yourself, your particular dolly is not parked in our facility.” Pierre motioned for Joel to come closer. “Perhaps,” Pierre whispered conspiratorially, looking around as he spoke, “I might be able to connect you with someone who will sell you a replacement. An, ah, unlicensed dolly—for a reasonable price.”

Joel chewed his lower lip. In order to save a few credits, he had declined to purchase insurance—of any kind—when he bought his Xene, so he would have no recompense if she was damaged or stolen. He knew, also, that the police were too busy with other, more pressing matters than to search for a missing doll. Joel’s shoulders sagged.

He was getting bored with Xene, anyway, he admitted to himself. His business associates were already purchasing newer models—personal assistants tricked out with all the latest bells and whistles. He himself had begun eyeing the factory-fresh dolls featured in the online show-rooms. But they were so expensive! Even for him. And these dolly dealers wouldn't give you much if you traded in a used model; it was such a racket. Joel looked at Pierre out of the corner of his eye. “How much are we talking?” Pierre smiled broadly, and placing a well-manicured hand on his shoulder, led Joel back into the restaurant.



With an MA in English Literature, Hillary Lyon founded and for 20 years served as senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. She is the Assistant Art Director for Black Petals, and a Rhysling Award Nominated Poet. Her horror, scifi, and crime short stories, drabbles, and poems have appeared in numerous print and online publications such as Theme of Absence, Shotgun Honey, and Tales from the Moonlit Path. She’s also an illustrator for horror/sci-fi, and pulp fiction sites. To learn more, check out:

Her most recent appearance in our virtual pages was “Warehousing Gertrude.” If you enjoyed this story, you might want to give it a look.


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Pete Wood said...

Some really clever stuff here. The title honestly is one of the best I have ever seen. Some neat little touches. Swap-shop is a great twist on a common term. And the reference to the founder of Amazon made me laugh out loud.
The only issue I had was such a brazen enterprise could not survive long. The cops and victims would catch on quick. But that's a minor point.
Nice job!

Made in DNA said...

Good fun. That title... ;)
Going to dig into more of Ms. Lyon's work.

GuyStewart said...

I hadn't planned on reading the whole story -- just a skim...but then, your prose captured me and I followed all the way to the end.

Thank you for an enjoyable diversion!

Guy Stewart

Anonymous said...

Deeply disturbing in the best way possible. Solid sci fi framework to comment on society. Excellent and effortless commentary on classism, sexism, entitlement, and gender shaming. Engaging writing! I really liked this one!
Karin Terebessy