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I read this one probably something over forty years ago, in a collection. I do not remember title of the story or the collection, and I do not recall the author. I think it may have originally have appeared in "Playboy", but I don't know. F&SF would also be a likely place.

The initial hook was a line from a "therapist", not the viewpoint character, about having a drawerful of girls that needed attention. The viewpoint character immediately envisioned shallow drawers, with very miniature women, and a sign saying something like "You are the property of ...". The drawer turned out to be a file cabinet drawer, in a file cabinet, described as large enough for an adult woman if she bent double.

The "girls" were described as "ghosts". Each was a psychological "snapshot", extracted somehow from a patient. The theory was that removing that "ghost" would remove certain bad feelings or beliefs.

The plot involved one of the patients breaking in, to reclaim her five "ghosts" and have her revenge on the "therapist".

Interesting tidbits: To keep the viewpoint character quiet, the therapist wrapped him in an interesting self-clinging plastic sheet. The sheet was full of tiny valves, that would allow slow respiration, but close completely if the person tried to take a deep rapid breath (e.g., to scream). The break-in used another kind of plastic: it clung, fully elastic, until electrified, when it became VERY stiff and pushed back on things pushed in while it was elastic. The patient used this to defeat the office door locks.

The most interesting bit was a musical piece, entitled "Ghost Girls Pavane". The viewpoint character described it as sounding like it came from "The Nutcracker", but not from any version he'd ever heard. The "therapist" said it was in fact a movement from "The Nutcracker", that had been highly controversial, so much so that it was suppressed.

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    "They brought us whole binders full of women..."
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jun 30, 2022 at 16:08

2 Answers 2

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I believe this is likely "A Deskful of Girls" (1958) by Fritz Leiber. It's a desk, not a file cabinet, but most of the rest of the details are there. It was originally published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, April 1958, and collected in The Best of Fritz Leiber in the 1970s.

He grinned at me and said, 'Look here, What's-Your-Name—oh yes, Carr Mackay, Mister Justine himself. Well, look here, Carr, I got a deskful of girls at my office in this building and they're needing attention. Let's shoot up and have a look.”

Right away my hopelessly naive imagination flashed me a vivid picture of a desk swarming inside with girls about five or six inches high. [...] And they were tearing down and defacing small signs, big to them, which read YOU BELONG TO DR. EMIL SLYKER.

The patient who wants her "ghosts" back is Evelyn Cordew, an actress who has used Dr. Slyker's services:

Evelyn Cordew has learned a lot about herself right where you're sitting, and also threaded her way past two psychotic crack-ups. The trouble is that when her third loomed up she didn;t come to me, she decided to put her trust in wheat germ and yogurt instead, so now she hates my guts—and perhaps her own, on that diet. She's made two attempts on my life, Carr, and had me trailed by gangsters... and by other individuals. [...] What she actually wants is her five ghosts back, and I can't give them to her because they might kill her.

The bit about the "Ghostgirls Pavan:"

"Excuse me, Carr," he said slowly, breathing heavily, "but that's high-voltage music, psychically very dangerous, that I use only for special purposes. It is part of the Nutcracker, incidently—the 'Ghostgirls Pavan' which Chaikovsky suppressed completely under orders from Madam Sesostris, the Saint Petersburg clairvoyant.

When Dr. Slyker confirms Carr was sent by an enemy of his, Jeff Crain, Slyker restrains Carr; when Carr attempts to talk, Slyker gags him:

I gasped and I could feel the gag sucking in, but not a bit of air came through it. That scared me seven-eighths of the rest of the way to oblivion, of course, and I froze. Then I tried a very cautious inhalation and a little air did seep through. It was wonderfully cool coming into the furnace of my lungs, that little suck of air—I felt I hadn't breathed for a week.

Slyker looked at me with a little smile. “I never say 'Quiet' twice, Carr. The foam plastic of that gag is another of Henri Artois' inventions. It consists of millions of tiny valves. As long as you breathe softly—very, very softly, Carr—they permit ample air to pass, but if you gasp or try to shout through it, they’ll close up tight. A wonderfully soothing device. Compose yourself, Carr; your life depends on it”

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DavidW beat me to it by 15 minutes, since I only remembered the title and had to search using only that.

But here is a link to a list of all the places where "A Deskful of Girls" by Friz Leiber has been published, according to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database:

https://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?41489

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