Afternoons of a Woman of Leisure (9781101623565) (10 page)

Chapter Twenty-one

“I have something a little different for you,” Pauline says on the phone a few days later. Joanna sits cross-legged on her bed.

“Different than what?” she asks, smiling. So far, her experiences with “O” have all been different: from each other and from anything she had ever imagined before.

“Just different,” Pauline says mildly. “Are you willing?”

“I'm willing to listen,” Joanna says. “Tell me.”

Pauline sighs into the phone. “It's an old client of mine. And an old friend, actually, so I've tried to accommodate his needs over the years. He's been seeing the same employee for some time now, but she is getting ready to leave ‘O' in a few weeks, and I need to find a replacement. Someone who'll be willing to meet regularly with this same client.”

“How often?” Joanna asks.

“Twice a week,” Pauline tells her. “Tuesdays and Thursdays. In the afternoons.”

“Where?” Joanna wants to know.

“It's an apartment on the west side of the park. Are you interested?”

Joanna considers. She has enjoyed the sporadic nature of her appointments with “O.” Until now, she has simply called Pauline whenever she wished, to ask for an assignment. (Pauline has never called her; for obvious reasons, Joanna has not given her telephone number.) Nevertheless, there is something tempting in the idea of a regular appointment. Something solid about it, dependable. If necessary, she thinks, she could even tell Curtis that she is taking a course in the city which meets at those times, a lecture series at a museum, something. “Yes,” Joanna says finally. “I'm interested. What does he want?”

Pauline sighs again. “He is a kind man,” she says carefully. “Perhaps too kind. He feels he needs punishment for his kindness. He enjoys torture, discipline, helplessness.” She pauses. “I thought of you, Joanna, because of your experience as an actress. You might find this an invigorating experience, a chance to develop a role. You could still take on other assignments if you like, things more in line with your own needs. But this would have to be regular and reliable. You couldn't cancel the appointment, for example, unless you had an emergency. This man develops a strong relationship with the employee he sees. He's very dependent upon her, emotionally.” She is silent, waiting for Joanna's response. “I'll tell you what,” Pauline says at last. “Mr. Banks—that's his name, Mr. Banks—he still has a few more appointments with the woman he's been seeing. Why don't you go and observe one of them, and you can think about it. This Thursday at two?” She recites an address and Joanna writes it down. “You can go and then let me know,” Pauline says. “Arrive a bit early, and I'll tell Rochelle to expect you. She can answer your questions.”

“All right,” Joanna says. “But it doesn't really sound like something I'd like. Frankly, it sounds a little strange.”

“Perhaps,” Pauline says absently. “But then, perhaps someone else might call your own desires strange.”

“Probably,” Joanna admits, blushing. “I'll go, don't worry.”

“Good,” says Pauline. “I hoped you would. This man,” she says, “remember, he's a good man. Also, he's extremely rich. He's been generous to the women he's seen before.”

“That doesn't matter,” Joanna tells her. “I mean, that's not why I work for ‘O.'”

Pauline says nothing.

“Good-bye,” Joanna says, but as she says it she suddenly hears a low buzz from the telephone, and knows that Pauline has already hung up.

Chapter Twenty-two

Joanna takes a taxi from the train station through an overcast afternoon. She carries but does not wear her black bracelet, unsure of whether it will be required. She is here to watch, she reminds herself. Just to watch. She is already convinced, however, that this—whatever “this” turns out to be—is not for her. She loathes the idea of humiliating someone else, despite the fact that she has so enjoyed her own various humiliations through “O.” She will simply watch and learn, and then she will call Pauline and say that no, she's sorry, she wouldn't be any good at this.

The taxi lets her off in front of a brownstone, a few blocks west of the park. The trees along the street move softly in the wet breeze. Joanna pays the driver then climbs the steps to the front door. When her ring is answered, she pushes the heavy door and climbs to the apartment.

Rochelle waits in the open door, tall and smiling. She has dark hair, cut marine-short in an almost punk style that suits her long neck and strong features. She reaches forward, extending her hand as Joanna climbs the last steps, and Joanna shakes it. “I'm Rochelle,” she says. “It's good to meet you, Joanna.”

“Thanks,” Joanna says. “Thanks for letting me watch.”

“No problem,” Rochelle says, pulling the door open. “Come on in.”

Joanna walks into a small room, almost bare except for a short bureau of drawers, a standing mirror, a few chairs. It looks so normal, she is thinking, wondering how any convincing act of humiliation could possibly take place in such an unthreatening space. Rochelle, watching her face, laughs softly. “Back in there,” she says, beckoning. “He changes in this room.”

Joanna follows. The apartment is formed in the old-fashioned railroad manner, one room behind another, each opening into the one behind it. The room into which they now pass is long, painted grey, carpeted in black and dimly lit. Whips are mounted on the walls, an astonishing variety of lengths and thicknesses. Chains hang down in pairs, heavy and black, with large manacles attached. Joanna takes in a curious black chair with leather straps, a low table with adjustable panels, more mirrors, a black, vaguely medical chest with silver handles on its drawers. Another set of chains hangs down from the ceiling. “Jesus,” she says softly, surprising herself by saying it out loud.

Rochelle chuckles in front of her. “I know what you mean. The first time I saw it I nearly died.” They enter the third and final room, another small bedroom with a closet, chest of drawers, an adjacent bathroom.

“Who owns this apartment?” Joanna asks. “‘O'?”

“No.” Rochelle shakes her head. “The man owns it, Mr. Banks. He bought it for his appointments, and we designed it according to his specifications. He was very particular about what he wanted.” Joanna sits in an armchair by the rear window. Rochelle unself-consciously begins to change into a black leather bustier, black leather pants studded with silver, heavy black boots, high heeled.

“How long have you been doing this?” Joanna asks.

“About two years. I'd still be doing it, but I'm getting married next month and we're moving out of the city.”

Joanna leans forward. “Does your fiancé know about ‘O'?” she asks.

Rochelle looks up and smiles. “You could say,” she laughs, “that we met on the job.”

Joanna laughs too. Rochelle fastens a black bracelet on her wrist. Automatically, Joanna reaches into her bag to find her own.

“You don't have to,” Rochelle says. “He won't be able to see us. He wears a black hood with an opening at the mouth. I just wear mine out of nostalgia. I'll have to give it back to Pauline soon.”

They hear the rasp of a key and the front door swings open. Joanna stiffens.

“We still have a few minutes,” Rochelle says. “He changes in the front room then waits for me in the chamber. He puts on his own hood and usually underpants, and stands facing the wall until I tell him what to do.”

“What do you have to wear?” Joanna asks.

Rochelle shrugs. “I can really wear anything,” she says. “I mean, he doesn't see me. But he likes the feel of the leather against his skin, so I wear that. Also,” she smiles, “I find it helps me get into the proper mood.” She pauses. “Pauline says you're an actress.”

“Yes,” Joanna nods.

“That's good. Just pretend you're full of rage at him, you're going to punish him. He likes pain, but he needs to believe that you really mean to hurt him, you know, push him beyond the point where it isn't pleasurable anymore. He needs to feel the threat before he can enjoy it. Make him grovel. Make him please you. Do anything you want to him, but always make sure you end the session at four o'clock exactly. Just untie him if he's tied up, and come back here. Then wait for him to leave.”

“You mean,” Joanna asks, confused, “you never see him except in that room?”

“Right,” Rochelle nods. “That's how he wants it.” Then, taking in Joanna's perplexity, she smiles. “Don't worry, Joanna. You're going to be good at this. I know it.”

Joanna shakes her head. “Actually,” she says, “I'm pretty sure I'm not going to take the assignment. It really doesn't sound like my thing, to tell you the truth.”

Rochelle sighs. “Well, you'll have a look. We can talk again afterwards,” she says as they both hear the man enter the chamber next door. There is a shuffle, then silence. Rochelle gets to her feet. “Now,” she says, “he'll know that you're here, that he's being watched. I won't introduce you, of course. We don't use names. He calls me ‘Mistress,' okay?”

“Okay,” Joanna says. “I'm ready.”

Rochelle opens the door and Joanna follows her into the chamber. Dimly, at the far end of the room, she can make out a figure, black hooded and wearing what look like women's black silk underpants, standing in the corner, facing into it. Joanna finds a seat on a low leather stool and tries to make herself comfortable. Rochelle steps up to him and stops, letting him feel her presence, and he visibly trembles. “We have a guest today,” she says, her voice cruel at his ear. “My friend has come to watch you, to see how bad you are and why I am forced to punish you. She is watching you carefully,” Rochelle tells him, reaching up to remove a long whip from the wall, and casually flicking it in the air. Joanna hears a sharp intake of breath, muffled by the leather hood. “So you'd better be good,” Rochelle breathes, continuing, “or I'll have to hurt you and make you scream. Do you understand?”

The hooded head nods, resigned.

“Then turn around,” she says.

The body turns, slowly. Rochelle cracks the whip. Joanna gasps, glad that the man is blinded, glad that Rochelle faces away from her because she is pale and damp and shaking. This groveling captive, clad in leather and silk panties, bending willingly for the whip with an ecstatic sigh, is Curtis.

Part Three:

A Question of Control

Chapter Twenty-three

She makes him kneel, and crawl across the carpet. Joanna hears him whimper inside the leather mask. Rochelle tells him to shut up, Does he want to be whipped? No, moans the voice, at once intimately familiar to Joanna and strangely foreign. She whips him anyway, a light touch to the backs of his thighs, and Joanna flinches as if she herself had been struck. Rochelle tells him to stop where he is, on all fours, then calmly sits on his ass, her legs crossed, and smokes a cigarette, flicking the ash over his back. Her other hand rests on his buttocks, patting them now and then. She asks him questions. Has he been good? Is he going to do what she tells him to do, exactly what she says? How severely will he need to be punished? Curtis answers in a low voice, wracked with fear. When he gives an answer Rochelle doesn't like, she reaches between his legs, pinching his testicles through the black silk, and Curtis groans.

Joanna watches, numb. The groveling, black-hooded man before her, while undeniably her own husband, is unlike any man she has ever known. Visibly aroused by his humiliation, alert to the shift of weight on his back, the filaments of heat stinging his skin as the cigarette ash is sprinkled there, utterly in thrall to the voice that insults him. She thinks of herself on Curtis' lap, his hand comforting on her thigh, his fond breath in her gossamer hair. She thinks of his “phase,” as he put it, the separate bedrooms, the frequent reassurances that she is beautiful, lovely, that he loves the idea of her waiting for him at home, reading her book, being his sweet young wife, his generous offer of support if she ever feels the need to do volunteer work. . . .

And then, without warning, Joanna feels her entire body flood with rage, shake with it. The lowered head moans with pleasure as his testicles are grasped and twisted. She wants, suddenly, to give him real pain, pain far beyond pleasure, pain beyond anything she can imagine for herself. All of the affection she has ever felt for Curtis leaves her in a rush, irrevocably, and is replaced by a hatred more pure and towering than she thought possible. She would like to destroy him.

Rochelle rises, making him follow her like a dog crawling behind, his hooded face raised to her ass. She leads him back to the wall, calls him “you dumb shit,” tells him to get to his feet and raise his arms. He does. She fastens them to the manacles hanging from the wall, yanking each one harshly when it snaps. Curtis gives a groan of pain and she tells him to shut the fuck up. Rochelle stands behind him and presses herself against him, letting him feel the pointed impressions of her breasts against his skin, through the leather. Curtis' breath quickens. Then, abruptly, she steps back and rips at his underpants, pulling them down to mid-thigh, telling him to spread his legs for her, that's right, spread them farther, giving Joanna a view of her husband she has never had before, open and exposed, his balls tight with arousal, his cock jerking wetly in front. Rochelle's hand fondles him briefly, then she gently brings a riding crop between his legs, letting it trawl up and down each thigh, then using it to lift his cock and lower it. Curtis sighs, the sound a whistle against the black leather. “You want it, don't you?” Rochelle croons, drawing the crop through the crack of Curtis' ass, letting the tip pause at his anus. “Don't you, you worthless cunt?”

“Yes,” Curtis moans. “Yes, Mistress.”

“All right then,” she says. “I'll give it to you.”

Joanna watches, openmouthed, as Rochelle whips him, bringing the crop down on his buttocks, his thighs, his tensed calves. She watches the welts rise along his skin, new welts among the scars of many past ones. Joanna wonders how she could never have seen them before, not even by chance as he was dressing or bathing, but then Curtis dresses alone in his room and bathes with the door locked, emerging from the bathroom dressed for bed in his pyjamas and robe. One of the cuts on his ass has opened and begun, slowly, to bleed. Rochelle pauses in her frenzy and takes the drop of blood on her finger, then pushes it into the leather hole where his mouth is visible. “Suck that,” she hisses, and he does, making sounds. She yanks her finger from his mouth and lowers it along Curtis' chest, lightly touching the nipple, then fiercely pinching it. He groans, and Rochelle laughs softly. “Now you know,” she says, her voice intimate, “you know we're not alone today, don't you?”

“Yes,” Curtis says.

“And you know how bad you've been,” she croons.

“Yes, Mistress.”

“So I've asked my friend to help me,” Rochelle says. “Because she's had experience with bad boys who need to be punished, and she knows how to give them pain, to make them good. Obviously, I've been too easy on you, because I see how bad you are. And so you're going to lie down on the table and spread your legs for her, and she is going to punish you the way you deserve to be punished, and if you scream she will only give you more pain. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mistress,” says Joanna's husband.

Rochelle unsnaps his manacles and turns him around, leading him to the low bench, then pushing him forward. Curtis sprawls, his chest against the leather. Rochelle attaches rubber manacles to his wrists and fastens them together, behind his back. The end of the bench is beneath Curtis' hips. Rochelle kneels behind him and forces his legs wide apart, then pauses to thoughtfully fondle his cock, which dangles over the edge. Then she turns to Joanna and extends the whip. “Are you ready, my dear?” she asks, smiling.

Joanna knows that she doesn't have to do it. Rochelle can simply walk to her corner and back again, then beat him herself. She looks at the pale skin of her husband against the black leather, the wide V of his legs, the dangling genitals and dark anal opening surrounded by gray hairs. Curtis moans deeply inside the leather mask. Joanna gets to her feet.

“Yes,” she says in a voice that is low and hoarse and foreign, even to her. “I'm ready.” Rochelle places the whip in her hand.

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