Afternoons of a Woman of Leisure (9781101623565) (14 page)

Chapter Thirty-four

The last Thursday in August dawns steamy and hot. Joanna, tense with anticipation, rides the sweltering train into the city and takes a taxi uptown to a department store near the park. In a bathroom off the frenzied cosmetics floor, she changes into a short dress, black and clinging, and fits her black wig over her own blond hair. Lingering near the sinks, she surreptitiously collects fallen hairs: red, brunette, bleached blond and Asian black. She puts them carefully into her bag. Then, folding the modest suburban dress she had worn on the train into her bag, she takes another taxi to an address a few blocks away from the apartment. Slowly she drifts through the empty streets, sluggish in the moist heat. Casually, Joanna winds her way to the brownstone, then smoothly climbs the steps and lets herself in.

Christopher is already there, seated on a chair by the window in the rear bedroom, wearing a tight woolen cap over his white hair. Smiling, he gets to his feet when she enters and hugs her tightly, his cheek pressed to hers. “You ready?” he says softly. Joanna nods.

Together, they move through the apartment, both gloved, inspecting it with cautious eyes. Beneath the row of mounted whips, Christopher finds a long blond hair that has somehow slipped from beneath her wig. He hands it, smiling, to Joanna, who puts it carefully into the plastic bag she carries. He finds another near the black bureau, and she finds a blond pubic hair beneath the low table, both of which disappear into the plastic bag. When they are finished, Joanna hands Christopher the collection of hairs she has brought from the department store, and he carefully begins to spread them around the room, plastering them to whips, letting them fall to the surface of the black bureau, embedding them in the carpet. When they are finished, Joanna stands with her hands on her hips and looks slowly around the chamber. Involuntarily, she shivers.

“Second thoughts?” Christopher says quietly. Joanna shakes her head.

“No. Just nerves. Will you know when to come in?”

“I think so,” he nods. “I'll be listening. Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Joanna says, meeting his gaze. “I hate him, you know.”

“I know,” Curtis smiles. “And that is only one of the many things we have in common.”

“Yes,” she says. At that moment, they both hear the front door open. Joanna gestures towards the rear bedroom, and silently they leave the chamber.

The wait is tense, and seems impossibly long. They hear him undress, the drape of his clothing over the back of the chair, two taps as his shoes fall to the floor, then the rustle of his silk underwear sliding on. A door clicks open then shut. The shuffle of feet across the black carpet next door. A preparatory moan. Then silence. Joanna takes an armload of the pornographic magazines Curtis has already marked, blows a kiss to Christopher, and enters the chamber.

Curtis stands in his customary place against the wall. The leather over his head shines black in the dim light. Joanna sees the evidence of their past sessions, colonies of healing welts across the backs of his thighs. Beneath his underpants, she knows, are many more, all in various stages of healing. Today, however, there will be no new welts, no cuts, no punishment requiring the presence of another human being in this room. Today, Curtis will punish himself, and suffer with his own, self-inflicted wounds. She quietly scatters the magazines around the room, letting him hear the rustle of paper, then softly paces the carpet behind him for a long moment, before she speaks. When she does, at last, her husky foreign voice vibrates through the fetid room.

“Turn around,” Joanna says. “Get down on your knees, your head on the floor.”

Curtis obediently kneels and bends, his shoulder blades trembling. Joanna sits in a chair, a few feet away.

“I have been thinking about you,” she tells him quietly. “I have been thinking a great deal about your disobedience, and my own attempts to make you good. It is very clear that my previous, gentle approach has had no affect on your behavior, isn't it?”

“Yes, Mistress,” he says, cringing.

“I have tried to make you good, but you continue to disobey. I am very sorry to tell you that I have decided to punish you severely. This is for your own good. You are my slave, and unless you can be good, I will be forced to terminate you. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mistress.” Curtis sighs. “I'll try harder. I'll try to be good.”

“Of course you will,” she agrees. “You will have to. My patience with you has run out. I am quite prepared to kill you if you displease me further. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” he moans.

“Then come here. Crawl.”

He crawls forward, blindly, his head close to the ground. When he draws near, Joanna stops him with her boot against his leather hood. “Lick it,” she says quietly. “Lick my feet.”

He licks enthusiastically and she listens silently to the smacking of his tongue. “You're so bad,” Joanna croons, giving him her other boot to lick. “You're so very bad. You've done bad things, terrible things. Haven't you?”

“Yes,” Curtis groans between licks.

“And now you have to be punished for them, and it's so very sad. So sad, but I have to do it, don't I?”

“Yes, Mistress,” he says, his voice constricted. Joanna imagines him starting to cry inside the leather mask.

“What is the worst punishment you can imagine?” she asks him softly. “What is the most terrible thing I can do to you?”

“The whip,” he sighs longingly, and she shakes her head, smiling grimly.

“Worse than the whip, worse than anything you can dream of. I am going to hurt you so deeply.”

“No,” he moans, ecstatic.

“Stand up,” Joanna says.

He gets awkwardly to his feet. She takes her husband's wrist in her gloved hand and leads him slowly across the room to the edge of the low table. “Pull down your pants,” she whispers, her voice seductive at his ear. Curtis does, easing the silk over his erection. It throbs at attention when he releases it, the scrotum tight behind it. “Ooh,” Joanna croons, touching him briefly. The cock jerks when she makes contact. “Aren't you hard?”

“Yes,” Curtis says.

“I've never seen you so hard,” she breathes. “Does it hurt to be so hard?”

“Yes.” He moans. “It hurts.”

“It makes me hungry,” Joanna confides, her voice low. “It makes me want to be fucked, so deep and so hard. Does it make you want to be fucked?”

“Oh yes. It makes me want to be fucked.”

“That's good,” she croons, “because you're going to be fucked. You're going to fuck yourself, and I'm going to watch you do it.”

“No,” he groans. “No, Mistress, please.”

She reaches between his legs and swiftly pinches his scrotum, making him jerk with pain, telling him to shut up, then she pushes him down to sit at the edge of the low table. “Spread your legs,” she hisses. He does.

Joanna goes to the wall and takes down the largest whip in the collection. It is a bullwhip, thick and stiff at its handle with a long trailing tail. Joanna cracks it experimentally over Curtis's head and he moans in anticipation. Crossing the room, she takes a tube of lubricant from the top of the bureau, delicately unscrewing the cap and dropping it on the carpet. She places the handle of the whip in Curtis' palm and closes the fingers around it. He shudders.

“Feel it,” Joanna moans. “Isn't it thick? Think how it's going to feel, fucking you.”

“No,” Curtis whispers. “God, no.”

She puts the tube of lubricant in his other hand and squeezes it, guiding the gel onto the leather handle. “Rub it,” she sighs in his ear. “Get it as hard as you are. Get it ready to fuck you.”

Joanna takes the squeezed tube away, careful not to smear the marks he has made on its surface. Curtis strokes the whip handle, softly at first and then with a firm grasp, coaxing its imaginary erection. “That's good,” Joanna croons, watching him. “It's so hard for you now, isn't it?”

“Yes,” he moans, and she smiles.

“Then fuck yourself, you piece of shit.”

Groaning, Curtis pushes the handle of the bullwhip into his rectum. His head falls back in pain. Inches disappear inside his body. She pushes his shoulders back onto the table and his hands slowly retreat from the leather, resting on his thighs. Joanna reaches beneath the table and brings up the leather straps, placing them in his palms. “Strap yourself in,” she instructs him. “Tight.” He fumbles with the buckle, smearing the metal with lubricant, slipping it into place and tightening it until it is snug across his rib cage. Curtis' erection is throbbing now, and Joanna presses it lightly between her gloved fingers, making it leap. He moans into the leather mask. She takes one of his hands, still sticky with the clear gel, and places it over his cock, telling him to stroke himself and he does, as if it were the whip he has just masturbated into hardness and plunged into his own body. Joanna carefully twists the bullwhip, moving it inside her husband's rectum, covering his moans with her own.

“Doesn't it feel good?” she croons, watching him inch closer to his climax. She creeps around the table, kneeling near his head. “Isn't it good?”

“Yes,” he gasps, his head rolling.

“And you're going to come, aren't you?”

“Yes,” Curtis moans. “Please, yes.”

“And who do you think of when you come?”

“You.” His hands quicken. “You, Mistress.”

“No.” Her own, natural voice is suddenly cold at his ear. “You think of your wife. You think of Joanna. Because Joanna is watching you right now.”

Abruptly, the hands freeze in mid-stroke. Curtis' mouth, visible through the hole in his leather hood, is open, stiff with shock. Joanna watches the disbelief crust over his body like a mist of sweat. “It's impossible,” he whispers, barely aloud.

“Oh no,” she smiles. “How could it be impossible, sweet Curtis? I'm here right now, watching you come with a bullwhip sticking out of your ass.”

“Joanna!” He gasps. “Oh my God. Oh Christ, Joanna!”

“Don't stop,” she whispers. His hands are motionless, gripping his cock. She places her hands over his and squeezes gently.

“Oh my God,” Curtis moans. “No, Jesus.”

“And I'm not alone,” she whispers, gripping him. She reaches down to gently nudge the whip into his bowels. “I've brought your son. I've brought Christopher to see you. You said how much you wished to see him, and I want to please you, my darling Curtis, so he's here. He's home early from school, Curtis. He doesn't feel well. He's closing the front door behind him, can you hear it?”

In the rear bedroom, the bathroom door shuts loudly.

“No!” Curtis screams, “Joanna!”

“Yes,” she hisses, “he hears you screaming. He's afraid you're having another heart attack. Are you, Curtis?”

“No!” He shouts, trying to sit up. The leather strap at his chest stops him. He tries to move his hands from underneath Joanna's but she grips him fiercely with unsuspected strength. “God, help me!”

“He's worried about you,” Joanna says flatly. “He hears you moaning and screaming. He runs to the bedroom door. Can you hear him?”

There is a sharp knock, the turn of a handle. Then silence. Curtis' chest heaves, gulping for air.

“And there you are!” Joanna shouts. “Tied up on the bed with a rubber cock up your ass, and he sees you. He sees you, doesn't he?”

“Please,” he wheezes. “Not . . .”

The door clicks shut. “Daddy.” Christopher gasps. “My God, what are you
doing
!”

Abruptly, Curtis bucks in pain beneath the leather strap. Joanna holds on to his hands. He kicks wildly, his body shot through with panic, jerking and heaving. She hears the primal sounds of violent death, death from disbelief, death from fear. Even, she thinks, death from shame. Perhaps this is what it means to die from shame. Curtis stiffens, the contractions easing. She feels something wet flow over her fingers and sees, to her surprise, that her husband has actually climaxed while in the act of dying. Or possibly, it is the other way around. Joanna smiles, releasing him. The semen drips slowly onto the carpet. There is something sweet in that, she thinks. The ultimate pain and the ultimate pleasure: an appropriate finale.

Chapter Thirty-five

Christopher reaches for his father's wrist and holds it gently, checking for a pulse. After a minute, he gets to his feet, releasing the limp hand. “Good-bye, Daddy,” he says, softly, without irony. He looks up at Joanna and smiles. “Not a bad way to go.”

“It looked pretty bad,” she says doubtfully, and he shrugs.

“Not if you consider that he's courted this for years.”

“Yes,” she sighs.

“Are you okay?”

Joanna nods. Christopher steps over to her and hugs her, his arms over hers. She relaxes against his shoulder and closes her eyes.

Later, they make a final sweep through the apartment, checking for anything that might have been left behind in the rear bedroom. The scene in the chamber is dramatic: whips and chains, scattered pornographic magazines, the repulsive, oft-used inflatable doll languishing in a corner, squeezed tubes of lubricant on the floor and, in the center of it all, a distinguished businessman, hooded, strapped onto a table with a long bullwhip protruding from between his legs, one hand stuck to his cock with lubricant and drying semen.

“Pretty ignoble,” Joanna comments.

Christopher nods. “At least he won't have to live through his own disgrace.” He looks at her. “I think we're ready to go. Do we have everything?”

Yes, she nods. They turn the doorknobs delicately with their gloved hands, careful not to smear Curtis' fingerprints on the brass, setting the lock inside before they pull it closed behind them. Out on the landing, they stand for a long moment in silence. “I'll go first,” Christopher says. “Wait about five minutes.”

She gives him her gloves and he puts them in his bag, then leans over to kiss her. “We'll see each other as soon as it's safe,” he whispers. Then he smiles. “You're a very rich woman. I'll have to take you on proper, expensive dates.”

“I'm worth it,” Joanna tells him.

“I know,” he says. “Good-bye.”

Joanna watches him walk down the stairs, then waits to hear the heavy click of the street door. When it comes, she counts slowly to one hundred and leaves herself, walking slowly outside and back into the steaming heat of the afternoon. She finds a taxi quickly, a few blocks from the apartment, and crawls through traffic to the art museum on the other side of the park. There is a huge exhibition of work by a radical male photographer, recently deceased. Whips and chains are featured prominently, and the proper, leisured women of the city walk stiffly past the work, their faces set. Joanna smiles to herself. In the bathroom, she changes back into her own more modest dress and removes her black wig, stuffing it deep into the paper towel receptacle and covering it with wadded towels. Then she leaves the museum and hails another taxi to the train station.

It is nearly six by the time Joanna arrives home. The little house is snug and welcoming in the fading light. Joanna opens a bottle of Curtis' best wine and takes it outside to drink on the porch, relishing its color, its coolness, its sweet slide down her throat. The water laps gently at their small patch of rocky shoreline. She watches the swoop of seagulls, and suddenly wishes she really were able to paint because she would like very much to paint this moment and remember it forever, her own sense of release and happiness, the intense satisfaction of her revenge.

It's a good thing she's had experience as an actress, Joanna thinks. There is some difficult work ahead. Soon, she will call Curtis' office: concerned, reluctant to bother anyone but, well, just wondering if her husband was there, by any chance. Oh, well, he'll probably be home soon, silly of her. She sighs, smiling.

Then, soon after that, one or two friends. Trevor, perhaps. He wouldn't have any idea where Curtis was? Oh, it's just that he was late and she was worried, just overreacting, as usual, forgive her.

Then the police: cautious, apologetic. It's probably nothing but her husband is never this late without calling and she's worried and, well, will they at least make a note of his name and call her, please call her, here is the number. And the hospitals, to check, to leave his name and her own. Then the police again, increasingly panic-stricken, hysterical.

Afterwards, when she has placed him on file as a Missing Person, a period of terror, then resignation, bafflement until the body is discovered, which may take some time since no one but Curtis and “O” know about the apartment. Someone will smell something bad, very bad. The police will be called. An unknown corpse will be found in a most scandalous condition. Shock, when she is notified. An absolute refusal to believe that this is Curtis, her own sweet Curtis, then the gradual slide into conviction. His clothing, his wallet, his teeth, his fingerprints smeared all over the room, marking grotesque instruments of torture and bondage and self-abuse. Her mortification when meeting with his friends and colleagues. Their whispered speculation about her own sex life with Curtis. Tasteless newspaper articles, ruthless television journalists waiting at her front gate to catch a voyeuristic glimpse of the devastated widow. Her insistence that the police pursue even the remotest possibility that Curtis wasn't alone when it happened, and then, her gradual, reluctant acceptance of the fact that he was. A funeral, memorial services, the reading of the will in Mr. Stephens' office, aching to reach out and touch Christopher, who is seated only a few feet away. Yes, Joanna thinks. It's a good thing she has experience as an actress.

She checks her watch. It's getting late, and soon she will need to begin, but not quite yet. There is time for another glass of wine and another toast to the cornerstones of the life she is soon to begin leading. Happiness and wealth, Joanna thinks, raising her crystal goblet to the setting sun. And many long leisurely afternoons to spend with her new friends in the city.

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