They say, the notorious ‘they’ who ‘say’ such things, that no good deed goes unpunished, but I didn’t expect to be both the one who did the good deed and the one who punished someone else for it.
My name’s Terry and I own this club. Actually, promise you won’t tell anybody, but my real name’s Roland. It’s just that in this line of business, Roland isn’t the right sort of name and Terry is. I can’t, offhand, think of a line of business in which Roland would be the right sort of name. I’m Big Terry – Little Terry works behind the bar.
It was ‘Tops and Bottoms’ night when Joel the bouncer came up to the office to speak to me.
“Boss? There’s a man wants to talk to you.”
“About what, Joel?”
“He wouldn’t tell me.”
“Who is he?”
“Wouldn’t tell me that, either. He’s been downstairs for about an hour, been at the bar, wandered round watching the play but didn’t join in, brushed off a couple of punters who approached him, quite politely but definitely. Then he asked for you, by name.”
“If he won’t say who he is or what he wants, I don’t need to see him.”
“Ummmm – there’s money there. The suit alone is several hundred, and if the shoes cost less than a hundred and fifty, I’m losing my touch.”
Joel knows about that sort of thing. I sighed. “You think I should see him?”
“Never want to antagonise money.”
“Mick says so.”
Mick knows about that sort of thing. All my bouncers are – aware – one way or another.
“Can you find him for me on the CCTV?”
Joel found him at once, leaning on a wall and watching the people go by. I regarded him carefully for a minute.
“Know him, boss?”
“N-no. I don’t think so. Although – something about him is familiar. I can’t place him, though. And I’m not sure that I’ve ever known anybody who looked so prosperous. All right, Joel, bring him up.”
When he came in, I thought: I do know you. How do I know you?
He was middle height, maybe twenty-five or six, pleasant looking, except for his mouth. His mouth was a long way from just pleasant looking. His mouth was exceptional, and it was that which I thought I should remember. A very full lower lip, a mobile mouth, perhaps a little too wide for real good looks. The sort of mouth whose owner can get just about anything he wants by pouting. The sort of lower lip that is just asking for a lover to bite it, very gently. I ought to know who he was.
“I understand that you wanted to see me. I’m Terry. I own this place. How can I help you?”
“I’m looking for a Top.”
I remembered the voice, too. What was his name, and where did I know him from?
“Someone who comes here? I can’t give you names, you know. This is a private club.”
“I know it is. It’s taken me some time to find it, too. You haven’t been here long.”
“A couple of years. Who – or what – are you looking for, then?”
“I told you. A Top. A particular kind of Top.”
“Plenty of them downstairs, and not all of them are attached. Why don’t you spend some time and see if anybody catches your eye?”
“Because I already know exactly what I want. I just don’t know if I’ll find him here.”
“Him? It’s a man you want, then, not a woman?”
“Oh, definitely. A particular type of man. I want a reasonable man. A fairly strict Top, mind you, but a sensible, intelligent, successful man.”
“You don’t want much, do you? Anything else?”
“Oh, a kind, affectionate, unusual man.”
“Mister, most of us are looking for some variation on that.”
“Ah, but where I differ is that I’m looking for the sort of man who would let a stray cat give birth in his filing cabinet.”
“At last! I thought you would never get there!”
“Good God, Ricky, when did you go up in the world?”
“Well, I reckon it started when I first turned up in your club, and it hasn’t stopped since.”
Good grief, that took me back. That wasn’t this club, it was the one before. We lost the premises and came up here about two years ago when our lease ran out. Most of the staff from then are gone now – in this line of business the staff turnover is horrendously high. I didn’t think there was anybody left who would have remembered Ricky.
It was the senior bouncer who brought him to my attention first, and that only indirectly.
“Boss? Something I think you should see.”
He worked the CCTV round to a couple in the corner.
“Bloody hell! Who let the jail-bait in? Get him out, Bob, quick, and find out who’s letting in infants and give them a rocket.”
“No, boss, not him. I let him in. He’s not jail-bait, actually. I asked him for ID. He had a driving licence and a student card, both saying he’s twenty, and with recognisable photos on. He’s street legal, but I’ve never seen him here before, and I think he’s a beginner. No, it’s the guy he’s with. Tommy says he’s been banned from the Interest Only, and from a couple of the other clubs too.”
“What for? He must have been going it some to get thrown out of the Interest – they’re fairly open, aren’t they?”
“Apparently they won’t have him back because of his attitude to safe words.”
“That they gain you five minutes grace, and then he can go back to doing whatever it was he was doing before.”
“Mmm. Right. Warn the others, and keep an eye on him. And on the boy. If he is a beginner, he would probably do better with somebody else, particularly if that Top is pushing his luck. I won’t have that sort of abuse in my club.”
Forty minutes later, I was called downstairs. Bob and Tommy had the jail-bait and his companion trapped in a corner of the gents. The jail-bait was leaning over a basin, rinsing his mouth and spitting.
“What’s going on, Bob?”
“A punter complained, boss. Said there was a nasty scene happening in here. I came in to see, and the boy here was fighting, and kept saying ‘flame, flame, flame’, which sounded to me like a safe word, and he” (with a nod at the man) “was trying to force his mouth open and put something inside.”
I looked at the boy. “Is ‘flame’ your safe word?”
He nodded, sullenly, and rinsed and spat again. I swung round to the man. “What were you putting in his mouth?”
“Nothing that would do him any harm. He didn’t need to panic and use his word, I wouldn’t have hurt him!”
“What were you putting in his mouth?”
“Cod liver oil capsules.”
I laughed out loud. The sheer ingenuity of some of the punters never ceases to amaze me. The man began to relax, obviously thinking that I was on his side. “See, fill his mouth with capsules and he’ll keep still and quiet.”
“But he used his word.”
“He didn’t need to!”
“Not the point. He used his word, so you should have stopped.”
“Oh, come on, I haven’t done him any harm.”
“Not this time, but there are rules, and you broke them. Bob, see him off the premises. He’s banned. Make sure all the guys see him. I don’t want him here again. You, come upstairs. I presume you got a mouthful of cod liver oil?”
The boy nodded, still sullen. “Come on then. I’ll see what we can do.”
I took him up to the staff-room and opened the fridge. “Here, milk. That should help take the taste away. How many did you swallow?”
“Don’t know. He said he was going to fill my mouth to keep me quiet while he spanked me, but then he broke one on purpose, and said I’d just have to hope that he stopped before the rest melted in my mouth, and I thought I was going to be sick. Maybe one or two I could have managed but he was trying to put the whole bottleful in.”
“Well, it’s true that they won’t do you any lasting harm. How do you know him, anyway?”
“I didn’t. I met him here.”
“You can do better. What were you looking for?”
He gulped at the milk. “Anybody who would give me a – ”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll go.”
“No need. Lots of Tops downstairs still. I’m sure we can find you someone who’ll suit.”
“No, I can’t. It was a stupid idea. I shouldn’t have come.” He stood up, looked at me blankly for a moment, and subsided very slowly into a heap at my feet. I caught the glass as he dropped it, and got an arm round his shoulders, sufficient to stop him banging his head on the floor, but I didn’t catch him entirely. When I pulled him upright again, he was floppy against me, and I braced an arm round his waist and backed up to a chair.
“Here, child, sit. Put your head between your knees. Stay there. What’s your name?”
“Ricky. And I’m not a child.”
“Just as bloody well, given what sort of club this is. No, don’t try to get up yet. Sit. When did you eat last?”
“Stupid. Have you been drinking?”
“No. I can’t. . .”
I looked at him. He was grey, and my body remembered the feel of him hanging on my arm. For that height, he should be heavier. And my hand had the memory of bones. I leaned over him, and peeled his T shirt up, over his vocal objections.
“Child, you’re nothing but ribs!” I caught his hand and turned his arm to see his elbows. He choked and gave a hoarse laugh. “No, it isn’t drugs. See?” The skin inside his elbow was pale and clean.
“What is it, then? Anorexia?”
“I’m just skinny, that’s all. It’s nothing.”
“And I’m not stupid. That’s not just skinny. That’s skeletal. You’re not eating. Why the hell not?” No answer. I stared at him, and then pounced, grabbing his wallet from his pocket. Yes, horrible infringement of his rights and personal space and all the rest of it. I flipped the wallet open, fending him off with the other hand. Bob was right – student card, driving licence, both obviously him. Not jail-bait. And one five pound note. No cards. No other money.
I gave the wallet back to him. “Do you actually live at the address on those cards?”
“Yes,” he said sullenly, pocketing his possessions.
“Not homeless, then.”
“No, if it’s any of your business. I’m going.”
“Not until I get to the bottom of this.” I backed up to the door. He stared angrily at me, but I must have looked like a barn door compared to him. He hadn’t a hope of getting out.
He flushed hotly. “No! I just – No!”
Not quite sure, then. “Semi-pro. Turning tricks in my club.”
“Well, if I was, you’ve stopped me. Let me go.”
“What was he going to pay you?”
“I didn’t ask him to pay me.”
Wrong question. “What were you hoping to get?” He turned his face away, flushing again. “Paid? Or” as the likely answer occurred to me, “fed?”
He sprang for the door, tried to swing at me, and his knees let him down. I caught him again before he hit the floor. “Sit, you stupid brat. Sit.”
All the fight went out of him at once. He hid his face in his hands, trembling, close to tears. I sat down beside him. “Come on, brat. Tell your uncle Terry about it. Skint, obviously. But you’re a student, so there should be a loan or a grant or something, surely.”
“Yes, but – but I’ve been so stupid!”
“Happens to most of us at some point. How did your attack take you?”
“Credit cards. It was so easy, you see. There isn’t any spare money at home, and I got here, and everything’s so expensive!”
I nodded. College has always been that way. “Let me guess. Take out a credit card, life gets easier, max the card, take out another, max that, take out a third.”
He nodded. “Only two. I did have enough sense to stop there. I could see that another card was only a short term solution. And I couldn’t get a job. There are I don’t know how many students here chasing the jobs, and I don’t. . . I don’t come over well.”
Um. And after a couple of refusals, the confidence goes, and then it’s certainly true.
“And I can’t pay them off, and the interest is more each month that I can pay back so it doesn’t get any better. I pay what I can and it isn’t enough!”
“So you’re cutting back on non-essentials like eating, and hoping to find a guy here who will feed you.”
He flushed again. “Yes. So it was true, what you said. Pro.”
“Have you followed through on this ridiculous plan yet?”
“Thank God for that. I think we can do better. Right, I’m going to give you a meal.”
He was all eyes and suspicion. I went and peered in the staff fridge. There was always a selection of revolting packet meals in the freezer bit, for whoever was doing night-watchman. I picked the largest one and stuffed it in the microwave.
“It says it’s fisherman’s pie. It might even be true. Come here, to the table. And you can finish the milk too, there’s another pint for the men’s coffee.”
He bolted for the door instead; I caught him at the top of the stairs and hauled him back inside.
“Will you sit down and eat this, for heaven’s sake! Behave yourself!”
I let go and he bolted again. This time I lost my temper, dragged him across to the chair, and dropped him over my lap. There was nothing of him, and his struggles did him no good at all – I’m large and strong and he wasn’t, and I gave him about twenty good solid spanks to get his attention. He yelped and bucked and swore, and I swung him upright again, marched him to the table and sat him down, perhaps a little more firmly than was in his opinion desirable. I knew what I was doing: his jeans were so loose on him that I hadn’t given him anything lasting – the sting would have worn off in about ten minutes.
“Eat. And then we’ll decide what we’re going to do.”
He picked up the fork, rather sulkily, but I could see his shoulders relax. I think it was that ‘we’. It wasn't all his problem any more.
“Now. How much money are we talking about?”
“About five grand.”
“O.K. No hope of help from home?”
“Make yourself bankrupt?”
“That’s immoral! I can’t just not pay them back!”
I was impressed. I admit it.
“Have you been to the bank? Can you get a single loan and work at clearing that?”
He shook his head. “No income.”
“O.K. We’ll work with what we have. Right, if you come back here tomorrow – hell, it’s today now – at about four – can you do that? Do you have lectures or anything? No? – then I will find you work. Scut work, you understand, but real paid work. You’ll go on the payroll, this is kosher. Tax and NI and the lot. You stay here from four until eight. I’ll give you a meal at the end of it and you will eat it. Here, where I can see you. Everybody here is weekly paid, and if you want, when I do yours, I’ll split it in two, and pay half of it directly to you and half of it to the credit card people. If you bring me the statements, we’ll work out which one to pay to get the interest down quickest. It won’t be a quick fix, but. . .”
I think he was near to tears. “Thank you,” he whispered. I leaned over him.
“Understand this, brat. If I catch you trying to turn tricks in my club again, I’ll give you a hiding you’ll remember all your days. Understand me?”
“Good. Now, hop it. Go home to bed. Four o’clock.”
I wasn’t wholly convinced that I would ever see him again, but he turned up at five to four, ready to work. I had been thinking of setting him off with the floor polisher, but he was so damned skinny that I didn’t think he could do it. I gave him all my filing to do instead. I’m not brilliant with paperwork – I do it, I get my VAT returns done on time and so on, but I never file anything until I absolutely can’t stand it any longer. He filed religiously for about three days. He ate what I put in front of him, and I stopped putting those cheap instant meals in the freezer, and started buying better ones to get the protein into him. After the filing, he went to the bar and washed glasses, and then he did do the floors, washed windows, ran errands, did a couple of days fly posting, oh, I can’t remember what else. Scut work, like I said. But he did it efficiently, and with a good grace. He came on time and he gave me his whole mind. He deferred politely to the other staff, made coffee, went out for milk, called Bob and the other bouncers ‘Mr Smith’ and ‘Mr Robinson’. Me, he called ‘sir’. Always. I told him he needn’t but he did anyway.
He found the cat in the back alley where the empties went. She was hugely pregnant – a street stray with a swaying belly. It took him a week to coax her inside, with promises of tuna and milk, and another three days to persuade me that the club needed a cat to keep down the mice that I hadn’t seen any evidence of us having. She rewarded us both by giving birth, as he had said, in my filing cabinet. We had known it was imminent, because she had been wandering about, trying to get inside things, and complaining loudly about poor service, but the filing cabinet didn’t seem an awfully good idea. Still, after she had taken about half a pint of blood from each of us as we tried to get her out, we simply slid an old towel in after her, and left her to get on with it. She produced five kittens with surprisingly little fuss, but the old personnel records weren’t good for much afterwards.
We cleared his first credit card before the end of term that year, closed the account, cut up the card. The second one was cleared before he left college, since by then he had taken over behind the bar two nights a week. He came to see me a month after that.
“I’ve. . . I’ve got a full time job. It’s in Beaconsfield. I can’t not take it.”
“Of course you can’t! We’ll be sorry to lose you, brat, but this was only ever to tide you through college. Time to spread your wings.”
“Terry, I’m awfully grateful, for everything.” He sounded like a schoolboy. “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t. . .”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ve had my pound of flesh from you; goodness knows where I’m going to get anyone else who works half as hard. I’m glad it all worked out, brat.”
I missed him after he’d gone; so did the others, but in time they moved on too. Bob took the cat with him when he retired and went back to Cumbria; we homed all but the smallest kitten, which stayed as official club mouser. I hadn’t heard anything from him in five or six years when he turned up on Joel’s radar.
“So what are you doing now?”
“I’ve just relocated back up here. There’s a new office, and I volunteered when they asked for staff. I’m an investment analyst now. You have no idea the trouble I went to, to get rid of my old accent and get this one.”
“Well paid. Very well paid. I can manage my credit cards now, Terry. It took me ages to track down where you’d gone. I’ve been round all the clubs asking for you, you know. I saw Tommy at one of them: he didn’t remember me, though, but he told me where you were. Is there anybody here I would know?”
“Don’t think so. Bob retired, Brian’s dead – emphysema, Jamie got married and went to Southampton, oh, I can’t remember the rest. Look, let’s have a drink, and you can tell me what you’re really doing here.”
I found a bottle of Bushmills, and he nodded happily and accepted a glass. “I told you what I’m really doing here, Terry. I’m looking for a Top. For my Top. If you tell me no, you’re in a relationship, or you don’t want to, I’ll go again. But. . . well, I’ve been looking for you for five years. I thought I had found you – or someone who might be you – but he wouldn’t top. Couldn’t. The very idea gave him the serious yips. We tried to keep it together without that, but it didn’t work. I need a Top. And I know which one I want.”
My jaw hit the ground, I think. Joel had been right about the clothes, and the haircut was expensive, and when he came close the aftershave was one I knew to be pricey. This wasn’t the skinny brat I remembered, this was one stylish individual. And I’m a club owner. Left school at sixteen, bouncer at eighteen, club owner at twenty-two. Successful, yes, but classy? No. I said as much.
He got up, came across the room, settled himself astride my lap. “No partner?” I shook my head, wordlessly. He wriggled a little. A little too much. Teasing. “Ricky. . .”
He grinned. “Nobody calls me that any more. It’s Richard, now.”
“I believe it,” I said hoarsely. “Richard, I don’t think I could do this. I mean, look at you. What’s the suit, Armani? I don’t know how to deal with that. That’s outside my world.”
He leaned forward, and whispered in my ear. “It doesn’t actually matter whether the trousers are Armani or jeans from the market. They come down just the same when a brat misbehaves.”
Perched on my lap, he knew quite well what I made of that. He was amused. He wriggled again, provocatively, and fastened his mouth, very gently, on mine. He tasted of good whiskey. That one would be accustomed to everything of the best around him. I pulled away. “I still think you’re making a mistake. Look at you. You’ve obviously got money to burn. Why tie yourself up” – bad choice of words – “with a club owner who can’t move in your circles?”
“Don’t give me that,” he snapped. “I told you. I’m an investment analyst. I tried to find you first through your business records. They wouldn’t give me the name of the actual club – of any of the actual clubs – but they gave me everything else. I’ve seen your last three Annual Returns, and your filed accounts, and I know how to read them. This place is coining money and you’re the majority shareholder. Who’s the other shareholder? I know she isn’t your wife.”
I gave in. “My mother. She thinks it’s an ordinary nightclub. She lives off the dividends.”
“Yes, and I know how big the dividends were, too. So if you don’t move in ‘my circles’” dismissively, “it’s because you don’t want to, not because you can’t. It’s all very well saying you left school at sixteen, but it wasn’t hard to trace you. I know which school you left. And I know what the fees are at that school. That isn’t your original accent any more than this is mine. Don’t go all class conscious with me. My dad is a docker. Yours. . .”
I put a finger on his mouth. “Mine didn’t approve of me, and he’s been dead for years. Leave him out of it.”
“All right, let’s do that, then. This is you and me. Terry and Ricky. Top and Bottom. If you say no, let it be because Terry doesn’t want Ricky, not for any other reason.” He wriggled again.
“I thought you had changed, Richard, but you haven’t, have you? You’re a brat still.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
He was right, you know. Armani does come down just like cheap denim. Slightly more easily, if anything. And pure silk boxers are a wonderful invention. Silk clings, and moves, and moulds to the shape beneath it, and adds hardly any protection at all, and slides off a bottom to follow the Armani in a most desirable manner. And by the time I had a well-spanked Bottom with a well-spanked bottom, Richard was gone, and Ricky was back.
I think he’s back for good.
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© , 2005