It was an autumn evening in London. On Thames Embankment, the lines of plane trees were already shedding their furry seed balls and the first strong winds of the season were picking off the early leaf fall.
In the hall of a house in Clerkenwell, a man stood quietly. His clothes were less than fashionable and made him look older than his years. Even so, they were of a quality that suggested that he could afford to dress well. His face was serious. An observant person would have noticed the way in which he was passing the brim of his hat nervously through his fingers as he waited. As the chiming clock on the wall began to strike the quarter hour he looked up at it, startled by the sudden noise. “Ah, you're here.” A woman's voice drew his attention away from the clock and towards the top of the flight of stairs in front of him. Her voice seemed to communicate a level of indifference. Her bored expression suggested that she found his arrival an irritation. “I suppose you had better come up, hadn't you?”
“Yes, Mistress.” The man answered, quietly, stealing a glance upward and seeing the woman that was waiting for him. He put his hat on the hall table together with two hundred pounds from his wallet. Hanging his coat on the hall stand, he straightened his tie in a fastidious way and turned towards the stairs.
“Hurry up,” the woman snapped impatiently, “I have better things to do than wait for you.”
At the same moment, a few miles away in a flat just off the Holloway Road, a young woman slid the door of her wardrobe shut. The naked, bound and gagged man that knelt within was plunged into darkness. “Now, think about why you're in there,” the young woman said, “and then perhaps we can have a more constructive talk about your behaviour in this relationship.” Her words were greeted with a muffled whimper of response as she headed to the lounge in search of a drink.
2 Coffee For Two
Allison Terry was on her lunch break but the precious hour before she had to be back at her desk was slipping away. She looked up and waved as Cerys came in to the coffee shop. Cerys looked as disorganised as ever, nodding an acknowledgement to Allison as she tried to juggle her large shoulder bag while she ordered a cappuccino. Fumbling in the bag in search of her purse as she reached the end of the counter, she almost knocked a pile of pastries to the floor while trying to find the money to pay.
Finally, with her bag tucked awkwardly under one arm and her coffee in its tall cup swaying disturbingly on a tray in the other, Cerys crossed the room and sank down in the padded leather armchair at Allison's table. "Phew. Sorry I'm late."
Allison smiled. She wasn't really that worried about the time. She knew that Cerys was a moveable feast - she turned up when she turned up. "Hectic morning?"
Cerys nodded, an outraged expression on her face. "I actually had to do some work!"
"Good heavens! How unreasonable" Allison laughed. Cerys's disaffection with the idea of working for a living had been a constant joke between the two since school days. "It's no good, Cerrie, you'll have to find a way to retire. You'll never hang on for another 40 years."
Cerys tossed her head indignantly, her long dark hair flicked back from her pale-skinned, oval, face. "42 if you don't mind," she responded. "I’m only 23. And anyway I may have found a way around that. That's what I wanted to talk to you about."
"You've found a man who'll keep you in the manner to which you wish to become accustomed?" Allison was sceptical. She was pretty certain that Cerys had done no such thing. Over the last two years Cerys had worked her way through a series of unsuccessful relationships where, usually, the money ran the other way. When it came to men, Cerys seemed fated to attract waifs and strays and Allison found it hard to imagine that she could have finally have moved on to finding a real boyfriend. "You know," she joked "a man that picks up the bill for both of you, when you go out to dinner."
"Patrick only ran out of a restaurant once."
"Yes, but then he made off with your credit cards and £1500!"
"Well, yes. No, this one's different. He's sweet. He runs his own company; lives in this great place out on the edge of town. Look." Cerys rummaged in her bag and pulled out her phone. She thumbed through a series of pictures before she passed the phone over to Allison. "See. Gordon."
Allison peered at the picture. "He looks a lot like Johnny Depp," she said handing it back.
Cerys looked down at the phone and giggled. She tapped at the screen a few times. "Ooops, sorry. Try this." She passed it back again.
"OK. I can see the attraction." The man in the photograph looked to be in his mid-thirties, professional, short haired, not athletic but he obviously took care of himself.
"Anyway, I need your help."
OK, Allison thought to herself, this is where we find out what's wrong with him.
"You’re a lawyer; I need you to help me draw up a contract."
"Whoa! I'm a legal secretary which isn't quite the same thing. And anyway, what do you want a contract for? If he's the one that's loaded, he'll be looking for the pre-nup, won't he?"
"No, it's not like that. Look it doesn't matter that you're not a proper lawyer. I just want something that sounds like it’s a proper legal contract. You'd be able to put something together wouldn't you? Cut and paste a few bits of legally sounding jargon?"
"Cerrie, I'm confused. You want a contract but it doesn't need to be a real contract." Allison looked across at her friend. Cerys nodded. "What sort of contract isn't a real contract?"
Cerys looked around her. Allison felt there was something almost furtive about the way that she did it. The coffee shop was filling up. A middle aged couple has just taken the last table alongside the two girls. "Look, I can't really explain it here. And anyway I need to get back to the office." She rolled her eyes as if this was a particularly unreasonable idea in the middle of a working day. "Can you come round tonight? It won't take long. We can have a glass or two of wine and I'll go through it then. How about it?"
Allison was puzzled but intrigued. Why shouldn't she help her friend? Besides, Allison wasn't really in any position to judge Cerys’ choices. It wasn't like she had a man in her life. The only difference between them was it was usually Allison herself who decided that a relationship wasn't going anywhere. She looked at her watch. It was time for her to be heading back to Finsbury Square too. “Look, I've got to get back to the office as well but alright, I'll do what I can to help,” she agreed.
"Oh thanks,” Cerys responded with delight. “That really is great. Look, can you come at seven? Ring twice, so I know it's you."
“Well, as close to seven as you can manage.”
3 An Evening Drink
Allison was puzzled and a little concerned by the peculiarly precise way that Cerys had insisted that she turn up exactly at seven o'clock and ring twice on the doorbell. Whatever the cause, though, she wanted to find out what on earth was going on with her friend.
When she got to the apartment, Cerys was her usual pleasant, relaxed and hospitable self. Allison was welcomed in, enthusiastically.
"You had me worried at lunchtime," Allison said. "I thought you'd been at the gin for breakfast."
"Sorry," Cerys apologised. "All will be made clear. Do you want some wine or would you like to start on the gin?" she giggled.
"Wine will be fine," Allison said. Cerys disappeared into the kitchen and re-emerged clutching two glasses and a bottle of white wine, fresh from the refrigerator and dripping condensation.
The two of them sat down and Cerys poured them each a generous glass.
"Right," said Allison, "what is all this about? You were being seriously weird at lunchtime. I've spent all afternoon trying to work out what you were getting at. It's been a real distraction." She lifted her glass. “Cheers!"
"OK." Cerys took a deep breath and paused, biting her lower lip.
Allison could see that she was nervous about what she was about to say. "It's all right, Cerrie, I promise not to laugh or anything."
"OK. Well ... Well, have any of your boyfriends been into anything a bit – well - kinky?"
"Not really. Unless you count a serious fetish for leaving the toilet seat up. I mean Jerry – you remember Jerry? – used to like me to keep my shoes on in bed, which I guess is a bit odd."
"Especially as you're usually in trainers!"
"Right. But apart from that no. I mean what are we talking about here? Fifty shades of Grey? He's invited you up to his red room of pain?"
"No, not at all. Well, quite the reverse really."
"You've got a red room of pain?"
"No. Well, no, not really."
"Not really?" Allison was looking wide-eyed at her friend. "Cerrie, what on earth is this about?"
"All right. Well, look, it's about this guy."
"Yes, Gordon. Well, Gordon likes certain things. Mainly what he likes is a woman that takes the lead."
Allison raised an eyebrow. "Is that lead as in showing direction or lead as in 'collar and'? Oh, good grief Cerrie, why can't you just have a normal boyfriend?"
"No look, he's sweet. And he is loaded, too. And he's a terrific lover too. It's just that he needs a bit of scene setting…"
"Let me guess. Does this involve you strutting around in a corset and high heels, wielding a bull whip?"
"No. It's not like that. Really it isn't."
Allison looked at Cerys. She was looking really worried. "I'm sorry Cerrie. I didn't mean to poke fun. You obviously like this guy and if he treats you OK then I'm going to like him too, whatever his little 'interests' might be. If you and Gordon are both OK with whatever it is you get up to, it isn't any of my business what you do in the bedroom. "
"And the kitchen," Cerrie giggled, "and pretty much anywhere. He's very, well, enthusiastic. To be honest I'm having fun with it too. I'd never thought about it really but maybe we've all got a bit of kink in us if we just find the right opportunity."
Allison didn’t think that she agreed but she was worried in case her friend thought she wasn't taking her relationship with Gordon seriously and concerned that Cerys would think her a prude. She laughed a bit nervously, "I hadn't thought of it like that," she said, "but if you're happy I'm cool with it, too."
"Good. I'm pleased. So you'll help me out?"
"Whoa! Hold on." Allison held her hands up. "I didn't say I wanted to get involved."
"Look, it's not like I want you to do anything with him. It's just that, well, he's really keen on the idea of signing some sort of contract of slavery and I just wanted to make it look really legal and everything so he'd know I was taking him seriously and then I thought of you and, well ….. Look all I want is you to draft something out and make it look like a proper contract. It's not like it could be really real anyway – I mean no one can write a real contract like that in law can they? It would just have to look like one; with all the legal wording and everything."
Allison looked uncertain and shook her head. "I'm not sure Cerrie. I wouldn't know where to start. I don't know anything about these sorts of games and beside when we draw up contracts in the office we start off with a brief from the client that says what they want it to cover, what the contract is supposed to achieve, what the penalties are for failing to deliver. I wouldn't even know how to set about this. Besides it might be a problem; if anyone found out about it at work, I mean. Unethical behaviour. Something like that."
"That's all right. Look, I've got some copies of stuff I found on the Internet," Cerys got out a file of papers. Allison's eyebrows shot up. From the thickness of the file, there was obviously no shortage of source material. "And I've written in things that I think would work well for Gordon and me. Please say you'll look at it at least, Allie. It wouldn't take you any time, I'm sure, and no one in the office need know, need they? Here, have another glass of wine." Cerys refilled Allison's glass.
Allison took another sip of wine and thumbed through the papers with their hand written annotations. It didn't look any worse than some of the stuff she had to deal with from the lawyers in the office. Well, she told herself, there couldn't be any real harm in it and Cerys was a good friend.
"Allie, come on. How difficult can it be? Please say you will." Cerys's pleading and the extra glass of wine finally succeeded in breaking down her friend's reservations.
"All right," she said, "I'll have a look at it but no promises."
"Terrific. That's great. Oh, I knew you would!"
"I'm only looking at it."
"Yes, of course. I know. But still … great … thanks."
Allison was almost certain that if she didn't leave straight away there would be absolutely no chance of her getting out of helping Cerys and she really did want to keep her options open. After all, it did seem a bit weird. She couldn't imagine any of her other friends doing anything like this. But then she couldn't have imagined Cerys wanting to do anything like this either.
"OK. I'll give you a call tomorrow." Allison was heading for the door as quickly as she could.
"Thanks." Cerys gave her a good-bye hug and closed the door as her friend left.
Five minutes later, as Allison was boarding a bus at the end of the road, Cerys opened the door to her wardrobe. She pushed aside the blouses, skirts and dresses that were hanging there. The naked, helpless figure of a bound and gagged man stared up at her from the floor, his eyes blinking as the darkness of the wardrobe was replaced by the brightness of Cerys's bedroom . "Well, then," Cerys announced. "Now that I've dealt with my business, I think it's time to deal with you isn't it?"
The helpless man nodded enthusiastically and gave a mumphed grunt of approval as Cerys reached down to untie his ankles.