The Peep Show

 

A fourteen-inch monitor hung down from the ceiling to the left of Lucien. It screen was split into four images showing the strategic public points in the building, the entrance to the building, the corridor where the peep show cubicles were and two views of the shop. The other two smaller monitors sat on the right hand side of his desk. One monitor showed a single view of the stairwell that led up to his office. The other could be flicked from cubicle to cubicle in which the girls gyrated. The means by which money was eased out of the punters pockets. He recognised the young woman dressed in a dressing gown climbing the stairs. It was Sharon. Despite her grainy image on the monitor, her hunched shoulders and folded arms made her unmistakable. Her posture gave her a look of permanent frustration with the world. It was given emphasis by her whiney East London accent.

Lucien!’ she snapped ‘I’ve got a kid at home! I like the extra cash but I want to spend some time with my boy!’

Lucien waved his palms at her. Telling her to cool down and give him a break ‘I’m working on it.’ He smiled sheepishly ‘Honest!’ he lent forward and took a fold of money out his drawer. He threw it over to her. She counted it. Fifty pounds in fivers. ‘I’ll have someone soon.’ He promised limply.

Okay.’ Sharon replied. ‘But I’m not filling in for that lazy cow forever!’ She said. Encouraged by her unexpected windfall she turned and left the office.

Lucien watched her arse wriggle out of the door. Then pushing himself back into his chair put his feet up on his desk. He surveyed his office. The tatty décor and the worn red carpet didn’t conform to the vision in his imagination. Things would change soon enough he thought. 

He had earned his domain through loyalty and self-sacrifice to his brother. No less than six times had he been to court and charged with running a disorderly house. He had spent small insubstantial periods in prison, though nothing of consequence. His convenient admissions of guilt to the police had kept Ken out of prison. For this, Ken gave Lucien in return, the Old Compton business. Lucien was overwhelmed with such generosity and elevated the already heroic status of Ken to new heights. In reality the police raided Old Compton too often. It had become more of a liability than a business for Ken. 

This was where Lucien differed from Ken. Old Compton was a means to make money for Ken, where to Lucien it was a source of adventure. When the local council shut the business down because of lack of planning permission for the cubicles, Lucien replaced the fixed cubicles with curtains. The business was back up and running in a single day. When the Fire Inspector closed the business down because the curtains were a fire hazard. Lucien replaced the curtains with prefabricated cubicles, again all in a single day. Beating the authorities was a game to Lucien where it was a chore and a hindrance to Ken. 

Lucien’s hobby of peddling Es was another reason Ken wanted Lucien off his back. Old Compton was a means to this end. Ken disapproved of his brother’s dabbling in drugs. It brought added dangers to the business. The police weren’t going to overlook tabs being found on the premises. They had overlooked slightly stronger pornography than was legal. Lucien however ran the business well and an uneasy peace had now broke out between Old Compton and the authorities. The business had stabilised.

Flicking from cubicle to cubicle he blankly looked at the images of the dancing women or ‘the girls’ as he called them. Although he treated the girls well and they appreciated how he treated them. At heart he saw the girls as cash cows. Like any husbandry one has to look after one’s herd. When necessary when one of the stock isn’t producing, culling the unproductive stock is required. He yawned. He had seen the girls perform their erotic dances so often. Seen them naked, stretching their legs wide open and exposing their pudendum. There was no longer any eroticism involved for him. 

He stopped flicking cameras and dwelled on Olivier. She worked hard and was earnest in her work. However, there was something missing. Lucien could see that. He understood what his punters wanted was sleaze. Or at least the belief the girl they had paid to watch was the type to get down and dirty. In truth, as far as he knew, the only thing the girls were interested in was earning money. Except for Olivier where the money was only part of the reason for her career choice. He knew more about Olivier than the other girls. She was the one he had recruited him self and not inherited her with the business. The only one he had any sort of proper relationship with. 

They met while they were both out clubbing at ‘The Sweet Wheel’. It was a simple dealer customer relationship at first. It wasn’t long before Olivia found Lucien dangerous enough to be exciting but not too dangerous to fear him. She was on a rebellion kick. It was beyond Lucien’s ability to resist the temptation to exploit her willingness to be led. He knew Olivia was a fraud. Sleeping around and being an exotic dancer in a peep show was an easy way to rebel. As long as her parents didn’t find out. Lucien knew she would be horrified if her parents knew what she was doing.

 

The post box size flap dropped. This prompted Olivia to throw the catch so no more money could be inserted in the slot. Another thirty seconds dancing for London’s ogling voyeurs would be just too much. She picked up the skimpy garments she had discarded and opened the door at the back of the cubicle. She took her kimono off the hook at the back of the door. Knotting the belt on her kimono she walked round the back of the cubicles to the changing rooms. It was a damn easy way to make money. But now her rebellious kick was spent and she found the routine becoming monotonous. 

She had come to London to go to art school. Unlike high school where she had excelled, she was finding her fellow students at the college more talented. The accolades she had grown used to at home where not forth coming. Something she had found difficult to deal with. Without the admiration she was used to, her instinct was to find new avenues to take centre stage. She told her parents she was taking a year out of college to earn some money, get some work experience. The truth was her performance at college was lamentable. It was a case of jumping before being pushed. The idea of working to earn extra money for the following year was readily accepted by her parents as a sign of maturity.

Olivia despised her parents with their smug bourgeois values. Their comfortable middleclass lives. Her father had been a doctor before he decided to earn a living as a representative in the pharmaceutical industry. He could earn more money for less work. Peddling sedatives to keep the wretched slumbering, accepting their pathetic lives, was how Olivia saw his work. It disgusted her. As did her mother’s parasitic life. Every good cause and every social campaign was fodder for her mother. It kept her mother feeling useful while not having to indulge in the grubby world of real life. How their dreary lives and overstated praise had misinformed her. 

All those pretentious intellectual discussions over dinner nauseated her. Those worthy trips to museums and galleries had deceived her. Those stupid music lessons had misinformed her about her talents. It didn’t escape Olivia that her father went on ever-longer business trips. Who could blame him if he was having an affair? All he had to come home to was her slowly expanding mother. But she did blame him. She shared her suspicions with her brother who said she had a vivid imagination. She suspected he didn’t want to confront the obvious. James had married and moved away to create his own fucked up family and to avoid the implosion of the one he had left behind.

In the back room that had become the girls changing room she had a quick wash in the sink to freshen up. She caught herself in the mirror on the wall. She liked her looks and her body. She was good-looking and perfectly formed. It was the one thing she did feel grateful to her parents for. But how such a synthesis of two so depressing looking people created her was a miracle of nature. Briefly an image of her parents copulating passed through her mind. It made her feel queasy. Sharon entered the room and interrupted the unwelcome image passing through Olivia’s head. Preventing it from becoming more graphic and disgusting.

‘How come you are finishing so early?’ Olivia asked.

‘Hell!’ exclaimed Sharon ‘I should have finished hours ago. I’m filling in for Bethany again. The Bitch!’ Olivia gave her a look that told her to carry on. ‘She’s probably out on a bender with that waster she’s been going round with.’ Pausing to pull on her jeans Sharon carried on. ‘He must have a big cock because he’s got no money and she isn’t earning any,’ she said spitefully. She rushed to finish dressing before picking up her bag and leaving. ‘Bye!’

Olivia followed Sharon out of the door, taking the back stairs up to Lucien’s office.

‘Hi!’ was Lucien’s simple greeting, as his stare stayed fixed to the monitor.

‘How was today?’ she asked.

‘Huh?’ said Lucien not really listening to her. ‘Oh fine,’ and carried on studying the monitor.

‘What’s so interesting?’

‘Hmmm.’ He mused ‘Come and take a look at this.’

Intrigued at what could possibly be distracting Lucien, Olivia went over to the desk. She was aching and tired. The monotony of the job was now exaggerating the discomfort she felt after a day of being in the cupboard. In the cupboard was the term used by the girls to describe a shift in the cubicles. A full day’s work which not all the girls did, comprised of fifteen minutes in and fifteen minutes out of the cubicles. Usually a full shift was from six in the evening until two in the morning. 

I’m sorry but I don’t see anything.’ Olivia said with an air of disappointment.

‘Him!’ Pointed Lucien at a grainy figure that looked like any other grainy figure to Olivia. ‘The bloke with the hat!’

‘Weeell yeeeah’ came an impatient sigh ‘Soooo?’

‘I know him I’m sure. Watch him as he looks up at the camera.’ Lucien held his breath ‘There!’ He cried ‘Do you know him?’

‘Nooo!’ Olivia hissed through gritted teeth, fast losing her patience ‘For fuck’s sake what? Explain!’

‘For one thing he spends a fortune when you are in the cubicle,’ explained Lucien excitedly as though he had unravelled a plot. ‘I’ve seen him watch you for a full fifteen minutes, then return for the next fifteen minutes. That’s sixty pounds! Punters rarely spend more than a couple of minutes at any one peep-hole’ He sat back into his chair with an air of satisfaction ‘…and I’m convinced I know him.’

Open mouthed, Olivia asked ‘What does it mean?’

‘I don’t know.’ Said Lucien.

‘Oh fucking hell Lucien. Get a life!’ responded Olivia to the anticlimax.

Lucien was genuinely surprised at Olivia’s unwillingness to take the bait. He watched her as she stayed leaning over his desk watching the video on the small screen. Not believing just how boring it was. Lucien put his hand on her buttocks and started to stroke them lightly. ‘Stop it!’ she snapped. ‘I’ve had a hard day.’ Pushing his hand away with irritation.

‘I could make it harder,’ he said, holding his crotch should she miss his sense of the ironic. Olivia laughed. If another man acted in such a way towards her it would make her feel physically sick. Yet despite her acceptance of Lucien as being nothing but a sleazebag, she found him deeply attractive. Why she did she couldn’t explain. He was not even good looking. His eyes were too wide apart, his chin too pointed and he had a permanent smile that made him look leery. Apart from that his personal hygiene could be improved. He didn’t wash half as much as he should.

‘You’re a wanker!’

He loved the way she said ‘wanker’, as though it was a word she had practised in elocution lessons. She moulded her mouth to pronounce the ‘W’ in such a way it appeared to Lucien she was inviting a dick to be pressed between her lips. ‘Why don’t you figure out a way to meet him?’ he asked getting back to the point at hand.

‘You’ve got to be mad!’ recoiled Olivia.

‘Lock the door,’ urged Lucien changing tack. Pervert, she thought as she went over to the door. Instead of leaving she did as he asked and locked it. She didn’t feel like sex, certainly not with Lucien but she knew she would come round and enjoy it. There was always that need in her to obey him. As though not to would be to surrender to her parents. She was aware that maybe that was the source of her enjoyment.

 

*

 

Whitehall was empty. The rain had stopped but there was an autumn chill in the air. It felt cooler than it was because of the warm light that radiated out of The Red Lion. George shunned the invitation of the pub. He preferred the emptiness of the street than the its cheery temptation. He pulled his fedora hat down further over his eyes and turned up the collar on his dark green woollen overcoat. He wanted to protect his anonymity as much as to keep out the cold. Paradoxically he felt less lonely and more at ease with himself in his own company. It meant he could be himself. 

George’s political career was over if he was honest with himself. It was now at its zenith and his party was in opposition with no hope of attaining power in the immediate future. Despite his bitterness, he had invested a lot in his career and could not quite bring himself to retire gracefully to the backbenches. George was the son of a miner. He had chosen the Conservative Party because he thought it would be the party that would bring him political success. His father who had been proud of his achievement could never quite come to terms with what he saw as his class treachery. It saddened him that him that his father couldn’t understand that his son believed in and trusted ordinary working people, more than many Labour Party politicians did.

Should he give up his shadow cabinet post he would end up with more time. There would be less reason to stay away from home during the week. He already took on the occasional case as a barrister that added somewhat to his workload. This fortunately provided a further excuse to keep him in London. George thought of his wife, the snobbish Hilda. She came from a well-heeled background. Her father was a city banker who came from a family that was a branch of an old aristocratic line. George had caught Hilda’s eye during his meteoric rise in the party. He was now convinced it was a relationship encouraged by Hilda’s father for commercial reasons. It all went wrong when the Conservative’s got kicked out of office and he missed out on any real power. 

The only reason they were still together was political expedience on his part and the social standing and the financial imperative on hers. Now the children had left home and were at university, Hilda had took to taking young lovers. Not that he minded. If anyone had to make love to her, he would rather it be someone else rather than him. However he resented paying for the bed she was getting laid in. George pictured Hilda performing all sorts of kinky acts with her young lovers that she had refused him. It was a source of resentment. When they were younger he had obsessed about anal sex. This so disgusted Hilda, he finally gave up asking and now thought of anal sex with Hilda as off putting. Off putting in any erotic sense. He would still like to shove his cock up her arse to make her yelp.

He made his way up the West End, across Trafalgar Square and up Charing Cross Road. Here he had to push through the still thronging streets. There was a smattering of American accents and European languages in the brouhaha. The Japanese rarely seemed to speak. He loved the cosmopolitan world the area provided. It made him feel lost in the crowd. Though despite his prominent political position he was not the best-known politician. It was one of those unfortunate things in his life. He had never succeeded in becoming admired in the country like he had in his party. Though now at that very moment he was glad of it. Stopping occasionally to look at the books in the bookshop windows he wondered what his life would have been like if he had pursued an academic life. He probably wouldn’t have been married to Hilda. Such an aesthetic life would have held no attractions for her.

Turning left down Shaftsbury Avenue and then right up Dean Street into Soho proper where he relaxed. He felt as though he had safely escaped across some invisible border. His destination was a small door on Old Compton that was barely sign posted. There was a small neon sign in the window above the door simply saying “SEX”. It actually said “SEXCITING” but the latter part was faulty and not illuminated. A fellow MP, Wellwood-Smythe pointed out the establishment to him. He’d had a night on the razzle found him self ogling the young women on display there. “A harmless piece of todger baiting” was his expression. George had dismissed the idea. But because of his general dissatisfaction with his personal life, it was only a matter of time from the seed being planted to George investigating the premises.

Inside the doorway was a small hallway that leads to a shop that sells the ordinary paraphernalia of such businesses. Sex toys, fetish garments, magazines and films etc. On the opposite side of the room is a doorway covered by a curtain. On the other side was a hallway that had a subterranean feel. Dimly lit with orange night lights. There are six illuminated signs on the right hand side that indicate the peep holes. These were in fact slots that were large enough to peer through quite comfortably. You could open the slots by inserting a pound coin into the money vending part of the apparatus. George had become familiar with this set up having becoming a regular customer in recent times. 

On the other side of the prefabricated wall were cells some six feet by eight feet, each containing a young woman. He had discovered there was no apparent set choreography. Each woman improvised her own routine. All were self-absorbed. One would be dancing erotically, another would caressing her body all the way through to masturbatary activity. None were completely naked. All wore accessories to accentuate their sexuality. It had been a long time since he had witnessed such nubile flesh and had found the experience exciting and addictive. To George, Hilda had never been young and nubile. She had always had the air of a matron, even when they were just married. 

The last time he had witnessed such feverish sexual activity from a young female, was by a young American student researcher. She worked for him for a year some twenty years ago. They had had a brief affair in which she would masturbate for his voyeuristic pleasure. Once she had returned to Oxford University they spoke to each other regularly on the phone but eventually this tailed off. He assumed she must have returned to the States. Since Charlotte there had been no one. His career took over and his predilection for voyeurism was forgotten. The excitement of sex was by passed over for the excitement of power. Though opportunities did arise he did not allow temptation to endanger his political career. Now the world had turned and power had been took away from him in any meaningful sense. A void had been left in its place.

The novelty of the peep show had worn thin with him. He no longer feared the prospect of being exposed in the scandal sheets. His visits and young female flesh had a limited attraction when physical contact is forbidden. If a woman was going to masturbate for him, for it to have any truly erotic meaning, she had to know it was for him she was masturbating. That or not know she was being watched at all. It was then that he happened upon something extremely erotic. A cubicle inhabited by what he could only describe as a creature of such beauty that his metabolism took a jolt of a most extreme nature. Such was the impact of casting his eyes on such impossible pulchritude his ability to breath was immediately denied him. This creature was so unearthly in her perfection so beyond the carnal that the desire to masturbate did not exist. To do so would be to desecrate the divine. 

He viewed her with a sense of wonderment. He kept on viewing her and when he could not find the cubicle, which this caged creature. He took it as a deeply personal blow. He must have slighted the gods and to right matters he had to discover what his crime was. Hours were spent musing over his thoughts and actions. No matter how intellectually ridiculous this was, especially for an avowed atheist. He could not free himself from the torment. When he returned to the peep show and happened upon this divine nymph once again, the world had then righted itself.

With his head down cast and his hands sunk deep into his overcoat pockets, he sullenly walked back out onto the street. The theatregoers and tourists no longer held any fascination or cheer for him. Their jollity only added to his depression. The street with its shockingly bright lights highlighted the skulls beneath the smiles of the crowd’s illuminated faces. She wasn't there. She was always there on Thursday nights. He had systematically viewed every cubicle as the opportunity arose. There was little chance he could have missed her if she had been performing. No, she wasn’t there but why? 

He skulked his way back, retracing his path. Somehow Hilda was responsible. She had defeated him by cursing his mental adultery. There was nowhere for him to hide. He could not hide from himself. It was in his head that Hilda haunted him. He could see her twisted face mocking his failed rendezvous. Spitting the accusation ‘Pervert!’ Turning onto Saftsbury Avenue once again he considered murdering Hilda. Though while Hilda’s demise would make him feel better he knew she would be laughing on the other side of the grave at his inevitable incarceration. It wouldn’t ease his depression either at having lost his goddess. 

Hello.’ Said a voice. He slowly looked up. He didn’t recognise the voice and didn’t expect the greeting to be aimed at him. ‘Hello’ said the voice once again.

Are you talking to me?’ frowned George before recognising the face that uttered the greeting. Suddenly he started to panic and scanned the vicinity for reporters. Anyone in the crowd could be a reporter he decided, composing himself. Years of experience of exposure to the public eye had taught him to think quickly.

You don’t seem to be the type to go to peep shows.’ Said the angel come to crucify him.

What is the type?’ he asked as his eyes darted about him in search of the set up.

How would I know?’ smiled the girl ‘I never know who’s looking at me.’ ‘Then how do you know I’ve been looking at you?’

I don’t know you’ve been looking at me.’ Before adding ‘I just know you are a regular at the peep show.’

How?’ He quizzed. Convinced he was being recorded, photographed and anything else a rag journalist might be doing.

She thought for a moment as she felt the tables were being turned on her.

Okay.’ She hesitated as she tried to pluck an answer out of her increasingly muddled brain. ‘Security pointed you out as someone who might be obsessed.’ She felt this was near enough the truth not for her to be tripped up. ‘It’s a normal thing they do for our safety………so we can stay aware of potential dangers.’

‘So you’ve come to say hello to your potential rapist?’ George began feeling more at ease. The girl didn’t seem to have a game plan, which suggested she hadn’t been coached to entrap him but what was her game?

‘I was intrigued by you.’ She floundered.

‘Oooh.’ He mused ‘You are intrigued by your potential rapist.’ And smiled as he turned to look at her ‘Don’t you think that is rather foolish?’

‘No no noooo!’ She stamped and gave up. ‘Can we go for a drink and I’ll explain?’

‘Will The Red Lion be alright on Whitehall?’ He asked ‘I have to be somewhere later and it would be rather convenient for me.’ 

He relaxed and felt more in control. He was surprised at how well dressed she was and could easily pass as one of many of the young assistants at Westminster. There were still many outstanding questions he needed answered to ease his mind. Not hiding her seemed the best strategy. It would look like he had nothing to hide. They strolled in near silence down Whitehall to The Red Lion. They were happy to wait for the comfort of the pub before they engaged in any real conversation. Despite the silence George was still asking questions, even if he had to answer them himself in the privacy of his own head. Occasionally he glanced at the beautiful young woman by his side. She seemed to be content to stare at the pavement in front of her. By the time they reached the pub they were both palpably more comfortable with each other. Both having sensed the initial dangers of their own situations were overstated.

Inside the cosy interior of the pub, George pointed to an unoccupied high table. Just inside the door for Olivia to claim while he went to the bar. Olivia climbed on a tall stool and put her coat on another for George. There were several politicians in the bar waiting to be called down to the House of Commons. There would be a vote on some obscure clause in some misconceived bill. According to George anyway.

To George, laws were designed to enshrine vested interests over other people’s rights for the most part. In his eyes his political career was about fighting this usurpation of power to enhance the privileges of the of the already over privileged. The professions were the worst offenders of all, particularly his own, the law profession. He looked round to see what faces were present. Half the MPs present had trained in law and all had been blowing hot air since their student days. He included himself in this group he held in disdain. Returning with the drinks he placed a beer for himself on the table and vodka and lime for Olivia, before putting his coat on a stool and crowning it with his fedora hat.

‘Well!’ he puffed ‘ I suppose we owe each other an explanation of sorts.’ Looking at Olivia he went on ‘Since my behaviour must be more embarrassing than yours I’ll let you start.’

‘I don’t see how prancing about naked is less embarrassing than watching someone prancing about naked.’ She replied.

‘I’m not talking about you prancing about naked as you put it.’ Taking a sip of his beer ‘You did not contrive to meet me for my stunning good looks.’ He pointed out.

‘I haven’t been so dishonest.’ She said ‘Lucien the owner of Sexciting pointed out to me I had an admirer. He showed you to me on a security video.’ She studied him before going on ‘I was intrigued and you looked harmless so…’ Pausing for a moment ‘…..you are harmless aren’t you?’

‘Unfortunately yes’ raising his eyebrows as if to say isn’t it obvious.

‘I just wanted to know what type of man was so infatuated me.’ There was a pregnant pause ‘You are infatuated with me aren’t you?’

I suppose so.’ He wriggled ‘Why else would I spend so much money and time spying on you?’ He had never felt so embarrassed or put on the spot since the dinner party Hilda accused him of “fucking that little American slut” and when he signalled to her to wait until they got home she simply carried on “I bet she takes it up the arse as well!” The rest of the meal was tense with everyone pretending Hilda’s little outburst had not happened.

And now?’ Olivia egged him on.

And now?’ George snapped out of his musings ‘Oh right...yes…where was I?’ He took another sip of beer to buy himself time. ‘Now I am talking to you, you are a person I am trying to evaluate. When I was watching you, you was merely a beautiful young nymph that was physically perfect so much so I was quite smitten but you wasn’t a personality I could respond to.’

Does that mean you don’t like me now you have met me?’ she tailed off with an air of disappointment.

Not at all.’ George was surprised to find himself reassuring the beautiful young woman ‘I am still quite taken with you but now you have complexity. You have entered my life no matter how briefly or how superficially and that requires some quiet consideration.’

Are you a politician?’

Why?’

You sound like one.’ She frowned. 

George threw his head back and guffawed. Olivia was puzzled as to what had caused such an outburst. She couldn’t see what was funny about anything that had been said. She was about to quiz him further when a bell sounded which appeared to cause a reaction in George that was similar to Cinderella’s when the clock struck midnight.

I have to go!’ said George as he rushed and dribbled a last drink of beer down his chin. ‘Damn!’ He mopped himself down ‘Here!’ he said taking a business card out of his wallet ‘Give me a call sometime and we can carry on our chat…..I really have to go now.’ And rushed out of the pub with the other middle-aged men, as though they were running away from a police raid against ‘boring old farts’. Olivia was bemused. 

 

*

 

Standing on a dining chair with his arm aloft, Lucien baited Olivia with George’s business card as she jumped up and tried to grab it.

‘Give it to me!’ She hissed through gritted teeth ‘Give it back!

‘Come and get it!’ Lucien gave a cruel laugh. Olivia was now wishing she hadn’t told him about the previous night. She could have easily told him it was an embarrassing disaster or she had lost her nerve and never introduced herself. What started out as something of little consequence to her had developed into something of importance. Though at that particular moment she had yet to realise just how much she cared. She grabbed at his shirt in an attempt to pull him down and grab the card but he was willing to sacrifice the shirt for the joy of taunting her. Tears began to flood her eyes as she became ever more desperate to repossess the card.

‘Give it to me scumbag!’ she cursed.

A signal for Lucien to stick his groin in her face. ‘I’ll give it to you anytime you want it!’ he laughed.

Careful.’ She said ‘I’ll bite the fucker off!’ and suddenly lunged at his groin with her bared teeth. 

Lucien was shocked to see the genuine aggression behind the action. He accidentally kicked the chair from under himself as he tried to dodge the potential consequences of Olivia’s attack. Luckily the table was next to him to help him break his fall as he tumbled onto the floor. Immediately she pounced, kneeling on his chest and tearing the card out of his hand.

Okay, okay, you win.’ He said, the fun having gone out of the game. Picking himself up he righted the chair and sitting down straightened his hair ‘Who would believe it, a shadow minister! Its like winning the lottery.’

What do you mean by that?’ asked Olivia sharply.

Nothing. Just a figure of speech.’ He replied defensively.

Well don’t get any ideas.’ She looked at him suspiciously ‘I just don’t trust you Lucien.’ Lucien stood up and moved across to Olivia. ‘No!’ as she applied the brakes ‘I think Karin will be waiting at home for you.’ Then spitefully added ‘If you aren’t there you don’t know who else might be!’

Leave Karin out of this!’ Karin was Luciens’s wife. He didn’t like Karin being introduced into his affairs. He thought it cheapened her. The truth was he had never reconciled his belief in the true nature of women and what he expected from his wife. The mere suggestion that Karin could possibly have carnal wants and needs independent of him served only to undermine whatever stability he had in his world. 

Close the door when you leave.’ Said Olivia forcefully. Lucien was frustrated with Olivia’s mood and felt little desire to hang around just to prove the point he could do what he wanted with her.

I’ll see you tonight.’ He said as he as he sulked his way to the door.

Sunday.’ She said ‘I’m off until then.’

Right.’ He grunted ‘I’ll see you then.’ and left. Waiting for his footsteps to disappear down stairs, she went to the phone and started dialling.

 

*

 

Over the following week or so Olivia spent a lot of time in George’s company. He took her on a tour of Westminster Palace and she lunched with him in the restaurant there. She watched him in debate from the public gallery, becoming so involved in the minutiae of the exchanges in which he part took. She almost found herself cheering when he scored a point over his opponent. There was a stimulus she found in George’s company that felt more satisfying than her nihilistic relationship with Lucien. It was as though her rebellion was over and it was time to move on. She felt no inclination to look any further than her time in the company of George. For a man whose demeanour was often one of gravity, he was light hearted and witty she thought. Olivia had found herself revising her stereotype of the boringly middle aged. Who up to that point, she had seen as people living on borrowed time, occupying valuable space and wasting the ever more rare commodity, oxygen. 

After a light lunch in The Red Lion one afternoon they decided to stroll up to the National Gallery and found themselves contemplating Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’.

I came to London to go to art school.’ Olivia mentioned in passing and carried on ‘I was led to believe I was a gifted talent but when I got to Art College I discovered I was mediocre.’

Lucky you.’ He replied.

Lucky me!’ she frowned ‘How so?’

It took me thirty years to discover I was mediocre.’ Came the sigh ‘It took you less than one year and that leaves you time enough to discover your true talent.’ 

I suppose.’ She returned the sigh. They turned and walked round the gallery ignoring the paintings. Olivia put her arm through George’s who felt a thrill surge through him. That simple action felt more exciting, more satisfying than any lovemaking he had ever experienced. ‘You’ve stopped coming to the peep show.’

How do you know?’

Lucien keeps me informed.’

Ah Lucien. I’m surprised he hasn’t shopped me to the press.’

Maybe he will.’ She said. ‘So you have stopped coming?’

Yes.’ Was his simple reply.

Why.’

I thought I had explained.’ He stopped and turned to her ‘I have a daughter your age.’

What has that got to do with it?’ She asked.

In the peep show you were no more than a hologram. You were not real. The moment the shutter closed, you disappeared and you no longer existed.’ He thought for a moment ‘I walked away without any guilt, I didn’t feel I was exploiting you.’ He struggled ‘Now I would.’

Don’t.’ Came her simple instruction.

George perked up and changed direction ‘I dabble a little in art too. I often drawer and paint when I take my holidays.’

Really?’ Asked Olivia with genuine interest.

Oh I’m just a modest talent but I have my moments of glory.’

Then you can drawer me.’ She said ‘I will be your model.’

That is not what I was…’

Shut up.’ She commanded ‘That way you can study me without my clothes on and not feel guilty and I can have the satisfaction of your eyes upon me.’ 

There was an element of surprise she produced in herself at this suggestion as well as for George, though what she had said had felt so right. George remained silent. The thrills and the surprises were coming too fast for him to absorb. He knew it was a ridiculous suggestion but one he was happy to savour and not to dismiss for the time being.

 

*

 

It had been awhile since Olivia had stopped going up to the office to see Lucien after her shift had finished. It had become a habit for her to leave immediately for home. This is what prompted Lucien to be down in the shop. He realised he was losing control over her if he not already had. He found it impossible to wait until Olivia sought him out for her money. Though he thought this would show a sign of weakness to her. The truth was, he never entered her mind for the most part. He tried his best to act natural as he tidied the magazines on the shelf. Something he was not prone to do and would normally leave it for the staff. She took longer than he expected and found himself getting agitated as he moved from the magazines to the videos. By the time she entered the shop he had lost faith in his game plan.

‘Are you coming clubbing tonight?’ He did his best to ask as if in passing.

She looked at him with surprised suspicion ‘No.’

‘You’re going to see your Mister Member of Parliament?’ he said resentfully.

‘What I do in my time is my business.’ She said, not aiming to provoke Lucien but to indicate to him that things had cooled between them. To such an extent she would no longer to be taken for granted.

‘I bet the geriatric can’t keep his dick hard for more than five seconds.’

‘I wouldn’t know but maybe five seconds of honed experience is enough’

‘Not for a bitch like you!’ He said forcing his words through a grated smile as he took her chin in his hand ‘You forget I know how much dick you need to put a smile on that pretty face of yours.’

Get off!’ She forced his hand away. 

She sneered as she brushed past him, out of the front door and away into the street. Lucien looked round and eyeballed the half a dozen customers who were staring at him. Intimidated, they immediately returned to browsing the merchandise. Feeling more uncomfortable than his customers, he followed Olivia out onto the street only to see her disappear into a taxicab. He watched the taxi drive past and recognised the silhouette of George sat next to Olivia. Common sense told him there was no mileage in trying to get even with the politician. Ken had long ago taught him that part of the necessary business etiquette was to treat any well-known personality as an anonymous customer. He watched the taxi turn the corner towards Shaftsbury Avenue, leaving a void to balloon up and expand inside him. Squeezing his resentment to the surface.

Turning he kicked the kerb. Then swinging on a large waste bin at the side of the road he pulled it over, spilling all its contents into the gutter. He let out an animal roar ‘BiiiiiiiiTCH!!!!’ He kicked wildly at the pile of debris, scattering it over the street. ‘Damn!’ At that moment he could think of nothing else but of the satisfaction of punching Olivia’s face in. For all his smart arsed talk, he thought, all along he’s been her bit of rough. Slowly his anger dispersed with the waste that was starting to swirl around in the breeze that was being channelled down the street. He stomped back into the shop and up to his office where he poured himself a whiskey before thumping himself down into his chair. It wasn’t often Lucien felt used and abused. It was doubtful whether any objective person would agree with that analysis but he felt he felt that way and he deeply resented it.

*

 

Some days later Hilda insisted that Jonathon, her lover, should leave that night which he was reluctant to do. Normally when he visited her he would stay the night, when it was known George would be staying in London. This was most of the time. Earlier that evening when he arrived he found Hilda in a very distressed state. She blamed it on an argument she had had with George on the phone. He was very sceptical of this excuse because he knew that despite George’s robust nature in the House of Commons, when it came to Hilda he would sell his soul to avoid an argument. Hilda was not a woman to be intimidated. He found her confidence and assertiveness attractive and something to be admired. Without a satisfactory explanation she had to use all those virtues to get him to leave. By the time he was through the door she had gained her composure and was quite calm.

Hilda had retained her youthful figure and good looks, though age had given her face a hardened edge. George could no longer recognise this Hilda that now existed in Jonathon’s eyes. He now only saw a hard face of experience, an arrogant character. Exactly when her relationship with George began to unravel she found difficult to pinpoint. It was a process that started soon after they were married. She did not recognise or refused to acknowledge something was going wrong until after their two children were born and then for her it was too late. When they met, George’s youth and dynamism had masked the social gap between them. George despite his education and conservative leanings was prone to make elementary social gaffs that caused her severe embarrassment. At first she tried to ignore his mistakes, some even amused her but the drip drip drip affect began to cause wounds that festered. By the time George had had ‘that affair’ with his researcher, the damage had already been done. 

With their home being an isolated cottage in the country and their children away at university, she discretely found consolation in lovers. Even in this she had cause to blame George. She was financially dependent on him despite her affluent background. Compromising her morals to seek solace at times created a deep sense of humiliation in her. It was not that she did not enjoy the company of her lovers. She found the friction of their body’s on hers quite joyous, exhilarating but afterwards, after they had left, she would feel utterly empty and alone. No matter how much she had tried to persuade herself that she lived in an age where a woman satisfying her needs was of no ones business but her own. Church on Sunday somehow always reminded her of what she saw as a personal failing.

Once she was on her own she tidied up the house. Not that there was much to tidy. Her philosophy was to keep the house immaculate in case of unsuspected visitors. She washed the glasses she and Jonathon had used. Padded the cushions and scrutinised the place for any other evidence that she had not been alone. Satisfying herself that all traces of Jonathon’s visit had been eradicated, she checked the house for any personal belongings and ephemera that might be lying around. Anything found was filed away in the appropriate drawer or cupboard. Then she felt free to take a shower, afterwards massaging her self with lotions before applying flawless make up. She then dressed in her favourite evening gown and posed in front of the mirror. Long enough to justify the thought, perfect! It was only then that she felt ready to get herself a drink and go and lay on the bed.

 

*

 

George poured himself a whiskey and opened the back door onto the garden. Ignoring the garden furniture he sat on the step and stared down the garden and out across the fields. His father was a man for sitting on steps. He had a photo of his father sat on the steps of the pit baths. He was a man’s man. There was no bullshit in his life. He had no time for bullshit unlike George. George’s whole life had been bullshit, ever since high school, through university, the courts, all the way through to the House of Commons. ‘Philosophy, the confusion of knowledge through language.’ i.e. Bullshit! Did he quote correctly? Who said that? Wittgenstein? Normally his curiousity would insist he immediately research such a thought but now it didn’t seem to matter. He had taken the wrong route. He had taken the easy way, the educated way, the way of the confidence trick. All his peers spoke nonsense. The verbiage was articulate, convincing, and even poetic at times but it was all nonsense. His father had left school at fifteen and could see through it all. Yet he with all of his education couldn’t perceive the vacuity of the middle-classes. He had dreamt of money, power and influence. He even got to within touching distance of most of it but the reality is that it all crumbles to the touch.

The funeral was fraught. How tense can the atmosphere get before one cracks and screams? It was common knowledge he and Hilda despised each other but people insisted on giving their condolences. Something that made him cringe. He knew he was being blamed. He felt the need to babble mitigating circumstances even knowing how pathetic he sounded at the time. The children blamed him too. Stephen was a mummy’s boy and he knew where his sympathies lay but he had hoped for a little moral support from Catherine. She was aware of her mother’s short-comings. She knew there was nothing he could do to live up to her mother’s expectations but she said he had been callous to her mother. Hilda’s family had shunned him but he expected that and wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. What the hell could he have said to them? All through the reception he felt on public display. People were whispering behind their hands at how he neglected her. How he left her alone in a lonely house. The vicar even had the gall to ask him if he wanted to get things off his chest, as though he had throttled her with his own hands!

It was the first and only morning he had woke up with Olivia in his bed when he got the phone call. His first reaction was not of shock or horror but that the bitch had timed it to perfection. She had done it to get at him. She had done it to make him feel guilty for sleeping with Olivia. She had done it to ruin his happiness like she always had ruined his happiness. He could never achieve anything without her bitter tongue fouling his glory. He hated her for it and hated the world on her behalf! He had breakfast before he drove down from London to the house. One half of him couldn’t care less and didn’t want to go, while the other half wanted to make sure she really was dead. Release from Hilda however had not brought him peace. It only made him realise he had been blaming her for a self-loathing that he nursed in his bosom.

Hilda had organised her unsuspecting brother to find her. She had phoned him the night before insisting he call in on her, even telling him the door would be unlocked so he could enter of his own accord. This little detail didn’t make him suspect what he would find. He entered the house and immediately poured himself a drink before sitting down on the couch where he waited patiently for Hilda. He had been there some twenty minutes before he realised she had not answered the greeting he shouted up the stairs. The silence from upstairs gave him a feeling of all was not well and prompted him to investigate. Pushing the bedroom door open he saw Hilda asleep on the bed, dressed as if ready for a night out at the opera. It was then that he noticed the bottle of gin and empty tablet bottle on the bedside cabinet.

Fucking typical thought George lacking any sympathy. She could not just bow out like any normal person jumping off the cliff. She had to go out like a latter day Cleopatra! There was always something of the actress about her he thought. The funeral had been two months ago now and he had just got round to sorting out Hilda’s affects. He swirled his whisky his glass while he stared into it as if into an oracle. The phone rang. He let it ring but its persistence defeated him so he struggled to his feet and made his way back into the house.

George Beckinsdale’ He announced down the phone.

Hello George.’ Replied a quiet voice.

Oh…Olivia…How are you?’

That’s what I’m phoning about.’ She hesitated before continuing ‘I’m going back to college.’

So you’ve been wise enough to leave the peep show?’

I left about a month ago I guess.’

And how is your friend Lucien?’

Don’t call him my friend.’ Pausing before adding ‘It makes you sound bitter.’

I am bitter.’ He sighed ‘I am bitter…but not with you…not with you Olivia.’

Lucien will be Lucien.’ She answered his query ‘Though I haven’t seen him for awhile.’ She waited for a response but the pause made her feel uneasy. ‘I’m going for an interview at Manchester tomorrow.’

Manchester?’

Yes.’ Then carried on with an air of resignation ‘I’m hoping to study Art History. I’ve come to terms with my lack of creativity.’

He couldn’t think of what to say as he digested the information he had just been given. ‘Maybe…maybe when you visit London you could visit me?’

Maybe.’

There was a further silence before the phone went dead. George stood holding the phone as though it was going to speak to him again. Eventually he said ‘bye’ which was lost somewhere in the void. He went over to the Welsh dresser and took the copy of the security video out of the draw where Hilda had filed it away. He had stumbled on it only the other day. He studied the envelope, it was addressed to Hilda and marked ‘Private and Confidential’ If only erasing the tape could erase the past it recorded? Walking over to the fire, he placed the envelope and contents onto the glowing embers. The envelope singed and smouldered before bursting into flames.