“I’d like to see Joanna, please.” The man smiled, a little hesitantly, and Marie smiled back. It was her turn on the desk, and to be honest she was quite happy about it. Sometimes this was the easier aspect of customer service.
“I’ll see if she’s free,” she said. “Does she see you often?” They’d tried ‘Are you a regular?’ as a line, but that frequently got embarrassed mumbles and people leaving. While they tried to present this as a business transaction and nothing else it seemed that the people making the purchase still had issues with it that they hadn’t got over. Madame even thought that perhaps that was an essential part of the process, but then Madame had been going to evening classes on Psychology and was starting to think some pretty odd things.
“Uh, yes,” said the man. He was middle-aged, a little flabby about the waist and his arms were a bit short for his height, but otherwise he wasn’t bad looking. He made Marie think of one of her schoolteachers, and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing either. “It’s André. She’ll know who… she’ll know me.”
“Excellent,” said Marie, beaming brightly at him to distract him from her fingers quickly typing his name in on the keyboard. She could touch-type which meant that the customers often didn’t even realise they’d been checked out in the database. The screen flickered, and she let her eyes focus on it briefly.
“Ah,” she said. “You’re going to be in the Boudoir.”
André’s smile, which had been a little tenuous anyway, stretched to breaking point. “Uh,” he said awkwardly, his shoulders hunching.
“On the house,” said Marie.
“Would you like to sign up for a loyalty card? It comes with a 5% discount….” Marie’s voice trailed away, seeing the telltale rabbit-in-the-headlights look in his eyes. “Do you know your way to the Boudoir?”
“Oh yes,” said André, and he started off towards the curtain that concealed the stairs.
“Very good,” said Marie, and only sighed after she was sure he was at least half-way up the stairs.
André opened the door to the Boudoir and looked in. The room was about the size of a king-size hotel room and contained an enormous waterbed, a couple of hard-backed chairs, shag-pile carpet, a tall, wooden wardrobe and a mirrored ceiling. There was a connecting door that led to an en-suite bathroom, and there was a silk man’s dressing gown laid out on the bed already. He closed the door behind him and locked it, and then considered for a moment and unlocked it again. He checked the connecting door but that was already locked, and when he pressed his ear against it there was only silence. Perhaps that would be opened after Joanna arrived. He got undressed quickly and pulled the dressing gown on, wondering if there would be a time limit since it was free.
He’d just sat down on the bed when the door opened and a tall, dark-skinned woman came in. She was wearing gauzy fabrics draped around her body that shifted and shimmered as she moved, making it hard to tell if you were catching a glimpse of something that was supposed to be covered up or not. She smiled at him.
“Oh, am I in the wrong room?” he said, standing up. Inwardly he was cringing at the idea that he’d ended up in someone else’s room, but another part of him, hot and embarrassed was thinking that he knew that this was the Boudoir and it was his, damnit, they’d offered it to him.
“I hope not,” she said, smiling at him with both her mouth and her eyes. He felt a little flushed in a different way now. “You’re André, aren’t you?”
“I was told this was free,” he said, sitting back down on the bed. “That means I don’t have to pay. Or sign up for anything.”
“And it is,” said the woman. “I’m Semilla.”
“She’s elsewhere,” said the woman. “I’m a substitute.”
“I don’t want anyone else, I want Joanna,” he said, almost automatically. Then, as his brain caught up with his ears, “What do you mean, you’re a substitute? You can’t just substitute people like that!”
“You can substitute teachers,” said Semilla. She came and sat down next to him on the bed. “You can get in temporary replacements for people on maternity leave, or when they’ve got serious, long-term illnesses. Why can’t you have a substitute prostitute?”
“Because I don’t want you! I want Joanna, she understands me.” As soon as the words left his mouth he felt like he wanted the floor to open and swallow him up. He’d admitted to a dependency. They’d put her price up immediately and he’d not be able to come here again without his wife finding out. His head sank.
Semilla put her arm around his shoulders. “But I’m here to provide a specialist service,” she said. She caressed his arm. “Free of charge. I know what you like, I know what you really want. Joanna doesn’t offer that kind of thing, as I know you know.”
“She said she wouldn’t tell!”
“She didn’t have to; we have cameras.”
He lifted his head and stared into her eyes, desperation and despair mingling.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that. We have to get feedback somehow, and you’re barely willing to tell us who you are at the front desk, let alone fill in a questionnaire afterwards about how your experience was and how it could be improved.”
“Hardly! We’re running a business, and you’re a valued customer. You come back, and you have needs that we understand how to meet. You’re exactly the kind of customer that we want, and want to encourage. Word of mouth is tough in this business, but we think that in the pub or in the bars you might casually mention a place where a man can get needs met for a reasonable price. It’s not a lot, but it helps.”
“Don’t worry about it. But for this evening, I have something a little special for you. Something that I know you want, and that you probably wouldn’t dare ask for. And I have,” her hand moved up and caressed his neck, under his jaw, “all the time in the world,” she leaned in and kissed him on the lips, “for you.”
She stood up and led him over to the wardrobe, which she opened with her free hand. There were no clothes inside.
“Where shall we begin?”