Stephanie caught sight of her reflected image in the window and for a brief moment saw it morph into someone else; another self she wanted to be. She was left with an empty craving for rollercoaster adrenaline that quotidian routine could not provide. So instead of accepting an ordinary life, she created her own Achates.
It had been an average day in the little black book shop in Oxford Street with its usual routine; the repetition, the conversations, the customers, the books, orders and research. Although Stephanie enjoyed aspects of this life, the knowledge, the pristine stationery, the chemical smell of ink straight from the press or the old antiquarian covers, she was nevertheless relieved to put them aside for the weekend. As the guardian of new and second hand editions, their chimerical keeper, she savoured the role she played.
She sighed as she placed a favourite copy on the shelf, adjusted it carefully to line it up perfectly with its neighbours and gathered her leather bag and PVC coat to go home. She caught sight of her reflection in the window and momentarily stroked her shiny red bob that enhanced the scarlet lipstick on her lips. Her reflected features were pale and slightly gothic, her green eyes, catlike. She was immaculate, and she always wore black. It was smart and functional like she was and she didn’t have to co-ordinate her wardrobe every morning. She favoured tight clothes and stiletto heels, especially boots; even favouring them in the summer months when most people wore sandals.
She knew all the customers by name unless they were just travellers passing through, looking for stimulation. This was not just any book shop; it was the ‘The Forbidden Planet’ a new age, esoteric bookshop featuring collectible and genuine antiquarian books. It specialised in eastern religion, astrology, magick, Jungian psychology, Wicca and contemporary spirituality. The staff were experts on those topics that were there for everyone to explore. Stephanie met a variety of customers, some of them ordered rare editions or particular authors, so working in that shop, had led to some interesting introductions and consequences.
There was for example an average type of customer; usually male, who had a taste for certain books that weren’t always on the shelves. They were typically middle-aged, heterosexual, well-dressed, conservative and discreet. They requested books of a particular genre; sadomasochism. They would order books such as ‘Powerful Pleasures’, ‘Screw the Roses’, ‘Send Me the Thorns’ ‘The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism’ ‘The Dynamics of Power and Powerlessness’ or ‘Fearful Symetry’. She called these ones, the Collectors; they were the ones who harboured a hidden interest, which required a service. In turn, over time this bent had aligned itself with her alter-ego, her doppelganger, which was that of a professional dominatrix.
“Goodnight Adrian” she called, to her colleague “Have a great weekend”.
“Bye Stephanie, you too, I’ll lock up” replied a sonorous voice from behind the section on paraphilia. So she made her way home in the normal way to Bondi on the local bus with the usual crowd of tired commuters and then, having done that, she methodically put that persona away for a few hours.
Having reached her waterfront apartment, she was greeted by her black Persian cat, Morrigan, who received her in her inimitable fashion, rubbing up against her legs. She kicked off her boots and sat down. The panoramic view from her balcony spanned over the Pacific Ocean; she viewed the myriad surfers skimming the waves while she contemplated her diary. Her apartment was lavishly furnished with well- toned furniture. Ivory walls matched a baby grand piano that reclined like a retired courtesan in one corner; she loved to play to unwind. She also kept a collection of violins that rested on a wooden rack, like out of work extras waiting for their next appearance. But their performances nowadays were notoriously brief and unwitnessed. Stephanie’s days with the orchestra were in the past. The memory of relentless practice still haunted her; she’d been robbed of her childhood, her mother’s death from alcoholism finally liberating her.
She snorted a line of fine Mexican cocaine ‘God’s dandruff’ to start the night, the white light shooting through her left nostril on a direct path to her brain, leaving her thoughts sharp and crystal clear. Her second guise was about to emerge. The two personalities were at times in conflict with each other, vying for dominancy. But there was never any question who would win.
She preferred to drive her ghostly white Porsche to her first appointment; there were times when she needed to leave quickly and discreetly. She sometimes accepted outcalls, house-calls, if the client was known to her. She enjoyed winding through the traffic lanes like a serpent slithering through the grass.
Her other apartment was in Potts Point, in a pale brick building, inconspicuous from the outside. This block had a manned security system and an undercover car park, both requisites for her work. It resided in a conservative and discreet neighbourhood. As long as the police were kept at a distance, nobody questioned anything. Besides she had friends in very high places. There was no chance in the world that she would be exposed.
Stephanie unlocked the deadlock, entered and quietly shut the door behind her, linking the security chain. It was pitch black until she turned on the dimmer switch. The windows inside were completely blacked out by black vertical blinds and curtains. She turned on the ducted heating at the same time; it was still a bit chilly in the autumn night outside. The lights lit up a medium-sized room with a predominantly red and black interior and an oriental ambience. She turned on the small red lights which glowed like embers and glow worms in various corners and peeped up from behind some of her statues and artworks. She favoured images of Aphrodite and Artemis, the Wiccan goddesses of love and the moon. She too, was a collector; of Wiccan artefacts and treasures mostly, but pieces of Indian furniture and artistry also featured. The lights twinkled from behind tigers’ eyes and Medusa curls, champa incense wafted from a multi-headed dragon holder in a corner when it was lit.
Once inside she scanned the room approvingly. Juxtaposed amongst the featured carved wooden statues and serpents were her tools of trade. On one side-table elaborately carved with elephants and Hindu entities lay a number of surgical instruments as straight as soldiers set up on a tray. She had a modern sterilizer which she turned on now so that it would heat up; she kept a microwave for a similar purpose. A box of surgical gloves lay incumbent on her workbench.
The walls were covered with black metallic wallpaper with a fine gold inscription etched across it, impossible to define in the semi-darkness. Adjacent to one wall, there was a massage table with various accoutrements attached to it; a stirrup arrangement suspended over it like a metallic spider, attachments for restraining arms, metal bands. Hanging round the walls were stainless steel handcuffs, nipple clamps, thumbscrews, paddles, whips and other assorted bondage equipment; electrical cords, rubber sheets, inflatable objects. There was a rack with leather gear, harnesses, collars, belts, girdles, and spiked leads. It shone with the spark of constant care and professional competency.
Stephanie hung up her coat in another room and returned to look at her appointment book to check her bookings. She liked to arrive in plenty of time to prepare herself. As a dominatrix, she had to take medical precautions; she had a strict routine that she adhered to; sterilization, rubber surgical gloves and so forth. She changed into her latex bodysuit and prepared for her first client. It was not long before there was a knock on the door.
“Come in, welcome to my world,” she said, opening the door after a discreet peep through the eye-hole where she’d seen a customer outside. She said with the chain still latched.
“Good evening. Yes, we spoke on the phone, I’m Herman.”
A nervous looking man stood outside the doorway, blinking as he entered the room, looking around timidly at the equipment. He was a portly, middle-aged man with small round glasses. He immediately bowed to her and after a moment’s hesitation he kneeled. He’d been ordered to do that on the phone.
“Stay on your knees” she said “Stay there until I tell you to move and don’t look at me! Call me Master, and nothing else.” She shut the door and locked it carefully.
“Yes master. Your wish is my command.” He said facing the floor.
“Have you been good today?”She intoned, towering over him in her high heeled boots, one of which she placed on his spine and pressed hard with her stiletto into the small of his back. The other she placed on his fingers.
“Yes master, very good” he grimaced.
“Alright, you may stand up now.” She conceded, removing her heel and foot. He stood up but avoided eye-contact with her, rubbing his fingers gingerly. She led him by his tie to a black vinyl couch where she pushed him down. She eased herself onto another couch that faced him. She stroked her hair and then leant forward.
“So, what have you brought for me? Where is my present?” she demanded.
“Master, I brought you a little something. I took your advice on the phone” he offered somewhat apologetically, pulling a small paper-wrapped package out of his pocket ruefully.
... to be continued.