U - Personal Services
Lexie shuffled about nervously as the man in the dark suit
approached. She had a fair bit of experience under her belt by now but
she still found the initial approach highly embarrassing.
He looked respectable enough: neat dark suit, black shoes, hard to tell
the colour of his shirt and tie by the light of the street lamp that
turned everything to shades of yellow. She smiled nervously. "Got the
time, Mister?" she addressed him in a tone as cheerful as she could
"I've got nothing but time," he replied in a mild, cultured sort of
"Oh, yes, very clever! You've got the time but have you got the
inclination?" It was a pretty feeble joke but might serve its purpose.
He came closer and looked her up and down. It was difficult to gauge
his expression. His features were pleasant enough: early forties
perhaps, tall, well-proportioned, obviously okay with regards to
personal hygiene. She could do worse. He was beside her now so she
could speak more quietly. "Are you interested in doing some business,
He didn't answer right away but seemed to continue with his inspection,
concentrating now on her face, staring rather unnervingly into her
eyes. At last his face broke into a smile and she felt the tension
"Mary Magdalene," he muttered, almost to himself.
"Well, in the same line of work I suppose." He was quite witty. She was
beginning to like him. It's so much easier if they have a sense of
"Are you going to wash my feet?"
"If that's what does it for you. But just so we understand each other,
no kinky stuff, no anal, no kissing on the lips, and you've got to wear
a rubber. Fifty for a couple of hours or I can stay all night for a
hundred and fifty. Up to you. Payment in advance."
He nodded thoughtfully. "Seems very reasonable."
"Will we... say all night then?"
"Oh yes. I think we shall say all night."
He turned, clearly expecting her to follow, and walked towards the
nearest front door, beside where they were standing. "Oh, you live
right here?" He nodded.
There was a pile of neglected junk mail in the hallway and the place
smelled faintly of mildew and damp. The paintwork was old and scuffed
and there was a payphone over the cluttered hall table. Lexie said
nothing but the man clearly felt that an explanation was needed. "I've
recently come out of hospital after a long illness," he explained,
"this place is just temporary. I don't intend to be living here very
"It's fine," she lied cheerfully, "feeling okay now I hope? What do I
call you by the way?"
"Martin. And you? Mary of course, isn't it?"
"Whatever you say. Mary and Martin. M and M. Get it?" From his
expression she rather thought that he didn't.
Martin's room was upstairs-the light from the streetlamp shone straight
in his window. The place was a reasonable size, clean and tidy, and
furnished in an old-fashioned sort of way with a wooden writing desk, a
couple of tasteful landscapes on the walls, several well-stacked
bookshelves and a large neatly turned-back double bed. Lexie nodded
approvingly. "You keep your room very neat."
"When one's living space is restricted tidiness becomes a necessity."
He took off his jacket and hung it carefully in the wardrobe.
"You read a lot, Martin?" She looked around. There was no TV.
"I am a researcher, Mary. I have conducted research all my life."
"Well, it's a nice room. Say, is it okay if we get the financial side
of things out of the way first? Then we can relax."
"Of course." He sat to unlock the drawer of the desk and took out three
crisp fifty-pound notes which he handed to Lexie.
"Thank you kindly, Sir!" The notes disappeared instantly into the inner
recesses of her jacket. He remained seated at the desk watching her,
his whole body very still, his expression neutral and unreadable. She
was used to shy men but this didn't seem like shyness. "How would you
feel about having a shower first?" she suggested with a twinkle in her
eye, "We could have one together and I could scrub your back. It's a
nice way to get acquainted."
He remained motionless. "Can we talk for a bit first? I'm best with
words. That's how I like to get acquainted."
"Of course." She perched awkwardly on the bed. "Dirty talk? Do you want
me to tell you what turns me on, sexually?" It was a skill at which she
didn't particularly excel but if a paying client wanted it she was
willing to have a go.
"No. I just want you to tell me a bit about yourself. Why you do what
you do. That sort of thing."
"Martin, this is a business relationship. Sure I have a personal life,
but I don't discuss it with people I don't know very well. You
understand?" Writing a book, Lexie thought to herself. Bet any money
he's writing a book. He'll probably prattle on all night and I'll get
no sleep whatever.
He nodded. "I understand. Maybe you would like to hear a bit about me
"That would be nice, Martin." She shifted position on the bed and
propped some pillows against her back for comfort. He turned his chair
to face her and seemed to think for a moment before he began.
"There has been... very little love in my life, Mary. Very few
friendships. I have spent far too much time alone, devoted far too much
time to my work. It's been a lonely life. Not a very good life."
"But you're still young, Martin. You can have lots of lovers. Lots of
friendships. Lots of fun."
"I'm not blaming the world," he went on, ignoring what she had said,
"the problem is with me. I know that. I don't relate well to people. I
was brought up by my father-my mother died when I was a baby. He was a
very severe man. Not loving and not... approachable."
She nodded. Therapy session on the way. She'd had it all before. "What
did he do?"
"He was a minister of religion. Scottish Presbyterian. He was a cruel
man, an appalling man. A tyrant and a hypocrite. And worse. Sorry Mary,
I have been most dreadfully unsociable. May I offer you a cup of tea,
or something a little stronger?"
She smiled. "Your father wouldn't approve. Gin and tonic maybe?"
"I've only got whisky, but it's a good one."
"Whisky it is then. Got ice?"
"Ice in a single malt? Not done, Mary." He made his way to the bedside
cabinet beside Lexie and opened it. To her alarm a bundle of assorted
kitchen knives and hunting knives tumbled out on to the floor. Martin
seemed unperturbed. "My knife collection," he started to pick them up
and replace them one by one. "I need a bigger cabinet." He fished out
the whisky bottle and two large whisky glasses. Lexie noticed that he
hadn't put away one of the knives, a large sheathed hunting knife that
he placed on top of the cabinet. Lexie estimated her distance to the
door and mentally rehearsed getting to it in a hurry.
"Oh there's no need to be alarmed," he handed her the drink, "I only
keep them because they wouldn't let me have anything like that while I
was in hospital. You always want what you can't have, don't you? The
same applies to the whisky. It's a very fine one, isn't it?"
She gulped some down and nodded. "Terrific." He took a sip from his own
and sat beside her. He was between her and the door now but the knife
was slightly out of his reach. "What was wrong with you... I mean, why
were you in hospital, Martin?"
"I'm afraid I had a nervous breakdown. Stress, you know. Working too
hard. Worrying too much."
"But not any more. I mean, you're cured now, right?"
"Oh yes. That's what they do in hospital. They cure you."
"But, it took them a long time. Right?"
"I went in to hospital when I was fourteen years old."
She spoke very slowly and deliberately. "You were over-working... when
you were fourteen years old?"
"Examination pressures. Academic matters. My father had big ambitions
for me, you see. I was a bright boy. I had a great future ahead of me.
Or so everyone thought." He leaned across her to put his drink on the
bedside cabinet, alongside the knife. "But it never happened. Things
didn't work out."
"I'm... I'm sorry, Martin."
"There will be a reward, of course. I've done everything I was told.
They never said that I would be understood in this life. That would be
too much to expect."
"Who never said?" She could feel her heart pounding.
"The angels, Mary. God's angels. They're everywhere, you know, although
we can't see them."
She swallowed hard and nodded. "Yeah. Right. God's angels." She drank
down the last of her whisky.
"Everything is meant, you know. Your coming here tonight. My finding
you beneath that street light. It's all for a purpose, Mary. We are all
the instruments of God's will. Every one of us."
"I'm... sure you're right, Martin."
"Oh yes. I am right. Are you ready to do what you said, Mary?"
"You... want sex... right now?"
"I want you to wash my feet. And anoint them."
"Oh! Right! Sure. Why not. Got some water or something?"
"Just a moment." To her horror he picked up the knife instead of his
drink and disappeared through the door by which they had entered. A few
moments later he returned with a large ornate silver tray bearing a
plastic bowl full of water, a towel, two bottles of toiletries, and, to
her considerable alarm, the knife-all tastefully arranged like a waiter
would carry them in a fancy restaurant, or a priest in some kind of
religious ritual. He placed the tray on the writing desk for a moment,
locked the door and slipped the key into his pocket. "We wouldn't want
to be disturbed," he said quietly. Lexie's mouth fell open but she
could think of nothing to say. Lifting the knife he placed the tray on
the floor near to where he had been sitting. He dangled the instrument
carelessly in his right hand until he sat down and placed it on his
"Do we need the knife?" Lexie asked in a voice that came out as a
"Oh yes. Essential. It's part of the ceremony."
Lexie felt her heart begin to race. She got to her feet unsteadily and
knelt down in front of Martin. This brought her eyes level with the
knife on his lap. It was a high quality item, with a dark hardwood
handle and a curved blade about seven or eight inches long, sheathed in
a well-made leather holster. It wasn't clipped in, it could be deployed
in an instant. She slowly untied his laces and eased the neat leather
brogues off his feet. "You said you've always done what the angels told
you," she probed in the most casual tone she could muster, "what kind
of thing did they tell you to do?"
"They asked me to do a most terrible thing, Mary. They asked me to kill
my own father."
Her hands froze in the middle of the act of removing one of Martin's
"It wasn't murder, it was a cleansing. You see, Mary, my father was the
Antichrist. Would you like me to put my feet in the bowl?"
"Eh? Yes. Right. In the bowl." She wondered if he could feel her hand
shaking as she pulled the sock completely free. His feet were clean
already, rather long and graceful, with the nails meticulously trimmed.
Mechanically, she squirted a little shower-gel from one of the bottles
and started to massage it into his skin. Normally she would have found
the activity quite pleasant and soothing, but her whole body felt rigid
and her attention remained totally focused on the knife on Martin's
lap. "How did... I mean what did the angels tell you to do?"
"You mean the manner of his death? It was a sacrificial killing, in the
tradition of biblical sacrifice. It's still the basis of the religious
slaughter of animals throughout the Middle East. The animal is bound
and one of the carotid arteries in its throat is severed with a single
stroke. Unconsciousness follows very rapidly. It's an extremely humane
form of slaughter." He noticed that she had stopped massaging his feet.
"Is there a problem?"
"Oh no. Of course not. Sorry. No problem." She returned to her task
with renewed vigour. For a while she worked in silence. "I think
they're done now. Will I dry them?"
"Dry them and anoint them with the oil."
She looked down and saw that the other bottle contained baby oil. "The
oil. Yes, of course." Carefully she lifted each of his feet out on to
the towel and put the tray and the bowl to one side. She dried her
hands and then started to dry his feet, slowly and almost tenderly,
drawing a fold of towel gently through each of the gaps between his
toes. When she had quite finished she paused. "The oil," Martin
reminded her, "just the oil now, and the ceremony is almost
"Almost finished?" she queried in a breathy whisper.
"Yes, Mary. Almost finished."
Lexie hesitated. She looked up and saw that he was studying her with a
serene expression like a priest conducting a service. As she watched
his gaze seemed to drift down from her eyes to her throat. The knife
was resting on his knee, inches from his hand. She imagined the quick
thrust that would rip it from its sheath and draw it across her throat.
It would require less than a second. Any sudden movement she made might
become her last. He was far bigger and far stronger than she was. If
she struggled she would be instantly overpowered. She glanced at the
locked door. She felt the way she had when she was a little girl,
paralyzed with fear, helpless and abandoned, those nights when her
stepfather had come home drunk and furious looking for someone to
blame, someone to hurt, someone to strike out at.
Frantically she tried to think of a course of action. There was really
only one and she doubted that she had the stomach to go through with
it. Something inside her seemed to respond to the terror she was
feeling and the thought entered her mind that she was not going to be a
victim ever again. Forcing herself with all her will power, every inch
of her body trembling, she reached out for the oil but in the middle of
the slow action suddenly speeded up and grabbed the bowl of water in
both hands, flinging its contents straight into Martin's face. As he
lifted his hands to his eyes she grabbed the knife from his lap, lost a
mind-numbing half second pulling it from its sheath, and, with all the
weight of her body behind the blow, plunged it hilt-deep into his
Letting out a stifled scream of horror at what she had done she
stumbled back against the writing-desk and used it to pull herself to
Martin opened his eyes and, incredibly, he seemed to smile at her. When
he spoke it was with perfect clarity and calmness. "The angels, Mary.
Can't you hear the angels?" His smile broadened. "To you oh God I
commend my soul!" With these words a thin dark rivulet of blood oozed
from the corner of his mouth and started to run down his chin. His face
seemed to glaze over, fixed in its blissful grin, and he slumped back
on to the bed.
Eyes wide with terror Lexie backed towards the door. There was a
strange ringing in her ears and the room seemed unnaturally bright as
though her eyes were letting in too much light. Martin's body twitched
once, blood overflowing grotesquely from his mouth, then the flow
stopped and he became totally still.
Through the ringing in her ears and the pounding of her own heart, far
away but distinct, Lexie became aware of a choir of sweet young voices
softly intoning harmonies more beautiful that she could ever have