Carol looked up at the apartment block, still wondering why she was here. It wasn’t a part of the city that she was familiar with. Straight and clean, light spilling from its windows, the building and its fellows thrust up into the night. The young woman knew that she could never afford to live somewhere this upmarket, not even with what Stephanie made, let alone on her police salary.
Her undercover work had never taken her anywhere like this. Not before now. Unless you counted her visits to Patrick’s mansion. But that was almost as far above the apartments housed in these buildings as they were compared to where she and Janice lived. A place like Patrick’s was forever out of her reach. This was somewhere she could almost imagine living. Which made it worse, in a way. Close enough to hope, far enough to be impossible. Still, feeling a bit of jealousy was far from the worst thing she’d suffered being undercover. Nobody ever said it was a cushy job.
If I am undercover, that is. Carol would have to still be a policewoman for that to be true. Her status was debatable at best and she really didn’t want to think about it too much. Too many difficult questions there and too few answers. Whatever she was, this wasn’t where she’d expected to find herself. Her life, all the fractured pieces of it, kept her in the darker parts of the city. Where lives disintegrated amongst rotting buildings. She spent her time rubbing shoulders with people struggling to get along, the poor, the desperate, the lonely. Fitting in with the ones who preyed on them, drug dealers, thieves, con-men and small time mobsters. And everything that clung like a barnacle to the underside of society. Like whores and strippers. Like me, the brunette thought glumly.
It may not have been Patrick’s level of wealth, but it took real money to live somewhere like these apartment blocks. Senior partners in law firms, high flying doctors, rich executives, their coiffed and pampered wives and over-indulged children. That’s who Carol could imagine living there. Not with the money to own a mansion but rich enough to pretend that they were part of society. Think that maybe someday they’d get their picture in the gossip pages. And persuade themselves that something like that mattered.
Of course, there were other ways to get the money to afford this address. Being a successful brothel owner for one. That still didn’t explain why Mrs Bowen had summoned Carol here. If the madam wanted to talk to her then the room at the brothel that was part office, part favourite aunt’s sitting room, would serve just as well. It always had in the past. It didn’t matter, Mrs Bowen had told her to come here, and so here she was. Stephanie would never refuse such an invitation and Carol had to admit that she was curious to see where the madam made her home. Did she live here alone or was there (or had there ever been) a Mr Bowen?
Carol realised that she really didn’t know that much about her madam. She could have asked Wainwright to dig up information on the woman, but she’d shied away from that. The police captain had never pressed the point. Maybe it was better that way. If she only knew what Stephanie knew, then she couldn’t slip up and mention something she shouldn’t know. Or maybe if she knew the madam’s history Carol might have to confront things she didn’t want to think about. Now the woman was inviting her into her home. Carol didn’t think that was normal, she’d never heard any of the other girls mentioning coming here. And she doubted it was just the woman being social.
Sometimes the unusual meant your cover was blown. But Carol thought that if the madam had any suspicions that she’d be unlikely to force a confrontation in her own home. Whatever Mrs Bowen wanted, she’d learn soon enough. Shaking her head, the young woman entered the building, her eyes taking a moment to adjust to the bright lights of the lobby.
Looking around, Carol was glad that she’d worn one of her nicer outfits, a red top with a white neck tie and a matching red and white striped skirt. From the address Frank had given her she’d guessed that her destination was an upscale part of town. Even the lobby reeked of wealth, a white on white tile pattern on the floor, modern art hanging on the walls, bright lights illuminating everything. Green patterned lounges that hurt her eyes, no matter how expensive they looked, and the concierge eyeing Carol suspiciously until he found Stephanie’s name in the visitor’s list.
I wonder if her neighbours know where her money comes from? the brunette wondered idly as she rode the elevator to the madam’s floor. She could imagine swank society parties being held in the apartments, women in long dresses and men in expensive suits. Maybe even inviting their eccentric but well-off neighbour. I bet most of them aren’t as clean as they’d like everyone to think. Carol wasn’t sure if the suspicion came from the policewoman or the whore. Both were well aware of the secrets people kept, the crooked deals made behind closed doors.
As the elevator door opened the young woman smoothed the line of her skirt. It was short, but not overly so. Nothing more revealing than the daughters of the people who lived here would wear. Pulling the strap of her matching red purse back up onto her shoulder from where it had started to slip off, Carol headed out of the elevator and went in search of the madam’s apartment.
Straight ahead and left were the directions Frank had given her, so that was where Carol headed, her high heels making no sound in the plush carpet of the hall. She soon found the apartment. After taking a moment to compose herself Carol rang the bell and waited anxiously, hoping she was in the right place.
She didn’t have to wait long before she heard the rustle of a chain being removed and the door was opened. The madam stood there, beaming.
“Come in, dear, come in.” Mrs Bowen ushered Carol inside with a polite wave. The older woman was well dressed, as ever, her hair elegantly styled and permed to flow past her shoulders, her dress a sumptuous cream number that fell past her knees while showing she had curves a woman half her age might envy.
Carol looked around, the awe Stephanie would feel mixing with the caution instilled by her training. The short hallway opened into a large area where a sunken floor was surrounded by lounges. Along the walls gleaming tables and shelves held expensive knick-knacks and in the spaces between hung striking pieces of modern art. The floors were polished wood and a baby grand nestled off to one side, two white pillars marking the area reserved for the instrument. A black metal spiral staircase led to an upper level and through massive expanses of glass the city’s skyline could be seen, neon flashing in the darkness. The apartment looked like a spread from Better Homes and Gardens, nothing out of place.
“Breathtaking, isn’t it?” Mrs. Bowen beamed as she indicated the view. Carol could only agree, though she wondered if the madam had a place this far up just to look out of her windows. Maybe it was to try to get above the stink of the streets, both the real and the metaphorical smell of what they both knew went on down there.
“Would you like a coffee or something?” the madam asked, disappearing into a well-appointed kitchen.
“Umm, coffee would be fine, thanks,” Carol called. She looked around, uncertain of what she should do. The madam was treating her like a friend who’d dropped by unexpectedly, not an employee. And the place wasn’t what she’d expected. From the madam’s office she’d imagined something more traditional. This place was so modern she could almost smell the plastic wrapping. She realised that everything Mrs Bowen did was for effect, the studied homey feeling of the madam’s room at the brothel something designed to put her girls at ease. The madam had to know that Carol would understand the difference. So why let her in on the secret?
“Just a have a seat then and I’ll fix you up. Milk? Sugar?” Bowen called from the kitchen.
Carol wasn’t sure what the madam was up to. She couldn’t believe that she’d been summoned here just to drink coffee and chat. Nothing was giving her any clues, so she decided to play along. “Milk, please, no sugar.”
“Good idea dear,” the madam called back, “have to watch the figure.”
Carol sank into one of the white leather lounges, let her purse slip off her arm. Soon the madam returned, carrying two steaming cups on a white tray. Carol could smell the coffee before the older woman was halfway to her, the aroma almost pulling her out of her seat. This wasn’t some instant sludge pretending to be drinkable. Whatever the madam was giving her was real, Columbian, Ethiopian, who knew? Carol wasn’t a connoisseur, she couldn’t afford to be. She drank caffeine to keep herself awake, like any other cop. But this was something special, fruity and bitter at the same time, black and sweet as sin.
The madam sat across from her on another lounge, one leg crossed over the other, the raised foot displaying a shoe that matched the elegance of their surrounds. Carol waited as her host lifted her coffee and took a sip. The woman smiled at her guest across the top of the cup.
“So, how are you Stephanie?” the madam asked, her voice at least sounding sincere.
Carol couldn’t believe the older woman really wanted an honest answer, not after what she’d had her do a couple of nights before. But Stephanie wouldn’t complain. Stephanie would tell her madam what she thought the woman would want to hear.
“Um, fine?” Carol replied, mimicking the madam’s actions in sipping her coffee. Oh my god this is good. She might have ruined me for instant. Just another thing to add to the list.
“Really dear?” the madam asked, “I know the other night was a bit of a struggle for you. But it was for your own good.”
My own good? Rebellion pushed at Carol. Making me strip was for my own good? But the thought died away. She knew that Stephanie wouldn’t see it that way. The girl would accept her madam’s explanation, that it was all about making her a better whore. And really, it did, didn’t it? another voice asked. It wasn’t the policewoman or the whore, not the one she was used to, anyway. The question came from her image of Stephanie, the girl eager to please her madam.
“Yeah, well, it wasn’t easy, but I get it, I really do.” The answer rolled off Carol’s tongue. She did get it, both what the madam wanted Stephanie to learn and how well the madam had manipulated her.
“Good, good,” the older woman beamed at her, “and you’re still enjoying your work?”
Carol relaxed. That one was easy. Of course she was.
I want to be a prostitute.
I’m happy to be a prostitute.
I love being paid for sex.
The words ran around her head as they always did, never far away. Sometimes Carol wasn’t sure whether they were the same words Copeland had taught her or if her mind came up with its own variations. It didn’t matter, they were there, part of her, and she had to accept that.
“Yes, yes I do,” Carol smiled happily back at her madam.
Mrs Bowen nodded and smiled at her. “I’m glad. You’re a quick learner, aren’t you?”
Carol just shrugged, trying to ignore the part of her that wanted to bask in the praise. She didn’t entirely succeed.
“Which means I’m sure you’ve guessed I didn’t ask you here just for a little chat. There’s something I want your help with.” The situation was surreal, the madam’s voice so normal, so polite she might have been wanting to ask for Carol’s help with the flowers for the next church social. Carol knew it wouldn’t be anything innocent at all and the idea of the madam wanting her help had her eyebrows rising in surprise.
Mrs Bowen took another sip from her coffee before lowering it to the saucer she’d placed on the table that lay between the two women. “But first there’s Conti. He’s not the easiest to deal with, but I’m sure you can handle him. He’s a greedy little bastard, just remember that the idea is supposed to be for us all to get more money out of Patrick, not let that slimy Italian get everything.”
“Umm, are you sure you don’t want go instead?” Carol offered. She didn’t want the madam to say yes, but she didn’t want to appear too eager. If the madam became suspicious everything might unravel.
Mrs Bowen laughed, a soft, gentle sound, “We’ve been over this dear. I could, but you’re the one that knows those two girls, Mandy and Tabitha. There’s no way Conti would let me anywhere near them. We’re more likely to get them than to get Patrick to actually pay us more. To be honest I don’t expect Conti to let them go or Patrick to agree.”
“Sorry?” Carol was perplexed. If Mrs Bowen didn’t think anything was going to come of this, she didn’t understand why the madam was bothering.
The madam considered the question for a moment, a serious look on her face. “I want to see how you handle yourself.”
“Um, why?” Carol asked.
The madam looked straight at Carol. “I know I’ve mentioned this to you before, Stephanie, but I see a lot of promise in you. You’re a smart girl, talented. You could a long way.”
“Thanks,” Carol replied uncertainly. “I think.”
“Oh, come on dear. I know you’re no idiot, you don’t have to pretend for me,” the madam frowned. “Save it for your johns.”
“Sorry,” Carol shrugged apologetically. She wasn’t sure what the madam was hinting at, but she was curious. Whatever the madam wanted she’d probably get to it soon enough. All Carol had to do was listen, something both undercover cops and whores are good at.
“Oh, don’t be sorry. I get it. Too many men want a dumb woman. But that only gets you so far. Do you think being stupid got me this?” The madam punctuated her question by sweeping her arm to indicate their surroundings.
“No, I suppose not,” Carol acknowledged thoughtfully. Of course she knew how the madam had gathered her wealth, but she had to answer as Stephanie, who would still be a bit naïve despite everything.
“Would you like something like this someday?” Mrs Bowen asked.
“Sure, who wouldn’t?” Not that Carol would ever be able to afford a place like this on a policewoman’s salary, but she could dream.
Carol could see the look of satisfaction in the madam’s expression. “Well then,” the older woman smiled, “you just remember that. Now back to Conti. One more time, just so we’re sure.”
The madam had made Carol go over everything, just a couple of nights ago, in Mrs Bowen’s room in the brothel. All the figures she’d need to convince Conti, all the arguments. Where to start the negotiation and just how much she was allowed to give. Carol had felt that the madam was testing her, had been tempted to play dumb. But she hadn’t, the risk that the madam might think she wasn’t up to the task too great. Carol knew that she had to get into Conti’s brothel. She didn’t trust Wainwright’s plan enough to just stand back and let the raid happen.
So she recited it all back to her madam. Mrs. Bowen seemed just as pleased now as she had the other night, any insights Carol offered nothing she wouldn’t have known anyway, but satisfying the older woman just the same.
“Good,” Mrs. Bowen declared at last. “Don’t forget any of it. That toad won’t take you seriously if you don’t have the details right.”
Carol heaved a sigh of relief, the end that much closer. The end of what though? she couldn’t help but think.
“Do a good job here Stephanie and I might just teach you some more,” the madam added.
Carol frowned in confusion, “More?” She thought she knew everything she needed for the meeting with Conti. And learning more after it wouldn’t help with the meeting.
“Oh yes dear,” the madam breezed over Carol’s hesitation. “About the business. You won’t get this lying on your back.” Again her hand swept around, indicating the apartment
Carol’s mouth was hanging open in surprise. She knew what the older woman was offering. She wants to teach me to run it. I can’t, I couldn’t, that’s not what ….
Mrs Bowen didn’t wait for any acknowledgement from Carol. “But it’s not all numbers of course, you need to know how to deal with the girls. But I’m sure you know that.”
Carol looked away. After the other night? How could I not know? The young woman pushed down the anger she felt. She couldn’t afford to let it show. She made herself look back at the madam. “Umm, right.”
The madam pushed up one cream sleave on her dress to check a jewel-studded watch. She gave Carol a sly look. “Good, we still have a few minutes.”
“A few minutes?” Carol asked, her frown returning.
“Yes, dear,” the madam replied, breezily. “Before Brenda gets here.”
“Brenda?” Carol was sure that she was missing half the conversation.
The madam leant back in her lounge, relaxing, no more concerned than if she’d been sharing some trivial piece of gossip. “Yes, Brenda. Nice girl. Very pretty. Lives two floors down with her parents. Always a bit short of money though. Likes to shop a lot. So, of course, I offered to help her. She’s almost ready to come work for me. But I think talking to someone a little closer to her age might be what’s needed to just, hmm, get her over the line.”
Carol’s breath caught in her throat. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The madam wanted her to help recruit another girl for the brothel. The young woman was certain that her eyes must be larger than the saucer on which she’d very carefully, with hands that she couldn’t stop trembling, placed her coffee cup. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t be responsible for dragging another girl into the hell she was in. That she was trying to get Karen and Laura out of. It wasn’t what she wanted, it wasn’t even what the words in her head made her want. But if she said no she’d be risking the madam’s anger. And the two missing girls couldn’t afford that.
Carol tried to form a rational sentence, but that needed coherent thought. All she could manage was “I, no.”
“What was that, dear?” the madam asked, all fake confusion. “That’s not your conscience is it? Trust me, Brenda’s already made her decision, even if she doesn’t realise it. She just needs a little push. And if you want to get ahead in this business, you need to toughen up. I know you can do it.” She smiled at Carol, like a parent reassuring a child before some school test.
Carol barely noticed, pain flashing behind her eyes. Her head was being pulled in six different directions. There were too many people inside it, they couldn’t all keep fitting in there. The whore, the policewoman, whatever was left of herself. Stephanie, Mrs Bowen, Colin Patrick. They were all in there, all trying to control her. And underneath it all, the words that Copeland had burnt into her mind.
Carol couldn’t hear herself think. Her pulse thudded in her ears, faster and faster. The crowd in her head were all shouting at her. She wanted to claw at her temples, maybe that would help with the pain. First one voice, than another, rose above the din. Mrs Bowen wanted her to do this.
She’s the madam. She says what goes.
I can’t do this.
But Stephanie could. Stephanie would do what her madam asked. But then the image of Patrick rose, grim and demanding. He wouldn’t care about Brenda, he didn’t know the girl, would probably laugh at some rich girl ending up a whore. But Carol knew the mobster wouldn’t want her under Mrs Bowen’s thumb any more than she already was. It wouldn’t matter what Carol wanted. Patrick just wanted her for himself. The whore that wore her face, used her name, was urging her to do it. Whoring was what she wanted, it felt so good, wouldn’t any other woman feel the same? Carol knew that logic was as cracked as her own mind. But the words pressed in on her. Even the policewoman was urging her to play along, anything to close the case.
Carol didn’t know what she wanted, didn’t even know if there was any space for her amongst all the other voices in her head. Maybe she should just play along. That’s what you did in undercover. Participate in the little crimes to stop the large ones. Sell drugs to junkies to catch the bigtime dealers. Help steal a car to catch the bank robbers in the act. If this girl, Brenda, had already decided to be a whore, then Carol wouldn’t be making any difference. Some spark of conscience wasn’t happy with that, but Carol squashed it. Whores and undercover cops, neither could afford to get sentimental.
Sometimes she wished that she was Stephanie. Her cover’s life was so much simpler than hers. Mrs Bowen and Patrick were pulling at the girl, both of them had their own ideas about what she should do. They weren’t that much at odds though. If she kept whoring she’d keep them both satisfied.
And fill the need that burned within her.
Patrick wasn’t here now. Stephanie would do what her madam wanted, would be happy to follow her lead. Carol couldn’t stop herself shaking, hoped the madam didn’t notice. She knew the trauma Copeland had put the girls through. Even the ones they’d rescued. The damage it had done to Holly, the girl’s uncertain smile seared in her memory, such a contrast to her confident photos. Then there was Judy, who for all Carol knew was still in the asylum, still wanting to whore herself. Carol couldn’t believe that she was even thinking about this. But the whores in her head were telling her to do what the madam wanted, both the grinning one who called herself Carol and the less certain one that was her image of Stephanie. They were merging, their voices becoming one, the image of Stephanie becoming clearer as she took on the confidence of the other whore.
Stephanie would do this.
Her role called to Carol. All she had to do was play her role. Every instinct instilled by her training said to follow what her role would do. “Don’t break cover,” she remembered her instructor drilling into her, “Only excuse is if it’s the only way to nail the target. Even if some civilian is in the crosshairs try to defuse the situation while staying in the role.”
No-one’s life was in danger here. Maybe she could talk the girl out of it without making it too obvious to the madam. But Mrs Bowen said she could teach me. Carol could sense Stephanie in her mind, almost alive. It was what Carol was good at, playing her roles, immersing herself in them until she almost became them. Her instructor had warned her class about the dangers of going native, but Carol had never gone that far.
Really? A voice in her head laughed at her. She couldn’t tell if it was her voice or Stephanie’s voice. They were both her. And what do you call spreading your legs every day?
Before the brunette could reply the image in her mind answered the question: Fun.
The madam was waiting for her response, Carol knew that. She didn’t know how long she’d already taken, lost in the maelstrom of her thoughts. The words ran through her head, an undercurrent to every other thought.
I want to be a prostitute.
Being a prostitute means doing what your madam says. The thought struck Carol like a knife, tearing into her guts and twisting. A wound that even if she survived would leave a scar. It wasn’t something Copeland had put in her head, he hadn’t needed to. It wasn’t something she’d realised when she’d leapt, blindly, into this situation. Telling Wainwright that it was what was needed to find the girls, only half-admitting to herself the need that burnt within her. Still burnt, just as bright.
I’m happy being a prostitute. Carol could feel her hands resting on her legs, fingers digging into her thighs. She was as bad as a junkie, she knew that now, wanting her next fix. She’d have to try to deal with that later.
She’s the madam. She says what goes.
I can’t do this, I can’t, not to someone else. Desperation roared through Carol’s mind as she tried to find some alternative, anything to save her from the trap the madam had unwittingly set for her.
Stay in the role.
I can’t do this.
There was an image of herself, mocking her. I want to be a prostitute. The image had a name, Stephanie, the girl laughing at Carol’s agony. That means you can do it.
No, why? I can’t.
Yes you can, our madam says so. You have to do what your madam says. Carol wanted to refuse, wanted to say no. But to stay in her role she knew that she had to do what her madam said. If she didn’t know it already the other night had taught her that.
I love being a prostitute. The need tore through the young woman, as she tried to tell herself that she could control it, could beat it, soon. Anytime she wanted, but not now. The constant refrain of the junkie.
“You with me Stephanie?” The madam’s voice slashed into the fog in Carol’s mind. She had to choose, had to do something. Couldn’t risk her chance to rescue the girls.
Every instinct was telling her to do what her role would do. She could see Stephanie in her mind, the girl wearing Carol’s face, smiling that smile, half innocent, half sin-blasted temptress, that she used on the johns. Stay with the role. Do what Bowen wants. Carol wasn’t sure whose voice that was. They all rolled into one. Her instructor, the policewoman, the whore. It didn’t matter what she wanted, everyone else was telling her what to do. It was too much. It was the only way to the girls.
Carol tried not to think of the cost, to her, to Brenda. The girl’s fate might be at her feet. She wanted to run, but there was nowhere to go, she couldn’t risk angering her madam. Her mind reeled, trying to find some way out. Thoughts chased each other around and around, her mind running in ever tighter circles, smaller and smaller. Walls closed in, light vanished. She couldn’t see, couldn’t hear. Didn’t want to. Carol pushed herself away until she was curled up into a ball, a tiny voice in her own head, a passenger.
The only place to hide was in her role, Stephanie. Carol could feel herself shrinking, the image of the woman she pretended to be looming ever larger. That’s what she did, letting herself sink into the role. Letting it take over. Being it.
You have to.
Carol wasn’t sure whose voice that was. Her’s. Stephanie’s. Someone else’s. It didn’t matter. They were all her thoughts. All her.
I have to.
Carol was so good at playing her role.
“Sure,” she smiled brightly, hoping the madam hadn’t sensed her confusion. “What do you need me to do?” Carol watched the madam, hoping that she’d been convincing, and trying to ignore the feeling that one more thing inside her had just broken.
“Oh, nothing but the truth dear. Tell her how much fun you have.”
I can do that, Carol realised. That was the problem, she could do that so easily. Let Stephanie take over. Do what her role would do. It was the easy way, maybe the only way to cope with what the madam wanted of her. No choice, Carol told herself, hoping that in some way absolved her of any blame.
The doorbell rang and Carol’s breath caught. “You just wait here,” the madam said.
Left by herself Carol stared into space. She could be Stephanie. Her role, nothing but her role, not Carol.
As simple as that.
Soon the madam was back, followed by someone that had to be Brenda. The young woman was twenty, maybe twenty-one, Stephanie guessed. The girl was definitely pretty, maybe even up to the standard of her and Janice and Ellie. Stephanie could tell why the madam wanted the newcomer. Brown hair, a few shades lighter than her own, fell in tight glossy waves past the girl’s shoulders. Stephanie knew that the johns would love Brenda’s body, the short yellow skirt, high waisted but falling barely past mid-thigh, displayed legs that would have them salivating. Her floral blouse was tight and short sleeved, trim waist and cute breasts clearly outlined. Jealousy flared through Stephanie, wondering if the girl might even be prettier than her. She was almost certain that Brenda wasn’t but she could do without the competition. In the back of her mind there was a faint voice, something that hated itself for summing up Brenda like that, just a body to be whored out.
“Brenda, this is Stephanie, Stephanie, Brenda.” Stephanie could see the other girl smiling, but there were doubts lurking in Brenda’s eyes. She sensed the slight hesitation before Brenda took her hand in response to the madam’s introductions.
Don’t want to touch a whore, hey? Stephanie thought, Let’s see how you feel in a few weeks.
“Hi,” the girl said brightly, the brittleness of her confidence all too obvious.
“Would you like a coffee?” the madam asked.
“Yes, milk and sugar, please,” Brenda responded.
“Brenda,” the madam gently admonished.
“Oh, right, just milk,” the girl replied, abashed.
She has almost got you already, hasn’t she? Stephanie thought with a smirk.
“That’s it dear. You two girls get acquainted while I get it,” the madam instructed as she headed to the kitchen, the way she placed one foot in front of the other making Stephanie think of a cat-walk model’s stride. She’d have to get the madam to teach her how to walk like that.
Her eyes slid back to other girl, saw the nervousness behind the bright smile. She needed to win the girl’s trust. “So you live here?”
Brenda swallowed before answering, “Yes, two floors down.”
“Your place like this one?” Stephanie asked. The answer didn’t matter, for now she just had to get the girl talking.
“Yeah,” Brenda replied, looking around. “A bit bigger to be honest, but Mary has better stuff.”
Mary, the thought came dimly from the recesses of Stephanie’s mind, She actually has a first name. The whore swotted the voice away.
Stephanie could see the other girl looking around. Not in surprise. Brenda gave the impression of having been here before.
Of course, that’s why we’re here, the brunette thought. Somewhere she’s comfortable, somewhere familiar. The apartment would be more likely to put Brenda at ease than Mrs Bowen’s room at the brothel would.
“Do you go to college?” Stephanie asked.
Brenda shrugged, “Liberal arts, for all that’s worth. You?”
“Used to,” Stephanie replied. “Sociology.” Then she frowned and shook her head. She was a college dropout, but she knew that she had a degree, in that other name. The one she really didn’t want to think about right now. It was so important to stay in her role.
Brenda gnawed her lip, glanced away before looking back at Stephanie, “So now you, you know, full time?”
That voice in her head was back again, so faint, yelling as if from a great distance. Yes I’m a full time prostitute, I get fucked every day. Is that what you want to do? Stephanie resolutely ignored the rebellious thought.
Instead she leant back into the lounge she was sitting on, stretched out, luxuriating in the comfort, “Yes, yes I do. Between work and keeping in shape, it takes up a lot of time. But I like it.” No, the voice, her voice, wailed, don’t tell her that.
“So, umm,” the other girl began nervously, “how long you been doing it?”
“A few months now,” Stephanie replied, allowing herself a nonchalant shrug.
“And you, you know, you really like it?” the girl was hesitant, whether from her own nervousness or fear of offending her Stephanie wasn’t sure. Probably both, she thought.
The whore couldn’t stop herself smiling, the memories running through her mind. “Sure, it’s fun. What’s not to like?” She was a prostitute and she loved her work.
Brenda pursed her lips, Stephanie could see her summoning up her courage, “How much do you make?”
Mrs Bowen had said the girl wanted money. Stephanie knew most of the girls were in it for that. Prostitution wouldn’t be prostitution without money changing hands. “Most weeks, eight, nine, hundred, something like that.” Stephanie shrugged, almost not caring. The money let her buy nice things, like the clothes she was now wearing. Stephanie liked those. So she supposed the money did matter to her. Some other part of her didn’t care, just wanted to be fucked for money. Stephanie thought that part of her was an idiot. She was going to take everything she could get, and if she enjoyed what she was doing as well, so much the better. That she was making almost triple what she earnt as a policewoman was an added bonus.
Brenda’s eyes shot wide in surprise, “That much?”
“Yep,” Stephanie replied smiling. Enough to keep even someone like you in accessories. She could see the girl thinking, sensed her interest.
Stephanie let the memories roll over her, let the satisfaction show in her voice, “All that, and I get paid for what most women give away.” She smiled, the thoughts alone enough to spark her arousal.
“Doesn’t it get to you?”
Stephanie held the other girl’s gaze. She was sure Brenda was just looking for an excuse to say yes. “No, why should it? I enjoy it.”
“Oh, ah, I mean, it sounds easy, just, well, lie back and let guys fuck you. But what if you don’t like the guy. I mean, how he looks? He might be old or ugly or ….”
Stephanie wasn’t sure if the girl’s casual profanity was normal for her or if she was trying to act tougher than she was. Regardless she thought she had the girl’s measure. Nervous, naive, but Mrs Bowen was right, the girl was just about ready. A ripe fruit, ready to be plucked. Just wanting a reason to say yes. If she was going to say no, she’d have said it by now. Any good whore knows how to read people, knows what they want. And Stephanie was much more than a good whore. She knew things no whore did. The policewoman was still there, even buried as she was beneath the role.
It was like reading a john, working out what he wanted. There were always options, all you had to do was find the right one. She could play the hardened pro, tell Brenda to tough it out and take the money. The girl obviously wanted the cash. Or overwhelm her, bully her to the point the girl had no choice and no will left to resist. Brenda seemed the type that might break, spoilt and sheltered and too uncertain to put up much of a fight. Stephanie’s instincts were telling her that there was a better way, and she knew to trust her instincts. She could tell that the girl was eager and curious and rebellious enough to want to whore, with just the right persuasion. What it needed was the right person, someone she could appear to be, a party girl that was in it for the fun, painting just the right picture, with just the right words. Someone like that, someone Brenda could relate to, might get the girl to the point she didn’t want to say no.
Stephanie knew how to pretend to be someone else. Any good whore did. But Stephanie had more than that. From her years as a policewoman. That role she’d played before becoming the whore she was always meant to be.
Stephanie was good at playing her roles.
Stephanie smiled, and tossed her head, hair spilling over her shoulders. “Yeah, okay some of them aren’t postcards. But being wanted, it’s such a high. Don’t you want guys looking at you, wanting you? Come on Brenda, you know you do. Think about it, every day, guys, just wanting you. Willing to pay for what you want to do anyway.”
“I don’t know if I can, I’m not,” Brenda protested, a hand wafting feebly in front of her face.
Stephanie didn’t believe a word of it. The girl was protesting just for the sake of it. She jumped from her lounge to the one where Brenda sat, knelt next to the girl. Her pose put her at a height advantage and she leant in, running a finger along the other girl’s collarbone.
“You’re not what? Someone who doesn’t enjoy a good time? Come on, you enjoy a good time as much as the next girl, I can tell. Getting paid for what you want to do? What could be better?” Stephanie leant away, legs coming out from under her, as she slipped in to sit next to Brenda. Then smiled up at Mrs Bowen as the madam returned, carrying a tray with more coffee.
“Men like it when you enjoy yourself,” Mrs Bowen said as she handed the cups around, “And you can have fun. A healthy girl like you Brenda, I’m sure you enjoy it when men pay you attention. Someone as pretty as you must get lots of admirers.”
Stephanie could see the other girl smiling, the madam stroking her pride.
“It’s nice to have all those men wanting you, isn’t it Stephanie?” The whore saw the madam looking at her over the lip of her coffee cup, could read the meaning in the older woman’s eyes.
“Sure,” Stephanie replied. “It’s the best.” Then she added with a sly smile as she glanced at Brenda, “Well, the second best.”
“But it’s not just looking of course,” the madam continued, “I know you’re a girl who doesn’t deny herself Brenda. You know how to enjoy yourself. It’s the 70’s, not the 50’s, so why shouldn’t you? Women can do what they want now. Why not make some money while you’re doing what you really want to do?”
“I,” the girl hesitated.
“Oh come now,” the Mrs Bowen tutted. “You’ve told me often enough about the fun you’ve had with your romps. Imagine doing that as often as you want. Just think of how it felt, remember how good it what was. Think how turned on you were as he looked at you. You could see the desire in his eyes. Wanting you, only you. You smiled, and preened, and knew what was coming. Remember his hands on you, the fire building, slow and sure. You can smell him, taste him, want him. You can feel that desire growing now.”
Stephanie wasn’t sure what the madam’s words were doing to the girl, but she knew what they were doing to her. She could feel warmth starting to flow out from her centre, thick and moist.
The brunette stretched, hands above her head, chin tilted back, pictured a man ready to take her. She let a soft moan escape her lips, “Oh man, I can. I know he wants me. I want it. Party time.” She wished it were true, wanted nothing more than to whore herself. She was all need, an aching emptiness between her legs, her pussy wet and ready. Her eyes were slits, open just enough to watch Brenda. The girl had turned, was staring straight at her, could probably sense what Stephanie wanted. There was a feverish light in Brenda’s eyes. Stephanie knew that the other girl needed it just as much as she did. “You know you want it. He’s ready, you’re ready. He’s big and hard and you need him. You’re so wet and you need it so bad it hurts. You’re shaking, you’ve never been so ready, never wanted it so much.”
Stephanie’s words found their mark, Brenda squirming as she sat on the lounge, her breathing ragged. “I, uh, I,” the girl struggled. “What if someone found out? What if my parents?”
“No-one will,” Stephanie reassured her, not caring if it was truth or lie, “and how much attention do your parents pay to what you do? They wouldn’t notice. It’s their fault anyway. They should have given you what you wanted. But now you can get it for yourself.”
“Yeah, I can,” Brenda whispered, eyes gazing into nothing.
Stephanie leant into the girl’s ear, whispering, “I love it every time I get fucked.” It was the truth, something she shared with that other role, that role that mattered so little to her.
“I?” Brenda started, then swallowed, her question unfinished. Her head was tilting back, eyes closing. Stephanie could see her back arching.
“You will. Sex is sex, you’ve told me how much you enjoy it,” the madam replied, her voice turning low and sensual, matching Stephanie’s. “Your body responds the way it wants to, the way it’s meant to. Let yourself go and soon you’ll find your enjoying it just as much as they are.” Then she turned to Stephanie.
“Isn’t that right Stephanie?” Mrs Bowen asked, eye carefully plucked eyebrow arching.
“Oh yeah,” the brunette chimed in. She’d heard something like that before. Something about motions. Putting yourself through them and then the emotions coming. She didn’t care. She could see the Brenda’s fingers stretching, straining for something to touch.
“But, but, I’ll be a whore.” Stephanie could tell that Brenda’s heart wasn’t in her protests. Her body was putting the lie to her words, need flowing off her in waves.
“Yeah? So? I am and I love it.” Stephanie leant back towards the girl, brushed Brenda’s cheeks before running a delicate finger over the girl’s lips. “You want it, I can tell. Some guy, any guy, just to make you feel so damn good, paying you for it. You want it. You need it.”
“You just have to let yourself go Brenda,” the madam’s voice came, smooth as silk, promising everything the night held. “Let yourself do what your body wants. Let it have the pleasure it can give you.”
Brenda’s eyes shot wide, she was staring at Stephanie. “It’s, it’s that good?” the younger woman asked, hope and fear mixing in her voice.
Memories were running through Stephanie’s head. All the men she’d fucked, how she’d cum with each one. She felt as if she could cum now. “Yes,” she agreed, breathlessly. “Yes it is. I love it. I love whoring. So will you. You know you want it. Tell me you do.”
“I,” Brenda began then stopped.
“Tell me!” Stephanie shouted, Brenda jumping as if she’d been slapped.
The younger woman’s eyes were fixed on the brunette. “I want, I want it.”
Stephanie smiled, she could feel the girl wrapped around her fingers, Brenda’s resolve washing away.
“Tell me how much you need it,” the whore whispered. She knew what she needed to say. Didn’t care where it came from. Her madam wanted her to do this and that was all that mattered.
Stephanie reached out, cupped Brenda’s face in her hands, thumbs gently stroking the other girl’s cheeks.
“I need it,” Brenda was staring up at her. Her cheeks were flushed, mouth slightly open. Beneath that oh-so-expensive top her chest was heaving.
“You need a man to fuck you.”
“I need it,” the girl repeated.
“You’ll whore, you want to whore. You want to get paid for sex.” Stephanie held the other girl’s eyes, could see the barriers falling deep within.
“I’ll whore,” Brenda licked her lips, “I want to.”
Stephanie couldn’t resist, didn’t want to, “You want to be a prostitute.”
“I want to be a prostitute,” Brenda chorused, lost in the sensations flowing through her.
“You’ll love being a prostitute.”
“I’ll love being a prostitute.”
That voice was back, shouting and screaming somewhere in the recesses of Stephanie’s mind, telling her not to do this, that she couldn’t do this. She had no time for the voice, it didn’t matter. She loved what she did, why not share it?
“That’s my girls,” the madam’s voice all apple pie and summer’s warmth. “Let’s get going.”
“What? Where?” Brenda managed.
“Why, off to get you what want, of course,” the madam replied.
“I, no. I don’t,” the girl managed.
“Of course you do,” Stephanie crooned.
All the way down the lift and during the cab ride Stephanie whispered in the other girl’s ear. Pouring words into her head, words of encouragement, reassurance, enticement. She told Brenda how much fun it would, how much she’d love it, how much she needed it. How it would be better than anything she’d ever felt before. How much money she’d make. The girl lapping up everything she said. Stephanie stroked Brenda’s arm, her thigh, her cheek. Nothing too intimate. Just enough to stoke the fire she knew was burning beneath the girl’s skin. And with it all, woven amongst the bright temptations, Copeland’s words, seeping out like oil as the voice in Stephanie’s head wailed in despair.
At the brothel, Stephanie let Brenda go, the girl’s eyes burning brightly, into the arms of her first john.
“Hmm, dear,” the madam pondered after Brenda was safely on her way. “Not exactly the method I’d have chosen.”
“I didn’t hear you objecting,” Stephanie teased.
“Why would I?” the madam parried. “It was working and that was all I wanted.”
Stephanie pushed herself off the wall against which she’d been leaning, unfolded her arms. She could see the faint smile on Mrs Bowen’s lips as the older woman sat on one of the lounges in her rooms, feet tucked under her. She could tell that the madam was pleased with her.
“Do you need me for anything else?”
“No dear,” the madam replied. “You did well. Better than I expected. Although that approach won’t work with every girl. You still have some things to learn.”
Stephanie heard the warning in the madam’s voice. She knew she shouldn’t get ahead of yourself. “I know,” she acknowledged. “Still want to teach me?” Stephanie loved to whore herself out, but she could see the chance of other ambitions as well.
“Of course I do, dear,” the madam smiled warmly. “As I said, I see a lot of promise in you. But for now I’m sure you have things to do.”
Like whoring, the brunette thought happily, “Yeah, I do.” Then she added, “Think Brenda will work out?”
“Oh yes, she will.” There were no doubts in the madam’s words.
Stephanie turned and left the madam’s room, intending to go straight to her own to ready herself for her night’s work. Instead she found herself heading outside, the brothel suddenly cloying and stuffy.
“Just need a breath of fresh air,” she muttered.
For a moment Stephanie felt better, in the cool of the night, a couple of stars just visible through the haze of the city’s lights. She could see a future ahead of her, one with lots of whoring and learning to be a madam, running other girls. A thin smile broke over her face as she rolled the idea in her mind, feeling the appeal. Then a bolt of white-hot light lanced through her head. She doubled over, eyes screwed shut against the pain.
“Oh fuck, oh god.” It was agony, worse than anything she’d ever felt. An unbearable pressure was pounding at her skull. Desperately her hands went to her face, pressing back, but it didn’t help. Her eyes were going to pop out, her head explode.
Carol was on her hands and knees, retching up her dinner into the gutter. Her throat was on fire, her insides were trying to escape and her head felt like she had slammed a dozen tequila shots. She could smell her own vomit, the stench overpowering the rancid smells of the alleyway. She heard a groan and realised the sound was coming from her.
Awareness crept back, followed by memory as Carol spewed up the bile that was only thing left in her stomach. Her breath was coming in great heaving gasps, the bitter liquid burning as it spilt from her lips. Tears coursed down her face, waves of helplessness and despair threatening to overwhelm her.
She couldn’t believe what she’d done. What Stephanie had done. But Stephanie was her and she was Stephanie. Stephanie was just a role Carol had played. All too well. Carol remembered everything, every word Stephanie had said to Brenda, all the poison she’d poured into the other girl. Remembered how Stephanie had enjoyed it, how she’d enjoyed it, the perverse pleasure of corrupting Brenda. Just as when she’d played the role of Stephanie she’d remembered everything. Had used her memories of what Copeland had done to her to bend and twist Brenda.
“Oh God, no, anything but that, please no.” Carol’s voice was a ragged moan, the guilt threatening to drown her. She should have known better but her conscience had just been this little voice that Stephanie, she, had simply ignored.
Carol staggered to her feet, wondering what she should do. She didn’t think she could live with herself. What she did with her life, that was her problem. But what she’d done to Brenda was unforgiveable. Hiding behind her role was something she did all the time, but that some part of her was willing to do to another girl what Copeland had done to her? To enjoy it, to revel in it? The thought was unbearable. Carol had known she was broken, but that she was damaged enough to sink that far into her role, become that role, someone that twisted and depraved, left Carol shaking. No matter how good she was at playing her roles she’d never let them take over like that. She’d almost thought she was Stephanie, Carol just a shadow whose skills and memories she could plunder.
It hadn’t even been the way she thought of Stephanie. Her image of the girl was naive and friendly and a little uncertain. Eager to please her madam, but not like that. Not the depraved monster that had just ruined another girl’s life. Carol put her head in hands as she wept.
She’s me, that was me. How could I do that?
All Carol could hope was that maybe it wasn’t too late, maybe she could still talk Brenda out of it. She couldn’t have been out here too long, and even though Brenda had left with her john before she’d gone outside they might still be getting started, might not have…
Pulling herself together, Carol staggered back into the brothel, as she told herself there was still time. There had to be. She ignored Ellie’s bewildered stare as she headed for a bathroom. If she was going to persuade Brenda she had to be at least vaguely presentable.
Carol stared at herself in the mirror. Her makeup was a ruin and her hair was a tangled mess. The only saving grace was that she must have fallen to the ground before she started throwing up and that had spared her clothes. She rinsed her mouth out for what she thought was the tenth time and hoped it would be enough to make her breath at least be tolerable. She knew couldn’t delay any longer, she had to find Brenda.
Which turned out to be far easier than she’d hoped it would be. The girl was heading down the stairs towards her as Carol exited the bathroom.
“Hi,” the younger woman called brightly, then frowned. “You okay Stephanie? You look like a truck hit you.”
“I’m fine,” Carol insisted, “but I thought, you, …” She didn’t know why the girl was here. Maybe she’d come to her senses and thought better of it.
“Yes, Mary, umm, Mrs Bowen said I should come see her after. I wasn’t too quick was I? She said half an hour was long enough….” The girl looked around uncertainly.
After? Half an hour? Carol’s head was spinning. She could remember heading outside, wanting some fresh hair, then coming back to herself on her hands and knees. She’d thought there was only moments between the two, but she must have blacked out for far longer than she’d realised. Long enough for Brenda to turn from a wannabe into a prostitute. While Carol’s mind had been at war with itself Brenda had been getting fucked. For money. Carol hated the twinge of jealousy that she felt.
No, no, no! Maybe it still wasn’t too late. “Are you okay?” Carol asked. “If you need to go, I’m sure she won’t mind.” If Brenda went home, alone, maybe she’d think again, change her mind.
As if you haven’t changed her mind enough already, an innocent-sounding voice in her head mocked. Carol could see Stephanie smirking at her, an all-too-pleased look in her eyes.
It wasn’t me, Carol insisted, hating the whiny sound of her thought.
Was too, the girl laughed, and blew her a kiss. I am you.
All the guilt in the world wouldn’t change that.
Carol realised that Brenda was talking to her. “Heh, no, I’m fine. I’m in this for the money, so the more the merrier, right?”
“I suppose,” Carol replied doubtfully. At least if that was Brenda’s reason, it wasn’t something Carol had put in her head.
“So, umm,” Brenda began then gnawed her lip.
“Something wrong?” Carol asked, trying not to sound hopeful.
“Well, I was wondering, umm, how many a night might there be, you know, guys?”
“Five or six, if you’re lucky.” Carol didn’t see any reason to lie to the girl. The truth might put her off. Then she kicked herself as she saw the girl smile.
“Oo… nice, five times… That’d be…. Oh, cool,”
“You need the money that bad?” Carol asked, incredulous. She couldn’t believe that of someone who lived in the building Brenda shared with Mrs Bowen. The conversation was veering out of her control. She’d wanted to talk Brenda out of whoring but all she’d achieved was to reinforce the girl’s reasons for prostituting herself.
“I like to buy things, you know,” the girl shrugged. “And my parents were getting pissy about the bills.”
Carol swallowed, tried to calm herself. She’d didn’t think she’d be able to talk the girl out of what she was doing right now. If Brenda was in it for the money, and Carol knew that most of the girls were, then it wasn’t Carol’s fault. Mrs Bowen had said the Brenda wanted the money, was almost ready to whore for it. She probably would have even if Carol hadn’t said a word.
You just keep telling yourself that, girl, a thought in her head quipped.
Carol so wanted to believe that Stephanie wasn’t her. Even as she knew it for a lie.
“Oh, well, if you want to talk or anything, just come find me.” Maybe over time she could persuade Brenda to change her mind, whatever the girl’s reasons for being here were.
“Thanks,” the girl smiled. “And thanks for, you know, being there tonight.”
“Don’t mention it.” Please, don’t mention it.
“I would have done it anyway, you know, I think,” Brenda blurted out, “I’d already sort of made up my mind.” Carol relaxed, Brenda’s words soothing her conscience, “But after what you said, I think it’s better, the money’s going to be good, but I…,”
The girl’s features softened before she continued. “I think if I ever get worried I’ll just tell myself what you said. ‘I want to be prostitute’, like one of those mantra things. Maybe like a sexy bit of meditation,” her words trailing off into a giggle.
Carol couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. The girl’s words echoed in her head.
I want to be a prostitute.
She couldn’t stop herself picturing Brenda, the girl in bell-bottom jeans and tie-died top, like a devotee at an ashram, eyes closed as she held a lotus pose. And reciting Copeland’s words, over and over.
I want to be a prostitute.
I love being a prostitute.
No! Carol wailed. Not that, not her too.
Carol watched the girl’s retreating back as Brenda headed for the madam’s room. It was what she’d feared and she hadn’t been able to do anything about it. Brenda might have been looking for easy money, hell, might even have been looking for a way to rebel against her parents, but Carol, or Stephanie, had used it, twisted it. Had poured Copeland’s words into her head. She didn’t know what to do, didn’t know how to fix it.
So what? she asked herself, calmly examining her nails, her role as Stephanie so easy to slip into. Brenda wanted to whore, she’s a whore. Not my problem. Remember the training. Play the role. She made her choice.
The coldness of the girl’s words, her own words, grated across Carol’s mind, but she knew the truth of them. In undercover work, if someone wanted to commit a crime, it wasn’t your place to tell them not to. Maybe if they asked your advice, but even then. And Brenda hadn’t asked.
Carol needed something to distract her from the turmoil in her mind, to make her feel better. She knew how to do that, something she and Stephanie could agree on.
Find some man willing to pay to fuck her.