A COMIC/SERIOUS IMMORALITY TALE FOR OUR TIMES (a fantasy if it’s your sort of scene)
The story starts in London a little over two years ago, beginning in March 2017, when Britain was – albeit unaware of the fact – heading towards a General Election. Miss Lulu is a dominatrix with a sharp mind and sharp heels, full of intellectual curiosity and sexual know-how. She meets Rory Smith, a journalist, in a hotel bar in Soho and their relationship begins over a conversation about politics, morals and the world in general. There’s a bit of bondage and a lot of badinage, some sex-related villainy and a nascent love story. It also reflects contemporary politics – Trump, May, Brexit et al. Put another way, this is the story of a strong woman with a stable of admirers. Among these is a young woman called Summer, a person in whom Lulu can see something of her former self and with whom she strikes up an unusual friendship. Love is a Battlefield is an acerbic take on the cocktail that is modern Britain. It’s zeitgeist on the rocks.
LONDON JUNE 2017
Thursday afternoon found Lulu having a drink with Summer; not coffee this time but a glass of rosé at the Lighterman bar near King’s Cross. She really was getting too fond of this girl! As always, given that let-down with the angry client, the drinks were on her. And it was a gorgeous afternoon to be sat out overlooking the canal.
“So, Lulu, the idea was that you’d get £2,500 just to stand around feeding him amyl nitrite? That was all?”
“Yes. That was all. He knew that. Mind you, he was so out of it that even with the poppers he’d have fallen asleep before he’d got a hard-on.”
Summer chuckled. “And you didn’t even have to do that, little as it was. How amazing for you!”
Lulu chuckled back. “Yes, so you know what this makes me, don’t you?”
“A low-level drug dealer?”
“That as well. But more importantly I’m the most expensive courier in London.”
They both laughed.
“A guy turned up to meet me the other day with a large holdall,” said Lulu. “He was a new one; not a regular. I’d guess he was about 50. After a great deal of hesitating, he revealed that what he wanted wasn’t me but someone much slimmer – he’d somehow got the wrong impression of my build from my website – whom he could dress up as a bird. By which I mean the flying sort – not a woman. He’d made a headdress of feathers for him and her. He showed me; very impressive, if that’s your thing. And he had bird-like mannerisms; the way he walked and moved his arms. Anyhow, I said I’d see what I could do and made to show him out the door, obviously having no intention of doing anything further about it. He said he wanted to show me something else. He reached into his bag and pulled out a large egg – a fake one, made of enamel or something.” She laughed. “Definitely faux rather than Fabergé. I asked what it was for. You’ll never guess what he said?”
“You’re right. I won’t. I have no clue.”
“That it was for his mate, when he eventually met her. So that she could lay it.”
Summer exploded with laughter. “What a nutter! He intends getting laid by doing that?”
“Well, I suppose either that or by getting her to dress up like some female version of Hiawatha.”
They each took another sip of wine.
“Are you going to vote in the election?” Summer asked.
“Definitely. I’m just not sure which party I’ll be voting for.”
“Even at this late stage?”
“Yes, even at this stage.”
“There was a debate on TV last night, wasn’t there?”
“There was, with the party leaders but not the Prime Minister.”
“That sounds a bit stupid.”
“I’m beginning to think she might be. Making out she’s too busy sorting out Brexit to appear in a TV debate? For starters, she might not be in the job to sort out Brexit after next week, and explaining your views to the public is, I’d have thought, quite important in a democracy. She calls the election and then can’t be bothered to talk to the electorate. Anyhow,” she gave exasperated shrug, “a month ago I was going to be voting Conservative. Maybe not any longer.” She paused. “And you?”
“I don’t think it much matters. Apparently where I live Labour would win even if they put up a poodle as the candidate.”
Lulu grinned. “What? You mean Tony Blair?”
Summer grinned uncertainly and they each drank a little more wine.
“You’ll like this,” said Summer. “I heard the other day about a girl who did nearly as well as you did the other night on the money front. Her advertised rate is £400 an hour but she could tell that for the guy she was talking to, some fancy foreigner, money was no issue. So she played hard to get. Said she had a booking with a regular client she couldn’t let down. She got him up to £1200 for the evening. He gave her the dosh when she got to the restaurant and after they’d eaten she figured they’d be going to his hotel. Instead he just disappeared. That was that.”
“Why would he do that?”
“According to Fiona, my friend who knows her, it was probably because she’d spent all evening banging on about how many footballers she’d banged.”
“What, she uses that as a tactic?”
Lulu grinned. “Hey, and apparently it works! And how is Fiona?”
“Not so great. She met this guy she really liked, which is nice enough, but now she’s trying to change him from being her boyfriend into being a client.”
“Good luck with that.”
“I know. I’ve told her she’s never going to turn that around.”
Lulu looked at her watch.
“Sorry, Summer. I must fly.”
“Like that weird new client of yours?”
“Haha. Anyhow, keep in touch. See you soon.”
Lulu was at home, indulging in a fairly lethargic early afternoon. One of her mobiles went off.
“Yes. I know it’s you.”
“Look, we agreed this before. You did it on Tuesday. Today’s only Friday. So, no, you can’t. Go and watch Sky Sports or something.”
She ended the call. She had a booking with a ‘cissy maid’ – the guy was built like a front-row forward – in 20 minutes time and she needed to make a mess of things around the house so he could tidy up.
Her door bell rang. Odd – he was never early. She walked over to the intercom and picked it up.
“Hello,” said a male voice, hesitantly. “It’s Rory. [A pause] Rory Smith.”
She hesitated, too. “OK, I’ll come down.”
She went downstairs and opened the door. He looked edgy. She felt uncertain.
“I suppose if this was a movie, Rory,” she said, “at this point I’d say you’d better come in. But it’s not a movie and I really think it would be better if you didn’t.”
“Please, if only for five minutes?”
She was torn. “I don’t think so. [A pause] Not here, anyway. [Another pause] But I tell you what. Give me an hour, OK?”
He nodded, the gratitude palpable.
“There’s a pub, a nice one, quite quaint, just up the road. Out of here and turn right. It’s two minutes walk. The Nag’s Head. [She grinned] How appropriate, hey? Anyhow, I’ll see you there in an hour. OK? It’s on two levels. I’ll find you on one of them.”
“Yes. Of course. But you will come, won’t you?”
She smiled, almost warmly. “Yes, of course. You know punctuality is one of my things. [A brief pause] No, I know what you mean. And I will be there for sure in one hour.”
She found Rory in the lower half of the pub.
“No TV in here,” he said, attempting to be cheerful. “I’d have to pick somewhere else to watch the Derby tomorrow then.”
“Not only that. Didn’t you see the sign – No Mobile Phones!”
“No. Where’s that?”
“It’s above the bar. The landlord has a thing about them.”
“You have a thing about them as well.”
“Yes. Well, sort of. Anyhow, he has the opposite kind of thing about them to me.”
“So why do you frequent probably the only pub in London that prohibits them?”
“Hey, a girl needs a break from work now and again. It’s almost liberating.”
“Odd, though, I think,” said Rory, “that he’s so hung-up about that but is happy to employ a barmaid wearing next to nothing except her nose piercings.”
She laughed. “You’re right. But I must tell you, a few weeks ago there was a young Russian couple in here whose English understandably didn’t run to understanding what it meant when he said, rather too loudly, ‘Hey, no dog and bone in here’. We nearly had an international incident.”
There was an awkward silence. She gallantly decided to fill it.
“So how do you see the election going next week?”
He gave a wan smile.
“I see the Conservatives winning. Not a very controversial statement, I know.”
“I think it is. You’d be in trouble with the headmistress if she heard you saying that.”
“The C-word. She doesn’t like to hear that sort of talk.”
“I know, Team Theresa and all that bollocks. In fact I think if, say, Keir Starmer was Labour leader, they might win. But I think Corbyn comes with such baggage that’s alien to mainstream middle-of-the-road Britain – you know, his IRA-supporting past and his anti-nuclear present.”
“But if all those young people who are supposed to have been energised by him turn out to vote, it might be different, don’t you think?”
“It might but, as we saw with the Referendum, they don’t bother to turn out to vote like older people do.”
“That’s true,” conceded Lulu. “Older people do love a good vote, don’t they?”
He smiled again.
“They do. And they’ve had a lot practice lately. If you live in Scotland, this is your fourth bash in four years.”
“But, who knows, May might come unstuck, especially if the young do turn out in a way they didn’t for the Referendum. I don’t necessarily mean she might lose but that she might not increase her majority by much, or not at all, which was the entire point of the exercise so far as she was concerned. If we’re back where we were beforehand, it’s all been pointless. And she has the air of someone who’s sure she’s going to win, and people mostly don’t like that sort of attitude. Many people want to do whatever the establishment tells them they shouldn’t do. It seems to be the prevailing zeitgeist – fuck ’em all.”
“Is that what your next column is going to be about?”
“No, it’s more about the economy than about that. In fact, I have to file it within the next couple of hours so I guess I ought to leave quite soon.”
There was a longer pause in the conversation before she decided the onus was still on her to say something.
“So, about you. About you and me. [A pause] The thing is, Rory, I’m a bit damaged. Too damaged for you. Perhaps for anyone right now. And I’d damage you, too. I may not always like to acknowledge it – in fact, I never do – but the truth is that there are consequences to the life I’ve led. [Another pause] And to the life I’m leading.”
He made to interrupt her but she cut him off.
“No. Just hear me out. But despite what I’ve just said, just admitted to, it is the life I choose to lead, at least for now. If you feel I used you by going to bed with you then yes I did. I apologise if you’re hurt about that but I hope you enjoyed it anyway.”
“Of course I did. I can’t tell you how much. So what went wrong?”
“It’s not that anything went wrong. With me, it’s hard for things to go right. Emotionally, I mean. I understand you probably feel you deserve an explanation and you probably do. No, you definitely do. But I can’t provide one. It’s not that I won’t explain but that I can’t – not even to myself, really. I need time to think about things, about my life. You don’t deserve to get caught in the cross-fire.”
“But surely you can find the time to think about…about things, about your life?”
“I’m not generally rushed off my feet, if that’s what you mean. But I’m not sure a lifetime would be enough time to explain it properly.”
For approaching a second she contemplated telling him about the Raul situation but she knew that would be such a bad idea. She decided to go in a different direction.
“After you and your zeitgeist, here’s another ‘Z’ word. There’s a chess term called zugzwang. It kind of means that every move you make is a wrong one. You must feel that’s your position with me and I am truly sorry about that. [She smiled] Again. But I promise you this. If you still want to, we’ll meet here again in a month’s time.”
He looked totally dejected. “A month?”
“Yes. I think so. Perhaps it’ll be less, let’s see, but whenever it is I promise you that I’ll be here then if that’s what you want.”
“Of course it will be what I want.”
She gave him a gentle smile. “OK, we’ll meet then. [She paused again.] But you need to be careful about what you wish for.”
He managed a small smile in return.
On Monday afternoon, Lulu had been in the West End buying some stuff for her home when she stopped off for a coffee. She switched on her tablet and read too much horrible detail about the London Bridge attacks on Saturday night. The election, now only three days away, almost seemed an irrelevance; the looming Brexit negotiations a foolish fantasy we could not begin to afford. Theresa May had said “enough is enough”. She was talking about the tolerance of extremism – certainly not referring to the number of police officers she had been party to removing from Britain’s streets over the previous seven years – but the truth felt more like it was all too much.
Over the weekend, Lulu had also caught up on some lighter reading. She loved the headline in a German tabloid that had apparently been its response to the American president’s decision last week to withdraw from the Paris climate accord: ‘Earth to Trump: Fuck You’. And she had read Rory’s latest column.
It was less than three months ago, when we had more than once been strongly informed that things were very stable and there was no chance of there being an election this year, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, copped a lot of flak from his own side for announcing proposals to raise national insurance contributions. This reneged on a commitment in the Conservative’s 2015 election manifesto, which had been published 23 months previously. How quaint and old-fashioned that seems now; taking that long to go back on your word. It took Prime Minister Theresa May a mere four days to go back on her pledge not to impose a financial cap on care costs! Say what you like about Ms Strong & Stable, she doesn’t hang around when it comes to changing her mind.
As Marina Hyde noted in a recent column in The Guardian, that phrase ‘strong and stable’ is like something out of the celebrated movie (that’s nearly called) Groundhog May. In this version, which comes minus Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, instead of the radio waking one up every morning to the sound of Sonny and Cher warbling I Got You Babe, we get Mrs May mumbling on about her horse house.
Hyde was writing in connection with a Canary Wharf conference starring May and Hammond. For after all, while the PM keeps banging on about the General Election being all about Brexit, there is (hopefully) an economy out there somewhere that is going to require some looking after once all the jaw-jaw with Brussels is over and what’s left of the City has to try to pick up the pieces of its financial services industry.
Some of the stuff surrounding the election does not make for encouraging reading. We look to be on the verge of a new property recession (although that might be good news for first-time buyers?) From a further financial perspective, the Institute of Fiscal Studies broadly regards the Tory manifesto proposals to be undeliverable and Labour’s unworkable. The UK was this week confirmed as joint bottom of the class, with Italy, when it came to comparing the economies of the G7 countries. Twelve months previously we had been outperforming the United States, Germany and Japan. The Evening Standard ran a headline above a City story on Wednesday that read ‘Corbyn’s vision for economy is more palatable’, which would be something of a shocker if one didn’t remember that the paper’s editor happened to have been the country’s chancellor until Mrs May had him evicted from No. 11. For Mr Osborne, it’s clearly payback time.
Anyhow, tomorrow will see the running of the 2017 Derby while next Thursday will see the winning of the 2017 General Election. Without wanting to sound too smart-ass (haha) about it, Theresa May will either be able to carry on riding her hobby horse or she’ll be shown out of the (stable) door.
When Lulu looked up, she saw a face from the past at a nearby table, seated alone. She grimaced involuntarily and looked away. She didn’t want the risk that he might remember her.
She’d seen him only once before, a good few years ago, in a different life when she’d been living in a different place. He had booked her and a friend for a bondage session but when he’d arrived, sometime after midnight, he had acted all lippy with them both from the start. He’d seemed either drunk or high. He’d said that in fact he worked for the BBC and he was looking to do an exposé of the BDSM scene. He’d talked rubbish about how he was going to put the two of them out of business. He’d then crashed out before anything had happened. Lulu and her friend had removed his trousers and shoes and thrown them into the communal garden, in full view of other properties. When he awoke in the morning, her friend by then being long gone, Lulu had made him hand over all the money he had on him, which was just over 400 quid, and she had then got her hulking neighbour to retrieve his clothes – the point of the hulking neighbour being to deter any later inclination the guy might have for seeking to extract some measure of revenge. Understandably in all the circumstances, he hadn’t made any apologies but he had left. The good old days? No, not really, she thought.
After she had gestured for the bill, her thoughts temporarily returned to Rory’s column. Should she text him about it? Or would that send the wrong impression; or at least an impression she didn’t want to send? No, if she was going to do that, she’d wait a bit longer.
As bad luck went, this was the dog’s bollocks. No sooner had Raul in principle sorted out a deal with Silva than what had the fat fuck gone and done? Died.
After three days of being unable to get hold of him, Raul had decided to check that he had indeed checked out of the hotel on the Sunday as planned. He’d checked out alright, sometime before midday on Saturday. He’d been found dead by a maid.
Raul had not wanted to return to the hotel himself in case anyone had remembered seeing him at dinner with Silva, but Vlad had got one of their minions to go round and ask questions. The staff had apparently been sworn to keep schtum but it was always amazing how far a £20 bribe or two would go when you were dealing with zero-hours contract peons. He’d even spoken to the maid, who said there had been drink and vomit all over the place near the body. Raul knew that Silva also had a ton of scotch in his stomach, at least at some point, and fuck knew how many or what types of drugs he would have been dealing himself after Raul had left.
The post-mortem would go into all of that but that was of no concern to Raul. At least there was nothing to connect him to Silva but the big problem now would be to replace a guy who was going to be hard to improve upon. Silva was a reckless fucker but he had been a very well-connected one.
He could hear Deborah shouting something from the floor below. He reached for the remote on his desk and turned down the TV. Call this adult entertainment? It wouldn’t excite a Boy Scout.
“What is it?” he shouted back.
“Someone to see you, Raul.”
“I told you I didn’t want to be disturbed,” he yelled vehemently. “Tell them to bugger off. I’m not seeing anyone.”
“I don’t think that’s going to work. They’re police officers.”
As one part of his brain seemed to freeze, another part of his mind leapt alive. The card! His card! The cops had got hold of that fucking business card…
Thursday June 8. Lulu was suited and booted, toted and voted. Tomorrow the election would be history, although unlikely to be very historic. If the polls were to be believed – which on recent past form they had no right to be – Theresa May would get back into Downing Street with a comfortably increased majority, albeit not the stonking one she most likely expected she’d get when she decided to call the election. Whatever, we’d know the score soon enough.
Using 141, Lulu dialled the two mobile numbers she now had for Raul. Both rang unobtainable. That had also happened yesterday. She hadn’t dared hope for too much but perhaps Colin had come through for her. More importantly, for those other girls she would never know.
She had thought latterly of the weird symmetry of circumstance: for example, that she had met Rory only because Raul had cancelled on her. And now, perhaps, hopefully, she had cancelled him. She had also for some reason come to feel over recent days that she really did need to be better. To other people in general. To her few friends, for example. To her parents, for heaven’s sake. And also for her own sake.
On a sudden strong impulse, she sent a text: ‘Nag’s Head @ 6? – Cathy’ The reply came within 30 seconds. Smiling, she set off for Knightsbridge.
This book is available on kindle from Amazon.