By Joshua Ryan
Chapter 8: Nothing Is Perfect
At the hotel, a nice lunch in the King George Grill, a long nap, another good meal in the Oak Room, and many occasions to consider, while sloshing the liquids in my glass, what it might be like to live here. And there were a couple of entertaining events.
Cedric, my busboy at dinner, was a slappie I didn’t remember seeing before. His distinctive attire told me why. Instead of the standard brown slappie cap, he wore a white, fez-like piece of headgear imprinted with SERVANT IN TRAINING in large black letters. It was like one of those dunce caps you see in cartoons. Which was appropriate. The guy fumbled and bumbled and finally, rushing to clear my table for the dessert course, fell over his boots in a crash of plates and glasses. Everyone looked up, shocked at the breach of discipline. A waiter strode out of the kitchen, followed by two large slappies. The slappies picked up the dishes; the waiter grabbed Servant in Training by the ear and pulled him out of the room. The guests smiled appreciatively: the King George knew how to handle these things. The slappie would get the lesson it needed. After all, it was 40 years old! Obviously, old enough to know better.
I thought the whole thing was amusing—after I checked to make sure that Cedric hadn’t spilled anything on my clothes. It was hard to sympathize with anything wearing a “Servant in Training” cap. I imagined that the slappie got a few good smacks out in the kitchen. The incident really showed how well things were run on St. Bevons.
The second event happened on my return to my room. I arrived just as a slappie was leaving it—which would have been unsettling, if it wasn’t for my growing confidence in how firmly servants were controlled. This one was young and rigorously polite. He bade me “sir good night sir” and stood with his back against the wall of the corridor until I’d entered the room, where I found the bed covers turned down, the pillows fluffed, and a bottle of champagne waiting on ice. My faith fully vindicated, I spent a happy night—bottle, crotch, and visions of servitude. Too bad the room service wasn’t more . . . intimate.
But maybe if it was, nobody would want to buy into the island. People would just drop in for a weekend of sexual indulgence, and the place would turn into a wasteland of bars and sex-toy emporia. The special thing about St. Bevons wasn’t the eye candy; it was the total control, the deep, hard layers of authority. Servitude on St. Bevons wasn’t “servitude”; it was realer than real. It was the kind of authority that sends a great looking slappie to your room at night but keeps you from sexing him, because you don’t own his contract; the kind of authority that takes a middle-aged gent, who a month before might have been pushing papers across a boardroom table, and makes him into a busboy in a dunce cap, so he can learn how he’ll need to live for the rest of his life.
Which was probably a good idea—I’d been in enough of those boardrooms. Life as a slappie would be a lot more authentic for most of the bullies and preeners you meet in there. Healthier, too. As Major Timmons pointed out, all a slappie has to do is follow orders. And anyone can do that kind of role play. No need to wonder what happens when the game is over, no problem about whether you liked the other players or whether they’ll invite you back next time. No problem even about ordinary people “finding out.” If you’re a slappie, the collar on your neck puts everything in perspective. So, no reason I should feel guilty about enjoying some slap boy’s “humiliation.”
But now it was time for me to grab the champagne and make use of the bed and get down to my own business. As I fell asleep, the only shadow on my happiness was the fact that I had just one day left on St. Bevons.
I’d had two tours already, so I decided to spend the day exploring downtown on my own. Someplace in my brain there was a plan forming, and I wanted to see what St. Bevons looked like when you were just hanging out there—what it looked like to the average well-heeled, happy go lucky resident. You can learn a lot by shopping, even if you don’t buy. So after another nice breakfast I put on my sneakers, freed my backpack from the closet, and headed out to explore the City from ground level. Maybe I was just looking for an excuse to wander, but I was thinking a bit about my brother Robert. I had some kind of obligation to buy something for him. As if his job with my former company hadn’t been enough of a gift! But he did his share of favors for me—picked up my mail, watched my accounts . . . . A gift would ensure that I wouldn’t have to ask him for dinner.
OK–I’d known that there must be a bad side to St. Bevons, and now I saw it. I had just left the doors of the King George when I noticed a change in the atmosphere. There was something strange going on . . . too much happening in my peripheral vision . . . . Then a figure lunged forward . . . a young guy . . . dreds . . . ripped jeans . . . and another figure, like him, on the other side of me . . . Hands grabbing . . . pack being pulled . . . me stumbling into the street . . . . What the FUCK! I thought. You’re not gonna get it! Even though there was nothing of value in the pack.
I don’t know if I remembered any moves from my tenth-grade karate class, but whatever I was doing, the bag remained in contest. It went up and down and back and forth, and twice, I think, it even changed hands. But I didn’t give up on it. The fight would probably have ended when one of them produced a knife or whatever was the weapon of choice for the gangs of St. Bevons, but just when the knife might have appeared, a bus rumbled down the street, aimed at the parking space in front of the hotel—a space on the far side of the gangies and me. We jumped, in opposite directions, and I found myself crouching on the sidewalk, clutching the pack and watching the gangies escaping down a side street as the tourists exited the bus, oblivious. The slappies beside the door bowed the tourists inside, leaving me to wonder what exactly had happened. The attempted robbery was obvious enough, but why hadn’t those two able-bodied young servants done anything to help me? Was it because their collars were set to stop them at the curb? Was it because they were afraid to use force against freemen, no matter who they were? Was it because they enjoyed seeing freemen punishing their own? Or was it because their training had succeeded in turning them into robots? Maybe, before becoming robots, they themselves had been gangies.
But the fact remained—I’d held my own. I’d won! I’d kept my stuff. Still potent at the age of 35! And if this was the hardest thing St. Bevons had to throw at me, it might still be a good place to live. Walking along, I saw slappies sweeping the sidewalks in front of the expensive stores and standing by the entrances of the luxury apartment buildings. None, or practically none, appeared beside the little restaurants and the mom and pop stores. But I was rich—why shouldn’t I live like the rich? And where else in the world could I have the climate and the luxury and the slappies too? Why was I still living in an over-priced house in the frost zone, with a 20-hours-a-week housekeeper as my only “servant”? A very expensive “servant,” I might add.
I’d gotten lost only once or twice before I stumbled on a French place that I guessed, from the hauteur, must be considered the Best Place on the Island. So–lunch time! I saw that the maître d’ didn’t approve of my backpack and my sneakers, but he lost some of his reserve when he noticed that I was looking at the food side of the menu and not at the price side. Watching the slappies running from table to table, lashed by the guttural French of the waiters, I wondered whether one could ever grow tired of the spectacle of service. And what could be better when you’ve just been attacked by the lower orders? As for the food, it was all right. It wasn’t Paris, but it was all right. I good see myself dining frequently enough in La Belle Epoque.
I went to a lot of shops that afternoon, not really to buy anything but just to see what they were like and how I was treated. I watched people’s faces. First they thought I was simply another American staying out at “the resorts”—someone without real money who is being bused to town for a couple of hours so he can soak up the local color. They knew how to deal with people like that. Gradually they realized that I wasn’t that way, that I actually had some money, and some self-assurance, and some idea of what good things are worth. They were genuinely nice to me then. So, not bad. I didn’t plan to get intimate with the St. Bees, absorb their culture, make actual friends with them; but I wanted to be well treated, and they knew how to do that, even when I was pricing rather than buying.
I did make one purchase: a so-called “sculpture,” a sample of native handicrafts that would please Robert’s wife. Anyway, it ought to please her; it cost enough. Then I went looking for my afternoon cocktail. I’d noticed a nice dark lounge just off Grand Market Street, and I thought I’d try it out. But something odd happened on my way. I opened my pack to put the gift inside, and I noticed that . . . it wasn’t my pack! It looked like my pack—same shape, same color, or close to it, but whose workout shorts were those? And whose little jars of shampoo or something? I hunted the pack for identification, but if there was a tag, it had vanished. Maybe in the scuffle. I knew that MY bag was properly identified, but the gangies had evidently escaped with that, and the water bottle and whatever else was inside. Although I’d been sure that I’d won in the end, and held onto my bag . . . .
What the hell! Actually, though, it was funny. I hoped I’d made off with one of the gangies’ packs, while they made off with my equally useless one. Then I reflected on where the fight had happened—at a place where tourist buses stopped. Tourists were always losing shit in places like that, and probably gangies were always picking it up—as well as snatching it. But why should I care? In the future, I wouldn’t be a tourist on St. Bevons—I’d be a resident.
I said that to myself, just to check out my reaction. It was good. The semi-comic, semi-heroic incident that day seemed like a test, and St. Bevons had passed with a B-plus average. You can expect some gang action, anywhere. It was huge where I lived—I hated to go downtown. The slappie system showed what you could do to get it under some control. As for the pack I was carrying, it was probably something that the gangies took from somebody like me. Maybe another guest at the King George. I’d turn it in at the front desk, and then it would be the hotel’s problem. Relaxing in one of the lounge’s deep leather booths, I found myself nodding off after my second drink. It wouldn’t be a bad way to spend a lot more afternoons . . . . A waiter courteously asked if I wanted another one, but I was sober enough to walk back to the King George, so that’s what I did.
Approaching the hotel, I had one of those paranoid sensations that are easy to get when you aren’t familiar with the terrain. I thought there were gangies moving in the shadows across the street, waiting to get me. Of course it was just distortions of light created by the passing cars. I put it all out of my mind, walked the final block, and went directly upstairs. It was definitely time for a nap.
And later it was time for dinner. It’s hard to make a story out of things like that; it was just one pleasant thing after another. A beautiful dining room, an excellent wine, a wonderful rack of lamb, spiced exactly to my taste, a pair of sweet young slappies attending to my every need . . . . Perfection, in a word. I made arrangements for a limo to the airport early the next morning, but I knew this would not be my last day on St. Bevons. I went to bed early, and enjoyed my sleep.
To be continued …