By Joshua Ryan
Chapter 24: Room at the Top
Each of them took an arm and moved me out of the building. At the end of the little street there was a stone wall with a barred gate, big enough for a truck. Next to it was a little barred gate, big enough for slappies on foot. They had the key to that gate, of course.
The gate led to another world. Ahead was a gracefully curving drive lined with dark old trees, and a pathway bordered by tropical flowers and bushes. Beyond, a great sweep of lawn and a cream-colored mansion spreading lazily across a hill. When I turned my head, I could barely see the wall behind me. It was almost invisible behind the lush flowering plants. “Eyes front!” I was told.
I saw wide glass doors from the house onto a terrace–but I wasn’t going toward the terrace. I was turning off onto a narrow trail that led through the bushes to a set of bare concrete steps going down to a basement. There was a blank steel door at the bottom, and my guards had a key to that too.
Low ceilings and the mingled smell of grease and bleach identified this as the servants’ floor, and yeah, here were the slappies, mopping streaks of suds off the floor, lugging wet masses of cloth from washers to dryers, and hurrying to get out of our way. When the blond guys turned in their direction, they looked away fast.
A servants’ staircase wound its way to the second floor, avoiding any contact with space reserved for free persons. In the narrow, unpainted hallway at the top there was barely space for me and the two giant slaps, but they pushed me along till we reached the last door. A slight tap on the panel, a deep voice saying “Come!”, and they shoved me through.
It was almost blinding—this sudden change from the cold gray passageway to the warm yellow sunlight of the room at the end of the hall. Bed, sofa, chairs arranged in little groups, all bright and beautiful . . . . The room was enormous, but the windows seemed even larger—so large that the sky and the trees and the flowering lawns and the blue line of sea, beyond all that, appeared to be part of the room, or the room to be part of them, floating over the scene like a lovely, many-colored bubble. Seated, with his back to the windows and one leg carelessly crossed on the other, was a tall, handsome man, dressed in the loose, bright colors that islanders wear when they are most relaxed. His dark Indian skin glowed against the light gray sheen of his armchair. He must have been about 40 years old, but his skin was that of someone much younger . . . .
“Leave us,” he said. Champ and Chimp bowed and left through the door that led to the little passage. There was no question that this was Mr. Sharma, the master of the house. I stood before him, erect, with the kind of erectness you have when your hands are locked behind your back.
“It has been a long time, Thomas,” he said. I recognized him—he was the man in the Oak Room that night, the man who . . . . “A long time since I sat at my desk and whiled away the night with you.”
My eyes went where his hand pointed. In an alcove there was a desk, and on the desk was a computer screen. “Yes, it is true,” he continued. “I am your old friend Roger. That is the name I once provided to my American friend. Here my name is Raj. Mr. Raj Sharma, the master of Alcazar. But it is all the same. I am I, and you are . . . you.”
What! What was happening? It took only microseconds for my brain to summon the memories, make the connections, leap to the conclusion . . . . Free! He’s going to make me free!
“I . . . You . . . Thank you! Thank you so much!”
“Thanks? Indeed, these may be appropriate. We shall see. But for now . . . . Have you any questions, Thomas?”
“Yes, of course . . . . I . . . . How . . . How did you . . . ?”
“Recognize you? Very easily, my friend. In a moment of sexual stimulation you once vouchsafed me your picture. In the intervening period you have, it is true, become more muscular. In respect to health, life as a servant must agree with you. But it was not hard for me to recognize your features in those of the lowly busboy of the King George Hotel. Splendid food, although the service sometimes does not equal it. The slappies are characteristically confused about their duties. Or don’t you agree? But as you recall, we had planned to enjoy dining there together. Since I was unable to come, you proceeded without me.”
It’s easy to be confused when you hear someone say “vouchsafed” and discuss a relationship and ask for your opinion of the restaurant where you were a slappie in service, all at once . . . . “Roger!” I said. “I’m so happy to see you! I’m so . . . so sorry that I . . . disappointed you!” I tried to make some gesture of contrition but found that my hands were still cuffed behind my back.
“I see no reason for regret,” he said. “I myself am not concerned. Your plans made no difference to mine. I continued with my effort to purchase this property and relocate from my former place of residence. So now I am here on St. Bevons, and devoting myself to the improvement of my home. Do you like it, Thomas?”
“It’s wonderful!” I exclaimed, taking another glance around the room.
“Including the slappie quarters?”
“I . . . I’ve seen only a bit of them . . . .”
“So far. There is always more to see. But I was very happy to encounter you in the Oak Room, Thomas.”
“I wish I had known it was you, Roger!”
“That would have been embarrassing. So public. But do you know why I was happy?”
“No . . . . I don’t. I suppose . . . .” I was twisting slightly in my cuffs, which were really uncomfortable. I hoped he would take the hint. No doubt about it, he was a handsome man. A hot man. Despite his age. Hot and proud. Maybe he was just waiting while I admired him . . . .
“I will explain. During our conversations, it was always . . . assumed that you were a sadist. Like me, of course. We enjoyed our chats about, oh, many things, but often about making slaves and so forth do what we would wish them to do. Do, and suffer. I’m sure you recall.”
“Yes, I . . . I do.” It was hard thinking about that . . . with my hands locked behind me . . . wearing my slappie suit . . . .
“It was, I thought, a special experience, there in the Oak Room, to see my fellow sadist playing a role that a masochist might die to play—presuming that he had sufficient self-awareness not to be seduced by the siren songs of self-pity. The next morning I checked with the State Labour Program, to make sure that your current employment did not originate in a voluntary manner. I found that it did not. I assume I was right—you do not actively enjoy your present status?”
What? “No, I . . . don’t!”
“I thought not. But I have always been troubled by what I call unrealized potential. I will give you an example. On a street near this place is a little house—nothing but a cottage, really—that had not been used in a very long time. Whenever I passed that house, it grieved me. So I decided that I would buy it and have it fixed. I did that, and although I have no use for the thing, it pleases me to think that it is there, and it is what it should be, and that I own it. When I acquire something, I keep it. But I am sure you do not grasp the connection.”
“I . . . I’m trying . . . .”
“I will continue. When I saw you at work in the Oak Room, my interest was piqued. I think it is so boring—perhaps you have felt the same—to read a story and know that the author is a masochist who is fulfilling—trying to fulfill—his fantasies by exhibiting the trials and tribulations of a fellow masochist. The story lacks spice. And do you know why? It is because there is no reversal. A story needs a reversal. When a masochist is punished–well, what is the surprise? But when a sadist receives the same punishment—now, perhaps, you have a story. Especially if, through a further reversal, the alleged sadist had falsely, though devoutly, believed that he was in fact a sadist.”
I wanted to scream, “What are you talking about?” But that was not a good moment to scream.
“During the course of our conversations, I used to wonder why, if you were indeed a sadist, a true sadist, you would be continually chatting with me. As we agreed, two sadists will soon run out of . . . enthusiasm for each other. Unless one of them conceals an unrealized potential. And that, I believed, might be true of you. So, after seeing you in the Oak Room, and giving the matter quite careful consideration, at last I decided that I wanted—that I was almost duty bound—to purchase you, to buy your contract, as we say, and allow you to fulfill your destiny. So that is what I did. And here you are.”
And here I was! Free to fulfill my destiny! Forget all that other stuff—I didn’t need to understand it.
“Thank you! Thank you, Roger! I can’t . . . I can’t thank you enough! Of course, as soon as I’m back in the U.S., I’ll reimburse you completely . . . . ”
“Ah, my friend, I am sure you would! But that was not my plan. My plan is freely to enjoy, and help you to enjoy, the unique opportunity that has presented itself. To few men is given the power to enslave their friend and to do what is right with him.”
“Oh my God! Thank you SO much!”
“It is nothing to thank me for. But I am sure you understand that, in these social conditions, one cannot always do what one might wish to do. For one thing, there are legal restrictions. There may be personal ones as well. You do understand?”
“Oh yes, certainly! Whatever you want to do is fine with me! Anything at all! I trust you completely!”
“Excellent! I am happy to be given the residual degree of consent that even slappies are sometimes said to retain. Yes, I am very happy.” He had a beautiful smile—radiant and calm, full of intelligence. The kind of smile that anyone would trust.
One of his fingers was already pressing the little box that rested on the table beside him. His voice was already saying, “Come.” The door was already opening. Champ and Chimp had returned.
“Take it to the room,” Roger said.
To be continued …