Clarrisa MacCandels poured coffee into her cup, added a touch of brandy and a drop of honey, then filled her guest's before setting the pot on a ceramic hot plate.
"And what would you like?" she inquired, gesturing to the dozen silver or ceramic containers spread across the top of a glass-shelved cart standing at her left elbow.
Shasta Taffaday gave them all a quick glance. "Just . . . a little milk, please," she replied in a nervous voice.
She caught the corners of Ms. MacCandels' mouth twitch in a quickly suppressed smile. That made her feel even worse. The woman was toying with her -- she could tell -- like a cat toying with a mouse it had caught, before killing it. Not that she really expected to be killed; it was just a metaphor. But then why was she sitting in the breakfast nook of her mansion having high tea? A $25-a-trick street whore like herself was nothing to a woman with the social and financial standing of Clarrisa MacCandels. With interests in real estate, biotechnology, mining and banking -- to name only a few -- she was in fact an important person in Colorado. And she used her enormous wealth to support universities and hospitals around the country, provide endowments to the arts and sciences, establish scholarships and fellowships, and donate huge sums to many charities, both public and private.
Still, she was here, and that meant Ms. MacCandels did want something from her, and Shasta had no doubt she would get it. She had a reputation for being ruthless in her business dealings, even cutthroat, and rumors of foul play followed her like her own shadow. She would simply take her time and play her games and try to break her before making her demands. Knowing all this did not help Shasta's nervousness, but it would help her give the old bitch a good fight.
Clarrisa passed the cup across the frosted glass table top and then turned to the cart on her right. This one contained platters of fruit, muffins, cookies, slices of cake and pie, and candies. Shasta's mouth watered just looking at it all. She rarely got the chance to see this much food, much less eat it. Her pimp naturally took the lion's share of her nightly take, so she was lucky if she took home twenty dollars a night. Fortunately it was enough to live on, being as she made her home in the basement of a rat-infested, abandoned tenement. But to keep herself reasonably well-dressed and -groomed, certain sacrifices had to be made, such as food. She did not, however, want to give Ms. MacCandels another chance to humiliate her, so over the protests of her stomach she politely refused more than a plate of fruit.
Clarrisa, however, had no such compulsions. She took a sample of everything, big samples at that. Shasta envied how this woman could eat so much and still remain so trim, but that wasn't her only envious characteristic. She had to be at least sixty, but looked less than half that. In point of fact, she had the kind of face many in Shasta's profession, including herself, would kill for. Each feature looked delicate and finely sculptured, except for her full, wide lips and her large, soft brown eyes. Her face itself was round without being plump and it was well framed by her shoulder-length hair. Its blue-black color contrasted with her milky complexion so that her face stood out. Any prostitute could have an alluring figure, with the proper combination of costume and props, but a face like that was impossible without measures most street tarts could not afford.
"So, my dear, tell me: What's it like to be a 'working girl?"
Shasta grimaced in distaste. Everyone asked her that, even her johns. She was so sick and tired of hearing it, but she realized that it was just a part of Ms. MacCandels' little mind game. Well, she was sick and tired of playing that, too. She knew she wasn't any good it, and the bitch was admittedly a superior adversary. It would be better, she decided, if she went straight to business and skipped all this society-style sparing.
She slowly and carefully set her fork down, trying to calm the fluttering in her stomach. Determined she might be, but it didn't relieve her anxiety. "Ms. MacCandels --"
"Oh, please dear," she interrupted, "call me Clarrisa. We are, after all, going to be friends."
Shasta hesitated as she did a mental double-take. The interruption had startled her, but what distracted her was her statement. What did she mean by friends?
Momentarily gaining control of herself she began again. "Clarrisa, I . . ." This time she paused, her voice cracking when a stray thought occurred to her. Not all of her "clients" were men. That actually didn't bother her, but who knew what a woman like Clarrisa MacCandels considered good clean fun between the sheets?
Clarrisa feigned a concerned look as she inquired, "Yes, dear, is something wrong?"
So, the bitch was enjoying this too. That made Shasta so angry that her hesitancy fled in the face of it. Alright, damn it! Let's get this over with. Say it. The worse thing that could happen was that she would be sent back to her pimp. Just say it.
"Clarrisa." That was good. Sound confident, keep your face neutral, don't give that bitch any more amusement. "Justin -- he's my manager -- told me you gave him $1000 to get him to send me out here. I doubt it was to have tea and make small talk. Just what is it you want from me? If it's sex, I have to tell you, I don't do anything weird or kinky."
Clarrisa looked at Shasta as if she were really looking at her for the first time. A taut smile appeared on her face, perhaps produced by a grudging respect.
She set her fork down as well, then pushed her plates away from her. Folding her arms across the table top she leaned forward. "Very well, dear. You want all the cards on the table, so to speak. I don't mind; in fact, I've been waiting to see if you had the backbone to stand up to me. You are the eighth girl I've interviewed and you are the first to show both intelligence and spirit. You see, I have need of both."
"For what?" she asked cautiously. As her anger evaporated it was being replaced by anxiety.
"You guessed correctly, it is sex I want, but not for myself. And you won't have to do anything you are uncomfortable with. All I want you to do is seduce my son."
Shasta relaxed as soon as she heard that. That didn't sound too bad; in fact, she had heard of this kind of thing being done before, though she had assumed it was just an urban folk tale. And yet something didn't seem right. She wasn't sure if her feeling was real or simply some anxiety, but she had to make certain if she was to go through with this.
"I'm sorry, Clarrisa, but I don't know about this. It all sounds rather strange to me."
For a brief moment it looked as if a worried expression flickered across Clarrisa's face, after which it resumed its usual casual contemptuousness. "Oh? In what way, my dear?"
"Well, for instance, why are you setting this up? Why wouldn't he simply hire me himself?"
Clarrisa chuckled, as if she were humoring a small child, but Shasta wasn't buying it, not after what she saw a moment before. "I'm afraid my son would never have thought of this himself, and besides I want to surprise him."
"Why, is it his birthday or something?"
"No, I just like to do nice things for him on occasion."
Shasta shook her head in confusion. "This doesn't make any sense. Why wouldn't he think of this himself? And why are you doing this for him? Why would you care?"
Clarrisa's smile turned into a thin, hard line. "Why would you care what my reasons are, as long as you are getting paid?"
"But you already paid Justin for my time."
Clarrisa managed to look hurt, as if her honor had been insulted. "Of course you will be adequately compensated. I had planned that all along. I will give you another $1000, which you will give to Justin as your fee. How much of that would you receive?"
"I don't know; maybe a hundred, maybe less. That's more than I would make in one night, but I would hardly call it adequate."
"I have also deposited $250,000 in a bank account under a false name. I will give you the account number and the name of the bank after you complete your task. With that money you could leave Justin, set yourself up as an independent in, say, Vail, or wherever else you like. Is that better?"
Shasta was speechless. Better was an understatement. A new life, away from Justin, away from the streets, where she could work as often (or as little) as she pleased, accept only those clients she liked, charge as much as she could take, and keep it all. That was paradise to a doxy of her status. The only thing better would be to catch a young, handsome, multimillionaire like Julia
Roberts did in "Pretty Woman."
It must have been more appealing than she realized, because Clarrisa chuckled with self-amused triumph. "I see that it is. Well then, if you are willing to accept my offer, I would like to get started right away. My son is taking a nap upstairs and I want you to be there when he wakes up."
Those words snapped Shasta back to reality. "Just hold it a minute. You still haven't explained what's going on. All that money won't do me any good if you son's idea of kicks is roasting me on a spit."
Clarrisa looked honestly shocked, then let loose a quick, barking laugh before getting control of herself. "What ever gave you that idea?"
"It wouldn't be the first time some society bitch provided her psychopathic son with victims to keep anyone from finding out.
Clarrisa frowned deeply and narrowed her eyes, but her face also went pale. Shasta figured she had just hit pretty close to the mark, but that realization frightened her.
But then Clarrisa shrugged and looked resigned. "Very well," she sighed. "I suppose you will need to know anyway, to do your job properly. I hesitated only because it is personally embarrassing and I frankly didn't want to reveal anything you could later use against me. But . . . no matter. It's all really very simple. You see, my son is a recluse. In fact, he hasn't been out of this house his entire life. As such, he has never had the opportunity to, shall we say, gain experience."
"Never?!" Shasta's surprise stood naked on her face.
Clarrisa shook her head slowly. "I'm afraid not. He was always a studious boy."
This was all becoming very strange. "But what does that have to do with me?" she asked, though she had a suspicion what the answer would be.
Instead, Clarrisa fooled her. "To understand that, I must tell you about Peter's father -- Peter's my son, by the way."
Peter MacCandels. That name sounded vaguely familiar, but Shasta lost her train of thought as Clarrisa continued.
"You see, his father and I were never married. We were not even what you would call friendly. We were lovers merely as a matter of convenience: we both had something the other wanted. He had wealth, power, and influence, and I had a womb to provide him with an heir. And I was tired of waiting on tables in truck stops. As such, when one of his associates offered me a million dollars to be impregnated, I agreed.
"Peter's . . . conception is the gentlest word I can think of . . . was not a pleasant affair. It took several tries to be successful and his father was unnecessarily brutal. Nonetheless, once I became pregnant he had no further use for me. I was paid the million, provided with an extra amount to pay the hospital expenses, and charged with raising Peter to manhood. His father provided tutors while I used my fee to become financially independent, but when Peter had learned all his father required him to learn, it was left to me to prepare him to receive his birthright.
"All that was ever important to his father was that Peter satisfy him that he could effectively take over and manage his estates, but to me Peter was -- is -- my whole life. Everything I have done was for his benefit, to try to make him into something his father would be proud of. Maybe I made a mistake somewhere along the line, but Peter was in fact a great disappointment to his father. He ended up a dreamer, interested only in art, literature, and study, which was not at all what his father wanted. I believe that what happened was Peter received the wrong combination of genetic traits from the two of us, but his father blames me. He has made it very plain that if, by his twenty-first birthday, Peter has not changed or redeemed himself, I will suffer for it. I am not concerned for myself, though I should be. He is very powerful, and could make my life a horror if he truly wanted to. It's Peter I'm worried about, because his father would surely repudiate him if he cannot please him. And what would become of him if I am not able to protect him I cannot bear to think about."
Throughout, Clarrisa had been careful to maintain her mask of casual superiority, but Shasta noticed that as she talked her voice steadily became quieter and more somber, as her true feelings showed themselves. Shasta was now convinced that she loved her son deeply and that she would do whatever she felt was necessary to keep him secure.
Still: "I'm very sorry for you and Peter, but I still don't understand how any of this involves me."
Perhaps it was because Shasta had expressed sympathy for her problem, because when Clarrisa continued her voice was firmer and lighter. "Peter can redeem himself, as I said, but to do it he must provide an heir of his own. The problem with that has been Peter's lack of experience. Oh, he likes girls well enough, fascinated by them in fact. But he hasn't shown the slightest interest in making love to any of the women I have presented to him. That's why I'm hoping you will be able to, shall we say, spark his interest."
Shasta suddenly got a cold feeling in the pit of her abdomen. "I see. And you want me to get him to make me pregnant."
Clarrisa suddenly burst out laughing, so hard it took her a few moments to catch her breath. "Good heavens, my dear! No, no, I have a much more suitable girl in mind for that."
That certainly was a relief. "But if you don't want me to become pregnant, then why do you want me to seduce him?"
"My dear, haven't you been listening? My son cannot make any woman pregnant because he doesn't know how. I need you to be a surrogate. I want you to show him how it's done, to initiate him in the pleasures of the flesh."
"So to speak."
"Quite so. Will you do it?"
There was a pleading quality to her eyes that no amount of self-control could hide, but it might have been purposeful. Shasta was reminded of a basset hound she had when she was a little girl. Actually, Clarrisa need not have used the big, sad, soulful eyes routine, because Shasta found the whole idea suddenly very attractive. She always wondered what it would be like to be in total control, giving instructions instead of receiving them. And she was inspired by the challenge, even more so than by the money. So enamored in fact was she that she only peripherally entertained the question of why Clarrisa was hiring a prostitute instead of a professional sex surrogate. She decided casually that it really didn't matter, so long as she could do the job herself.
"Yes, I'll do it," she said, nodding her head perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. "In fact, it sounds like it would be grand fun."
Clarrisa seemed to visibly relax, as if a great weight had been lifted from her back. "Excellent. Then let's get started; we haven't much time. Stand up."
Shasta did so. Clarrisa stood herself, then took Shasta's hands and positioned her a short distance away from the table.
"Take off your clothes."
Shasta felt her jaw drop as her eyes popped out incredulously. "Here? Now?"
"Yes, yes!" she said, gesturing impatiently. "I want to see if you are stimulating enough."
Shasta felt her cheeks and neck grow warm as she blushed. She suddenly felt uncomfortable. "Ah, no, I think it would be better if I undressed in front of him; more erotic that way."
"But you don't understand, I've shown him pictures of naked women and he has been suitably aroused each time, but any woman he has met personally has been fully clothed. I don't believe he's made the connection between the two images."
"Oh, now, wait a minute. That's ridiculous, unless he's a simpleton or something like that."
Clarrisa's look turned cold then, and she gripped Shasta's left upper arm hard enough to hurt. When she spoke, her voice had an edge to it sharp enough to draw blood. "My son has an IQ of 280, but he is incredibly na´ve about many basic things." Her tone then turned commanding. "As I've said, we haven't much time, so do as I say." And she released Shasta with a slight push.
There had been times in her life when Shasta had been physically scared, but even when in the clutches of a sadistic client she had always managed to remain calm and in control. Clarrisa's sudden change in manner terrified her in a way no physical threat ever had and it left her delirious. She hastily complied as Clarrisa scrutinized her critically. It didn't take her long. All she had been wearing was a tube-top and a pair of short-shorts, with no underwear or hose. She even removed her knee-high boots, though she wasn't sure why. She just instinctively felt that Clarrisa had demanded she denude herself completely. It was only after she finally stepped away from her tiny pile of clothes that she remembered the nook was enclosed on three sides by glass. The alcove and its contents would be clearly visible to anyone outside, and the fact that the mansion was over twelve miles in the country outside of Denver did not prevent her arms from reflexively covering herself.
With her face a stony mask, Clarrisa's reaction was to circle Shasta as if she were examining a priceless statue. When she came back around in front of her, however, she was smiling, though still somewhat coldly. She stepped up closer and gently pulled Shasta's arms back down to her sides. Then she laid the fingertips of both hands on her shoulders. Slowly she traced a line down around the outsides of her voluminous breasts, across her stomach, and then along the edges of her hips, before dropping off her thighs. Finally she stepped back and grinned.
"Fantastic," she said, gushing with excitement, "absolutely fantastic. My son won't be able to keep his hands off you."
Shasta was no longer sure she really wanted to go through with this. Clarrisa's rage, coming as it was so quickly after her seeming implorations, had thoroughly unnerved her, and her subsequent examination of her body hadn't restored her confidence. But considering her present condition, she felt she had gone too far to back out. Besides, she suddenly realized she was terrorized by the thought of what Clarrisa might do to her if she did try to quit.
She must have shivered, despite the warmth of the room, because Clarrisa turned then and walked briskly to a cabinet set into one of the walls. Opening it, she pulled out a floor-length red satin robe and took it back to Shasta, holding it out to her. She took it and quickly put it on, grateful for some slight protection at least.
larrisa suddenly focused on her head. "Oh, let your hair down."
Shasta reached up and pulled out the pins holding her tresses in place, then handed them to Clarrisa. The soft, honey-gold mass dropped to the middle of her back and over her shoulders. Clarrisa actually yelped with joy and clasped the sides of her face. "Absolutely fantastic!" she cried. "My son loves blond hair."
Despite her dread, Shasta couldn't help smiling herself. Clarrisa's enthusiasm was infectious. And it had the affect of making her feel more comfortable.
Clarrisa took hold of Shasta's right wrist, gently but firmly. "All right, then, come on. Let's get this show on the road." And she began towing her out of the room.
Taken by surprise, Shasta nearly lost her balance. When she regained it she then began resisting slightly, pulling back and dragging her feet. "Wait, what about my things?"
Clarrisa didn't stop, but turned her head and gave her an irritated look. "Oh, for heaven's sake, leave them. You'll get them back when you're finished, so don't worry, I'll take good care of them. Now come on!" She then quickened her pace and pulled all the harder.
Shasta continued to resist at first, but was quickly forced into a trot to keep up with her. The two women made their way to the stair hall, then climbed the grand staircase to the second floor. The hardwood floors on the first story and the marble steps were chilly on the soles of her feet and the rapid staccato of Clarrisa's heels made her worry about getting her toes stepped on, but the carpeting at the second story landing felt comfortably warm, and it muffled the clack of the heels.
Clarrisa hurried her into the right wing and down the long hall. On their right the wall vanished, to be replaced by a series of huge windows that let in the early afternoon sun, to flood the hall with light. On their left the inner wall had doors evenly spaced along its length, and paintings had been hung between the doors. Some were small, others were quite large, but they had not been placed in any particular arrangement. Clarrisa was moving too fast to allow her to get a good look at them, but they were all light, amusing fantasy pieces, filled with bright colors. She caught glimpses of dancing elves, prancing unicorns, Pegasi winging through skies and under rainbows, mermaids cavorting in surf, and other similar motifs. Even one painting, of satyrs and nymphs fornicating, was done tastefully and with an amusing style. Shasta was no art connoisseur, but she knew what she liked and she liked these immensely.
At the end of the hall was a door that Shasta believed would lead them into a suite of rooms. Clarrisa stopped in front of it, but then turned and laid an index finger to her lips. She then carefully pulled a panel in the door aside and peered into the room. Shasta caught a whiff of a strange odor, faint but sickly-sweet.
Clarrisa closed the panel and looked back at her. "Good," she whispered. "Peter's not awake yet. We'll go in and you can surprise him in his bedroom. But you must be absolutely quiet. This will work only if we surprise him."
"Wait a minute," Shasta objected, suddenly feeling apprehensive again. She placed her hand on the door so Clarrisa couldn't open it. "I'm sorry, but I still don't understand. Why must it be a surprise? Why must I be naked when he first sees me? This still doesn't make any sense."
Clarrisa hung her head and beat her fists against her forehead in frustration. "I don't see how anyone could be so stupid!" she hissed, trying not to raise her voice. "I've already told you, Peter cannot get a woman pregnant. I've tried, with a dozen different women, but he cannot seem to grasp what he is suppose to do. If a woman is clothed he ignores her. If she takes off her clothes, he avoids her, as if he is frightened of her. If she is already naked when he first sees her, he does become excited, but all he does is stare at her and quiver. If she tries to touch him he again avoids her. I've discovered that only if I surprise him, by having him awaken to a woman already in bed with him, does he then make the attempt to copulate with her. But the last few women I've tried have been unable to help him, so all he ended up doing was hurting them. That's when I decided I needed a professional. Now do you understand?"
Once again Clarrisa had concluded on a pleading note, as if she was more worried about Shasta's cooperation than she would want to let on. And once again, Shasta felt sympathy for her concerns. She decided it was ridiculous for her to keep delaying like this. All apprehensions aside, this was in many ways like a simple trick. Her current client might need more encouragement than most others did, but other than that it was no different from what she did in a normal night's work. She was still eager to give it a try, and she hadn't forgotten the financial awards.
She took Clarrisa's hands in her own as if to comfort her. "Yes, I do understand now, and I'm sorry I've been so silly. Knowing all this, though, will actually help me. I think the best way to begin will be to start slowly. I won't try to go all the way to begin with; I'll just try to make him feel comfortable, teach him some self-control and patience, and then ease into foreplay. I may not get to intercourse in this session, but I can promise you he won't be afraid of women after today."
Clarrisa smiled, with a sad look to her eyes, then hugged Shasta to her. Releasing her she said, "Whatever you feel is best, my dear. You are the expert. And take as many sessions as you need. I know you will do a thorough job, and I know we will be great friends. Now, let's go in."
Opening the door, Clarrisa entered the room and Shasta followed. This wasn't the bedroom, but a sitting room, though another door on the far wall did appear to lead into an adjoining room. Most of the furniture had been removed, except for a chair sitting in a corner. Also, the odor was a little more pungent. And the carpet and walls were oddly stained, but most unusual were the dozen or so canvases scattered around the floor. None were complete; some were sketches while others lacked only certain finishing touches. Yet what struck her most about them were two things. The first was that their style was identical to that of the paintings hanging in the long hall. The other, however, was that these scenes all involved dark motifs: innocent people caught in monstrous situations, experiencing great fear or pain or both.
Suddenly she remembered how she knew the name Peter MacCandels. Looking up at Clarrisa she whispered, "Peter's an artist, isn't he?"
Clarrisa looked surprised. "How would you know that?"
Shasta smiled slightly. "On bitterly cold nights, when there are no johns around, I use to seek shelter in museums and galleries. I thought as long as I couldn't sleep and had to be indoors, why not improve my mind? I saw an exhibit of your son's fantasy pieces a year ago. I liked them, just as I like the ones out in the hall. But these . . ." She caught her breath as she passed a canvas that struck her emotionally. A naked woman, as yet faceless, was being brutally assaulted by an indescribable, toad-like, tentacled entity. Even without facial features, the woman seemed to be in the grip of a powerful mixture of terror and intense physical pleasure. Perhaps because she often felt a bit of that combination herself on occasion, she felt a strong empathy for that anonymous victim.
"My god," she breathed. "What could have happened to him to cause this kind of change?"
"You don't like these?"
Shasta paused to carefully choose her words. "I'm no critic, but if anything, they are more powerful than his early works. But they deal with the ugliest aspects of human nature, whereas his earlier works seemed to capture the beauty of the mind and soul. These suggest an almost fundamental change in his perception of life. Whatever it was that caused it must have been very traumatic."
Clarrisa stared hard at Shasta. "You do yourself an ill service, my dear. You are not only quite intelligent, but very perceptive as well. And you seem to have acquired a rather good understanding of human nature."
Slightly embarrassed, Shasta replied, "Probably from my profession. I've met many types, and I've learned to judge who's who at first glance. It's a way to survive the streets."
"Even so, you know more about art than you realize. Still, many artists go through a radical shift in temperament; it's not really that unusual. But we can discuss that later. Right now I want you in his bed before he awakens."
Shasta looked towards the other door, then walked over to it and opened it. The odor was even stronger in the bedroom; not overpowering, just obvious.
Stepping back, she asked, "What is that smell?"
Clarrisa stepped up behind her and a little to one side. "I've been having some problem with the plumbing lately; sewer gas or something like that."
"Doesn't it bother Peter?"
"Good heavens, no, he doesn't even notice it. Does it bother you?"
"No, no. It's just annoying, that's all. I can ignore it."
"Good. Now, give me your robe."
Created: May 3, 2003; Updated: August 9, 2004