© Copyright 2012 - Nate Walis - Used by permission
Storycodes: Solo-F; M/f; dancer; pole; tease; voy; entice; solicit; offer; reluct/cons; X
Measuring time by means of a watch was something that seemed like a distant memory in the few moments that Carla Largo was able to contemplate the swirling mass of stress and obligation that had taken the place of what had once been her life. Instead she had come to orient herself by the colour of the pills that she was taking at any given time during the day as they seemed to be the only thing that remained fixed and constant as she lurched from one place to another under the weight of her responsibilities.
Stimulants woke her up in the morning, shaking off the effects of the downers she had taken the night before in order to stop her mind dwelling on insurmountable problems and ensure a few hours of restless sleep. They sustained her through the morning as she sat at her desk, the monotony of her day job threatening to lull her into a trance before a second dose at midday to see her through the afternoon.
Numbing painkillers silenced her constant headache as she commuted home and allowed her to ignore the pain in her back and legs that accumulated from hours behind a desk. Their effects made her a dull and unresponsive shadow of her own self as she spent the few stressful hours in the course of each day that she was able with her small family.
These were followed by more stimulants to wake up her senses as she crossed town for the third time in the space of the same day. While most would have been contemplating the end of their labours, Carla needed to be as alert and responsive as possible in order to catch the attention of the patrons at the downtown club where she worked most of the night.
If she could not command their attention then the money that she so desperately needed would not follow and so the endless cycle of toil, drugs and degradation continued for her. Days blurred into one and there were times when she wondered if the world that she perceived resembled the one that those without the cocktail of chemicals in their systems experienced at all.
When she danced, Carla was almost able to lose herself in the act of movement and submit to the rhythm of the music that filled the small private room in which she performed. The moment was fleeting, but in it she sometimes managed to escape the constant battle being fought inside her head between the problems that threatened to destroy her life and the control that she felt slipping away from her a little at a time. There was no doubt the drugs that she relied upon took the edge off and aided her in letting go, although she would have been vehement in her denial that they were the only factor involved.
Carla would have been considered too young by some to have been so burdened with problems, being no more than a few years into her thirties. But fate never seemed to share that opinion and she lived in constant fear of the effect of strain beginning to show in the lines of her face. As vain as such an obsession with her appearance might have sounded when taken at face value, weighed against the sheer level of stress she was used to living with, her ability to make money from flaunting her body before those who would pay for the privilege depended upon it.
Though she was harsh on her own appearance, filled with paranoia at the need to remain attractive and desirable to the eyes of her clients, Carla seldom failed to seem less than impressive by the standards of the casual observer. Her height was not exceptional, but her body was a collection of fulsome curves that worked from top to bottom as she moved on the podium. The deep brown shade of her skin caught the light beautifully; only serving to add to the allure of her form and her sleek black hair swallowed the same light whole as it span and twisted with her motions.
When she danced, she wore as close to nothing as she was able, aware of the fact that the men who paid to see her were not interested in the way that clothes hung from her body in the slightest. Her panties were so small as to be almost lost in the lines of her abdomen and her breasts stood naked save for a pair of nipple caps that covered nothing else.
On that night in particular, Carla had felt herself to be on what she considered to be a roll. More than half a dozen clients had sat down to watch as she used the movements of her body to convince them that she was aching to make love to them above any other man alive. The reality of the fact that the simple thought of them even touching her naked skin made her want to be physically sick could not have been further from her mind as she worked.
But her sense of empowerment had been shattered by the arrival of a man who, though one of her most valued clients, was always able to make the reality of her situation come crashing down on her head.
Aubrey Lister entered the small room in which Carla danced in the same manner as always, like a king striding into the space where he was about to hold court. His entourage remained outside the door, their presence somehow managing to follow Lister into the room while they did not. He seated himself in the chair that stood before the raised podium as though it was a throne fashioned for his sole use and regarded her with his customary smile that encompassed a greeting, a command to begin his entertainment and a lascivious leer all in some expression.
Carla knew better than to disappoint Lister, mounting the podium and wasting no time in pouring what was left of her passion and energy into a dance that could result in a significant payment should the man be happy come the end.
In reality she had no idea of what paid for Lister's immaculate suits, glinting jewellery and deliberately evident personal grooming. The rumours that followed in his wake were more than enough to convince her and anyone else that the answer to that question was not worth the cost of discovering it. Any man who was as well heeled, well attended by bodyguards and able to display such obvious wealth was likely to be ruthless in keeping his secrets and those that belonged to Aubrey Lister were well kept indeed.
Not for the first time, Carla found her mind wandering to the thought of how much money was represented by the effort that went into presenting the man to the world at large. From the shaved dome of his head, all the way down to the expensive leather of the shoes that he wore on his feet. She wondered how many times the salary from her day job could have been eaten up by expenses that would be a trifle to this man's considerations.
Carla could not have said why the man always seemed to want to see her dance when there were younger girls working in the club who regularly commanded more for their services than she was able. One thing that she was sure of was the fact that there was no hint of romance or deeper emotion on Lister's part, her experience of the man told her that to him such things were most likely alien concepts as far as the opposite sex was concerned. More likely that she was the subject of some fixation that compelled him to seek out her services and return for more whenever he could. The thought of what might lie behind that fixation scared her, but not nearly enough to outweigh the temptation of his money.
When the dancing was done and a small wad of notes had passed from Lister's hand into her own, Carla steeled herself for what inevitably followed. If the man had been prone to pushing his luck too far by touching her against her wishes or making it plain that he wanted more than she was willing to give him that might have been easier to contend with. But Aubrey Lister was not nearly crude or stupid enough to behave in a manner that would cause a breach of the etiquette that supposedly existed for such a situation.
It should have been no issue at all that Lister insisted on ending his time with her by simply talking to Carla, his deep and commanding voice filling the space between them as she refused to answer his seemingly pleasant and innocent questions or respond to his observations. She knew that for him it was all part of the experience, a game that he enjoyed playing with the woman who was obliged to flaunt herself in front of him. The man seemed to revel in the act of speaking to her as though they were somehow engaged in a relationship that was at odds with reality, as though discussing mundane subjects and aspects of her life that were far removed from her role as a dancer was the norm.
The root of the thing, she suspected with her limited understanding of Lister, was nothing more than the exercise of power. He was simply pushing gently at her resolve, secure in the knowledge that she would not be willing to risk losing his favour and therefore his money by rebuking his comments.
"I hope that you're getting your rest," Lister's tone was nonchalant as always, "it'd be a shame to think that you weren't getting a full eight hours after exerting yourself like that."
Carla tried to block out his words as she folded the bills he had handed to her, back turned and body language as neutral as she could make it. She had no idea as to what Lister knew about her life outside of the club, but she knew that even with the sedative dose that was waiting for her on the bedside table, there would be no more than a few hours of snatched sleep before the next day began.
"Suppose there are things that keep you on your toes outside of this place though?"
All that she had to do was keep a hold of herself, ignore the words until he used up the time he could legitimately sit there and occupy time that could be earning money for herself and the club if the occupant of the seat were replaced.
"I'd make a guess that you have a couple of kids making things interesting in your life," he chuckled to himself. "Not that they ruined the view from where I'm sitting."
At the mention of her children, Carla's grip on her emotions slipped and the effect was like the opening of floodgates. A racking sob escaped even as she tried to stifle it with one had while the other clutched at her stomach, the sudden rush of emotion turning her guts into a churning mass of nausea. She was sure that she could have held on through anything that Lister chosen to mention, apart from her children.
"Apologies," she turned to see that he was leaning forward in his seat, holding out a handkerchief that could have been nothing but silk, "if I have unintentionally struck a nerve."
Carla almost lashed out at him in that moment, picturing the false nails of her hand gouging into the soft flesh of his cheeks. The chaos that would have followed almost seemed like enough to witness the sight of Lister's own blood, starkly red against the ebony shade of his skin. But instead she accepted the proffered handkerchief and tried to regain control of herself.
"You know," Lister raised his hands in a gesture intended to convey his supposed honesty. "Some people account me a damn good listener. Tell me all about it; let the whole thing out and I promise you it'll feel better when it's right there in the open, not so bad as it seems bottled up inside anyway."
Carla could not recall having ever felt as tired and hopeless as she did at that moment in time. There seemed to be nothing in the world for her apart from toil, weariness and emotional pain without end, stretching as far ahead as she could see into her own future. She felt isolated and alone, trapped in a place where there was no one to share her thoughts with save for her own family who were mired in the same problems and as miserable as she was herself.
No matter what she thought of the man, Lister was the first person who had offered to simply listen to her for the sake of airing her troubles. Carla looked at the man and realised that despite the fact she was almost naked, filled with crushing emotional pain and loathed the sight of him, she had absolutely nothing to lose by taking him up on his offer.
"It's Water's Disease," she noted the reaction on Lister's face, even he was unable to disguise the sense of dread that the name of the illness carried. "Both of my girls have it and it's killing them a little more each day, right in front of my eyes."
"Where did they…"
"From me," Carla answered the question that always followed the discovery of the disease. "It's almost never inherited from the father, something to do with the chromosomes. It's passed from mother to daughter like a goddamn curse."
"I got cured," she was used to this ritual of snapping off answers to questions that people left hanging in the air, unsure of the terrain ahead in their discussion of such a terrible condition. "My folks were well heeled enough to pay for the gene therapy. It ruined them financially, but it saved my life. Only fly in the ointment is that it doesn't stop you from passing the thing on to your own kids."
"Their father and me have tried the best we can to put aside the money to get them treated, but it's so much more than it was back when I was a kid. Then there's the fact that it's the both of them and there's no way I can see one of them cured while the other just keeps on getting closer and closer to the end."
"That's nasty mess."
"It gets worse," there was no way that Carla could stop the words pouring out of her now. "He just lost his job on top of all of the rest. I don't have a fucking clue where we go from here."
Lister let out a breath that summed up the gravity of her situation and then simply shook his head.
"I just wish I could make it all go away, make it better somehow."
"Well," Lister spread his hands wide, "I could."
"I could make it all disappear, just like that."
"But what would it cost me?"
Lister laughed at her question and shook his head.
"I like a woman who thinks in the same way as I do," he shook his head again. "You see, you understand the way that things work in this world. A man doesn't get where he is by just giving away favours for free. If he's got a lick of sense in his head he always asks for something in return."
"Don't play me around," Carla tried to sound resolute. "If you'd really do something like that then just come out and name your price. They're my only children; I'd give my own life for their sake."
"Are you sure about that?"
Lister's tone was suddenly deadly serious and the implications of what she had said truly sank in with a feeling of sudden dread.
"Yes," Carla nodded while her head screamed that she was making a fatal mistake, "I'm sure."
"You know what," he nodded at her, "I believe you. I think that you're so close to the edge with all of your troubles that you really would put your own neck on the line for the sake of your family. So in light of that, I'm going to make you an offer. This is spur of the moment for me, so it will be for you as well. No chances to go off and think this thing over for either of us, you say yes or no to me here and now. If it's yes then we go straight to work, but if it's no then I walk out of the room and you never mention your life outside of dancing for my money in my presence again. Do we have a deal?"
Carla had no choice but to nod in agreement.
"Okay, so here's what I'm offering: I'll make sure that your kids get the treatment that they need for starters. But I think the problems are deeper than that, so I'll go further and put them through a fancy school so that they have a solid education to see them right. As far as your old man is concerned, I can get him a job and start him on the way to picking up the pieces of his life."
"I didn't hear myself mentioned much in there," Carla tried to keep her voice level.
"No," Lister laughed and shook his head, "I'm getting to you when I explain my side of the deal."
Carla was now truly dreading what she was about to hear.
"Your family gets their problems taken care of, and I get you."
"You want to fuck me?"
"Yes, but I want more than that."
"You want me to leave my husband?"
"More even than that."
"Tell me what you want, for god's sake."
"I am literally asking you to give your life for them. Not to kill yourself or something wasteful like that, but to give up the life that you have with them. In return, they get their problems wiped out and I get you. I make sure they don't miss you by faking your death so they can get on with their vastly improved lives, minus Carla that is. And then I own you and you show me how thankful you are for my generosity in any way that I ask."
Carla felt literally sick.
Everything that she wanted for the people that she loved was being offered to her on a platter. All she had to do in return was give it all up and hand herself over to Aubrey Lister to do with as he pleased. In another instance the decision might have been one that she agonised over for days or weeks, but he had made it clear that the answer had to be given here and now. Faced with the reality of going on with her life and knowing that she could have made a sacrifice that would have relieved the suffering of her family, Carla could not see how she had a choice in the matter.
"Okay," she nodded sadly, "I agree."
Lister's eyes seemed to come alive with an avaricious light as he looked at her, as if the downcast expression on her face had transformed her nature in his mind from a woman whom he had paid to gaze at to a piece of property that he possessed totally. He placed his hands upon her body for the first time almost as though he were proving to himself that she was real and that she would not try to fend off his touch.
Carla remained still, allowing his hands to explore her naked flesh as a sign that she had fully accepted his terms that she hoped would speak to his character far better than mere words. His attentions made her feel like a portion of meat being tested for its tenderness, her thighs squeezed and her breasts weighed like morsels for the plate. She stopped him only when his hand reached her groin, a moment before it stroked her panties.
"Everything," she caught his eye, "as soon as I see proof that you're as good as your word. I won't let you screw me in one way and then in the other when you see a girl still in her teens go jiggling by and lose interest."
"You'll get all the proof you need," he pulled his hands away from her. "But I should tell you that this isn't just about the chance to bed you. Oh no, I can go out there and take my pick of women who are willing and ready in that sense. What I want from you is more complicated, kind of like the way that you don't say style with a car that any asshole could buy off the floor of a showroom. If you really want to have something special, you make sure that it's a custom model with all the optional extras that make it yours and yours alone."
"You want me to get surgery?" Carla nodded her head just as sadly as before. "I can live with that, so long as you don't want to make me into some plastic bimbo."
"Want I want from you," Lister sat back in his chair, "is to be pimped out like nothing else out there. I want you to be decked out like something out of a book of fairy tales."
"I'm gonna have you made into my very own mermaid."
"Me?" Carla suddenly felt the urge to look down at her body, wrapping her arms around herself as she did so. "You want me to dance around in some costume for you? Okay, if the price is being screwed in a fishtail, then so be it."
"Oh no," Lister shook his head, "I mean for real. Scales and fins and all the rest that goes with it. You aren't going to be dressed as a mermaid; you're going to be one. It can be done you know."
"Of course I know," Carla snapped, "I've seen the women they've done it to hawking shit on the TV. But what makes you want to do that to me of all women in the world? I'm a thirty-something mother of two for god's sake, why not stick a set of fins on a model and have done with it?"
"Please," he gave her a lascivious look, "you think I want some skinny thing that's used to flouncing around being snapped for glossy magazines and blows away in a puff of wind? I got a place right on the beach down in St Panettierre, private and full of the wonders of nature. I think the thing that could top it all off is a genuine mermaid who looks as though she was made to make a guy go crazy. I want her laid in the surf with shells on her tits and her scaly ass in the air, begging me to pay her some attention of a special kind."
Carla tried to imagine the life that would be hers, reduced to the status of a plaything for Aubrey Lister in his own tropical paradise. She glanced down at her legs and found that she could not even begin to conceive of what losing them and gaining a mermaid's tail would feel like. But if she was sure that he had kept his side of the bargain, then perhaps she could learn to live with the changes to her body.
After all, the man could not spend all of his time at the estate he had mentioned. There was a good chance that she would be alone for extended periods of time as his affairs took up his time. If she were allowed to spend that time as she desired, discovering what her life as a mermaid might hold, then she was sure that she could come to terms with the strange hand that fate had dealt her.
"Alright," Carla looked him in the eye, "I agree…make me into your mermaid."
Aubrey Lister leaned back in his seat and clapped his hands together, his laugh filling the air like a cry of triumph.
Carla simply stared at the floor, eyes downcast as if in defeat.
The light that streamed in from the open windows and the aroma of the food on the plate before her seemed to be proof positive that staying at home and watching movies was a poor way to see the world. Carla had expected nothing more than grey skies and endless plates of stodge, but the weeks she had spent keeping a low profile in London had left her wondering what else became distorted and distant from the truth once in the hands of Hollywood.
Had the circumstances been different, she was sure that the city would have suited her quite well. But then she had not crossed the Atlantic for a simple holiday, and so no matter how charmed Carla may have been by the capital and its bustling atmosphere, she was never more than a moment away from the sad reality of her situation.
"Do me a favour," Carla looked up at the sound of the voice, "pick your chin up for me, eh?"
The man who was looking down at her as he squeezed into the seat opposite had a pained smile on his broad face and a tiny cup and saucer in one of his ham fists.
"For you," Carla tried her best to smile, "not for anyone else, Henry."
The way in which the huge man's face lit up when she managed a small grin was enough to make Carla wonder not for the first time, how he had ever come to work for a man the likes of Aubrey Lister.
She knew him only as Henry, honestly the largest man she had ever seen in the flesh and possibly the most gentle at the same time. Where his employer had come across the massive Londoner was a subject that she had never broached in the time they had spent talking, but it had been Henry's idea to hide her away in his native city while the preparations were made back home. In Lister's presence he had been a quiet and sombre giant, but in his native environment Henry became a fountain of knowledge and a charming gentleman into the bargain.
Balding and with the remainder of his hair in braids, Henry wore a suit that struggled to keep his massive body contained and ate his meals with a gusto that had to be seen to be believed. Carla had almost died laughing when she had seen the serious way in which he took his tea from a fragile china cup, relishing every drop. The only thing that had silenced her amusement at the bizarre contrast was the puzzled look of hurt on Henry's face at her reaction.
"This came in the post," Henry placed a disc on the table between them and reached down to pull a laptop out of his neat leather bag. The compact computer was so thin that it could not have been anything but prohibitively expensive, looking almost ludicrous in the hands of a man so large. But despite the disparity in scale, Henry flipped the thing open and powered it up with a few quick strokes of his fingertips before turning it around to face Carla on the other side of the table.
There really was no point in either of them speaking as she opened the drive and slid the disc into the laptop. Both knew full well what the contents of the thing were, they had been waiting for more than a month for it to arrive. Now the tense time spent in London that had begun to turn into an uneasy relationship of forced but tentative friendship was about to come to an inevitable end.
Beginning to play automatically, the screen displaying a scene of an urban street that Carla was half certain she recognised. The camera panned to the left and zoomed in on a man in a business suit, hurrying down the pavement, weaving around slower pedestrians in his haste to reach his destination.
She covered her mouth with one hand as she recognised the face of her husband, the surge of emotion at the sight of him seizing her bodily. But there was something different about Jared Largo, as if he had changed in a subtle manner since she last laid eyes upon him. His face was now clean shaven and his features set with a sad look of determination rather than the hollow look of defeat that she had become so used to.
Carla had no frame of reference to compare his expression with, but she supposed that he now wore the face of a man who had been forced to steel himself against the loss of his partner for the sake of his now motherless children. Lister's machinations had offered Jared a lifeline in the form of new employment and he seemed determined to grasp it with both hands and hold on for all he was worth.
Abruptly the image cut off and Carla was left with more questions than answers. She wanted to know how he had reacted to the news of the car accident that had supposedly killed his wife, what he had said and done at the funeral where he had thought he was burying her and how he was now making a new life for himself.
She wanted to ask the questions, but she knew at the same time that there would be no answers for her. She had agreed to a deal that removed her from his life and him from her own. She had bound them both to a contract, and breaking the agreed terms would result in far greater suffering than they had both endured thus far.
Whatever emotions had surfaced with the sight of her lost husband, they were intensified tenfold by the sight of tall railings and the unmistakable sight of a schoolhouse when the image on the screen returned. The grounds of the school were filled with children in uniform, milling around and engaging in what might have looked to the eyes of an adult to be play. Again the camera searched for a specific face amongst the crown and finding faces familiar to Carla's eyes, closed in on them so that they could be seen in exquisite detail.
At the sight of Jada and May, she could not keep her emotions in check any longer.
Carla openly cried as she watched her daughters mixing with the other girls in the schoolyard, swapping words and smiles with what she hoped were new friends. They seemed healthy, the visible signs of Water's Disease she had been sure she could see in their faces now no longer stretching the skin of their cheeks or sinking their eyes back into the sockets. But most importantly, they looked to be as happy and well as a pair of girls recently deprived of their mother could have been.
She closed her eyes and pushed the screen of the laptop down, tears streaming down her face.
Carla had tortured herself so many times already with the terrible thought of what her girls would think of her, how they would come to regard a mother who had left them at so young an age that she simply could not go over it again in that moment. She knew that there was no way to make them understand her actions and no comfort for herself as they would never be able to tell her whether they forgave her or loathed her for what she had done to them.
Henry had remained typically silent as she watched the footage, but now he placed a gentle hand on her arms and proffered a napkin for her tears.
Carla was struck by the way in which he mirrored Lister's actions on the night he had made her his terrible offer. But at the same time she noted the difference between the two men in their motivations as they did so. Now she knew that Lister had showed her kindness only to coax her into opening up to him, whereas his underling seemed incapable of acting out of anything but genuine sympathy and concern.
She took the napkin and tried to make herself look vaguely human.
"We've got the confirmation," Henry spoke in a calm and low voice, "that means we have to go make the drive out to the clinic. Mr Lister would be very angry if I didn't make sure that you were keeping to your side of the deal when he's kept to his."
Carla nodded, resigned to her fate.
She tried to hold the image of three faces in her mind as Henry called for the bill, alarmed by the speed at which they had begun to slip from her memory in the space of mere minutes and worried about the effect that longer periods of time would do to her precious ability to recall each of them.
story continues in Her Contract Entails 2