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Failed Rape

    Another week starts, Jillian thought, as she walked up for the Monday morning paper, before her parents were out of bed. This has become my new routine. On the way back, she looked through the accident reports, purely out of habit now. I know that it won't appear. There is no need for me to look any more. But it might be bad luck if I don't.
   Her life had now settled into its new pattern. He chess was improving, and her relationships with her mother and father, always good, she had thought, were showing a new level of intimacy that she had only previously experienced when she was still in primary school. What changed when I started high school, she wondered, to put that distance between us.
   She also found herself, as never before that she could recall, visualising, as if from another's view point, how an outside observer would see her and what was happening to her. She found that she was able to do this, as the action was taking place. One morning, while talking to her father over breakfast, she found herself with two images in her mind at the same time. One was her father, as she was actually seeing him. The other was how her mother would see the two of them, seated at the table, from her usual position at the bench, leaning back against it as she often did, watching them as they ate and chatted.
   Then she realised that she had a third image at the same time: how that scene must appear to her father, talking to her and seeing her mother at the bench out of the corner of his eye. Weirdest of all, she wasn't just seeing the scene from different viewpoints, she was putting in things that really weren't there at all. For her mother was still in bed, upstairs. It's all in my mind, Jillian thought. I've obviously got the ability to do this. I don't know whether it's good or bad, though. And what stopped my knowing about it, or being able to do it, before?
   At university, she felt far more matter-of-fact about what she was learning, and was steadily catching up. She continued to read psychology as a hobby, mostly as she ate her lunch in the cafeteria. This week she read about negotiating skills, and about the relationships between the perpetrators of crimes and their victims and hostages. It was when she looked up from her reading, while reaching for another sandwich, on Wednesday, that she saw Christopher, at a table near the windows, sitting with Margaret Somerville. As she watched, they reached towards each other across the table and held hands. What brought him here? He must be off-duty or attending a seminar. She shrugged, and went back to her book.
   After lunch she attended her usual practical class, and then headed for her appointment with her studies advisor. This will be the third. I wonder how he will treat me this time? How should I be? She visualised the scene, thought about the clothes she was wearing, about how he would sit, slumped, staring over his cup at her. What effect do I want to create? Is it worth the risk, to have some fun? To experiment? No, probably not. Demure, but not too hesitant. I'm coming out of my shock, catching up on my work. Dependable, not yet strong, but overcoming weakness, becoming progressively less shockable.
   I'm turning into a manipulator. How do you tell when your thoughts about someone, your plans for what to do with them, are manipulative and when they are genuine? How do you make sure that what you say and do, how you seem, are the real you? If when you think about yourself, and other people, you can see a whole range of alterative actions you can take with them, and the various outcomes each choice can lead to, what do you do to identify and avoid those that are just artifice?
   I don't like this. It was easier when I didn't have to think about it. When I could just be. When i didn't have to keep such a bad thing secret, and a whole raft of smaller things that have followed on from it.
   She knocked on the study door. It opened immediately. He was getting another coffee. The machine was right inside the door. How could he not be hyper all day, the amount that he drank of the stuff. Maybe he was. He certainly wasn't a dozy type. Not one to get into trouble with. She decided to be as honest as she could afford to be. Truth about facts, avoid describing her feelings. They were too confusing even for her, let alone for a relative stranger to have to cope with.
   "Come in. No coffee, as usual? Usual seat though."
   She sat down, upright, forward in the chair, knees together, hands in lap. Smiled. Friendly, but not inviting. Waiting for him to settle. Saying nothing.
   He sat, lay back and looked at her over the mug. "Good, then. Here we are again. Tell me what has changed over the last two weeks, in the way your work is going."
   "Nothing much, except where I am up to in dealing with my backlog. That is still advancing. Quite well, really. Oh, my practical technique is still improving, not fast, but steadily. I've a way to go there, yet, I think."
   "And how about your attitudes?"
   Oh, that's easy, she thought. I'll just tell him that I have settled really well into my new-found skill of spotting a sleaze two miles off, and I feel much happier now about impending rape. My confidence is much better about maintaining a good, mutually consistent set of lies on any selected topic. I still hate killing people, but I'm finding that I can get used to it if I have to. Best to say nothing.
   He lifted his eyebrows. Tilted his head. "Well?"
   What'll I give him? A question? "I dunno. What d'you think? You're at the labs and tutorials. More professional? Too presumptious?"
   "No, that's okay. More professional? Yes, I suppose."
   Does that mean that the better you can lie, the more professional you seem, or is it the ability to kill that's important? Or is cynicism and simple insincerity all that's required? "Thank you."
   "We're very pleased with the change in you over the last few weeks." He rose, came round the desk. Dropped his hand on her shoulder as she stood up and walked with himtowards the door. Quite caressingly this time. "I've had my eye on you for a long time. It's good that you'll be staying on. Almost a certainly, now. I look forward to seeing much more of you."
   Oh, sure.
   "These little meetings are so quick. You've become very businesslike. I hope it isn't going to take the same risk of failure to get you in here to see a little more of me from time to time."
   I think that when, if, I finish with Keith, I'm going to need to deal with you, too, Buster. "Oh, no, Sir."
   "Oh, no, Robin."
   "Good. we are going to get along just fine, I'm sure."
   By then he had the door open, and she escaped.
   On Friday evening, as she got down from her bus, she saw that Christopher had just arrived, too.
   "Hello Jillian."
   "Christopher." She decided to apply a small test. "I feel like seeing the new film that's on at the Tivoli."
   "Oh, that's a good idea. Let me know how you like it."
   Ah well, it's four weeks, she mused. Keith said that Chris wouldn't wait as long as five years, but I had expected rather more than three weeks. And I thought Chris was one of the honourable ones. Maybe he is, compared to the average. How would I know? I have no other experience and I never tested Chris before. I never tested anybody. Except Keith. And that's very recent. Oh my, how I'm testing Keith.
    On Sunday, as was fast becoming her habit, Jillian dressed for her usual casual lunch on the Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf, caught the bus in, and at twelve fifteen as usual, walked down the wharf to the pizza cafe. The waiter recognised her and came over. Keith was not there.
   "Miss Jones?"
   "I thought I recognised you, and of course, that striking red hair. The gentleman you were with last week?" She nodded. "He asks that I give you this." He handed her an envelope. It held some flat weight. She thought a coin, perhaps. "Can I get you a drink?"
   She thanked him, said she would think about a drink, sat at the nearest table and opened the envelope, tipped its contents out onto the table.
   She was looking at a key. There was nothing else in the envelope.
   For his flat, she thought. Only five minutes away. This is a risk. Can I handle him? I have before, but he's learnt since then. So have I, though. Which of us is ahead at the moment? He's inviting me to put myself in jeopardy. Am I prepared to? Am I that sort of risk taker? What would he do if she didn't go. She had to.
   She visualised the flat, her walking in the door. Where would he be as she turned the key? Was he about to leap on her from behind the door and pull a sack over her? Kick her feet out from under her as she walked in? Had he set the table and served a lunch? Was he sober or drunk, happy or miserable, clothed or naked? What was his agenda? They moved forward so fast each week that she found it impossible to pick any scenario as the most probable.
   That put her more at risk. She couldn't prepare. No more than she had already. Her death letter was safe, she was reading her psychology as fast as possible, he probably wouldn't hurt her physically, she would take the chance. He already knew that, of course, or he wouldn't have parted with the key. The thought did not make her feel any more comfortable.
   She put the key in her purse, stood up, called to the waiter. "Thank you. See you later."
    Ten minutes later she was outside the door of his flat, the key in her hand, listening. Her shoes were in the other hand, her purse under her arm. She had walked up the stairs, avoiding warning him with the sound of the lift. She waited for what seemed like half an hour, but was probably less than five minutes. She thought she heard the rustle of paper, but wasn't certain.
   Here goes nothing, she thought, and put the key in the lock with agonising slowness, then very slowly turned it and equally slowly eased the door in against the pressure of its closer spring, trying to peer in through the widening gap as she did so. All she could see out of the ordinary was a plate of cheese and biscuits, and two full wine glasses, on the coffee table with the arm chairs at the opposite ends of it, as usual.
   Reassured, she withdrew the key, pushed the door open fully and stepped into the room. The door swung to and latched behind her. The drapes were drawn, and the lights on. Sitting at the kitchen bench, behind the door, was Keith, in a dressing-gown, reading. He had a gun on the counter in front of him. She thought it was an automatic. He picked it up. It looked heavy. He gestured with it towards the armchairs. She grabbed at the door-lock. It wouldn't turn.
   "Deadlocked, My Dear. No, don't bother going for your key. It won't work. I had the tumblers changed. You use a different key for going out, now. The new one is hidden. Somewhere. Now, go and sit down, so I don't have to keep holding this thing pointed at you. It's heavy and it has a hair-trigger. If I start shaking it might go off. That would be noisy, for I don't have a silencer, but by the time help came it would all be over, of course."
   "Dear me, we are being melodramatic, aren't we, Keith. 'My Dear' indeed. What are you going to do, shoot me unless I undress?"
   "Tempting, but that would let you out of the game. You are in this game for the next fifty years as you put it. Whatever happens to me. Though I might be out of it by then, but leaving you in it, behind me."
   "That's rubbish, Keith, and you know it."
   "Not at all. Sit down. Take a glass of wine. Take some biscuit and cheese. When you are deep in your chair I will come and join you. Good. Don't bother of throwing the wine glass or biscuit plate at me. You may have wondered why they were light plastic, for I have such good taste. Now you know."
   She sipped her wine and watched as he walked across and sat in the other chair. She glared at him. He put the gun down on the table within his easy reach. It made a solid 'thunk'. The length of the table was between them. It would have been in her way if she tried to charge him or reach the gun, and the table was so far from her chair that he would have had plenty of warning if she had tried to reach forward and overturn it onto him. It probably wasn't heavy enough to do him much damage, anyhow.
   "You've thought it out quite well so far, I admit. But I can't reach the biscuits. Not from so deep in this chair."
   "Yes, I can't seem to get all the details right, can I? You will just have to do without, for now." He fell silent, looked at her contemplatively.
   She stared back.
   Finally, he smiled. "I wonder," has asked, gently, "please, would you take all your clothes off. From just inside the bedroom door. Where I can see you. And without startling me. We don't want the gun to go off, do we?" He had picked it up as he spoke.
   "No, we don't want the gun to go off?"
   "No, I won't take off all my clothes."
   "Take off some of them, then.
   "Why not? It's not as if we were strangers in that department. It's nothing I haven't seen before, as they say. What's your problem?"
   "You are."
   "How so?"
   "I'm not going to." He gestured with the gun, toward the bedroom. She didn't move. "How is that gun going to help you?"
   "If you don't do as I ask, I'm going to shoot you. Or myself. I haven't yet decided which."
   "Why shoot yourself?"
   "I don't like the idea of hurting you, but I would if I had to. I could shatter your lower pelvis from this distance with no trouble. Then you wouldn't ever have sex with anyone, when you could have had it with me, to start with, and gone on to someone you would actually enjoy, in your view. Thought to be honest, I think I could give you more pleasure than any other man could, if you let yourself go a bit."
   I should have stayed away, she thought. What price my instincts, now. Of all the scenarios I imagined, none were as bizarre, or as risky, as this is turning out. I was so sure he wouldn't hurt me. She tried to imagine what his next moves would be. I undress, he comes to me and takes off his robe, he puts the gun down? He keeps the gun with him? Orders me onto the bed? Rapes me? Still holding the gun? What if it goes off with the movement? What does he do afterwards? What if I refuse? Would he really shoot me? Or is it bluff? She kept her thoughts to herself. Said nothing.
   "If I shot you, I'd kill myself immediately afterwards." He scratched the side of his head with the point of the gun. She winced. He saw it, smiled. "Or I could just shoot myself. Now perhaps. Without harming you. At least, not physically." He placed the gun back on the table.
   "What do you mean, 'not physically'?"
   "This week I prepared my own insurance envelope. It's now safe in the city, too. It explains how I have committed suicide because I can't stand the emotional pressure of your blackmailing me to keep silent about your callously killing an innocent cyclist. You wouldn't do less time, My Dear. You would do more. Probably the maximum. Only for the killing, though. There would be no complainant for the blackmail charge. But it would have an influence." He gave her another smile. It was one of his less pretty ones.
   He went on. "Of course, if we struggled and you got the gun, and I died, that would be murder. Your prints would be found on it. I do explain in my note that I'm fearful you will kill me to prevent me disclosing your crime. You fear that your blackmail hold over me might not be strong enough. I might still tell. If the circumstances are suspicious they might get you for murder anyhow. Even if it really is suicide. They would say you wiped the gun and put my hand round it."
   She stared at him. There was nothing she could say.
   "So, into the other room. Get the gear off. Carefully. I have thought of all the angles. There is nowhere left for you to run. If you hurt me you'll end up very far worse off yourself. You recognise that, don't you?"
   She said nothing.
   "Don't you?" He picked up the gun. Sighted at her groin. She tried to sink right through the chair. Failed, of course.
   "Don't you?" He turned the gun on himself, put it to his temple. "You understand, don't you?"
   "Yes. Yes. Yes, yes, yes, damn you."
   "That's better." He put the gun on the arm of the chair, kept his hand on it. "Now, bedroom. Payment time, Jilly. For my quiet mouth, and both our continued good health, huh? Payment. Get the gear off."
   She went into the bedroom, stood just inside the door. The drapes were closed. The only light came through the doorway. She looked around. The room was bare. Only the bed and bedding. No side tables, no lamps or phone. Nothing to use as a weapon. She was sure the bathroom would be the same. Could she lock herself in there? Oh, no. The lock had been removed. So had the one she was standing beside, she now realised.
   "Yes, you are still learning about me, aren't you, Jilly. I'm not a fool, Jilly. Jilted Jilly. Oh, yes, I know about Chris and Margaret. I did warn you, didn't I?"
   She nodded, despondent. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I act like Mata Hari and end up in deep doo-doos. You'd think I would have learnt by now. He's older than me. He has more experience in crime and deception. He isn't handicapped by a conscience. He is totally unprincipled. He's probably as intelligent as I am. He learns fast. Lightning fast. I can't use any solution more than once. If it doesn't work then, I've had it. He holds all the aces, I just have to do as he asks. I've finally run out of options. And I did want my first time to be lovely. Ah, well.
   She took off her dress, stepping out of his sight as she did so.
   "Come back to the doorway, Jilly. Don't make me take an action we will both regret. You can't set up an ambush, there are no weapons."
   Aren't there? None? She looked around again. Nope. Nothing moveable except the bed, and that too large for her. No lock on the door, even. The door? Hinged. Limited range, but still moveable. She stood in the doorway again. Legs apart. Hands on tilted hips, her white underwear hugging her body, the shape of her pubis visible where it was pushed forward by her stance. He looked at it. She turned to give him the side view, making sure the profile of her breasts and pubis were clearly visible to him. She tilted her pubis a little more and started to back away, with the door beside her, both she and it almost out of his sight,
   She leaned forward slightly to watch him, undid her brassiere, stepping back slightly more as she did so. Covered her breasts with her hands. Moved forward to let him see what she had done. Started to slide her hands from her breasts, leaving the nipples just covered by her thumbs. He licked his lips. She quickly slid her hands down to hook her thumbs in her waist band, at the same time arching her back so that her breasts were hidden behind the doorway and the open door, but her hips and pubis, seen from the side, were now in his full gaze. As she slid the panties down she drew back slightly, and as her pubic hair was exposed she withdrew further, taking it out of his sight.
   He leapt to his feet, carrying the gun, held out in front of him. Keeping to the opposite side of the doorway, well back but now able to see her fully, he said, "Very nice. Very tasteful. A nice bit of tease. Now get the knickers right off. Just do it."
   She leaned one hand against the edge of the open door to steady herself, bent over and with the other hand, lowered her panties to her knees, then held them there and stepped out of them, lifting her feet, one at a time, to knee height and making sure that he was able to get a good view of her crotch as she did so. As the garment came free she held the pose, on one leg, her back bent with shoulders forward, one foot still on the other knee, her thigh turned out, its soft inner side towards him. "Oh, Keith." She said, softly.
   He licked his lips again. He's going to need Chapstik if he keeps doing that, she thought. She waited. The gun drooped slightly.
   As fast as she could, she straightened herself, threw her arms and hands forward and her body back out of the line of fire, tossing the pants at his head and swinging the door at the arm with the gun, now the only part of him that was through the line of the doorway. Blinded by the pants he clawed them off with his free hand, just as the swinging door knocked the gun out of the other. It fell to the floor but didn't go off. Another miracle, she thought. She lunged against the door, rewarded with a cry of pain from the other side, kicked the gun into the bathroom, almost breaking her toe as she did so and braced herself against the door with one leg out so that she could put a foot against massive timber of the bed-end. He pushed back against the other side of the door, but the bed gave her sufficient support to hold him back. He bounced his shoulder against the door, and this time she was barely able to hold it. She knew that he was now going to take a run, and throw himself at the door, and that she would not be able to resist that force.
   Leaving the door closed, but now unresisting, she ran into the bathroom. Good, she would be able to sit on the floor and use her legs and hips as a brace. Before she closed the door, she watched with some pleasure as the bedroom door burst open and Keith stumbled into the room, fell heavily and struck his head resoundingly on the sharp edges of the massive bed-end. That will teach him not to have such extreme, exotic tastes in bedroom decoration, she thought. He didn't move immediately, and she left him there, closed the bathroom door and sat against it with her feet strongly braced against the tile surround of the shower base.
   The tiles were clammy against her bare bottom. I'll have a frozen bum if I'm here much longer, she thought. Talk about a fate worse than death. Now, where's that gun?
   She could not see it. That was funny, she was sure she had aimed well when she kicked it. It was certain to be in the bathroom somewhere. She had heard it sliding on the tiles and banging against the fixtures. It must be behind something. The only corner of floor that she could not see was behind the toilet, under the toilet cistern. She craned her neck in an attempt to see there, and was rewarded with a glimpse of blue steel. So far, so good. At least he hasn't got it.
   Have I got time to get the gun and come back to this brace? Can I have it in my hand and aimed at him when he pushes in here? Can I stand back and let him kill himself on the side of the bath? No, no, and no. He's not going to fall for that door trick twice. Where is he?
   She tried to ease herself away from the door slightly, but it followed her as she moved. He's leaning on it very lightly on the other side, she thought. Testing me. She forced all her strength into her legs just as the door shook under a massive impact. Just in time. He had felt me move away and was ready immediately. But it won't be an uncontrolled charge any more. He would come to a halt, standing. I'll just have to sit here.
   "I know you've not got the gun, little Jilly. You would be playing a different move if you had that piece. Do you play chess Jilly?"
   It would gain her nothing to remain silent. Whereas if she let him chatter on with her, she may be able to talk her way out of this. Not likely, but what else was a girl to do - get frozen solid to the floor. He likes dirty talk, perhaps that's a way in. "My bum's getting frozen to the floor."
   "Ah, you do play chess. Nice. Give us something to do, during the next fifty years."
   "How do you know?"
   "If in doubt, move a pawn. That's what you just did, and you know it."
   "True. You're a smart bastard."
   "Also true. Now, what's our next move, little Jilly?"
   "I don't know, little Keithy."
   "You've got smart mouth, Jilly."
   "Learnt from the master. You knew me before the accident. A year ago, and immediately before. And immediately after. You know what changed me. You're a good teacher. Bent as a hairpin, but a good teacher." She thought for a moment. "Actually, I have got the gun."
   "Convince me."
   "I don't care what you think."
   "Why aren't you using it?"
   "What for, picking my nose?"
   "Oh, Jilly, Jilly, so gross."
   "I can't shoot you through the door - I have no idea where you are. I can't risk killing you or your note comes out. I would have to wound you, enough to disable you while I find the key, but not so much that you need professional medical attention which would bring the police in, and which would thus end the game and so expose me."
   There was no answer. Am I getting to him, she asked herself. Is he having second thoughts? Is he going to let me out without forcing me? What is he planning at this moment?
   "It's sick to call it a game, Keith. It really is. It's extortion, and I'm trying to make the best of it. That's what is making me too mature for my years. Also hard, conniving and sadistic. I loved it when you nearly laid yourself out on the bed-end. I hate what I'm becoming, what you are turning me into."
   "So, what are you going to do with the gun?"
   "I told you, I can't do anything. I've never held one in my life until now. I wouldn't trust my aim."
   "Have a good look at the gun, Jilly. You point the end with the hole in it, at what you want the bullet to hit, and provided the hole points the right way, and you aren't too far away, the bullet will come out of the hole and into what you are shooting at. Understood?"
   "Good. Now, get up from there and come out here, there's a good girl. You've not got the gun, I know you've not. One day you'll learn how I know. The gun must be too far out of your reach. You are sitting on the floor. It's the only way you can brace yourself. I can shoulder the door in nearer the top. It's a hollow door, not solid. It will break off its hinges and fall on you. You might get hurt. And I would get to you just the same."
   "You just want to rape me."
   "No, but you insist on calling it that,"
   "It is just that."
   "Regardless, coming out quietly won't change that outcome, except there's no risk of your being hurt by me breaking down the door."
   She slowly eased her pressure against the door. It moved against her. He was still leaning against it. "Keith, If I move away the door will hurt me as it opens. It will bang into me."
   "No, Jilly, I won't let you go for the gun. You might hurt yourself. You are going to put your right arm out to your side, now please. Then we will both move, with the door between us, slowly, until it is open enough for you to put your arm behind your back, around the door to where I can hold it. Understood?"
   "What it I don't?"
   "Then I will assume, as your weight comes off the door, that you are going for the gun, and I will push very hard as you are getting up, and you will be flung head-first onto the toilet. You may get badly hurt. Neither of us want that. Now, bend you legs slightly, ease yourself toward the shower just enough to bend your arm back and give it to me. Now."
   "I can't."
   "Why not?"
   "My buttocks have got stuck to the tiles."
   "Stop it, you are giving me an erection."
   "No. Just rock and wriggle till they come unstuck, a bit, then wriggle nearer the shower. bend your legs, and give me your arm or I'll use this door to bounce you so hard you won't know what hit you. When your arm is behind you, through the door, so it will be you who gets hurt if you try the slamming trick, then I'll hold your arm, and help you up, and you will come out to me. Do it. Now."
   A minute later she was back in the bedroom with him still holding her arm. He had a large purple bruise on his forehead. "Lovely, Keith. Colourful."
   "Your head. Colourful bruise you've got there."
   He touched it with his free hand. "Ouch."
   "Good." She looked at his face. He looked up and down the length of her body. She had forgotten her nakedness, except for the effect of the tiles on bare skin. He looked impressed by what he saw. At least he's got that right, she thought. "What now, Keith?"
   "On to the bed, Jilly. On your back."
   "That's hardly an intimate start. Impersonal?"
   "Intimate enought, I reckon. The curtains are closed. The lights are low. That's what you demanded. It's what you've got. Anyhow, I have more in mind an intimate ending, regardless how it starts."
   "There will only be an 'Ouch' if you stupidly resist."
   "Oh, I'll resist, all right. I told you No. No, no, no. Which part don't you understand?"
   "I understand very well. I just don't agree. But first, you're coming with me into the bathroom to get the gun. If we have to go back to the 'rape at gun point' scenario, so be it. Your decision." He dragged her into the bathroom, held her firmly while he retrieved the gun, held it to his own head. "There. Attack me and I'll kill myself. I'm letting go of you now. You won't be stupid? You know what the consequences will be? Think about it before you reply."
   "I won't be stupid. I won't attack you."
   He released his grip on her arm. "I hope I didn't hurt you. I wish you hadn't put me in such a position that I had to use force. I didn't want that to happen."
   "Well, you will have to plan better for the unexpected, then, won't you."
   "You could limit yourself to doing exactly as I tell you. Then there wouldn't be any unexpected to be dealt with."
   "Fat chance."
   "You just bring it on yourself. Think about it. Now, on the bed, please. In the centre. On your back. Knees to your chest, legs bent, nice and wide apart."
   She did as he asked. Lay there like a gynaecological patient. He looked at her. Thoughtful. But he made no move towards her. He still held the gun to his head, though. With one hand. With the other, he tried to slip his robe off. It looked odd, half off and half on. He didn't have an erection. He made a move as if to change the hand that held the gun, then left it where it was.
   I'm safe enough for the moment, she thought. A, no erection. B, the silly thing has gone only so far in his planning. He can't hold the gun to his head while he's face down, raping me. The body doesn't have enough strength to do so, in that position. He will have to do something else with the gun, and he doesn't know what. How can I be so analytical at a time like this? I suppose it's all I've got. Use what you can.
   She looked between her legs, up at him. "You're a fool, Keith. You can't hold that gun to your head as you rape me, even if I co-operate."
   "I know. I hadn't thought about that."
   "Let me up. Let me get dressed."
   "Oh, you can get up. Put your dress on. I haven't got a spare robe. Leave the underwear off. This is only a temporary interruption to our program. Normal service will be resumed shortly."
   He laughed. She managed a smile as she stepped back into her dress. He had a wry sense of humour sometimes. Macabre perhaps, but wry with it.
   With his free hand he had pulled his robe back into place. "Come back into the lounge," he suggested. "Have another biscuit and cheese. Make me one too, please? There's more wine in the refrigerator. You might like to pour us both another? No funny business?"
   "Okay, no funny business. Truce for the moment? Time out?"
   "Yes." He had gone back to his armchair, the gun ready on its arm, under his hand.
   She cut cheese and prepared several biscuits, poured more wine, put his within easy reach and took hers to the other chair, sat down, and waited.
   He sat and thought, nibbling his biscuit, sipping his wine.
   So did she. When she had finished her biscuit and wine, she spoke. "Too late. Try again next week."
   He looked up, startled. Thought for a moment, smiled. "Oh, you are a creature of habit, aren't you?"
   "Maybe. But a hungry one, too. A cracker for Polly is not enough. I don't think you are getting anywhere in your meditation, for now. I'm going in now to get properly dressed. You dress, too, please. Take me down to the wharf cafe again. Feed me. It's not too late."
   "Hey, I might have my own view about this."
   She stood up and walked into the bedroom. "Fine, think what you like, but I get to eat, either way." Letting him watch, she took off her dress, and put on her underwear, talking as she did so. His eyes never left her body. I like being watched with admiration, she realised. "Come on, hide the gun or whatever you want do with it, get the gear on, find the key, and let's get going. We can talk some more over lunch, if you want to."
   He heaved himself out of the chair and carried the gun into the kitchen alcove, out of her sight. She heard a drawer being opened and closed, and he came back into view, went to the unit door and put a key in the lock, then walked to where she stood in the bedroom doorway, now in her underwear and shoes. "Let me past, please. My clothes are in the wardrobe."
   She put her legs apart, hands on hips, and stood there, blocking his path. "Make me."
   "You really are perverse, you know that?"
   "You want a woman, buster? You get perverse with it. I believe it comes with the territory."
   "If that's the way you want it."
   "I just want to see what you are made of." She stood her ground and smiled at him.
   He tried to push past her gently, squeezing sideways through the gap between her and the door-frame, trying to avoid touching her. She leaned towards him, closing the gap, putting her weight into impeding him. Suddenly she turned towards him, pulled his dressing-gown open and pressed herself fully against his bare front, pushing him up against the door-frame.
   "Hey, stop that!" He put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her violently away from him, dragged his gown closed, went over to the wardrobe, selected clothes, and dressed. He kept his back to her and the gown on until he was wearing his trousers.
   "For a rapist you really are a little prude." she said, getting into her dress, sounding delighted. "Hurry up. I'm going to have another wine."
   "You'll get yourself drunk."
   "Wouldn't that make your job easier?" She poured, and started sipping. "It's only my third, and it will be the last for the day. It's not as if I would be driving, anyway. Come on, get a wriggle on. I must say," she added, sipping her drink, "that at least you chose quite a nice drop for this scene, however badly you managed the performance."
   Fully dressed, he joined her in the lounge. "Drink up, then," finally took her glass and put it down, and offered her his arm. She linked hers, and together they left the flat, took the lift to the street and the short walk to the wharf. He was lost in thought, and she left him there, deciding to let the sleeping dog lie. It was easier than listening to his untruths, she thought, enjoying her silent pun.
    The cafe was still crowded, but the peak was ending and a table was soon available. They were placed side-by-side on a bench seat against the wall. She decided it was time to get him talking again. "This time we both have a view." She turned and smiled at him.
   His head was down, as if he was reading the menu on the table in front of him, but his thoughts had clearly been elsewhere. "What?"
   "You can't get me facing the wall. Force me to look at you out of sheer boredom."
   "Oh. No, I suppose not."
   "Instead, you are boring me with your lack of conversation."
   "Oh. Sorry."
   "Don't worry, I'm listening to the happy chat of all the people around us. Interesting, but not so relevant. What's on your mind? As if I didn't know." She spoke quietly. They were able to get their heads together. "This is quite a nice table. Interesting and intimate. Could we get it regularly, do you think?"
   He looked at her, amazement on his face, close beside her.
   "Well," she explained, "it's almost becoming a tradition. We may as well be comfortable."
   "You really are unbelievable."
   "I'll cope. What about you? Do you want to order now, or give me the next issue of True Confessions of a Blackmailer, first?"
   "Let's eat." He signalled for the waiter. When the food had been ordered, her Perrier and his light beer on the table before them, he turned and looked at her again. The softness on his face surprised her, and she felt herself reddening.
   Finally he spoke. "I do love you, you know. I may be an opportunist, and a blackmailer, but I really, really, do not want to hurt you. Far, far from it. I do want you, I love your company, and I do want the pleasure of your body. I'm prepared to force you intellectually or even by trickery, but not by physical force. Absolutely not."
   She thought about it. Looking at the swelling bruise at his hairline, where had hurled himself against his bed, she smiled. "Yes, I think that's true. Though the same can't be said for your care of your own body." She smiled at him again. "You are a perving little extortionist, and a player of mediocre mind-games, but you've not hurt or forced me physically. Yet. Though you've threatened me with a gun."
   "Apart from one gesture, who have I held it on, when I threatened to pull the trigger?"
   "Ah. Yourself. True."
   "Do you believe me?"
   "Your claim is consistent with what has happened so far. Yes, I'll give you that. But what sort of a relationship can you hope to achieve with a hostage?"
   "You are not a hostage. You are free to come and go. And you are here with me now, aren't you? We are having meals and conversation, no? We are getting to know each other better, yes?"
   "Free to come and go? At all times? To do and say whatever I please, whenever I want? Or only subject to your whim? Where's the psychological difference between me and a hostage?"
   He was silent. Looked down at his drink.
   She decided to press the point. "The best you can hope to achieve is some sort of victim transference. In self-protection my mind accepts you as if you might be a friend. But you know very well how that always snaps back to disgust and hatred as soon as genuine freedom is restored."
   "True. But I'll have to take my chances. It's the only option I've got."
   "Why do you say that? You're not entirely hopeless, you know. If you could be truthful, and have more genuine self-confidence about your relationships with women, perhaps you might appear more attractive, without needing any other change."
   "Would you have me?"
   "Keith, I've never liked you."
   "No, I tell a lie. I liked you when I met you, before you started hounding me. At first that was a minor irritation which, had you stopped then, would have faded away. But you couldn't take a hint. You cared nothing for my wishes. That's a huge turn-off. Every time you did it again, you pushed yourself further down my reject chute. You did it to yourself, buster. Stupid."
   "Stupid, stupid, stupid. But so am I. We've discussed some of mine already. Let's keep on at you for a while. See if I can get some leverage."
   "You are remarkably calm, for someone who says they hate the extortionist who has tried to rape them."
   "What are my options? None. Play along or go to jail, and I still might choose that, so you've got to be nice, too. If I kick and scream it isn't going to help, for the most part. And I'd wear myself out, which would be stupid, as I obviously need all my strength when I'm dealing with you."
   "Well, it's nice for me. This is the best time I've had for so long. Intelligent conversations over long lunches. The sight and touch of an elegant body, some heated debates, chess with live pieces, why shouldn't I enjoy it? Why shouldn't you?"
   "How often do you go with prostitutes, Keith?"
   "What?" He turned and looked at her. Her face was only inches away. She was smiling. He frowned back. Thought. Smiled. Then frowned again. "You think I'm buying time with you, using my silence as the fee?"
   "You're not a prostitute."
   "I am with you. As you've described it."
   "We haven't had sex."
   "You mean, there's a chance?"
   "Don't be so ridiculous. If you had got your plans right it would have occurred already. You screwed up. Yet again."
   "Yes. Oh, here's the food. Saved by the bell."
   They ate for a while, in silence. Then he spoke. "What about next week?"
   "You're the one calling the shots."
   "Do you want to come straight to the flat, or eat first."
   "You really are amazing. How can you sit there and calmly offer me such a choice?"
   "Yes, I'm calling the shots, and its my choice to have you decide that."
   "Food first. While we eat I might be able to talk you out of the flat."
   "You are very frank. Aren't you afraid to tip your hand?"
   "Oh, you know very well what moves I will try. Waste of time pretending otherwise."
   "Right again."
   "Just one thing..."
   "You didn't have protection on this morning."
   "No. So?"
   "We need that."
   "What for, you said you are a virgin, and I'm inclined to believe you."
   "Keith, you are either the most naive, or stupid, or cruel person I have ever known."
   "What have I done now?"
   "What has my being a virgin got to do with not needing protection."
   "Well, you've not had any chance to get a disease, yet."
   "So you will be safe with me, you selfish little bugger, " she was hissing it out, too quietly for the other diners to hear, right into his face, " but you don't care what you pass on to me, or if I get pregnant."
   "Well, you'd be on the pill."
   "You're dead wrong on that one. And the pill doesn't block diseases."
   "I haven't got any diseases."
   "Oh, pull the other one. When were you last tested? Come on, tell."
   "Never? Then there's no knowing what you might not be carrying. So you don't go to prostitutes, except me, but you can't know about all the other women, can you?"
   "No, I guess not."
   "Well, then, next week when we meet, I want to see the results of your urine and blood tests for STD and recreational drugs."
   "Sexually transmitted disease. See your doctor. Bring the printouts with you next week. Photocopies will do."
   "Yes." He sounded overwhelmed.
   "And protections. Otherwise, buster, if it's not on, it's not on, as they say. And you would definitely have to shoot me to get me to change my mind. You will only have unprotected sex with me over my dead body. Literally. No argument. No choice. No exceptions. Not that I'm intending to have sex with you. No way. Never. But if ever it were to happen, if you ever got smart enough to con me into it, them's the terms."
   "But you didn't worry about it earlier."
   "A, how do you know I didn't worry? And B, I knew you weren't getting anywhere."
   "You couldn't have been that certain."
   "Was I wrong?"
   He said nothing. Smiled.
   "Very well, if you had worked out the details more carefully for today's matinee, things might have turned out different, but we're getting to know each other. And whatever you may know about me, there's one crucial thing I know about you."
   "And what's that?"
   "You are good at carrying out your schemes but they fail because they are based on bad plans, and they are bad plans because you don't work hard enough at considering all the details, all that can go wrong, and setting up a 'Plan B' for each case."
   "That's three things."
   "Nope. three aspects of the same thing. Lack of forethought. Now, here's some forethought for you. No condom, no nooky. But the reverse is not true. Trust me, I'm going to be a doctor."
   He looked startled. Then smiled. "You got a preference?"
   "What?" It was her turn to look surprised.
   "Plain, coloured, ribbed? You know."
   "I don't know. Just get the most certain protection there is. And you'll wear two, one over the other. Those things can leak, I hear tell."
   "Yes, Miss."
   "Yes indeed. Now, we've had our nice lunch. You can pay the nice man and walk me to my nice bus. Be a good boy, I know you can do it. And this time don't just pretend to be nice to me. Actually be nice. Prove you like me as a person. Women can tell, you know."
   "Yes, Miss."
   "Oh, shut up and get on with it. I'll be outside."
   As they were walking beside the boats, back toward the street and her bus-stop, she turned and looked at him. "Oh, and get your rape scenario planned so it'll work. Do the gun thing if you must. I'm still telling you 'no', but you've got all the aces."
   "Thank you. My Dear. I'll do my best."
   "Yes, Rhett, but it still mightn't be good enough. This is me you're dealing with."
   They were at the bus stop. She had timed it well, one was just arriving.
   He released her arm. "Same place, here, same time?"
   She put one foot on the step of the bus. "Yes, damn you." And climbed in, and was gone.
   He walked back slowly to his flat, thoughtful.

Copyright © 2003 Peter Leon Collins
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