I met Gale for the first time in the elevator of the building I work in. I was a secretary in a insurance company office and at first I thought she was just another nine to fiver. Except that she dressed very casually and seemed kind of street tough. Like she’d maybe be more at home in a pool hall than in a typing pool. So I was doubly surprised to discover she had her own internet company up on one of the top floors. I only found out because we happened to be sitting at the same table in the building cafeteria one lunch break and got chatting. Later on I realized it had been Gale who’d come and sat with me, not the other way around, but that wasn’t something I picked up on then.
Right there and then she was a total stranger, apart from our saying “hi” and “hello” to each other in the elevator a few times. But we chatted, the way you do over a coffee, and then it came out about how she had her own company and suite of offices way up there on the top floors. Truth to tell, I was a tad skeptical and I guess it must have shown because Gale invited me to come up and take a look around after quitting time at my place.
So when it hit five I hit the ‘up’ button on the elevator instead of going down: one minute later and my skepticism was down and out as well. Whether or not Gale actually owned the company there was no doubt at all that the dozen computer geeks in the offices treated her as the boss lady. As for the fixtures and fittings, everything was top quality, from the resolution of the computer screens right down to wastepaper bins with the company logo imprinted on them. The logo was a drawing of a young dude with wings on his heels and his helmet.
“Hermes, the messenger of the Greek gods,” Gale had explained. “You see the stick he’s carrying with the snakes twisted around it? That’s the Greek symbol for medicine, and the roll of parchment in his other hand is meant to show we’re in the publishing business.”
She’d grinned at my dumb look: “The medical industry around this state uses a zillion forms every day and every doctor’s office and hospital comes to a stop if it runs out of any of them. We have warehouses all over the state filled with every kind of health industry form. Any time any medical administrator suddenly realizes he or she is running out of the right kind of paperwork they can log onto our web site and tell us what forms they want: then we courier them to where they’re wanted straight away. It’s a very customer orientated business, but a very well paying one. My guys and gals are the ones with the Porsches parked down in the basement, you’ll notice.”
“Gee” was all I could say.
No fancy cars were heading my way, not in my crummy job. It was a good day for me if I managed to get a seat on the subway. And here was Gale, leaning back in her boss’s seat, a hand tooled black leather swivel seat, in her own office, obviously in complete control of her company and everybody working in it. Even if she still seemed a kind of a round peg in a square hole it all seemed to be working out real fine for her. And if you’re perhaps thinking I was as envious of her and sore at myself, well, I won’t argue. Then she said something which had me listening very hard to every word.
“Truth to tell, Philippa, we might have a few more openings coming along here within a week or so. The people we take on would have a great chance of getting in on e-commerce on the ground floor.” She’d laughed and glanced out of her window across the city skyline. “OK, maybe I should say on the top floor. I want to grow the business into other states, so I need some salespeople to do the legwork out there in the great big medical world. And since so many of our customers are guys I’m all for having some attractive legs to do that legwork. Long hours, lots of travel, plenty of work, but great paychecks and maybe a chance to meet a handsome doctor or two on the way through. Think you might be interested?”
Only enough to kill for it. That was what I told Gale.
“How about your partner. How would he feel about you being away from home so much?”
I told her the truth, that there was nobody that special in my life
She seemed more interested then and gave me a card with her address on it. “I’m all booked out until the weekend but if you’d like to drop by on Saturday afternoon about four we can talk some more. Have a few drinks and see how things stack up. That OK with you, Philippa?”
“It’s fine,” I confirmed, very sincerely, “Just fine.”
I arrived on time and if Gale’s office had impressed me her apartment took my breath away. It seemed as if she lived on her own, the same as I did, but unlike me her income was ample enough for a lifestyle that fell somewhere between luxury and opulence. Yet all the time we were talking I still had this impression that this wasn’t a lifestyle she’d been brought up in. Especially when I noticed a tattoo on one of her arms. So, naturally, I tried to satisfy my curiosity about her background with some questions. Not that it did me any good because Gale neatly sidestepped them. Until I was about to leave, and it seemed I’d got the job offer in my pocket. Which was right where I wanted it with the kind of money that Gale was offering. And then, when everything looked OK, Gale finally gave out a little bit about herself.
“Philippa, I guess you’re wondering how a girl like me from the wrong side of the tracks got the money to set up my own company?”
“Well, it crossed my mind,” I admitted.
“OK, I’ll tell you as much as I can, and that is that I ran pretty wild when I was younger. I did a lot of wheeling and dealing on the street, and I wasn’t a hooker. I guess you can work out what I’m talking about. Anyway, I got to the stage where I was handling some big deals and did well out of them. And then I walked away from the business, from the whole scene, and went into a legitimate investment. All that is OK, but it’s left me with a problem. The guys I worked with before don’t like people leaving them. It’s not a thing that happens often and I had to do some pretty hard bargaining to get off the hook and out of the crew. You understand what I’m saying?”
I nodded again: it seemed clear enough that Gale was telling me she’d been in the drug business, made her pile and gotten out, but still knew enough to make a lot of her drug pushing contacts wary of her maybe blowing the whistle on them sometime.
“OK, so to be totally straight with you, Philippa, a big slice of the company is owned by the main guy I used to deal for. That way he gets his profits and he gets to feel I’m still on his team. Maybe I don’t carry the ball anymore but he knows where I am and what I’m doing. And he also knows he has enough insurance on me to feel comfortable about things. Do you understand that?”
“No, I guess not,” I admitted.
It was about then I decided I’d maybe had too many bourbons for one afternoon. I was also having to listen to the devil and the angel on my shoulders. The angel was telling me I didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody who’d been in the drug business. Then I thought about what it would be like to have a job I’d actually enjoy doing and the little devil started kicking a little angel ass.
Gale spread her hands out wide apart, her head tilted over and a half smile on her lips, like an Arab shopkeeper getting ready for some enjoyable haggling over a price. “Insurance in this case is having something on file about the other guy that he — or she — wouldn’t want passed around. Something which would lose them a lot of respect. If I tried to pull anything on my main man he’d be able to pull my file and do me some real damage. Not only that, but he insists that I provide some kind of insurance to him for everybody who comes to work for me. Philippa, I really do want you to work for me, I do want to make you rich, but I need something I can show to the man as proof that you won’t be trying to gas us. Which in your case is a real problem.”
Gale’s smile turned into a rueful wince: “I’ve run a background check on you as a prospective employee, Philippa, and I’ve never spent so much money for so small a result. The inquiry agent I hired came back and suggested that maybe we should send your report to the Vatican and see if you could be put in line to be made a saint. Because if you’ve ever done anything wrong in your life nobody seems to have noticed it.”
I was totally surprised. Surprised that Gale would have run a check on me, and done it so quickly. But what was really surprising was that my cheeks were burning with embarrassment at being discovered as an innocent abroad. Perhaps that was the very mark of my innocence, especially when I had to bite back the words “I’m sorry”, which I was about to say.
Well, and I was truly sorry: it seemed like the best chance I’d ever had in my entire life was about to go begging, and all because I’d never had the initiative to commit a crime or do the wrong thing sometime. Just my luck!
“Don’t look so miserable,” Gale laughed. “Doing something wrong is the easiest thing in the world, it’s doing the good things which are hard. We can get this little problem fixed this afternoon without even leaving the apartment.”
“What do you mean? What do you want me to do?” I asked her.
“Just trust me, Philippa, that’s all. I’m going to give you a makeover that will make you look a very sexy girl. And you can start by getting changed into something less formal.”
It was the strangest experience. She went off into another room and came back carrying a small laundry basket with all kinds of odds and ends in it. “OK, Philippa, I want you to put these on and see what you look like. I’ll be back in five minutes and when I get back I want to see you looking like Cinderella after the Fairy Godmother has waved her wand around.”
“But what’s it all about?” I asked her.
Gale had laughed: “It’s all about playing Mistress and Slave, sweetie. And if you really want the job I’m offering I guess you know which role is reserved for you. Now you’re down to four and a half minutes and after that you’ll either be changed or out the door. And no briefs, sweetie, no briefs, that’s your first order. I want to see you bare assed.”
Well, that was laying it on the line and I almost made a bolt for the door there and then without waiting to pushed towards it. But I didn’t. Maybe I should make it simple and say that I stayed on because I wanted that job. Sure, that was part of it but there was more. Maybe meeting with somebody like Gale for the first time, somebody who was a success and a boss instead of just another worker. I admired her and wanted the chance she might offer me to get on the same path. So I stripped off and started putting on the things in the basket. It seemed like it was high time to cross a few tracks myself.
I felt like I was a kid again and playing at dress up with my older sister’s clothes. A pink suspender belt and white stockings, and a pair of white high heels. And that was more than enough to make me feel quite immoral, having to wear those things with no underwear. Although I kept my bra on as Gale hadn’t told me to take it off. There were also some other things left lying in the basket, like stage props. A long string of pearls, and two white leather belts as well. I knew what to do with them but not with the coil of rope that was left in the basket after I’d put everything else on. All I could do with that was to run my fingers over it and go weak at the knees. Because I already knew then what Gale was planning to do with me.
If I hadn’t known before then I certainly would have done when she came clumping back into the room wearing nothing but a dark negligee, dark stockings and knee high black boots. The only props missing were a whip and a Nazi hat and I almost started giggling, but I guessed that would be the wrong thing to do. Instead I just sat on the edge of my chair trying to look demure and with my legs held very close together.
Gale reached down and caught my elbow in a firm grip: “Come on, honey, I’ll show you the playpen.”
The playpen turned out to be an alcove with a small bed in it and all kinds of odds and ends hanging from the ceiling on thin chains. It wasn’t an attempt at interior furnishing which impressed me very much, though I have to admit that most of my attention was on the video camera standing on a tripod in one corner of the small room.
Gale was still holding firmly onto my elbow and steered me towards the end of the bed. “Sit down there.” Two things I noticed straight away: one was that I was staring straight into the camera‘s lens; the other was that Gale had brought the coil of rope with her. Then I noticed something else, that the recording light on the camera was glowing.
Gale sat down beside me on the bed. “Have you ever performed in front of a camera before, Philippa?” she asked me.
My throat was dry, I felt nervous and I shook my head without saying anything.
“There’s no need to freak out,” Gale said quietly. “What I want you to do is to pretend that I’m a potential customer for the company and no matter what happens, you’re going to make me happy. You understand that, Philippa?”
“Yes,” I answered her. “Yes, I understand that.”