Author's note: Oops, I did it again. Not for the first time, I fear I have buried the sexual content under a heap of scene-setting, backstory and chit-chat. If you want rapid gratification, look elsewhere. But if you do read on, and enjoy it, you might offer a little word of thanks to the real Angie (she is drawn from life) whose name is not really Angie, and who does something different for a living these days.
Dr Sandhu was polite and patient, as always, but she seemed tired. She took her glasses off and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Your brother's condition is much as it was at your last visit, Miss Wheeler. His psychological condition, I mean. Physically, he is doing well. The wound to his wrist is healing well. He is eating, drinking and sleeping healthily. He looks after himself, washes and shaves - shaving under supervision, of course. He reads his books. He has shown no sign of repeating the self-harming behaviour. But he still has not spoken, nor shown any emotional expression at all. Not a tear, not a smile. He is in an emotionally frozen state, suspended between rage and grief. It has been four weeks now, as you know. I have had a therapist try to communicate with him, but there is no response at all. And I must say I am not prepared to discharge him from the clinic while he is in this state. He needs to talk. I need him to talk. Even a smile would be a start. And until that happens, we wait. I'm sorry, Miss Wheeler, I realise this must be dreadfully distressing for you."
"It's all right, Dr Sandhu," said Helen. "I appreciate all you are doing for David."
"Miss Wheeler, it is not strictly my place to say so, but I imagine that you are physically and emotionally exhausted. It is important that you look after yourself, and seek support if you need it."
"Thank you, Doctor." Helen was, indeed, shattered by the events of a month ago and their aftermath. She thought back to the moment when her safe, comfortable world had been turned upside down.
Four weeks earlier
A normal Saturday evening in early summer. A knock at Helen's door. Two young, uniformed police officers, a man and a woman. Hats off, serious faces. "May we come in, Miss Wheeler?" Sitting awkwardly on her sofa. "Miss Wheeler, we have some very grave news concerning your brother, Professor David Wheeler. Swiss police have identified two bodies recovered from the scene of a road traffic accident near Lausanne as those of your brother and his wife. I'm terribly sorry."
Helen gave a short, high laugh. "But David's in London! I saw him, at his home, at lunchtime today! His wife - Marie-Claude - oh God, yes, she is in Lausanne. A conference. Oh no ... oh no, poor Marie-Claude ... what has happened to her? But David's in London. There must be a mistake."
The female officer consulted some notes. "Marie-Claude Wheeler was identified by means of a Swiss passport which was on her person. The passenger in the car was carrying no identification. But his clothing, and what could be discerned of his appearance, matched descriptions of a man who had been staying with Mrs - Doctor - Wheeler, in a double hotel room booked by her for herself and her husband, during an academic conference. Mrs Wheeler had rented the car."
Everything fell into place. Marie-Claude. Poor, dead, brilliant, beautiful, faithless, fatal Marie-Fucking-Claude. What have you done, thought, Helen, what have you done to my brother? Helen tried to explain to the police. "You see what's happened, you must see ... the man in the car, in the hotel, it wasn't David ... she was having an affair, passed the man off as David ... oh Jesus, oh God ... you will have to tell him. Please let me come with you, please. He is a ... sensitive man. This will do him terrible damage."
The ride in the police car to David's house. You must give him the facts, Helen was telling them. He will not tolerate speculation, evasion or vagueness. Only facts, all the facts. Pulling up outside his house. David answering the door with his shy smile. The police giving him the facts. All the facts. His face turning bewildered, then blank. David saying, very calmly: "Gianluca. Gianluca Biasi. The man in the car. A postgraduate student of hers. I had suspected for some time that she was having an affair with him. Now I know. Thank you. Will you excuse me for a moment?" David going into the kitchen.
A moment's silence, then the sound of a glass breaking. Helen and the police officers running into the kitchen. Helen hearing her own screams as if from a distance. Blood, blood everywhere, so much blood. David holding a shard of glass in his hand, his face expressionless. A sickening gash in his left wrist. The police officers' first aid skills. Her own screams, still. The ambulance, the Accident and Emergency department. The duty psychiatrist. The referral to the private psychiatric clinic. Dr Sandhu, polite and patient.
"You see, Miss Wheeler, your brother is in a suspended state emotionally, but it is not a stable one. He vibrates inwardly, silently, between rage and grief, each straining against the other. It is vital that I find a way in; a channel of communication, a way of unlocking the tension. I have been trying to think laterally; outside the box, if you will forgive the trite expression. An idea has started to form, but it is unorthodox, and you may be offended by it."
"To be honest, Doctor, I don't know what could be worse than this waiting," said Helen.
"I am thinking that David, at present, is surrounded on all sides by the terrible events of last month: the simultaneous discovery of his late wife's infidelity and death; his own self-harm. He cannot see past them. I am wondering whether another powerful, unexpected experience - this time a positive one - might help."
Nothing offensive so far, thought Helen. The doctor continued.
"And the other thing is this. One aspect we have not really looked at so far is the sexual dimension of this case. You may not readily think of your younger brother as a sexual being, but he is. Marriage is to a great degree sexual, and the infidelity was clearly sexual. Part of his loss is a loss of the sexual part of his life; and it has also been violated by his late wife's affair. Miss Wheeler, would I be right in thinking that your brother was not confident in relating to women, and did not have many relationships before he met his late wife?"
"Yes, that's exactly right, Doctor. He was a classic withdrawn, socially unskilled academic. He didn't have girlfriends when he was growing up. I remember a couple of names from when he was at college, but never met them. I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if he had still been a virgin until he met Marie-Claude, which was when he was 25."
Helen recalled the family Christmas dinner when David, shy, unworldly David, had, amazingly, introduced them all to his new (first?) girlfriend. Marie-Claude from Switzerland: a charismatic, blonde, staggeringly beautiful fellow doctoral student. The match was so ridiculously unlikely that it had to work. And for a long time, it did. Their careers flourished as opposite types of the brilliant, high-flying academic: he the ivory-tower recluse, she the cosmopolitan media darling.
"I thought so," said Dr Sandhu. "So your brother's sexual self, his sexual identity, was overwhelmingly invested in this one exceptional woman."
"Yes, exactly, Doctor. And - how can I put this - she was just very sexy. Beautiful, of course - you've seen photos, I think - but there was something deeply sexual about her. I don't mean slutty or blatant, just ... as soon as she was in a room, people looked at her with desire. It was like she had her own spotlight following her around. She aroused something in pretty much anyone who met her."
"What did she arouse in you, Miss Wheeler?"
Helen sighed. "I'm not sure. I liked her, enjoyed her company. I envied her: her beauty, her sex appeal, her charisma, her intellect. I thought about her a lot - that's another thing she did, she dominated your thoughts. I was delighted at how she made David happy, and terrified of what might happen if it all went wrong. I don't think I desired her sexually, at least in any way that I understood. I'm straight, Doctor, as far as I know."
"Of course, of course. Thank you, Miss Wheeler, this is all very useful to know. So ... yes ... now ... ah ... please forgive what may seem to be prurient detail, but I think it is important. As you know, we have had your brother under discreet 24 hour observation since his admission here, initially every 15 minutes, then more recently every hour. It has become evident that ... ah ... David masturbates fairly frequently. Oh don't worry, nothing untoward has happened - we are just good at detecting these things."
Helen was too exhausted to be embarrassed by these intimate revalations about her brother. "It's all right, Doctor, please go on."
"Now I regard this as a very positive sign. It means that David's libido is as healthy as his appetite for food or his need for sleep. And it is a form of release, which is exactly what he needs so much. And I think it may give us a way in. A channel which we need to explore and widen, if you will forgive a possibly indelicate turn of phrase, in this context."
Helen let it pass.
"My idea is this. I genuinely believe that your brother would benefit, psychologically, from a ... ah ... sexual encounter. With a complete stranger who bears no physical resemblance to his late wife. A powerful, unexpected experience - and sexual. Not with any great emotional content. It could even be facilitated by ... ah ... a business transaction. But I am not prepared to let him leave the clinic, which makes things more difficult than one would like."
Now Helen was amazed and, to her additional surprise, slightly excited. "Doctor, are you saying you ... you want to bring a ... what ... an escort, a prostitute ... into the clinic to see David?"
"You know, it is not as unusual as you might think, Miss Wheeler. There are more enlightened countries in Europe where hospitals and clinics quite routinely make arrangements for the sexual needs of long-term patients to be catered for. They regard it as inconsistent to serve the needs for food, drink and sleep while ignoring that other great driving force in life. Unfortunately, it would illegal here in Britain. I could not possibly suggest or condone it, openly. On the other hand, if somebody were to venture something of this nature ... I would see no reason to stand in the way. I think you understand my meaning."
In the days that followed that extraordinary conversation with Dr Sandhu, Helen entered a new world. She began looking for someone who could carry out Dr Sandhu's incredible plan. Internet searches for escorts in London brought back hundreds of thousands of hits, most lurid, some shocking. Helen set herself a couple of parameters: the person would have to be British - her liberal feminist conscience was being challenged enough without bringing in the spectre of sex trafficking. And she would want to meet her first, for a sort of interview, although she had no clear idea of what she might ask, or what she would make of the answers. After an initial, rather haphazard sift she had a collection of phone numbers belonging to escort agencies and "massage" providers. When she called them, once she made it clear that she was not looking for work, and explained her unusual request, she usually got a polite hearing, and an equally polite refusal. She despaired at the extent to which the world of paid-for sex in London was dominated - nearly monopolised - by East European women. She learned the difference between "independent escorts" and "parlours" or "flats". Between "incalls", where the customer visited the flat, and "outcalls", when the escort travelled to the customer. And she started to wonder if all this was really the right thing. You're unbalanced by shock and exhaustion, Helen, she started to tell herself. This is mad. You should be seeking counselling yourself, not spending your evenings phoning fucking brothels.
And then she thought that her brother had not spoken or smiled for a month. And she did one more search.
She found a website that seemed to carry small ads for providers who did not have their own sites. And a misused apostrophe caught her eye: "English Rose's. 100% British Girls." She called the number, nobody picked up. It was late evening, and she already knew that some places closed surprisingly early. So the next day, in her lunch break, she tried again.
The woman who answered the phone had a strong London accent and her voice was harsh and nicotine-stained. Helen told her story, the words coming mechanically now. The woman paused. "Well, strictly speaking this is a working flat, love. We don't normally do outcalls, even normal ones. But there's a girl here who's done a couple, might be interested. She's seeing a customer at the moment. Do you want to call back in 20 minutes?" She hung up.
Helen felt a stark realisation that the woman whom she might buy for her brother was, at this very moment, having sex for money. And knew she would be finished in 20 minutes. This was real. Again her resolve wavered. And again she thought of David's soft voice and shy smile, unheard and unseen by anyone for a month. She let 25 minutes pass, and called again. The same woman replied. "Oh yeah, I remember. Just a sec. Angie love, it's that woman I was just telling you about." Helen heard the sound of the phone being placed down, then picked up again. A new voice was on the line: younger, softer and more modulated than the first one. Still London, though less blatantly so, with a faint background note of Caribbean.
"Hi, my name's Angie. Rosie told me what you said. Now, I'm not saying no, not yet at least, but I want to meet you in person before I decide."
"Er ... yes ... yes of course ... I would want that too ... I ... I work in central London ... er ... where would be good for you ....?" Helen stammered.
"OK, good. Do you know ----- Road?" She named a busy main street in West London that Helen knew well, having gone out for a while with a guy who used to work near there.
"Yes ... yes, I can get there."
"OK." Angie named a pub that Helen knew. "Meet me there at 5 o'clock. I won't have all that much time cos of when my childminder finishes. Look for a black girl in a yellow shirt." She hung up.
So it was that Helen found herself entering the pub, as agreed, just before five that same day. It was starting to fill up with the after-work crowd from the nearby offices. Suits, smartphones and loud, confident voices. The perfect place not to be noticed or overheard, in fact. Helen looked around. At a corner table sat a slim woman of Afro-Caribbean appearance, aged probably in her mid-20s, wearing a lemon-yellow, sleeveless cotton shirt. A glass of what looked like orange juice was on the table in front of her. Helen decided she needed something stronger and bought a gin and tonic at the bar. Her heart racing, she approached the woman.
"Angie? I'm Helen."
"Hi Helen. So you went through with it. Nice to meet you." Angie half rose, and held out a hand to greet Helen. Helen noticed how lean and toned the other woman's arms were, and her long, slim fingers.
"Well," said Angie as they both sat down. "You don't look like a maniac, which is a good start."
Helen tried not to show how closely she was scrutinising Angie. Angie was really very, very beautiful. Helen cringed inwardly as she found herself thinking of an Afro-Caribbean woman's skin as "coffee-coloured", but she could not come up with a better term. Her hair was pulled back from her high forehead into a short, stiff ponytail, accentuating her huge, darkly glittering eyes with their long, curling lashes. Her lips were full and sensual, parting readily in a wide smile. Her gaze was steady, and Helen had a strong sense of a fierce intelligence behind it. Her poise and movements were elegant and precise. To Helen's surprise, she was reminded of Marie-Claude.
"Rosie told me what you're looking for. Now at the moment I'm not ruling anything out. But ... this brother of yours, he's in like a mental hospital, right? I mean, first thing I think is, is it safe?"
"Well, it's more a private clinic, really. He has his own room. You wouldn't have contact with any other patients. And David ... God knows he's anything but dangerous ... I'm sorry ..." Tears started in Helen's eyes. Angie placed a slim hand on her arm.
"Hey, hey, it's OK. I trust you. Actually I do. This is such a mad thing you're doing that I sort of feel it must be OK. But I still don't quite understand where the idea came from."
So Helen told her the whole story. David, Marie-Claude, their marriage, the conference in Lausanne, the car crash, death, infidelity, David's self-harm, his present condition, Dr Sandhu's crazy idea. When she had finished, Angie looked steadily at her with those big, searching eyes, in silence, for a long, long time. Finally, she spoke.
"I'll do it. We'll need to work out some of the details, but I'll do it. There are some basic rules. No compromises on these, right? You are responsible for getting me in and out safely. I want you in there with me when I see him, in case anything happens. If anything goes wrong, if we get caught, anything, then I'm gone and it's all on you and this doctor person. As for what I do and don't do: I never do 'A', watersports or hardsports. If you don't already know what they are, you don't need to. I never have sex without a condom. With a condom is fine. I may do 'O' - I mean oral - without a condom, to completion in the mouth, at my discretion. I am OK with uniforms, role play and light to medium spanking. I can give that or receive it. I won't be tied up, or rather I only do that with regular customers I know well. Solo shows are fine, including toy shows. I do hand relief, obviously. Breast relief, too, although I'm not very big up top so they tend not to ask for that. But to be honest, if this is all in a hospital room and we're trying not to be noticed, we'll be a bit limited anyway. I'll work out a price and let you know. Payment in cash, in full, on the day but in advance of me seeing him. OK?"
Helen gave a half-sob, half-laugh of relief, even though she was now committed to the biggest, craziest risk of her life. "Thank you. Angie ... thank you".
The atmosphere between them seemed to relax a little. Angie sipped at her drink. "So, am I what you expected when you started looking for an escort?" she said.
"I didn't really know what to expect. You seem ... nice. Honest, open. I like that. I think you understand this insane situation, the doctor's and my even more insane idea. You seem kind."
"The Tart With A Heart, eh?" Angie smiled. "Well, nobody sets out to be a prozzie, right?"
"I suppose not."
"I assure you, darling, nobody does. It's no young girl's dream. But stuff happens, yeah? I was a chef, you know."
"Yep. I went to catering college. I was good. Still am, to be honest. I was just starting out when I had my little girl. Ellie. Her Dad fucked off - pardon my language - a month before she was born. I've never seen him since. Bastard. White English guy, by the way, in case you're thinking this is yet another Jamaican babyfather story."
"No, not at all ..."
"No, of course, you wouldn't jump to that conclusion. Cos you're nice, middle class, socially aware, right-on, 'Guardian' reading, anti-sexist, anti-racist, all of that, right? Except you've just booked your brother a session with a black hooker who's a a single mum."
Helen looked down at the table in embarrassment and shame. Angie touched her arm again, smiling.
"Hey, it's OK, just winding you up. You're all right. Weird, but all right. Anyway, where was I ..."