"You're asking me to take my clothes off for a stranger? For money?"
Catherine could not believe what she had heard. Virgil had got himself into trouble yet again and needed her to clean up the mess for him. This she had come to expect, but it seemed that she was never able to do enough for him, never able to convince him to stay in rehab long enough to get well. Now, he was asking the impossible of her. Without discussing it with her, he had promised some artist to whom he owed money that she would pose nude for him.
"It's not as if it's prostitution or anything!" Virgil whined. "Don't be like that!"
Catherine wanted to hit the young man standing in front of her. There were times when she hated him, and this was one of those times, but she knew that she would do as she always did; she would try to help. She had promised their parents that she would protect him if ever he got into trouble. She had meant it at the time, but now she wondered if the pact made with her father, three months before he died, wasn't really one made with the Devil himself.
"Look, how much do you owe this man?"
"Four thousand dollars."
"In what currency, Virgil?" Catherine held her breath.
"Four thousand dollars, US! Jesus, Virgil! How comes? Are you fucking crazy? Why would anyone lend you four thousand US dollars? What did you do with the money?"
"You're always telling me to get a job so I was trying to start my own business," he replied sulkily.
"Start your own business?" she realised that she couldn't decide if her brother was actually on something and lying to her during this conversation, and that thought scared her. "Doing what? What sort of business did you start, Virgil?"
"I was going to start my own gardening service; you know, mowing lawns and trimming hedges and stuff like that."
It was not the answer that she had expected, and that served to knock her off balance. The speech that she had prepared stayed on the tip of her tongue and instead, a wave of pity for the lost young man swept over her.
"I don't see why you'd need four thousand dollars for that, but if that is what you really used the money to do, we have to find a way to pay him back!" she whispered instead.
"He doesn't want the money anymore. He wants you."
"He want's me? Why the hell would he want me?"
Her blood pressure began to rise again. She knew that she had to hear Virgil out, but it was the last thing that she wanted to do.
"He saw you with me the other day, and he knew that you are my sister, and he said that if you did this favour for him then he'd forgive my debt," he whined. "He said that perhaps you could help him..." he trailed off, only slightly embarrassed at last.
Catherine became angry again at the too casual way in which her brother said this. She knew that it was true that she was his main asset, but this transaction was just too literally commercial for her taste. Did her brother and his creditor really see her as a commodity, something to be traded freely? Wasn't this kind of thing illegal?
"You know something, V; it's your problem. You have to learn some responsibility. I'm not doing it. Work your way out of this yourself," she said changing her mind again.
"Look! How many other girls can say that someone paid them four thousand dollars to pose nude for two hours? It's not as if he's asking for sex or anything! He says that he thinks that you're beautiful. He said that you reminded him of his wife or something."
"His wife? Are you kidding me? So what would she have to say about this? Look, if your friend wants to see a naked woman he can go surf the Net! I am not doing this."
Virgil didn't raise the issue again for two days and Catherine hoped that they had drawn a line under the incident. She couldn't imagine how that could be true, but she wondered if he was at least trying to figure things out for himself for a change.
Then she heard him whispering on the phone in her kitchen while eating food that he'd pilfered from her refrigerator.
"Look, I'll get your money! I just need more time. Things didn't take off as I thought they would; some guys pay their sons or do it themselves... I'm trying to run a legitimate business... I just need some time!"
Virgil sounded desperate. The conversation that she had overheard lent some spurious credence to his claim to have been starting a gardening service. For the first time she wondered what sort of person had given him the money. Knowing him, it was probably a loan shark; someone who would probably kill him if he failed to pay it back. If that were true though the man could be looking to her for long-term prostitution, incredible promises of debt-forgiveness aside. Did Virgil really try to sell her for US$4,000.00?
Catherine did not know what she thought would happen when she pressed the button at the gate of a huge manor on the outskirts of the town. A movie set was the image that came into her mind. The endless carpet of green lawn was ruffled in the distance by small, decorative hillocks and artistic roughs. She could imagine someone playing golf here except that he might interrupt the two horses that grazed serenely beside a nearby stream. The water flowed lazily under some old-looking moss-covered weeping willows away to her right. It was incredible that people actually lived this way in Jamaica. That a loan shark would have this good taste surprised her in the extreme.
The man who opened the door surprised her even more. He looked as if he might be in his late 50s or early 60s, more a successful writer or academic than a sleazy usurer. His mane of iron-grey hair suggested that he was once a redhead. It was swept back aristocratically and very nearly hid the slight thinning at the back. His bushy eyebrows could have looked fierce except that they hovered over laughing eyes. He was a little thick around the middle, but all in all, Catherine felt that she would have hugged him if she could. He was her type, her Daddy-bear type.
She felt a little sorry that she had not dressed up a bit more, though she had thought it wise at the time not to do so when she had decided to try to reason with the man to give her and her brother more time to pay him his money. She had not expected to find herself talking with the man with whom she slept every night in her fantasies. It disappointed and shamed her to think that she was interested in this man.
"You came, Ms. Carmichael! Thank you," the man exclaimed, extending his hand and apparently not noticing her discomfiture.
"I'm not sure that I had any choice. I hear that my brother owes you a great deal of money. I wanted to discuss a payment plan with you if you don't mind," she said, coldly.
The man hesitated as if unsure of what she was talking about. He touched his ear and she noticed that he seemed to have in a hearing-aid. He couldn't seem to stop smiling at her though and again, it surprised her because it was not the greasy grin that she had expected. The situation was proving to be so startling different from what she had expected that she had not processed fully that he was not as she had imagined him, and so she continued to address him according to her initial rehearsed script.
"I take it that Virgil has told you that I needed to see you?"
"He told me that you needed to see me naked!" Catherine was suddenly angry again.
The man's mouth fell open in shock. The bushy eyebrows went up toward his hairline.
"What! I don't know what you're talking about! I didn't tell him anything like that! I told him that I wanted to see you, yes, but I told him that I wanted to discuss his case with you since you are his only close relative."
"Discuss his case?"
Catherine was confused. There was an obvious disconnect between this man and her. It was not sounding as if he was the monster that she thought him to be.
"Yes, I'm a doctor! Who did you think I was? Your brother's been trying to get back into the programme that I run at the Goleman Clinic, but he's dropped out of it three times before now and so I told him that I would need to speak with you before I'd even consider letting him back in."
The man paused as Catherine blushed scarlet. He sighed.
"I think that we need to start over, Ms. Carmichael. I am Christopher McDermott, the head of the Goleman Clinic where your brother has been coming to sessions for rehab on and off for several years. I have never dealt with his case personally, but the buck does stop with me about letting him in again. I wanted to see if he had the support to make it stick this time. We cannot continue to waste our scarce resources on someone who is not ready to follow through. I spoke with him and he has given me his assurances, but I wanted to see you as well."
"So why couldn't we have met in your office?" Catherine asked defensively.
She was not ready to believe that she had got it so wrong about this man and embarrassed herself again because of her brother. Her anger was still real, and its source remained the same, her brother; but it was crystallising into a rage that she had never felt before.
"We begin a new programme on Monday and I need to know if he'll be a part of that. Believe me I was not luring you here under false pretences. I assure you that I do not require you to be undressed for our discussion."
Catherine flushed again. She wished that Christopher McDermott would have been gentleman enough to have ignored her accusation when it became apparent that Virgil had lied yet again.
"Why would he say...?" she began.
"I really don't know," Christopher McDermott cut in. "You are very lovely to be sure, but I really don't need you to do that for me."
"Please forgive me, Dr. McDermott. I don't know what to say except that I'll be killing Virgil when I leave here!"
"Ahh! Forget it. It's probably sibling playfulness of some sort. A bit sick really, but there is no harm done."
He paused, looking her over before ushering her through the door.
"So may we discuss his case now? Imagine if you had actually come in and taken me up on Virgil's offer! I would probably have had a coronary; so it's just as well that you're not that sort of girl, and I'm not your type," he said chuckling gently.
Their meeting was very successful. Catherine and Christopher McDermott decided to give Virgil one more chance. Given that he had initiated the process himself, they had hope for him this time. She sat chatting with the doctor long after they stopped talking about her brother, discussing his work at the Clinic and her work as a teacher at the Mandeville School with some of the nation's most inventive teenagers.
"You remind me of my wife you know! My late wife actually; she was an educator too," Christopher McDermott declared suddenly during one of the rare lulls in the conversation. "I haven't laughed so hard in years; not since she died actually."
So, Virgil hadn't been lying about that!
"That is not a comforting thought for me, Dr. McDermott. I'm not superstitious, but I don't want to remind anyone of his late wife. It's just a bit unnerving," she said becoming guarded again.
Christopher McDermott threw back his head and laughed heartily again. His eyes crinkled and he actually shed tears. Catherine was captivated once more by the youthful visage that emerged when he was genuinely amused. She wasn't sure that she wanted to be the source of that amusement, but she needed something to lighten the mood again. She knew that if this man were really to insist on touching her that she would have little choice but to allow him since neither she nor her brother knew where the first dollar of his money would come from to pay for Virgil's treatment. She realised suddenly, that they hadn't got around to talking about that, but given the tales of his success she knew that Virgil needed this man to work with him personally. She sensed that he would not tolerate any foolishness from her brother; and she believed unequivocally, that the tough love approach was what Virgil needed. She knew that she didn't have the strength to do it for him, but since she needed him to recover she was prepared to do whatever it took.
"I suppose you're right. It is weird, but I assure you that there was no foul play involved in Fiona's death. She had leukaemia. I did all that I could for her, but in the end the good Lord took her from me. Just for one evening, I've enjoyed chatting freely about my work like I used to do with her. Please relax Ms. Carmichael; I mean you no harm. Call me Christopher; please! All my friends do."
"Virgil had said that you wanted me nude," she couldn't stop herself from saying the words and then she wanted to kick herself. "He said that you wanted to paint me. Is that how you hoped to be paid for your services with his treatment?" she asked quietly, suddenly depressed again.
"No! For the last time, I promise you, your brother and I did not discuss anything like that," the man paused. "I only said that, I needed to see you to discuss his case, but I can see that you're very worried now about the payment. There is no need, my dear. I'm sorry that this whole situation was presented to you in such an unfortunate light, but I promise you, I am a gentleman; I'm not a sleazy low-life. Actually, I'm surprised that you came here if you thought that of me."
He looked at her curiously, but then simply gestured toward his kitchen, a large, fully-equipped room, again taken from a page in Architectural Digest.
"It was just probably Virgil's twisted idea of a joke," he continued. "Get you to come to our meeting if you thought that I was somehow in a position of power over him. I can see that you love your brother. I'm sure that he sees it too."
He frowned slightly, considering the implications of what had obviously passed through his patient's mind.
"I hope that you would have come even if you hadn't thought that I was trying to coerce you into something though. He is a very troubled young man. Childish and petulant, but I'll do my best to fix him for you. Don't give it another thought," he continued merrily after a while.
Catherine still looked unhappy and the man looked at her beseechingly, urging her to forget her brother's stunt.
"Please, have some coffee and muffins with me... I baked them myself!" he beamed by way of encouragement.
Catherine did not want to eat anything with this man who was still, despite everything, a stranger, but since he was offering to give Virgil a chance despite knowing what a liar and screw-up he really was, she didn't want to offend him either.
Christopher McDermott noticed Catherine's hesitation and guessed its source. He knew that she was suspicious of his generosity. In a way it made him happy since he realised that she probably would have stripped for him if he insisted on that as payment for this fictitious loan. He would have to have a very serious talk with Virgil on Monday. There was obviously much more to the young man than his sister seemed to suspect, and McDermott did not like the picture that was emerging.
"Catherine, your brother does not owe me anything," he said making a sudden decision. "He'd become part of a study that I'm doing, so there is no charge for his treatment at the clinic," he lied smoothly. "Please do not give this another thought... Stay and have dinner with me; let's talk about something else; what are you reading now; or are you more of a movie buff? I haven't seen anything recently so you'll have to tell me what's good."
Catherine stayed, and eventually helped Christopher McDermott to cook their dinner. The man was very charming. She learned that he was indeed a returning resident. His father was an American-Irishman, but his mother was his Jamaican link, and she had raised him to see himself as being a product of the island and owing it some due. He had come to live permanently in Mandeville only three years earlier walking away from a successful practice in upstate New York after his wife, Fiona Goleman, had died. They had had no children, so it was an easier decision to make than people had thought it should have been.
It was difficult for her to leave him when their evening came to an end five hours later, but Christopher McDermott told her that he would take care of everything and that she wasn't to worry about her brother. He seemed to be genuinely touched when she gave him a tight bear hug as she left his home to drive back to her small townhouse on the other side of the town.
Catherine didn't see her brother, or hear from him, for several weeks after her meeting with Christopher McDermott though the doctor called her once per week to give her general updates on her brother's progress. The doctor urged her to visit her brother, but she couldn't bring herself to do it since she was still angry with him. She didn't get an explanation about the alleged four thousand dollar loan and it became more of a mystery when she learned that participation in the programme in the Clinic cost twenty-five thousand dollars unless it was a pro bono case. She wondered why Virgil would have merited a pro bono spot given his record, but since Christopher McDermott had couched it in terms of Virgil being part of a study she didn't want to ask for anything more by way of explanation, fearing that he would become offended as the suggestion that he too had somehow lied to her.
When he wasn't speaking with her on the phone Christopher McDermott was in her thoughts. In reality, he was always a gentleman and he treated her like a lady. He seemed genuinely interested in her; but, disappointing her, he never stepped over the line into the salacious fantasy that she was building around him.
Images of the distinguished older man tormented Catherine in her dreams each night. It excited her to think of him undressing her slowly and being impressed by her curves. Her hands relished the rise and fall of her breasts and the flare of her hips and round buttocks as she showered while thinking of him touching her, and as she lay carelessly, yearning for him before she slumbered.
She really was a pretty girl; not beautiful, perhaps, but pretty enough. However, because of Virgil's antics she had not dared to get close to anyone for fear of her brother becoming a burden to the man as well. She lived the life that she wanted only in her fantasies. Alternatively being angry with Virgil and feeling like a martyr because of him, she trudged through her squalid little existence.
Over the many weeks, Catherine developed quite a fantasy romance with Christopher McDermott, serving him as a treasured concubine in his sultanate every night; or at their home which looked suspiciously like the one in which she had had her first meeting with him. She envisaged what it would be like if she went to work with him and hid under his desk while he spoke with prospective clients. She imagined herself spreading his legs and releasing his cock. She saw herself laving it with her tongue to a full hardness. She enjoyed the thought of watching him squirm under her ministrations as he tried to present an outwardly professional demeanour. He always lost to her in her thoughts, cumming helplessly as she deep throated him. In her fantasies he always fucked her senseless after she did this to him when the clients left.
Catherine wondered constantly what sort of lover the doctor would be. Would he be as playful in bed as she was? Would he be into role play? Would he be into age play? She couldn't imagine that he would need to boost his ego with a younger woman. She felt the impossibility of her situation and resolved to, at least, maintain her dignity when around him.
She was shocked one day when he was introduced to her and the other teachers as being the new physician on call at the school. She was informed that he had generously offered his services pro bono! She managed a frozen smile, but little beyond that during their introduction by the principal.