'I see you're in the paper again, Ms Brune.'
From behind the concierge's desk Davy Markham held up a copy of the local community newspaper with a front page photograph of Josephine Brune ceremoniously planting a tree in front of the new West City Early Childhood Education Centre. 'I've got a couple of spare copies here if you'd like them.'
Ms Brune smiled a wry smile. 'Thank you, Davy, but they delivered about a hundred copies to the Council office.'
Davy's enthusiasm was visibly dampened. 'Oh. So I guess you won't need another one then.'
'No. But thank you for the kind thought.' Ms Brune had a reputation for being a bit severe, but she was always courteous.
'That's OK,' Davy said.
'I don't suppose there was ...' Josephine Brune hesitated, 'a parcel at all? For me? Courier?'
Davy shook his head. 'No, not today, Ms Brune. Were you expecting something?'
Ms Brune frowned ever so slightly. 'Umm ... perhaps tomorrow,' she said. ' I'm not sure how long it usually takes.'
As Josephine Brune – former MP, current chair of the council's Development Board, and board member of three of the country's top ten corporations – waited for the lift that would take her to her seventh floor apartment, Davy nevertheless had one more look through the packages and parcels awaiting collection by the residents of Greenwood Towers. 'No. Definitely nothing here,' he said, eventually.
'Oh well, as I say, perhaps tomorrow. Goodnight, Davy.'
An hour or so earlier, however, there had been a parcel for Jack Braine in Apartment 2D. Jack had arrived home from a frustrating day in the English Department at the university. Thursdays were always a bit manic, but this one had been especially so. A lecture at nine, another at eleven. Then the weekly departmental meeting that had gone on and on. And just as Jack was about to leave for the day, he had fallen into a long and somewhat pointless debate with one of the new IT support people.
'Parcel for you, Jack,' Davy had called out as Jack walked in the front door and strode towards the lift. 'Bit early for Christmas. Your birthday perhaps?'
Jack had been half expecting a book that he had bought from Amazon. But this parcel didn't seem like a book from Amazon. Or at least it wasn't in the normal Amazon packaging. It was just a plain brown box with a hand-written address label. Also, it didn't feel heavy enough to be a book.
'No, you still have a few months to save for my birthday, Davy.'
Just as Jack entered his apartment his phone rang and so he placed the anonymous parcel on the small hall table and there it remained for the next hour or so while he took the phone call, initiated a couple of calls of his own, and then set about preparing some supper.
Different people open parcels in different ways. Some people attack the top; some attack an end; and some just do whatever it takes to separate the wrapping from the contents. Jack Braine preferred a more considered approach. He looked for the weakest point: the point at which the carefully-considered intervention of a sharp knife would have the greatest effect for the least effort.
Turning the parcel upside down, he found just what he was looking for: two of the four cardboard flaps that formed the base of the box met beneath a single strip of packaging tape. Jack ran the tip of a well-honed Sabatier utility knife along the join. Two seconds; job done.
The first thing that Jack saw when he carefully lifted the cardboard flaps was bubble wrap. Lots of bubble wrap. A veritable cloud of bubble wrap. And somewhere deep inside the cloud, something purple.
He lifted the purple-centred cloud from the box and, with another judicious nick from the utility knife, sliced through the small piece of tape that was keeping the layers of bubble wrap from unravelling.
According to the label attached to the purple phallic-shaped object at the centre of the cloud, the larger of the two objects in the box was a Rabbit Habit vibrator – 'the favourite choice of the quality-conscious'. The smaller object was a shrink-wrapped three-pack of AA batteries.
Some sort of joke? In a few months' time, Jack was scheduled to deliver a paper on the rise and rise of erotic literature for women. Maybe one of his colleagues was having a little joke at Jack's expense.
After contemplating the Rabbit Habit for a few moments, Jack looked once more into the empty brown cardboard box to discover that it was not, in fact, quite empty. There was some sort of folded, printed piece of paper. And, on retrieving and unfolding the piece of paper, he discovered that it was a printed invoice/packing slip addressed to J Brune, Apartment 7D, etc. He looked again at the hand-written label on the outside of the box and nodded. Yes, it had been an easy enough mistake to make. The hand-written 7 did look a bit like a 2. And Brune did look a bit like Braine.
Jack smiled to himself at the thought of prim and proper strait-laced Josephine Brune, sprawled in a chair or on the edge of a bed, her knickers down around her ankles and the skirt of her designer business suit pulled up around her waist while she simultaneously serviced both her vagina and her clitoris with the two-headed buzzing purple monster.
And then, having enjoyed the thought, he set about recreating the bubble wrap-cloud and putting it back into the box. That done, it was just a matter of placing a new piece of packaging tape precisely over the piece that had earlier been so neatly slit, and the package was returned to its pristine state.
'There,' he said to himself. 'No one will ever be any the wiser.'
Early the following morning, while Davy was standing out on the pavement, remonstrating with a van driver who had parked in the No Stopping area, Jack surreptitiously slipped the repacked package into the wire bin behind the concierge's desk and briskly strode off in the direction of the university – but not without bidding Davy a cheery 'Good morning' as he went by.
It was shortly after 5pm when Jack returned. Davy was at the door, cloth in hand, industriously cleaning smudged fingerprints off the glass. 'What's the point of having a handle, eh?' Davy said. 'No one bothers to use it.'
Jack smiled. 'Oh well ... gives you something to do, Davy.'
'Oh, I've got plenty to do, don't you worry about that.'
Jack walked into the lobby and pressed the lift call button. Fifteen seconds later, the lift arrived and the doors opened. Jack stepped in and was just about to press the button for the second floor when he heard Josephine Brune's voice. He stuck his hand out to stop the doors from closing. 'Perfect timing, Josephine,' he said.
'Thank you, Jack.'
Ms Brune was just about to join Jack in the lift when Davy called out.
'Oh, Ms Brune ... the parcel you were expecting ... it must have arrived this morning.' And Davy raced to the desk and reached over to grab the parcel and hand it to a slightly uneasy-looking Josephine Brune.
'Umm ... thank you,' she said. 'Yes.'
Jack waited for the doors to close and then pressed the buttons for the second and seventh floors. 'Your birthday?' Jack enquired, glancing at the parcel.
'Umm ... no. It's probably just something that I ordered. For the kitchen,' Josephine added. 'You know ... a gadget. I have a bit of a weakness for kitchen gadgets.' And she laughed. Nervously.
The lift stopped at the second floor and Jack stepped out. 'Well ... enjoy your new gadget,' he said.
'Thank you. Have a nice evening.'
'I shall do my very best,' Jack assured her.
The following day – Friday – Jack Braine and Josephine Brune again arrived home at more or less the same time. And for the second time in as many days they shared the lift.
'How was your new gadget?' Jack enquired mischievously. 'Did it perform as you hoped it would?'
For a moment or two, Josephine seemed not to know what Jack was talking about. But then ... 'Oh! Yes,' she said. 'I mean no. No, I didn't get a chance to ... umm. No.'
'Oh well, the weekend's coming up,' Jack said.
As Jack stepped out on the second floor, one of the books he was carrying under his arm – 'Tickling Pink: Tales of Self Pleasure' – fell to the floor. Jack stooped down to pick it up – but not before Josephine had a chance to quickly read the title. 'I'm working on a paper on erotica for women,' Jack explained with a cheeky grin.
'I see. Then have a nice evening,' Josephine said with an almost straight face.
The next time that Jack saw Josephine Brune was the following Monday. She was being interviewed on the 6:30 TV news. Jack was only half paying attention and so he didn't quite catch the interviewer's question. But he did catch Josephine's answer. 'Well, part of the solution,' she said, 'is a good deal more discipline.'
The interview was filmed in what appeared to be some dark-but-opulent wood-panelled room, and Josephine was wearing a rather severe high-collared jacket of some sort. Jack thought that she looked like a particularly stern Victorian governess. A good deal more discipline indeed, he thought. But then he thought of her astride her new purple 'kitchen gadget'.
An hour or so later, just as Jack was drawing the cork from a bottle of wine, there was a knock on the door. Jack put the wine down on the kitchen counter and went to the door. Even before he opened it, he knew that it was likely to be his neighbour, Richard. Richard had a sixth sense when it came to freshly-opened bottles of wine. But it wasn't Richard. It was Josephine Brune.
'Oh. Hello,' Jack said. 'Come in.'
'No. I won't stay,' Josephine said. 'I just came down to give you this.' And she handed Jack a book-shaped parcel wrapped in brown paper. 'I think Davy needs glasses. He doesn't seem to be able to tell the difference between a 7 and a 2.'
Jack smiled and studied the hand-written address. 'Well, I guess the 2 does look a little like a 7. Not a lot like a 7, but a little.' He turned the parcel over and glanced quickly at the sender's address. 'Oh, good. This'll be the Betty Dodson book I've been waiting for.'
Josephine frowned slightly. 'Betty Dodson? What's her speciality? Cookbooks or crime? I can't imagine you as a romance reader.'
'Sex,' Jack said, deviating from his normal modus operandi and tearing the wrapping off the parcel. 'Betty Dodson was one of the first women to really talk openly about masturbation.' He held up the book for Josephine to see.
'Sex for One,' Josephine said. 'Goodness me. That's ... umm ... very ... umm ... to the point.'
'Her original book,' Jack said.
The normally-cool-and-calm Josephine seemed more than a little flustered. 'For your ... umm ... project, I assume?'
'Sort of,' Jack said. 'A bit of background reading.' Jack flicked through a few pages. 'Ah, yes, look! Dodson started out as a visual artist and she's quite well known for her vulva drawings. What do you think?' Jack turned the book, open at a page displaying a rather good and detailed pencil drawing of a vulva, towards the flustered Ms Brune. (Jack was suddenly enjoying himself.)
'Oh, goodness me,' Josephine said, quickly covering her eyes. (Although Jack noted that she still managed to peep between her fingers.)
'By the way, I've finished reading Tickling Pink if you'd like to borrow it. It's quite interesting. Although I must say that some of the writing is truly atrocious. Look, are you sure you won't join me in a glass of wine?'
'Oh no, I really must ....'
'It won a gold at the recent international wine awards.'
'Well ... no ... I shouldn't ....
'Just a small one?'
Josephine looked at her watch. 'Oh well, perhaps just a taste.'
Jack was pretty sure that Josephine had already had 'just a taste' before she had arrived at his door. But he smiled, guided her inside, and closed the door behind her before she had a chance to change her mind. 'Have a seat. And I'll just find some glasses.'
'Gosh. It's nice and warm in here, isn't it?'
'Yes,' Jack said. 'It was a bit chilly when I got home. I turned the heating up. I'll turn in down again.'
'No, no. Not on my account. But I might just take my jacket off.'
'Please do,' Jack said. 'Jacket. Skirt. Just make yourself comfortable.'
Josephine smiled – nervously – but removed her jacket anyway.
Jack took a couple of large long-stemmed wine glasses from the cupboard in the kitchen, grabbed the bottle of wine from the kitchen counter, and found a small space for the wine and the glasses on the otherwise-book-covered coffee table.
'I saw you on TV,' Jack said.
'Yes. A bit of a budget blow out. I'm afraid that the management team has not been quite as responsible as it might have been. And the media just loves anything to do with public money.'
Jack nodded. 'Oh. So that's what it was about. I just caught the bit where you were saying that the solution was more discipline.' Jack smiled.
'Well, it is,' Josephine replied in a rather matter of fact way.
Jack poured a couple of generous sloshes of wine. 'I had visions of you putting some of the miscreants across your knee.'
'It's probably what some of them need,' Josephine said.
Again Jack smiled. 'Well, cheers,' he said, raising his glass in a toast.
'Yes. To your very good health.' Josephine took a sip of the award-winning wine. 'Goodness. This is good, isn't it? Yes. I can see why it was awarded a gold medal.'
The aforementioned Tickling Pink was lying on the table immediately in front of where Josephine was sitting. She tapped it with the well-manicured forefinger of her left hand. 'When you say that some of the writing is truly atrocious ....'
'Oh, just bad writing,' Jack said. 'Mind you, I understand that Fifty Shades of Grey is unlikely to win any prizes for its prose, but that hasn't held it back, has it? Take it. Read it. See what you think. I'd be interested in a woman's opinion. It is, after all, aimed primarily at women. And maybe I'm just being a stuffy academic.'
Josephine said nothing for a moment or two, preferring instead to take another sip of her wine.
'This new book,' Josephine said cautiously, 'the Betty Dodson ... you say it's about ....' She hesitated.
'Masturbation,' Jack said, helpfully.
'Umm ... yes. A rather limited market I would have thought.'
'Oh, I don't know,' Jack said, with a wry smile. 'From what I've been discovering since I started this project, I think there are any number of women out there who are interested in ... shall we say "improving their technique".'
Jack wasn't sure whether it was the temperature of the room, or the wine, or the topic of conversation, but the normally cool and calm Ms Brune was definitely starting to look a little flushed. He put another splash of wine into her glass anyway.
Josephine smiled. 'You'll have me tiddly,' she said.
'Never,' Jack replied in mock horror. 'Whatever would the gentlemen of press say?'
Josephine giggled lightly. 'Well, fortunately, I don't think they'd believe it,' she said. 'And, anyway, my main would-be tormentor is a woman: that Mary Williams. I'd love to put her across my knee.' And then she suddenly realised what she had said. 'Well, you know what I mean.' And she giggled again.
Jack just smiled.
As the level in the wine bottle went down, Josephine became gigglier and gigglier and the conversation became more and more risqué.
'Erotica for Women. Is that the title of your paper, your ... umm ... study?'
'Well, I haven't exactly decided on a title yet,' Jack said. 'But that's the thrust of it, yes.'
Josephine frowned. 'So how do you decide what is erotica and what is ... well, you know ...?'
'Well ... porn,' she said, dropping her voice.
Jack laughed. 'Oh, I think you just know. Erotica is erotica and porn is porn. I suspect that text-based works are almost always erotica – sometimes not very good erotica, but erotica nevertheless. But with visual works, it is perhaps not quite so easy to draw the line. I mean, I think most people would class a piece of low-production video of two people disinterestedly fucking, lots of close-ups of an oversized penis disappearing into a gaping vagina, as porn. But, that said, within the porn genre there are definitely some works that are leaning towards erotica. What do you think? Where do you draw the line?'
'Well ... I suppose ...' Josephine said. And then she suddenly blushed and giggled. 'You know, I can't believe that we're having this conversation. It must be the wine. It's making me feel a little bit naughty.'
'In that case ... a little more wine, I think,' Jack said. 'Don't worry. I can always spank you if you get out of control.'
Josephine's eyes lit up. 'Ooh! Then perhaps I should just get out of control.' And she held out her glass for Jack to replenish it.
'So ... you enjoy a good spanking, do you?'
Josephine tipped back her head and looked down her nose at Jack in mock indignation. 'And what kind of a question is that to ask a lady?'
'I just wondered,' Jack said, casually.
Josephine smiled. 'Well, you may have to just keep wondering.'
Jack reached out and took Josephine's wine glass and placed it on the table. 'Or ...' he said, 'I could just put you across my knee.'
Josephine giggled. 'You wouldn't dare.'
'Oh, but I would,' Jack said.
Josephine stood up. 'Go on then,' she said. And, before she knew what was happening, that was exactly what Jack had done. 'OK, OK. Only joking,' Josephine said, as she struggled to get up. But Jack was too strong for her.
'I think this skirt will have to go,' he said. Fortunately, the zip fastener was right under his hand.
Again, Josephine protested. But, again, it was no use. And soon Jack had unzipped the skirt and he was working it down over Josephine's shapely hips.
'No! Stop it!' Josephine shouted (in between girlish giggles of delight).
'Nice knickers,' Jack said, caressing Josephine's silky clad buttocks. 'But I think they will have to go too.'
Josephine continued to protest and squirm and giggle. But it only postponed the inevitable.
'See what happens to girls who get out of control,' Jack said. And he gave her a sharp smack.
'Ouch! That's not fair. I haven't been bad. Not really,' she protested.
'That's not what I've heard,' Jack said – and he smacked her again.
'Ouch! It's your fault,' Josephine said. 'You shouldn't have given me so much wine.'
'Ouch! And don't blame me. You were the one who started taking about dirty books. Not me,' she said.
'Purely a professional interest,' Jack said.
By the time Jack had given the prone Josephine six or seven sharp smacks, her buttocks were beginning to get quite red. 'That's a nice pink bottom you have,' he said. 'Nice and warm, too. So, what do we think now? Do we think that you might enjoy a bit of a spanking?'
Josephine giggled. 'Perhaps.'
'It does seem so,' Jack said. 'Why don't we explore some possibilities? Shall we do that?'
'I get the feeling that you're going to anyway,' Josephine said. Mixed in with the giggles, her voice had now taken on an almost purring quality.
Jack slipped his hand between Josephine's upper thighs – the same upper thighs that Josephine spread – just slightly – to make Jack's task easier. And then, with the tips of his fingers, he teasingly brushed her damp, fur-covered pudendum. 'Mmm. What have we here?' he said.
Josephine squirmed on Jack's lap and thrust her hips towards his hand. 'Oh, yes,' she murmured.
Slowly, softly, deliberately, Jack caressed the outer lips of Josephine's vulva. 'Mmm. There seems to be a hidden valley between these puffy pulchritudinous peaks. I think further exploration is called for.' And he slipped his index finger into Josephine's slippery groove.
'Oh, yes,' she said again.
'And what's this? Do I detect a secret tunnel?' Jack's finger toyed briefly with the slippery entrance to Josephine's vagina before plunging all the way in. 'Very nice,' he said. 'But I think a job for two.' And he deftly introduced a second finger.