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Great Britain, London, nowadays. Benedict Terrington, a professor at London university, runs an escort agency. But it`s not that simple. No one in his agency is interested in just banging the casual girl. There are certain rules here. 'Never dealing with the psychological problems, never lecturing client, never doing anything but sex'. But, despite these rules, the girls who meet Mr Terrington, become absolutely changed somehow. So what`s the secret? 'She told me that she had never felt so good,’ he said with pain in his voice, losing his whole fuse again, ‘has never been so good as with you.’ After a long pause, he raised his eyes and looked at Benedict. Benedict looked at him without a trace of pity or sympathy. ‘Yes, I can believe it,’ he said. ‘But I also know that this is not only about what I did, but first of all, about what she wanted. I just helped her to see it.' ‘How can you feel so comfortable selling your body?’ Straightening upright in an armchair and setting aside the cup, he rapped out. ‘I am not selling my body,’ Benedict didn’t react at all to this flash, as if not noticing it. ‘I do what I like.’ 'Euphoria comes when you jump into it, trusting in full, and understand – that is freedom.'
Chapter 1. Linda. Accolade
People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Euphoria (from Ancient Greek εὐφορία, from εὖ (eu), ‘well’, and φέρω (pherō), ‘to bear’) is a mental and emotional condition which makes a person feel extremely happy, excited, and carefree. According to modern studies of the brain and psyche, music is one of the most powerful sources of euphoria for a healthy person.
The accolade is a bracket through which two or more note line systems that are played simultaneously by one or more instruments are connected to the left. A series of parenthesized lines is also called an accolade; they are connected by common time lines.
It is also called the ceremony of initiation into the knights and the adoption of a new knight in the order. The term itself came from the French word ‘accolade’, meaning a hug.
‘And are you really doing this?’
‘Well, having sex for ...’
‘Having sex for?.’
Two men were sitting in a small, simply furnished office with two large windows overlooking a small courtyard, completely overgrown with greenery and very much like an old abandoned French garden. The lush vegetation, a few years ago, apparently, had quite obvious strict forms proposed by a caring gardener, has now lost them. Now they looked rather like an emerald sea, once and for all caught in a light storm, probably interrupted only at the next change of seasons, when the saturated green of the waves gave way to a tan and amber bliss. One of the men, – who asked the first question, – was distracted from the conversation for a minute and turned to the window, staring absently at the complex interweaving of leaves and branches. After a rather lengthy pause, during which his interlocutor patiently waited until he formulated an idea that he himself did not fully realize, the man broke away from the contemplation of bushes and trees and slowly said,
‘I could say that you have sex for money, but something stops me.’
He was silent for a while and leaned back in his chair.
‘May I ask what it is?’ His interlocutor was still impeccably polite.
The man thought again and laughed unexpectedly.
‘I don't know myself. It must be the fact that ...’
He froze, trying again to put together thoughts and feelings that, it seems, whether due to fatigue, anger, or excitement, eluded him over and over again.
‘It must be what she told me that evening,’ he finally concluded.
‘That evening?’ The man sitting opposite was clearly intrigued.
‘That evening, when I came to her and said ...’ the man stopped for a moment, obviously embarrassed, ‘when I offered her this deal.’
‘In other words, when you decided to blackmail her,’ rising from his seat, his counterpart went to the table in the opposite part of the room and took out a pack of cigarettes from a box. ‘Don`t you mind?’ he looked questioningly at his interlocutor and, receiving an impatient nod in response, lit a cigarette.
‘Yes.’ The man watched as the owner of the office still slowly approached the window and, having opened one of the wings, sat on the windowsill so that he could possibly let the smoke go to the courtyard.
Depressed either by the deliberate politeness of this gesture, bordering on sophisticated mockery, or by the situation itself, which obviously tormented him for at least several days, the man cast a malicious glance at his interlocutor,
‘She's a master at creating inconvenient incidents. I didn't expect any less from her. But even I could not imagine that one day she would find a whore and make that sort of thing so easy.’
‘I believe you've thanked so.’ The addressee of his remark, who was comfortably settled in his place, safely ignored the insult. ‘However, since you are here, it means that something went wrong.’
Sharply raising his head in response to these words, the man sitting in the chair again glared at his tormentor. He was silent for a long time, and when he decided to break the silence, it was one single word which escaped him.
Reaching for the table behind the ashtray and returning to the previous posture of a carefree and content with a life sybarite, his interlocutor shook the ashes from a cigarette and smiled.
The new silence was not tense – rather, the subtle lines of understanding began to emerge in it, just as they could be seen in the silhouettes of old trees outside the window, as if the old plan of the gardener, which they both tried for a long and painfully to comprehend, suddenly opened to them in bright and magical insight.
The man sitting in the chair, slowly got up and, taking a few steps, stopped right in front of his new acquaintance. Now his gaze slid across the face and figure of the interlocutor, as before, not missing a single detail, but now they were not evidence or lines of a guilty verdict. Blinking several times, he suddenly found himself in the middle of the process of a ... knowledge, and suddenly this made him feel like a guest in someone else's territory – more than in the past half hour, while he wanted to be and remained the prosecutor.
Leaning against a light wall in the window opening, he carefully examined the man sitting in front of him.
He was tall, thin, with large elongated hands, wavy blond hair, falling with light rings on the forehead, so that he periodically had to throw them back, with a short movement of his fingers or just shaking his head. His greenish-blue eyes at that moment seem almost transparent, and his lips were too sharply defined to look harmonious.
He was absolutely unattractive.
The question that tormented the man`s guest for so long, the one because of which – he just realized – he actually came, was born by itself.
‘How do you do it?’
The man did not specify what he meant. Instead, he extinguished an almost smoked cigarette and, making an inviting gesture, moved back to the chair and, having waited for his interlocutor to join him, slowly started to speak.
‘But listen, Mr Terrington –’
‘Benedict, if you like.’
‘Benedict.’ The man gave him a heavy look. ‘It's impossible. I mean, that you are doing this now, regardless of how it is to do with Linda or anyone else from her entourage, which I don’t even want to know, doesn’t mean that you ... you ...’
Benedict grinned and looked cheerfully at his interlocutor.
‘Mr Ettinger ... may I call you Edward?’
The man only impatiently waved his hand.
‘So, Edward, if I understand your question correctly, would you like to know if my work is the result of, let’s say, forced choice, or is it my calling that I dreamed of since childhood?’
Edward nodded grimly. From the expression on his face, it was clear that he would have used other words, but in general, the meaning of his reasoning was conveyed correctly.
‘When I was a teenager, I had other interests,’ Benedict grunted.
Edward looked at him questioningly.
‘The private school I studied at has disposed of much more ... tough experiments,’ Benedict answered evasively.
‘I wouldn't want to go into details,’ Benedict stirred in his chair, changing his pose. ‘In any case, what I am talking about was not the rule, but the exception, although the role in my life which it played at a certain period was quite a significant one – not as a guiding path, but as a counterweight,’ he smiled, noting the dumb expression on his interlocutor's face. ‘Nevertheless –’
‘Nevertheless, without the ability or unwillingness to have many women in your twenties, you more than made up for this omission at thirties.’
‘At thirty-two,’ Benedict politely corrected. ‘In general, I would not build such a tough causality between the facts, but if it’s more convenient for you –’
‘I don’t know what’s more convenient for me,’ Edward sighed. ‘I just want to understand.’
‘Anyway,’ Benedict continued, kindly nodding in response to Edward`s remark, ‘by the beginning of 2009 I was in a situation where I wanted – without any special reason – to become what you in the heat of our conversation so spectacularly called whore.’
Edward sat up straight.
‘I didn’t mean –’
‘Oh no, you did,’ Benedict smiled so radiantly as if a word thrown by Ettinger a few minutes ago was a bit of professional praise, not a calculated insult. ‘What is the more curious – the fact that you guessed right: my job is only and exclusively to have sex with women. Another thing is how and why. For this, I created an agency.’
‘To have sex unapologetically,’ Edward could not resist.
‘In a way,’ Benedict laughed. ‘Although, in fact, it's just easier.’
‘Of course,’ Benedict stood up and, grabbing an ashtray and a pack of cigarettes from the table went back to the window.
‘Having an officially existing agency allows me not only to provide services but to do it right,’ he said softly.
Edward jumped up.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Didn't Linda tell you?’ Benedict looked at him with interest.
Edward was embarrassed.
‘No, she ... I mean ...’
‘You know what's the fun part, Mr Ettinger?’ Benedict turned to the window and looked at the bizarre chaos of green branches swaying behind the glass. ‘The fact that when I started, this idea seemed to me as ridiculous as it is to you.’
His gaze followed the small squirrel that had jumped from one branch to another and Benedict again looked at Edward. Edward seemed bewildered, but, as a man who came to sort things out with an escort to whom a woman close to him paid for sex, generally, he was not bad. Benedict grunted.
‘Now it’s funny to remember this,’ he said, ‘but when my friend Tony and I decided to try ourselves in this matter, then, given that none of us really understood the problem and we had to learn everything on the go, we made as many mistakes as we could have made. In any case, this is how I see it now.’
Benedict took a deep drag on his cigarette and fell silent. Edward listened attentively, not trying to ask questions: he felt that the time would come for them, but at the moment he was surprised to find that he preferred to listen rather than speak.
Benedict, meanwhile, continued.
‘Our first mistake was the belief that women who go to the hustler know what they want.’
‘Aren`t they?’ Edward instantly forgot about his intention not to interfere.
‘No,’ Benedict smiled knowingly. ‘Most often – no. And this is absolutely normal,’ he added, looking at Edward, who was surprised. ‘Understanding why a woman comes to me is not her, but my job.’
‘Your –’ Edward was completely confused.
‘Yes, mine,’ Benedict stood up and opened the window wide, letting in the fresh autumn air. ‘The thing is,’ he continued, sitting down on the windowsill, ‘that to understand this without experience is impossible. In the first few months, Tony and I completely relied on the desires of women, asking them to simply call the agency and literally book a session with me at any time convenient for them. As a result, by the end of the year, we had three statements to the police about attempted rape and one case on the protection of honor and dignity, which almost reached the court.’
Edward's eyes widened. Benedict laughed.
‘Fortunately, none of these cases had serious consequences,’ he reassured his guest, ‘but they taught us that, firstly, in our work, we need to discuss absolutely all the details, starting from what we – me and woman – both understand under the word ‘blowjob’, and to the type of condom, and, secondly, if I and Tony want our clients to get what they need, we should better be interested in their desires.’
‘I still don't understand.’
Benedict nodded and, rising from the windowsill, went to the door. A minute later he returned with a small grey folder with a short inscription on the cover, no more than two words, as Edward could see from his seat, and handed it to him.
Edward mechanically took the folder and, looking at the cover, turned pale.
‘Linda Silverton,’ he read. ‘It's –’
Benedict motioned to stop him.
‘This is not what you think,’ he said calmly. ‘Not compromising on her and not a list of her correspondent accounts in all countries of which she is a resident. This is just a standard dossier.’
‘Dossier?’ Edward, clutching a folder with trembling hands, looked at Benedict with a blank stare.
‘Yes, dossier,’ he confirmed. ‘An ordinary and unremarkable, however, of great value for someone who wants to not only give a woman a few pleasant hours but also to exclude the possibility of harming her in any way.’ He paused, giving Edward to digest the information, and continued. ‘Here is everything you need to accept the application, with which I begin to get acquainted with a woman. Read it,’ he said, looking at how, in indecision, Edward squinted at the dossier still lying on his lap. ‘Now there is nothing personal here, just empty forms to fill out,’ he reassured him. ‘From a real dossier, there are only the client's name and cover there. You will not know anything that Miss Silverton would not want to share with you on her own. But you will get an idea of how I work.’
After a moment, Edward nodded dismissively and, looking down, resolutely, although still with some apprehension, opened the folder.
Inside there were several files, one of which was a questionnaire containing ten questions covering several very different topics, mainly – oddly enough, not related to sex. Edward scanned the document carefully. Profession, age, self-description, personal hobbies. He looked up in surprise at Benedict.
‘But where –’ he began, but Benedict stopped him.
‘At the very end,’ he did not need clarification. ‘Immediately after the question of food preferences.’
Edward did not ask why Benedict needed to know the food preferences of his clients and delved into reading the text at the bottom of the page.
After a couple of minutes, he looked up from the document and shook his head.
‘What exactly?’ Benedict closed the window and went to the table. ‘Would you like some tea?’ as if nothing had happened, he asked, touching the call button of the secretary, and Edward again, with irritation, thought that this man seemed to be impossible to confuse.
‘Earl Gray, without milk and sugar,’ he said and returned to the text. ‘Do they actually answer all these questions?’ he asked incredulously.
‘Why not?’ Benedict dictated the ‘order’ to the secretary, adding milk oolong and cookies from himself, and returned to the chair.
‘I don't know,’ Edward thoughtfully closed the folder. ‘I don't know,’ he repeated. ‘Probably, the whole point is that it is difficult for me to believe that it is possible to answer such frank questions to a stranger.’
‘Well, firstly, they answer not to me, but to themselves,’ Benedict said, nodding to the girl who entered the room with a tray in her hands, ‘and secondly,’ he waited for the secretary to place the cups and a plate of cookies on the coffee table, reached out to the nearest cup and poured himself some light hot drink, ‘this is the only way for them to start thinking about what they really want.’
‘So, do you mean that this is –’ he said, glancing at the folder in his hands.
‘No more than a sketch, a description, based on which, my assistant and I can understand whether it is worth working with this girl in principle, and also – where in her case it may be necessary to move. The answers to the questions in this questionnaire rarely reflect the full picture of female preferences, but they characterize the general direction not bad.’
Edward nodded. Now he understood. For a while they sat silently, sipping tea, and none of them tried to break the silence. Edward – because he needed to realize and somehow determine his attitude to what he saw, and Benedict – just not wanting to disturb the guest.
‘So, then, she ...’ after a few minutes of silence, Edward said, ‘she came ...’ he did not finish, but this was not necessary. The answer was obvious, as was the question.
‘Her decision to come to me was not spontaneous,’ Benedict confirmed. ‘They almost never are. In any case, I did everything to minimize such situations.’
Edward sat without a word. The fact that Linda went to the hustler in itself was an unpleasant discovery for him, but the fact that this was not the result of a sudden rush or surge of random mood, but a conscious and balanced decision, made him completely lose heart.
‘That means nothing to you,’ Benedict said quietly, and Edward threw himself up, forgetting that he had promised himself to be in control and not to give out the real reason for his appearance here.
‘There is nothing complicated to make a conclusion,’ without making the slightest attempt to either justify himself or evade Edward`s possible anger, Benedict said. ‘Why would you blackmail a woman to whom you are indifferent, and moreover, come to me if you really wanted to destroy her?’
After these words, Edward suddenly wilted.
‘You're right,’ he said after a few seconds. ‘You're right about everything. So what am I to do now?’ raising his eyes to Benedict, he asked almost in despair.
‘I think it’s up to you, but if you ask me, then nothing.’
‘But Linda –’
‘– is a woman who knows you well enough to understand what is or maybe behind your attempts to compromise her,’ Benedict interrupted. ‘And this means that you have good chances.’
‘Why?’ Edward looked as if the well-being of all Britain depended on the answer to his question.
‘Because we're talking with you for about two hours, and you have never asked how I found out that you blackmailed her,’ Benedict smiled again.
For a few seconds, Edward stared blankly at him. And then it dawned on him.
‘She told you –’
‘Not a word,’ Benedict poured himself some more tea and raised his eyes to Edward with a genuine, almost boyish mischief. ‘The only thing I learned from her is that a certain person in her entourage – an important person for her – found out that she used the services of a hustler, and now she risks losing her reputation and sympathy of this person at the same time.’
Edward shook his head in bewilderment.
‘But how did you find me then?’ he asked, immediately realizing the absurdity of his own surprise. ‘Well, of course.’
‘I really love pulp detectives,’ he said cheerfully. ‘They make us perceive life as an exceptionally simple and predictable. Who else, besides a business partner, could try to compromise a charming young woman, which from the inability to understand what she needed have ordered the services of a hustler?’
Edward was completely upset.
‘I ruined everything,’ he said plaintively. ‘I lost her.’
‘Not at all,’ Benedict finished his tea and set the cup on the table. ‘I would say that you finally got a chance to talk normally with her.’
‘After she visited you?’
‘Does this change anything?’
‘It changes everything!’ exploded Edward. ‘She... she... She told me that she had never felt so good,’ he said with pain in his voice, losing his whole fuse again, ‘has never been so good as with you.’
After a long pause, he raised his eyes and looked at Benedict. Benedict looked at him without a trace of pity or sympathy.
‘Yes, I can believe it,’ he said. ‘But I also know that this is not only about what I did, but first of all, about what she wanted. I just helped her to see it. Here, our relationship is up. If you read the contract of my agency to the end, you saw that I did not appoint more than one session, rarely two. It means that –’
‘Don't go on,’ Edward squinted. ‘I got it. Better tell me how you managed to escape the court and the police.’ He laughed. ‘I need a release.’
‘With pleasure,’ answered Benedict. ‘But first, if you don't mind, I'll ask Mary to bring us some more tea. This is a long and rather tedious story.’
Edward nodded in agreement and covered his eyes with pleasure. Edward Ettinger, you will succeed.
Opening his eyes, he looked again at Benedict.
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