new production

11.



“I’m going to be completely straight with you, Jack.”



“Don’t worry… I promise I won’t tell anyone.”



It produced the faintest of smirks on the lips of my accountant, but Davy Slack didn’t react at all; in fact, I would probably describe his demeanour as ‘grim.’



“I’ve represented you for a long time, Jack,” he growled, “and I’ve done it to the very best of my ability… and yes, before you say anything, I don’t claim to be the best at what I do; not by any means. But it doesn’t help that I’ve been trying to get bookings for someone with a reputation for being a waster and a drifter!”



“You don’t have to dress it up, Davy….” I started to smile, but he wiped it off instantly;



“Okay… in that case… trying to get bookings for someone who’s a complete and utter fuck-up!”



There was a silence in the small room that seemed unnaturally heavy and oppressive; or maybe it was just me being in shock. Davy was my agent. I employed him and, through commission, paid him; it was supposed to be me who was in control. I mean, everything in my life had changed now, thanks to the death of my wife — a wife I’d been married to for a long time without realising it! Suddenly, I was rich — which is why I’d asked for this meeting with my agent and my accountant to discuss my future direction.



The accountant was a stranger to me. All of my previous dealings had been with an elderly man named Joshua (never ‘Josh’ for some reason), but I was told that he’d retired and been replaced with this young woman who was a lot less formal and seriously attractive. My guess placed her in her mid-to-late twenties and, although I flirted with her a little bit (not seriously, of course, because she had a wedding ring on her finger), I couldn’t help wondering if someone of her age was really up to the task of managing what was likely to be a considerable fortune. At any rate, it was embarrassing to have Davy suddenly turn on me like this in front of her.



“And since we’re not dressing it up,” Davy went on, “I’d like to tell you exactly where we stand.” He paused for a moment to take out his inhaler, took a deep draw on it, and then;



“You chose the perfect name, Jack. I mean, ‘de Ladd’ suits you down to the ground… because that’s what you’ve always been… a lad! No worries, no cares… just drifting along and trying to enjoy yourself without ever really working on the talent you had. And every time you’ve taken a knock, you’ve just fallen apart. Somehow or other you managed to get by without ever growing a pair!”



“That’s a bit….”



“Don’t tell me it’s harsh, Jack! It isn’t… it’s just being honest! You could have been in the top rank… but you hit the booze every time things went a bit wrong.



“Let me tell you something… I saw you do a spot at the Palladium in the early days, Jack… and you were good. You were very good… because you were original and different. You didn’t do any of the traditional ‘wife’ or ‘mother-in-law’ gags… you did your own brand of observational stuff that flowed and made the audience laugh at their own foibles. You reached out to them… you touched their lives… and they loved it.



“Then you took a couple of knocks and suddenly you’re playing seedy clubs and telling jokes that would make a docker blush! You’re an idiot, Jack… and now you’re a rich idiot because someone remembered you as you were and didn’t really see what you’d become!”



There was another silence as we stared at each other. I wanted to tell him that he was wrong — that it wasn’t like that at all — but I couldn’t. The truth was that I had simply stumbled along without ever really caring about what direction I was heading in, just as long as I had an audience to laugh at my jokes and money to stuff into the bank.



“Well… maybe if I’d had a better agent….” I began, hoping to laugh it off or at least recover some dignity but, even to me, it sounded like a whining little boy complaining that the world didn’t understand or appreciate him. It didn’t matter anyway, because Davy was more than ready for me.



“You had one, Jack! Remember? You had Mel Dyson… and he dumped you when he realised you couldn’t stand the heat! I took you on because I thought you’d learn… I thought your natural gift would win through in the end. I did it out of charity!”



“Yeah… at ten-per-cent and….”



“…And how many times did I go without it so you wouldn’t be priced out of a gig? Ah… fuck it! I swore I’d never mention that!”



Now I was completely deflated. My mouth opened but no words came out. I could see that my accountant was looking very uncomfortable; she was probably wondering what on earth she’d got herself into but, if anything, I was even more whipped. Quieter, now, Davy went on:



“Listen, Jack… let me tell you a little story. A few months ago, me and the Mrs were having dinner with a television director and his wife. He was talking about some scripts he had… some decent ones that would never get made because they weren’t about lawyers, doctors or cops. He mentioned one that was set in a nightclub and I said I wouldn’t mind taking a look at it. I had a vague idea that there might be something in it for you… okay?



“Anyway, when I read it… and realised there wasn’t… I almost dumped it. But you don’t know how lucky you are Jack. Norah came to the office… she did from time to time, just to hear any news I had about you. Whatever you thought of her… the feelings she had for you were genuine. Anyway, when we got talking, she told me about Harold flatlining and going to his fifteen minutes of flame. She was saying how she wanted to make just one decent film — under her own name — to leave behind. So I showed her the script.



“She snapped it up, Jack! She didn’t want the lead or anything like that… but there was a part in it that she thought would suit her.”



It wasn’t hard to guess which role it was. The script had a fairly prominent part for an ageing ex-stripper who becomes the leading lady’s guide, mentor and ally.



“Anyway… by the time she left, she was sold on it. Okay… I was happy enough with the finder’s fee she gave me… but she was like a whirlwind of activity. Within a week she’d formed her own company to make a mini-series out of it, appointed a director, and hired people to negotiate with the writer to obtain the rights to it.



“Two weeks later she came back to me and we talked again. Apparently she’d obtained the rights — provisionally – and had a list of three people she wanted to be in it; herself and two people from her past. The names, apart from her own, meant nothing to me. She wasn’t prepared to tell anyone else about that until the deal was settled. Naturally, she was trying to keep a bit of distance between herself and the production company, so she hired some ‘front men’ to look after it, but she wanted to locate the other two people on her list. That’s when I told her the script needed a touch of humour.



“She took it on board and told the company to contact the writer about it. One thing I can tell you for certain, Jack… she had no idea that Margaret Pendlebury was actually the real name of someone who was on her list!”



“Shit! I really am a fuck-up, aren’t I?” I said. Then I quickly apologised to the accountant, but she just dismissed it with a slight wave of her hand. She didn’t know what it was all about, but she was clearly fascinated.



“Don’t expect any argument from me on that score, Jack!” Davy said. “Anyway, the other name was someone who’d died a couple of years ago. But now we come to the long arm of coincidence, Jack. The writer panicked. She desperately wanted to get her script accepted… you’ll probably know more about the whys and wherefores of that than I do… so she talked it over with her… errm… friend, I believe? Anyway… you know the rest.”



I did — of course I did! I’ve never really been sure what a jackass looked like, but I bet I could have found out right then if there’d been a mirror handy. There were still questions — of course there were — but I had a horrible feeling that I wouldn’t feel any better when I had the answers to them.



“It’s time for you to start growing up, Jack,” Davy declared, “You’ve got Norah’s legacy right there in your hands… and I’m not talking about all the money and the properties and whatever….”



Properties? What properties? I hadn’t heard anything about any properties. All I knew was that Norah had left me a large sum of money, and a production company that hadn’t actually produced anything yet.



After my meeting with Norah I’d ‘retired hurt’ (for our American friends, that’s a term used in cricket occasionally), to a decent hotel in Folkestone — the Grand Burstin where I’d done a couple of cabaret spots in the past — locked myself in my room and, just as Davy said I always did, attempted to dive into a bottle. It may seem pathetic in some ways, but my head was spinning and to describe my feeling as emotional turmoil would be like calling a hurricane a breeze.



Think about it! I’d been lucky enough to become involved with Penny; the most incredible woman I’d ever met — a feisty, funny, intelligent and talented creature with whom I’d had the most intense and beautiful sex I’d ever known. No — cancel that; it hadn’t just been sex — we’d made love, and the experience had simply blown me away (Okay, maybe she wasn’t entirely certain about her sexual orientation — but I could definitely live with that!)



Then I’d become convinced that the whole thing was a set-up — that I was being marked as some kind of fall guy for something that involved (what I believed to be) my ex-wife and (again what I believed to be) her sleazy husband – and that Penny was merely the bait being used to reel me in. So, being much too smart (yeah — right!) to fall for anything like that, I’d simply walked away from it all. I’d even switched my phone off when I went off to work the cruise ships and come close to dragging a very sweet young lady into my pathetic life.



I hadn’t exactly felt good about it all, but I’d told myself that I was too clever to fall for whatever scheme they were planning. No one puts one over on Jack de Ladd I’d told myself! Okay, make fun of that if you want; but if you’ve read the story up to that point, what would you have thought?



After talking with Norah, though, I hadn’t walked away from it — it was more a matter of slinking away like a whipped dog. So that night I’d tucked my tail firmly between my legs and tried to plunge my snout into a bottle of scotch. Somewhere along the way, however, I must have fallen asleep because, when I’d woken up the next morning it was to find that I’d managed to get through less than a third of the bottle and I’d no signs of a hangover.



“You fucking lightweight!” I’d said to the mirror after a shower and shave.



A decent breakfast in the hotel restaurant had been disturbed by two dark shadows suddenly falling across the table. “Bring me sunshine,” I muttered without even bothering to look up.



“Very original, Jack,” one of them had said drily, and then; “we’d appreciate it if you’d come to the clinic with us.” I suppose I must have glared because he’d added: “we’re asking, Jack. We’re not pushing.”



The look on their faces had told me all that was necessary and, on the short journey, they’d explained in hushed tones that Norah had been in a brief final spell of remission when she’d appeared at Penny’s home, but had gone downhill ever since. It was clear that they were both fond of her and I’d respected their feelings by keeping any comments to myself.



We’d arrived at the clinic too late and, in some ways, I’d been relieved that I hadn’t had to sit and watch her die. There was some paperwork which, as her next of kin, I’d been required to sign, but there wasn’t much else for me to do. Norah had already made all the arrangements for her funeral and even paid for everything in advance. I remember looking at her then, as she lay at peace in the bed, and it was as if many of the cares, and the years, had fallen away from her face.



I couldn’t help thinking that she’d deserved better; that even if it had been the cancer that had finally claimed her, it was the machinations of an evil man which had truly blighted her life — and all the money she’d accumulated had only benefited the ease of her passing.



Her forehead had been cold and strangely waxy when I’d leaned over to give her a final kiss, but I felt glad that I’d had the opportunity to do so.



*



12.



Her cremation, four days later, had turned out to be an amazing event. It was only a very small and private gathering (she’d been very specific about who was invited to attend) and the little chapel was less than half full. There were a few ladies there who, I learned later, had been involved in the porn ‘industry’ some years earlier, as well as two or three blokes with the same background. I also recognised the man I’d been introduced to as her lawyer and the somewhat coy-looking Mr Savundra. There was also Jimbo Mcardle and, after the coffin had made its entrance (to a recording of Morecambe & Wise singing ‘Bring Me Sunshine,’ — which made my two companions choke up a bit), it was Jimbo who’d delivered the first eulogy. He spoke eloquently about her qualities, recalled a couple of events that were not at all risqué, and somehow managed to make everyone want to laugh and cry at the same time. Despite his age, he was still a consummate ‘pro’ when the occasion demanded it.



There were no flowers — by request. For the same reason there were no prayers and no hymns but, after Jimbo had done his bit, there was a lusty rendition of Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!’ That had been followed by Davy’s moving tribute to a woman he’d regarded as a genuine friend. Then we’d sung, as she’d requested, the old Elvis hit ‘Love Me Tender;’ and I’m sure she’d been well aware what that would do me.



It was one of the first songs I’d ever learned to strum on the guitar, and I’d sung it to her many times when we’d first been together. Okay, if you really need to know, it made me blub like a bloody girl; but I don’t care what anyone thinks, it was the very least she deserved. In any case, I think my tears were more for what might have been — for all the wasted years — than for Norah herself.



Finally, though, the coffin had rolled forward and disappeared through the curtains to the sound of the ‘Cuckoo Waltz,’ the theme tune of Laurel & Hardy, and I don’t think anyone had known whether to laugh or cry!



Afterwards, as I’d watched the casket of ashes being lowered into the ground in the lawn cemetery, I caught sight of a movement in the distance. A man was holding the door of a car — a Bentley — as an elegant female, dressed in black, climbed into it. It hadn’t taken anything at all to work out who she was.



**



13.



“How much truth do you think you can take, Jack?”



Have you ever noticed how women have a particular gift for asking questions that appear to be innocent and simple but which are, in fact, incredibly loaded? Take the one that Penny had just asked me; an unwary man would immediately respond with a heartfelt declaration that the truth was always the best no matter what the consequences. Then, if the truth turned out to be unbearably painful, it would be his fault for demanding it rather than hers for telling it. On the other hand, any suggestion that an ‘edited’ or less complete version of the truth might be preferable could lead to a potential lifelong excuse for a restricted form of honesty.



Be careful what you say, my friends, because your womenfolk will accurately recall every detail of your answers to their questions and make use of them for the rest of your lives.



“I took it okay when you told me you were… err… y’know….” I blustered.



“The word is ‘lesbian,’ Jack… and I saw the look on your face! You looked like a kid who’d just had his sweeties snatched away!” she giggled.



“Yeah… well,” I muttered, knowing that she was probably right; but being told that such a gorgeous and desirable woman preferred sex with other women had come as something of a disappointment at the time! “And is that… errm… still…?” I began, but left the rest of the question open because I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to hear the answer. Then I realised that it probably told her a good deal about how I could handle the whole truth.



She must have understood what I was thinking because she didn’t follow up on it directly. Instead, she took the conversation in what I thought was a different direction.



“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Jack. In fact, I’m not even sure you’d be here right now if you did.”



She was wrong — definitely wrong about that. I honestly wanted nothing more than to be with her; no matter what had happened in her past and regardless of whatever the future held. I’d realised that when I was standing on the deck of the cruise ship as it made its way into Dover Harbour. All I’d been able to think about was that I was returning to where Penny was. I’d been perfectly prepared to risk the threat of Mason’s skinning knife if necessary, but other things had taken precedence for a while. In fact, as I ought to have expected, it had been Mason’s voice announcing “Pendlebury residence” when I’d phoned the day after Norah’s funeral and, when I’d nervously jabbered a response, his ultra-calm tones had merely replied; “Yes, Mr de Ladd… Miss Pendlebury told me to expect a call from you… if you’d be so good as to wait for a moment; I’ll inform her that you’re on the line.”



Was she psychic? How did she know I’d be phoning? I was a bag of nerves by the time she finally spoke to me, and all the carefully thought-out script I’d been planning about arranging a meeting to talk about the production had gone completely out of my head. Instead, I’d just babbled about needing to see her and talk to her and that maybe we could go to dinner and….



And that was when she’d broken in, told me to take a deep breath, and explained that it was her last day in her parents’ home because they were returning from their cruise and she didn’t want to be there when they arrived. I was still taking the deep breaths, so she told me she was returning to her apartment in Canterbury, gave me the address and told me to pick her up from there at seven the following night.



I didn’t have any trouble finding the place — mainly because I was sat in the back seat of a rather nice Mercedes while Eric and Ernie argued over the route map. Yes, I’d kind of inherited them as well — they were in charge of security for the production company and, even though they’d been left a substantial sum in Norah’s will, they wanted to carry on working (something about not wanting their wives to know they were financially independent, or that they were free to spend more time at home). To be fair, I’d begun to discover that they were pretty good company, and they’d got me to Penny’s place only a little over ten minutes late.



After they’d taken us to the restaurant Penny recommended, I’d told them their services weren’t required for the rest of the night; that I’d probably get a hotel room and call them in the morning.



The restaurant was superb — if you like the stuff they call ‘nouveau cuisine.’ Basically, it’s food that’s presented with wonderful artistry, tastes fabulous — and leaves you feeling like you need a portion of fish & chips on the way home. Obviously, a lot of people did like it because the place was packed and we didn’t really get a chance to talk at all.



That was why Penny had invited me back to her apartment, a place that surprised me because it wasn’t large or expensively furnished; it was just ‘homely’ with a nice, bright décor and comfortable furnishings.



Once we were inside, she said it would be best if I stayed overnight and then, before I had any chance of concealing my thoughts, added that there was a spare bedroom. Without even bothering to look at me, she’d giggled, “Same kid… same sweets!” and then, “Fancy some beans on toast, Jack?”

I’d tried to look casual when I answered but, to be honest, I was starving and I was relieved to find that she was too. “I saw the way you looked at your plate,” she said, “you hardly touched the sushi at all and….”



“I’m used to being served the fish,” I answered, “the bait’s never appealed to me.”



And that’s how we came to be seated at the table in her tiny kitchen, talking about things that were nowhere near as important as the things we didn’t. She’d asked me about my ‘inheritance’ and I’d told her how I planned to ‘dispose’ of most of it.



“I don’t feel it’s really ‘mine,’ you see, Penny,” I explained, “and I’ve no idea what kind of things were done to accumulate such a fortune.”



“Don’t you like being rich, then?”



“Jesus! It’s what I’ve always dreamed of, to be honest but… when it comes right down to it, the answer’s probably ‘no.’ Maybe if I’d made a fortune out my own efforts then… well… perhaps. I’m going to keep enough to be comfortable, Penny. I mean, I’ve never really had a place of my own, so I quite like the idea of having somewhere to call ‘home.’ And having some properties that are rented out… well, that means I’ve got a regular income… so I can afford to be a bit more choosey about what I do. But I’m just not cut out to join the ranks of the idle rich.”



She’d grinned at that and, in a strange way, I think she liked it. I told her that one of the large properties I now owned — something similar to her parents’ place — was going to be converted into a hospice. The ‘Smith fortune’ was going to pay both for the work and for all the equipment that would be required. Much of the remaining cash would be put in a trust fund to cover the cost of running the place.



“I said you were a real softy, didn’t I,” she said, and then, “I think Norah would have approved. Who’s organising it?”



“My accountant, she’s a smart cookie! She’s the same one who’s looking after the finances for the production company… you met her, didn’t you?”



“Yep… you’re sure you’re not judging her by her looks, Jack?” Penny teased with a smile, “she is very attractive.”



“No… definitely not,” I answered truthfully, “anyway, I don’t go for married women.”



“What makes you think she’s married?” Penny asked with a strange look on her face.



“Have you never heard of wedding rings?” I asked.



“Of course… but have you never heard of camouflage?”



“What?”



“Jack… you’re supposed to be a man of the world,” she said, clearly amused, “but you’re a typical man… you look without really seeing.” I was still confused, and showing it, so she went on, “Your gorgeous financial advisor is gay, Jack. She wears the ring for the same reason myself and Dee used to when we went out… to keep the wolves at bay!”



“How do you…?”



“When we were on our own for a few minutes it became fairly obvious,” she grinned; “Nothing happened… but the offer was fairly blatant… and I’d be lying if said I wasn’t tempted.” She saw the look on my face — they call it ‘gobsmacked’ in some places — so she went on: “Remember what I said, Jack… I don’t lie and I don’t cheat. As far as I’m concerned, our relationship hasn’t been resolved… I don’t know whether we’re going to continue or not and, until I do, there definitely won’t be anyone else in my life.”



The first thing that popped into my head was a deep sense of regret that I’d told her all about my unconsummated ‘affair’ with Rosemary but, as if she could read my mind, she said, “what happened on the ship, Jack… it doesn’t mean anything. At the time you believed that I’d been deceiving you and you genuinely thought we were finished — besides which, it was worth it for the entertainment value!” and she went off into a fit of giggles.



She was right, of course, I had believed that it was all over between us, and I’d begun to realise how much I missed her and desperately wanted to sort things out between us; I just didn’t think I was ever likely to get the chance. I’d already begun to doubt the ‘evidence’ of the photograph, and now I understood why she hadn’t wanted to identify herself as the mysterious Millie von Koch at that time.



As she’d explained, that episode had happened when she’d had the most enormous row with her parents and left home to seek her own life. She was living in a crumby flat, working as a shop assistant during the day and a pole dancer in the evening but, not used to economising, was getting further and further into debt. The offer of some ‘glamour’ work — even if it was to include a little bit of ‘soft’ porn — had seemed like a quick way to get on her feet again.



Norah had remembered her as a talented actress and, wanting to find her and explain why she’d set her up to fail in the porn business, had put her name down as the preferred option for the mini-series she intended making. They’d both been completely stunned when they’d met again on that Sunday and, while I’d been happily getting pissed on very good scotch, they’d talked together for ages.



Unfortunately, although Penny had made it very clear that she didn’t want to appear in front of the cameras — that her interest was in writing rather than acting — Norah had undergone a collapse the following day before she could tell the director about the change of plan.



Penny had ended up being informed that her playing the lead was an immovable condition of the production going ahead. That was why she’d been so upset.



“Would you have told me that you and Millie were one and the same?” I’d asked.



“Of course I would!” she answered without the slightest hesitation. “But then we got involved in your reminiscences about it all, I just thought the time wasn’t right. I was hoping to get in touch with Freddie… you know… the director… the next day, to tell him to talk to Norah about it. I knew that once he did that, the problem would disappear and I planned to tell you all about it then. I can’t make you believe me, Jack… but it is the truth.”



“Whatever you may think, Penny,” I said carefully, “I really do prefer the truth… even if it’s painful. The truth can be dealt with… it’s the rest that can’t.” This, of course, brought us back to how much truth I thought I could take.



“What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened in your life, Jack?” she asked.



“Worst that’s happened or worst I’ve done?” I responded.



“Either… I mean… both.”



It didn’t take long to think of some bad things… but the worst? I had to think for a few minutes and she made us a cup of hot chocolate while I considered it. By the time she’d settled back in her chair, I’d made up my mind, so I took a deep breath and began:



“There’re too many bad things that have happened to really choose one, Penny. I’d probably start with being orphaned when I was four years old… because I can’t even remember my parents. I mean, I know about them; my dad was a builder’s labourer, mum was a housewife. They were killed on a pedestrian crossing by a boozed-up driver who was well over the limit.



“Being put in care and growing up in an institution wasn’t a lot of fun. Being teased about coming from the Children’s Home when I went to school was hard to take; and being bullied because of it was horrible. Failing on that TV show must be up there with the best… or should I say ‘worst’ of them. As I said… loads of things; but seeing that photo of you for the first time… that was the one that really gutted me. I thought my life was over at that moment.



“I mean… I’m sorry; I know you’d already said you weren’t in love with me… but I’d still thought there was something a bit special between us and I had such complete trust in you. With my kind of background, it isn’t easy to give that kind of trust… I mean… I….”



I couldn’t go on; not without breaking down and making a compete tit of myself — so I stopped and took a deep breath as Penny reached across the small table and took my unresisting hand in hers, then I said:



“I was wrong to jump to conclusions… I realise that… and I’m sorry; I truly am sorry.”



“There’s nothing for you to be….” She began, but I went on quickly:



“So that was close to being the worst thing I ever did… but there was something that happened at the orphanage that was a lot worse.” I saw the attentive look on her face as she tried to work out what was coming next, and I wondered if I’d have the courage to tell her something that I’d never talked about to anyone before.



“The place I was at wasn’t anything like the kind of places they have nowadays, Penny. It was an old and very grim Victorian building and some of the people who worked there should never have been allowed near children. I had a good pal — his name was Gerry — and he was a year younger than me. He was a good-looking lad with blonde hair and blue eyes. The pair of us shared a sense of humour and we used to make up jokes and stories — I guess it was a way of keeping some of the misery at bay.



“Anyway, there was this guy who worked there… a horrible big bastard named Arthur… who was rumoured to be a bit too fond of the young lads. He was no problem to me. I was quite an ugly little sod in those days… hard to believe when you look at me today, eh?” I said with a weak grin, and saw her respond with a tight, uncertain smile. “But he made Gerry very nervous.



“Well… one day we were all taken swimming at the local public baths… it was one of the ‘treats’ the local council arranged for us. But poor Gerry wasn’t able to go because he hadn’t completed some task he’d been given. He was left behind and Arthur — we called him ‘farty arty’ – was left to look after him.



“By the time we came back, Gerry was lying in his bunk, crying his eyes out. He wouldn’t tell anyone what had happened… not even me. I don’t think I ever got a conversation from him after that… but there wasn’t really much opportunity. A couple of days later, Gerry went missing. He didn’t get on the bus after school and no one knew where he was. They eventually found him hanging from a tree in a nearby park. He’d used his belt to hang himself. He was twelve years old at the time.”



I’ve no idea when the tears had started, but they were flowing down my cheeks very freely and, when I looked at Penny, I saw that she was crying too. “Jack….” She began, but I ignored her, the story had waited long enough to be told and I needed to finish it.



“A couple of the older lads told me what had almost certainly happened. They explained what Arthur liked to do to young boys and I felt anger like I’ve never known, either before or since. I went looking for Arthur and I found him in the kitchen. I started to shout, but he just laughed and went back to peeling some potatoes so… well… it was real ‘red mist’ time, I suppose. I snatched the knife off him and… well… when he went to grab it back… I… I stuck it his eye.”



“Oh my God!” I heard her whisper.



“By the time I came out of the juvenile offenders’ institution I was nearly sixteen. I never went back to the orphanage, of course. Well, I couldn’t have done. All the things that were wrong about the place were carefully covered up… but the place was closed down and the building was demolished. I heard a rumour that farty-arty — or ‘Cyclops’ as the boys had taken to calling him after I’d put his eye out — eventually became a recluse and died a lonely death a few years later… but I don’t know if it’s true or not.



The authorities found me some foster carers when I was released, and I started working as a labourer on a building site. I liked the work… and I worked damned hard because it helped to ease the pain of the memories when I went home feeling exhausted.



“The thing that surprised me the most, though, was the kind of banter you get on building sites. I’ll tell you something… if you ever want to hear some good, original jokes… then that’s the place to be. The guys that work like that may look as if they’re scruffy and muscle-bound, but the kind of wit you’ll find there… well, it matches anything you’ll find in any lawyers’ offices!



“Eventually, I started going to the local theatre and I became completely absorbed in the comedy acts. Then I watched every comedy show I could on TV… and every movie. I knew what I wanted to be and I started performing — after begging someone to let me try out for it – and I soon realised that making people laugh was almost like… I don’t know… keeping my pal’s memory alive, I suppose.”



I dried up then, realising that I was starting to ramble but, when I looked up, I saw that Penny was wiping her eyes and then her smile became radiant when she looked at me again.



“I’ve never talked about it before,” I said, feeling helpless and incredibly vulnerable.



“Thank you, Jack.” she replied very quietly, “it’s my turn to answer the same questions… I’ve got things I want to share with you… but I think we should sleep on it first. That’s if you don’t mind?”



I just shook my head. My mind was still elsewhere, I suppose — probably swallowed up by memories I thought I’d managed to bury long ago — so distracted that I was barely aware of Penny taking me by the hand and leading me gently into the bedroom.



The room was small and neat and it contained the kind of bed that is often called a ‘prince’ — 6 inches narrower than a standard ‘double’ — which made it ideal for the available space. It was probably the lingering fragrance of her subtle perfume that brought me back and made me suddenly realise where I was (although the fact that Penny was standing in front of me and, very slowly, beginning to unfasten my shirt buttons probably helped), I said:



“I thought you told me you I’d be sleeping in your spare room?” but she was pressing her lips to my chest and pretended not to hear. “I bet you don’t even have a spare room, do you?” I teased.



“As a matter of fact I do, Jack,” she murmured as she unfastened my cuffs and eased the shirt off my shoulders, “and you’re welcome to sleep in it if you want to.” Then, as her arms went around my neck to draw my face towards her, she added; “It’ll be tricky, though… there isn’t actually a bed in there!” and before I could say anything else, her sweet lips were being pressed to mine.



I wanted it to last for ever. I didn’t want to move at all. I was perfectly content just to stand there and feel her lovely body pressed so closely against mine and taste the probing tongue that found its way into my mouth but, finally, she gently broke away and said; “Are you sure this is what you want you want, Jack? Are you really certain?”



For a few seconds I held her almost at arm’s length and allowed my gaze to wander down over her magnificent body. I could sense her unaccustomed discomfort as my gaze took in the view of the tops of her lovely breasts, watching them swell with each deep breath beneath the fabric of her burgundy coloured dress; lingered on the smooth firmness of her waist, and drifted down to the gentle, feminine swell of her hips before surveying the long curving shape of her legs. I remembered being told that a woman’s clothing was perfect when it made a man want to see what was beneath it rather than when it allowed him to see for himself; that there was a very important dividing line between something that revealed too much and something that invited discovery — and being told that the dividing line was called ‘style.’ It was something that Penny possessed in a way that I’d rarely seen before.



Then, just as my examination was beginning to make her seem a little ill at ease, my eyes returned to the most important part of all — to the slightly severe looking face that became so enchanting when she smiled; the face meant that so much to me and, above all, to the beautiful, pale-green eyes that so thoroughly bewitched me.



I stroked her reddish brown hair delicately as, holding her gaze, I told her; “It’s what I’ll always want, Penny… it’s what I’ll want for the rest of my days. I can’t help myself… because I lo….” I was halfway to saying it, but she pressed a fingertip to my lips and said;



“Not now, Jack. Not yet… please.” And then she began to kiss me again.



Moments later, by simply undoing a single fastening, I was able to release the halter-necked dress and let it fall — smoothly and gracefully — to the carpeted floor. I suppose I must have glanced down again, because the image of the plum-coloured bra and pants; along with a matching suspender belt and the sheer black stockings are etched so firmly in my memory that they’ll remain there to my dying day. And yet, the most abiding memory is of her eyes — of the moistness in those viridian guardians of her soul that, for once, I correctly interpreted as the soft tears of surrender.



As gently as I could, I reached around her and unclipped the strap of her bra, then slowly drew the straps down from her shoulder while I leaned forward and brushed the flesh of her long, exquisite neck with my lips and felt the tantalising shiver that seemed to flow through her body.



Her arms had found their way around me again and her warm body pressed tightly against me so I could feel her breasts being crushed against the hairs of my chest — so fiercely that I could even make out exactly where the firmness of her excited nipples met my flesh. My left arm snaked carefully around her slender waist while the fingertips of my other hand combed through the softness of her lovely hair, traced a line across her chest and slipped between us to brush against the softness of her breast. For a moment or two I allowed myself the simple pleasure of feeling the vibration of her heartbeat before softly enclosing the yielding, rounded flesh in the palm of my hand and exploring the tiny ripples of her hardened nipple.



I heard the faint cry of pleasure as my fingers closed on it, and felt the soft waft of her breath disturb the hairs on my chest; then I drew my head back a little way because I wanted — no, needed — to see her face again in order to believe that this was really happening. And when our eyes met it felt like our minds became fused together by a surging spark of power that made me tremble, making me almost afraid of being overwhelmed by it.



Slowly, as if we were floating weightlessly in a space that belonged only to us, our lips were drawn together by some unspoken mutual thought, and a glorious tingle seemed to spread from that meeting point into every cell of my body. I realised after a moment that Penny’s hands had moved down from my chest and begun an examination of the clasp that held my trousers in place; and then, only a second after that realisation, felt the release of the fastening and heard the zip being carefully drawn downwards.



I kissed her very softly on her neck and then her shoulders as her own lips gently brushed against one of my nipples; as her tongue circled the flesh around it and then as it was drawn unhurriedly into the warmth of her mouth. At the same time, her hands moved onto either side of my waist, slipped inside the material of my boxer shorts, spread her fingers wide, and began to steadily ease them down.



Her soft breast gradually slid from my grasp as she moved her head further down my frame and I knew she would have seen my cock, rigidly at attention, spring free from the encumbrance of my clothing. The thought was confirmed a moment later when I felt her cool, smooth fingers start to wrap themselves around the base of it; and I was utterly dumbfounded when, moments later, she eased herself down onto her knees in front of me and looked up to observe my reaction when she delicately kissed the tip of my engorged erection. She paused for a second or two and then, lowering her face a little, she softly clasped my scrotum and kissed each of its delicate orbs in turn, then flicked her tongue against the base of my engorged cock and gracefully ran it up the full, throbbing length.

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