The Gympie Road led them towards the City Centre; a bypass tunnel took them to a bridge over the river, which they crossed. Ten minutes later Perdita parked at the rear of an estate agent’s office.
Mort got out and stretched his legs. The parking area was separated from the equally depressing back yards of other small businesses by rusty wire fences. The service road behind the office boasted scraggy trees behind which skulked a row of weatherboard houses built in the nineteen fifties. All in need of paint, new roofs and a gardener. Rotting car bodies and rusted supermarket trolleys served as post-modern garden ornaments in several yards. Someone was burning plastic in an incinerator, and an ambulance siren wailed along the main road.
Perdita returned looking less tense. ‘Got a place. Get in.’
Five minutes later they pulled into number 4B parking bay beneath a four-story block of flats.
‘What’s this place?’
‘Somewhere I used to live. Come on, get your bags, we’re on the top floor and the lift’s probably not working.’
It was, and half an hour later they had opened all the windows to chase out the stuffiness of a pleasant two bedroom, furnished apartment, and were standing in the lounge room where French doors opened inwards, and a wrought iron railing across the gap created the illusion of a balcony.
Mort gazed in silence across to the western hills.
Perdita perched on the handrail and leaned back alarmingly. ‘What do you think?’
‘I think you’re going to fall if you’re not careful! How safe is that handrail? You could easily lose your balance and tip over.’
‘Would you mind?’
Mort looked down into the small yard that housed the rubbish bins. ‘Of course not, except for the mess. With a bit of luck you’d fall into one of the bins and save everyone a lot of trouble.’
‘I’ll remember that when I decide to go. I meant, what do you think of the place?’
‘Better than I expected. How’d you know the lift might not be working?’
‘I lived and worked in the flat directly beneath this one for a few years. It’s not classy, but people leave you alone and no one complains as long as you’re quiet and discreet.’
‘Discreet. That suggests your work was...’
‘So if I strain a muscle you can fix me.’
‘More like... tension relief. ‘
‘Prostitution. Why didn’t you say so?’
‘Because that word carries a lot of negative baggage.’
‘Yeah, like homosexual, gay and queer. Are you taking up where you left off?’
‘Not much choice.’
‘If anyone asks what you do, what’ll I tell them?’
‘Say your sister’s a therapist.’
‘You don’t seem surprised... or shocked.’
‘I’m not. What else could a good looking sixteen year old with no education who doesn’t like real work, find to do? I’d do it myself, except the thought of being slobbered over by fat, sweaty men with halitosis is too off-putting. How do you cope?’
‘Just close my eyes and think of the money.’
‘I reckon females are tougher, or more insensitive than males.’
‘Is that how you met Elbert?’
‘Yes. We lived here after we married, before Frank insisted we move to his place.’
‘And he didn’t mind you screwing other guys?’
‘Hardly, he was also on the game by then, having run out of money.’
‘Males or females?’
‘Females are too racist. He tried being an escort, but none of the bitches who could afford him wanted to be seen in public with a black man. A few came here, but it was mainly males.’
‘You don’t seem to miss him.’
‘I don’t—useless prick, he was supposed to get the money out of you.’
‘Now his debt’s paid off, I guess I’ll be off home.’
‘Not bloody likely. I still want the money that’s owed me. I’m the daughter; I should have the inheritance. I know you’ve got it and you’re not leaving me until I’ve got it.’
‘Leaving aside the fact that I haven’t got it, if you’d paid off Elbert’s debt with it, you wouldn’t have it now, so …’
Perdita’s laugh was hysterical. ‘You surely don’t think if I’d got my hands on my inheritance that black arsehole would have got a cent of it. That was bait to get him to marry me.’
‘I envy Elbert. Better dead than shackled to you.’
‘Exactly, so the sooner you cough up the cash, the sooner you’ll be free.’
‘You promised you’d send your blackmail evidence back to Marshall when I was living with you. When will you do it?’
Perdita sniffed. ‘I’ve decided to keep it until you hand over my inheritance. Now we’re going shopping for sheets and towels and kitchen stuff. Come on and I’ll shout you lunch.’
That evening Perdita made several dozen phone calls informing ex clients of her return to business as usual. An hour later she waved a red appointment book proudly. ‘Three tomorrow, and the rest of the week's already filling up. They’ve missed me.’
‘Congratulations. What’ll I do when you’re in session?’
‘If you’re at home you can answer the door, take his coat, make him feel welcome, and bring us coffee afterwards—I’ll get a bell to ring for you. But first thing tomorrow you’d better find yourself a school.
A large co-educational state school twenty minutes jogging from the flat, was pleased to welcome a clean and attractive new pupil. An office woman took his personal details and asked that his guardian visit soon to complete essential formalities. After sitting a test he joined his new class without incident, and was as bored as he expected to be for the rest of the day.
Out of curiosity, Mort agreed to stay in and greet Perdita’s first customer that night because she didn’t know him and was nervous at being alone in the house with a strange man. Mort’s offer to act as a naked doorman was refused.
‘I want my clients to feel this is a thoroughly ordinary social occasion, not some bizarre sex game. Just wear your jeans and a modest top, like a conventional kid brother doing his homework. Answer the door, greet him politely, then start your homework, or watch TV or whatever.... Don’t hang around and look curious. Don’t ask questions, these guys are worried their wives will find out. OK?’
‘OK. Do you want me to bring in coffee at intermission?’
‘Cheeky monkey. Perhaps when he gets to know you he’d like it. There are several who’ll pay you to watch, if you’re OK with that.’
‘Sure. No worries. Just say the word.’
The client was in his thirties, heavy but not fat. Balding, pleasant and very shy. He was about to run away when Mort opened the door, only restrained when Mort took his hand, shook it and more or less pulled him inside, introduced himself as Perdita’s brother, told him she’d be out in a minute, sat him down and offered a cup of tea, which he didn’t want but accepted in embarrassment.
Perdita’s arrival in nothing but a filmy transparent smock that concealed none of her talents, caused him to spill his tea. Mort rescued the cup, told him not to worry, and Perdita led him to the bedroom which had been done out cheaply but elegantly with no suggestion of the whorehouse.
Judging from his beatific grin on leaving, and the tip he bestowed on Mort, the evening had been a success.
The following day Mort telephoned Marshall from a call box, brought him up to date with everything, told him not to worry, asked after Angelo, and was advised to buy a prepaid phone with no identifier, and dump it after half a dozen calls. One with a video camera might be useful in case of problems. Marshall had represented several clients who had recorded disputes and later avoided battles with people over who said what to whom.
Mort made a friend. Han Hansen, a powerful, hirsute youth who happened to be sitting beside him on the grass when the entire school was taken out of their last period of the day to watch the First XI cricket team play a rival school’s eleven. Their legs brushed as if by accident and neither pulled away. Entranced to have his leg lightly caressed by his neighbour’s hairy calf, Mort achieved an instant erection, which he managed to discreetly display by leaning back on his elbows with one knee raised to shield the sight from other students. This clever manoeuvre caused Han’s leg to move discreetly up and down until there were two erections concealed from all except their instigators.
Like ninety percent of the general population they were bored witless by cricket, so the minute the bell rang announcing the end of school, ninety percent of the students leaped to their feet and disappeared, leaving a few teachers and a handful of students to discover who won.
‘Wanna come to my place? No one’s home.’
Mort grinned and whispered an enthusiastic, ‘Yeah.’
The front door of the somewhat run down brick and tile bungalow five streets from the school, was barely closed before they were on Han’s bed, clothes on the floor, grunting and writhing like a pair of rutting stags. Mort was slightly disappointed to see that Han’s tan ended abruptly under his shorts. The muscular but optically white flesh looked less appetising than his fantasies had predicted, however, Han made up for such a minor deficiency by applying his fingers, tongue and lips to reducing Mort to a quivering jelly of electrified sensation.
An intermission was called after the first explosive orgasms, in which they helped themselves to milk and chocolate biscuits, before exploring each other further and resuming the fulfilling of their desires in a more relaxed, but equally satisfying manner until, without warning, Han leaped from the bed shouting he was late for work.
Mort threw on his school uniform, Han a pair of jeans and T-shirt, and they raced off on Han’s bike, Mort on the crossbar with Han breathing sweetly down his neck as he pumped the pedals along quiet back streets to an ornamental plant nursery on the Toowong side of the river where he worked after school. It was run by Lydia and Stefan, a childless couple in their fifties.
Surrounded by wide verandahs, their house sat at the front of a long block. A dozen houses shared the boundary on one side and the grounds of a primary school the other. The rear boundary was a narrow service lane. The entire allotment was very private, being surrounded by a two-metre-high stone wall, a relic of convict labour from two centuries earlier when the site had been a prison. Mort wandered around, gave Han a lift with a few heavy pots, made friends with the owners, and secured permission to also help out occasionally as he had little to occupy himself after school. Lydia and Stefan couldn’t afford to pay him, but he didn’t mind as it was better than doing nothing, especially as it reminded him of his grandfather’s market garden.
Han was easy, uncomplicated company, knew dozens of jokes, and had the rare gift of being able to make listeners laugh at the right time. Mort could never remember any funny stories and was in awe of Han’s apparently inexhaustible font of amusing yarns, risqué anecdotes and ad-lib potty humour. Best of all were the puns and clever wordplay, not to mention regular sex whenever they had the opportunity.
In the absence of Cross Country Running, Mort chose woodwork as a hobby and discovered he was pretty good at working with his hands. In all the regular classes none of the teachers seemed interested in him—or anything else for that matter apart from staying on side with the class bullies. As in his previous school, Mort kept his head down and stayed out of trouble, which wasn’t difficult as he had some catching up to do because the curriculum was slightly different from his previous school. A wide general knowledge gained through reading and listening was no substitute for memorising textbook facts and teachers’ opinions to be regurgitated in examinations.
On one of Mort’s first forays into the city and suburbs in the early evening when Perdita had a client, he discovered a gymnasium made of three large shipping containers squeezed in behind an empty office block. The openings were facing away from the road, but the sound of a barbell dropping was unmistakable, so Mort investigated. Three lean dark men in torn shorts were using rudimentary equipment they’d obviously made themselves. They looked fit and friendly and laughingly offered the use of their gear. Mort tried a few lifts to see what it was like, but decided against bulking up, as the guys called it. A notice glued to the door advertised self-defence classes on Wednesday nights. He asked if he’d be allowed to go.
‘Sure... but it isn’t all flash and professional like whiteys have. The guys just wear shorts and learn how to get out of scrapes mainly. You know, if someone comes at you, what do you do?’
‘Kill him,’ Mort said only half joking. ‘It sounds just what I want. I’ve had some lessons, but need to keep fit and in practice and learn new tricks.’
‘Then come along, Bro. The guy in charge is Brawl. If I’m not there tell him Scrappy sent ya.’
The following Wednesday Mort went, was welcomed without prejudice, and in the first lesson learned a variety of tricks from Brawl, a sixty-seven year old with a mop of wiry grey curls and skin the colour of strong tea. In a practice fight, this soft-spoken gentleman who seemed to be constructed of steel and leather, was so fast and reflexive no one could surprise him. At all other times he was gentle and kind, never tiring of repeating, demonstrating, suggesting, putting his students at ease with themselves and each other. He didn’t bother with the historical context of the sport, just concentrated on practical, useful self defence that, as with Hugh’s lessons, included non-threatening body language and running away.
By the time he arrived home on Wednesday nights, Mort was a physically and mentally healthy young man able to deal with all that life might throw at him. By Thursday lunchtime he was an irritable, frustrated teenager again, ready to teach those teachers how to treat their pupils.