by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 6

Arnold's Gymnasium

The Bank that now owned the old warehouse was impatient to sell, so once Robert had discovered how much they required to cover the remaining mortgage repayments plus interest, Arnold's conditional offer of exactly that amount in cash was accepted. All the searches indicated the building was sound, there were no outstanding city council rates or other demands, and permission to upgrade the building would be virtually automatic as it was to be renovated, not structurally altered or it's façade changed. Its existing zoning as light commercial suited the intended use, parking and access were not an issue, so four weeks after signing the contract the old red-brick warehouse belonged to Arnold Jurgenz, who was sitting on the river bank with his three friends gazing in silence at luxury houses on the far side, a passing container ship, five kayaks and a few small yachts; unsure what to do next.

'Anyone feel like celebrating?' Robert asked.

Three heads shook.

'Nothing's happened yet,' Fidel said softly. 'This is just the start of a lot of work.'

'He's right,' Arnold agreed. 'Suddenly I'm scared.'

'Buyer's remorse,' Robert said in a sombre tone. 'Too late now, old chum… you're stuck with a great pile of bricks.'

'Thanks, Robert, now you've made me even more terrified.'

'Then you'll probably make a go of it,' Bart said philosophically.

'I was thinking,' Arnold said hesitantly, 'that the accounts probably won't occupy all Robert's time, and we'll have professional cleaners to free up Fidel, and 3Vs isn't going to take up every waking minute of your time Bart, so I'd be really grateful if you'd all become professional trainers, with you, Bart, as the oldest and most reliable looking, to be staff manager.' He looked at them seriously. 'Well? What do you say?'

Bart shrugged. 'Sure, why not.'

'I've always wanted to be in a position to tell people what to do, so count me in,' Fidel said wryly.

'Accountant, Gym instructor… it'll look good on my next job application, so let's go for it.'

'That's a relief. But there's just one condition.'

'And that is?'

'You must accept a doubling of salary.'

'No way…'

Arnold raised his hand. 'No! You will not object! I have very simple tastes and needs and more money than I can ever spend in my lifetime. There are only three people I love on this planet, and they are with me now. You all refused a gift from me—for which I admire you, but I forbid you to humiliate me by refusing a salary package that I consider you are worth. Well?'

'Arnold, you are one in a million.'

'And look as if you were won in a raffle.'

'Will you also be working on the floor, training etc?'

'Of course! I'm excited about it. But I don't want clients to know I'm the owner. I want to be just another employee.'

'Your secret's safe with us. And thanks. We accept your insanely generous offer and, I hope you realise, we love you too.'

'Aw shucks, guys. This is getting maudlin.'

'Can't have that,' Bart laughed. 'So as this is the first time we've been able to go over the whole place without an agent preventing us from seeing the faults, let's take a wander through to refresh our enthusiasm.'

During the three weeks it took for the entire building to be gutted, every non-load-bearing partition removed, and the interior steam-cleaned to pristine bricks and concrete, the four men finalised detailed floor plans, studied interior design magazines and researched equipment suppliers for the latest gymnasium equipment, much of which Bart declared to be expensive follies.

'Better to have loads of really useful, easily operated, robust gear that doesn't rely on electronic gadgetry, than a few shiny gewgaws that require a manual to use.

As soon as the shell was ready, tradesmen were engaged with the promise of half their quote in cash at the start, the rest placed in trust with their lawyers, to be released in stages as work progressed. This certainty of payment in a time of fly-by-night developers ensured a dedicated workforce. Sixteen weeks after commencement everything was complete and the four men made a final inspection together.

The four storeyed red brick warehouse had two frontages. The service entrance was on a busy east-west road, while the elegant Arte Nouveau administrative entrance was on the northern side, across the end of a short cul-de-sac that opened onto fashionable River Drive. There was easy vehicle access from both roads into the ground floor—a vast space that was now a capacious car park. A new wide staircase near the front entrance curved up to the first floor reception area and gymnasium. The existing staircase was reserved for access to the second and third floors. The fire escape embedded inside the west wall, serviced all levels, including the flat roof.

Each floor had dressing rooms, showers and toilets, gymnasium, steam room, sauna, massage room, lounge, and several private rooms. The first floor was intended for mixed male and female patrons. The second floor housed Administration and was for females only, and the third floor was exclusively for males, and included a self-contained space for Bart's 3V group.

Parking their bicycles in the Manager's space, they took the sweeping new staircase that appeared to float over the car park, to a large light-filled, slickly modern reception area dotted with comfortable chairs, potted palms and other greenery, several large mirrors, four full sized copies of ancient Greek sculptures of athletic heroes, and on the walls large reproductions of ancient Roman mosaics of mythological heroes. The overall colour scheme throughout the building was creamy white and forest green, made friendly and warm by concealed amber lighting that bestowed a healthy glow to the most pallid body. Three large windows offered views down the narrow street to the river.

'Exactly right,' Bart nodded. 'Classy, practical, suggests a natural environment, but not kitsch.'

Automatic doors on the far side opened into a circular foyer giving access to male and female changing rooms, and the superbly lit and equipped gymnasium, the walls of which were clad entirely with mirrors to reduce heating and lighting costs. State of the art air conditioning was silent and effective. Heavy wooden doors led to steam and sauna rooms. Glass doors gave access to a 'Club Room' furnished with comfortable divans and chairs, a pool table, library, television, and refreshment bar.

The second floor administration suite was functional and Spartan. The female facilities were similar to those on the floor below. The male gymnasium on the top floor was appreciably larger than the other two, with a wider variety of equipment. The other facilities were similar.

The 3Vs group had a dressing room, shower room and toilet, and a workspace twice as large as before, in which Bart could erect a ritual tipi for the touchy-feely sessions.

Throughout the building, concrete floors had been sprayed with a rubberised layer that cushioned, insulated and induced a sense of luxury.

Taking the fire escape to the roof they admired the stand-alone array of solar panels that would provide all the electricity and hot water.

'Well, Arnold, you said you wanted a place that felt part of the earth, real, natural and yet human. Are you happy?'

'Totally. It's better than I imagined, and that's thanks entirely to you three.'

'And your money, energy and dream, Arnold. No false modesty.'

'So, we're ready to go,' Fidel said with a smile. 'Suitable magazines have received our advertising copy, and photographers will be here tomorrow, all we need is a few more staff. We four will not be able to cope—I hope. Do you still want to emulate the Greeks, Arnold?'

'Yes, but I'll accept the will of the majority.'

'Remind us again…'

'Ok. But first, as they say on TV when they want to be annoying, while you guys have been doing all the important stuff getting this place ready to roll, I've been on the streets surveying public opinion. Believe it or not, I've interviewed eight hundred and two women and one thousand and three men, face to face. I chose people who looked as if they'd benefit from a fitness course and asked if they went and if not why not. Boiled down the results were: most felt insecure, imagining they had to look like the pumped up, muscle men trainers, or the slim and impossibly perky females of advertisements. All said they might go if the trainers were just ordinary fit men and women, not super hero types. Most of those who went to gyms said all they wanted was to get fit and slimmer, not to feel competitive about body type and image. So taking all that into consideration I decided we would employ only normal looking guys with a variety of body types who were fit and slim, but had no hope of becoming Mr. Universe.'

'Only guys? No females?'

'I asked about that, and the majority choice of both men and women was for male trainers; men because they thought females wouldn't understand them or be strong enough, and females because they thought men would treat them better—and there'd be no invidious comparisons.'

'And having naked trainers?'

'I didn't mention that.'

'Piker. You were too embarrassed.'

'Not really. It's just that people's imaginations tend to run wild when you talk about nudity. They get all excited and imagine orgies. I hope that when they experience the reality and see a naked man doesn't have horns growing out of his head and a forked tail, they'll be in a better position to make a rational decision.'

'Yeah, makes sense. And we're supported by historical precedent.'

'What precedent's that?' Fidel asked.

'Gymnasium is an ancient Greek word meaning to exercise naked. It's been widely accepted by artists and thinkers throughout history that only the naked body honestly reveals one's health and character. I want our staff to be naked to prove they're healthy in mind and body. We're calling the place Natural Fitness, so logically, they'll expect their trainers to be naturists and work in the raw.'

'Your logic astounds me. But won't that bring an unwelcome sexual element?'

'No! No! No! Quite the opposite! There's nothing sexy about exposed genitals. It's when attention is drawn to them by concealing them with scraps of cloth, that sexual fantasies erupt. That's why male gym assistants usually wear baggy shorts that conceal all suggestion of their sex, leaving nothing to stimulate the female or gay imagination. But presenting men as sexless is, in my opinion, a crime against humanity. Females, on the other hand, draw attention to the genital area, with the deliberate intention of making male imaginations feverish with lust so they'll buy them drinks and hang around in the hope of a fuck. However, a totally naked woman, like a naked man, arouses little if any sexual emotion in anyone, because the reality is so natural and dull it's uninteresting.'

'That's true at the 3Vs sessions and also at the Gay Nudists Camp. After a few minutes it's not interesting.'

'And as you say, you can tell a guy's character by how he takes care of his body. That's why I don't find any of those guys sexy.'

'What, Fidel? Not any?'

'Well, hardly any.'

'Thank you, Fidel for that revealing confession. But back to the topic. As we four are now senior trainers etcetera, etcetera, are you prepared to work naked with me?'

'Whither thou goest we follow, Arnold,' Robert said bowing deeply. 'But I don't imagine the clients will be quite so understanding.'

Arnold's frown lines dissolved, his face relaxed, his mouth opened wide and he laughed. Such a laugh and for so long that the others couldn't help joining in. They sank to the floor and stretched out to catch their breath.

'Ah! I feel human again,' Arnold sighed between silent giggles. 'For weeks it's felt as if I've been winding a tight wire around my chest and head, willing this place to be finished, and suddenly it is. It's finished. You guys are in it with me and do you know what's the best part?'

'You haven't wet yourself laughing?'

'Apart from that, I've suddenly realised it doesn't matter! It isn't serious! Who cares if the clients don't understand? I don't even want the place to make a profit because I'll have to pay tax that the government will spend on warships and bombs. As long as running expenses are covered I'll be happy. It's true that money doesn't bring happiness, but it sure can take away worries and cares and bestow a wonderful sense of freedom to be who and what I want. And that is so precious. Hell, we've still got forty million that Robert's taken care of so it'll last us till we're gaga. It's a game for all of us, so remember that and have fun or we're wasting our time.'

'Arnold, I really do love you.'

'Me too.'

'And me too. You've got to be one of the few people alive who understands the correct value of wealth. Meanwhile,' Fidel said with a smile, 'as the only serious one, I'll put notices in sports magazines advertising auditions for trainers. What do you reckon? Next Monday?'


'You'll all have to be there.'

'What're we looking for?'

'Like the people wanted—ordinary, fit healthy guys but not hormone junkies with bodies like over-filled sacks of potatoes. So far we've got Bart—tall, lean, tough Central European type. Robert—sensibly muscled, average height, classically proportioned, succulent and modestly hairy. Fidel; fit, solid, on the short side of average, a kind rather than a handsome face, hairy Mediterranean body type, and me. What am I?'

'Arnold, you are a god—there are no words to describe you adequately. It's not for nothing that Fidel, a timid virgin, dragged you into bed within minutes of meeting. You stopped weight lifting before you turned your body into a lumpy bag wrapped in spaghetti, and you now represent an impossibly high standard of Western European male beauty.'

'Huh! Damned by faint praise,' Arnold muttered with a beatific grin. 'So, we agree that all applicants must be in prime condition; neat and healthy. No piercings. No waxed or shaved bodies. Smooth men are not more attractive than hairy ones. Our trainers can be hairy but not shaggy; they must trim head and body hair, but not shave apart from around the anus to avoid accidental dags, and armpits to prevent stale sweat smells, because I want no perfumed deodorants. I've decided to grow a neat beard. I reckon all men should have one. Surely it's time we stopped trying to look like prepubescent hairless boys or females, and allowed our bodies to mature naturally?' He stopped and took a deep breath.

'Do you want us to become cavemen too?'

'Neatly trimmed, manicured, civilized cavemen sounds about right.'

'Ok. You haven't mentioned female trainers. What'll you do if some turn up?'

'This is an equal opportunity workplace, so if there's a female who is prepared to agree to these non-negotiable terms: - work naked, wear no makeup, no jewellery, no perfume and not shave her pussy, then fine. Any disagreement?'

They shook their heads, keeping mouths tightly closed to avoid howling with laughter. Arnold was delightful when serious.

The interviews were a non-event. Thirty-two men and eight women gathered in the magnificent reception space, carrying certificates, references and anything else they thought would secure them a position. The soft buzz of nervous conversation became a general gasp of surprise when Arnold and his three lieutenants wandered in and leaned against the desk.

'Welcome,' he said seriously, 'I've been asked to screen the applicants, assisted by the three senior trainers.' He handed the nearest applicant a bundle of envelopes. 'Please give one to everyone.'

Someone put up a hand.


'Why are you naked?'

A titter ran round the room.

Arnold waited for silence, gazed calmly over the assembled group of healthy young men and women and frowned slightly. 'In this establishment, all trainers must set clients an example of a healthy fit body by agreeing to the following, non-negotiable terms.' He stated them clearly. 'We will give you five minutes to decide. If you feel unable to comply with these terms, please leave. You may keep the contents of the envelope as thanks for coming. If you decide to stay, please remove all clothing and jewellery and then go through those doors to the gymnasium where the interview will continue.'

They returned to the office and watched on security screens as general bewilderment turned to certainty it was a joke, then a realisation it wasn't, then anger, then a look into the envelope followed by astonishment, then a perplexed and irritated exit of everyone apart from seven men who, as soon as they were alone, also looked into their envelopes, registered astonishment at the hundred-dollar bill, then nervously removed all their clothes, giggled, said they sure hoped it wasn't a joke, but if it was it was brilliant, then took deep breaths before proceeding through to the gymnasium where the interviewers waited.

After doing hand stands, cartwheels, climbing the wall bars, and running for three minutes on the treadmills at full speed, they stood, panting slightly, waiting for the verdict; eyes bright and alert, obviously enjoying both the experience and the appreciative audience. No one put their hands in front of their groins. All looked relaxed in their skins.

None were body-builder types; all were obviously fit and healthy and between the ages of twenty-four and thirty-four. Two were lightly tanned and slim, one hairy, one smooth. A solid tough looking fellow with a broken nose had a tattooed eagle on his shoulder and a butterfly on his buttocks and was not overweight. A graceful young man with a natural deep 'tan' was as hirsute as Fidel. A very pale and almost hairless fellow was exceptionally supple, and a very lean black-skinned athlete from Thursday Island had shaved a very fine and delicate head to distract from premature baldness.

The seventh fellow was pale, fit, tall and lean with full lips and a large hooked nose that accentuated his attractive angularity. Unfortunately, whereas the penises of the others were unremarkably average, his bulky, twenty-five centimetre appendage caused Arnold to take him aside and explain that his magnificent apparatus would be seriously in the way when using the equipment and assisting patrons. His disappointment was alleviated by an envelope containing ten hundred-dollar notes and the address of the club where the young stripper had so affected Fidel.

'Congratulations. You are all hired,' Bart announced with a smile when Arnold returned to the gym. 'So, let's take a tour of the place, allocate duties, and sign contracts.'

The young men's grins were all the reward Arnold wanted.

Before the doors opened to the public, the six new trainers who had never met each other before the audition, knew how to test a client's level of fitness, allocate the correct plan, use all the equipment, speak politely, admit error, not contradict, praise every advancement no matter how small, be helpful, patient and well tempered. As important was learning how to enter a room, act, behave and conduct themselves as naturally as if they were fully dressed. Bart, Robert and Arnold sometimes wore clothes to simulate patrons and were constantly correcting conscious or unconscious mannerisms that indicated self-consciousness.

'If someone even thinks you're embarrassed, the atmosphere will become uncomfortable, and they'll start to wonder if it's kinky to have naked trainers. But if you guys honestly think that wearing clothes unnecessarily is strange and pathetic, and are always totally relaxed, secure and efficient, they'll forget you're naked. It's up to you.'

Well before opening day, the behaviour of all six was virtually indistinguishable from their four employers and, thanks to the absence of professional jealousy and competition over body type, had become friends and ideal employees.

Meanwhile, the unsuccessful candidates had done their work brilliantly. If there was one fitness worker or gymnasium patron in the city who wasn't aware that Natural Fitness employed naked trainers and handed out hundred-dollar notes to unsuccessful applicants, then he or she was blind and deaf.

Thus, at two o'clock on opening day the car park was half full and fifty-eight females of all ages, types and abilities were waiting in reception to obtain their free, three-session temporary membership cards, to be renewed if they liked the place. Arnold and Bart processed the applications rapidly, sending the eleven who ticked the box for the mixed gym through the correct door to meet Robert, and the remaining forty-seven to the main stairs and thus to the second floor to be greeted by the remaining staff members.

Everything went smoothly. There were lots of surreptitious glances of course for the first few minutes, then, as Arnold had predicted, everyone seemed to completely forget. Instead of personal comments, lewd jokes and untoward touches, the women treated the men with respect, almost as if they had to earn the right to be assisted by these polite, thoughtful, non-judgemental and helpful men. One buxom, perfumed and painted middle-aged lady whispered softly at the end of her session, 'Thank you, Fidel, I feel honoured to be guided by you. Will you be here tomorrow?'

At five o'clock, males and females began arriving from work. Four staff were kept busy for nearly an hour registering and directing people to their preferred gymnasium. By eight o'clock there were forty-eight men upstairs, eighteen women on the second floor, and twenty-two couples in the mixed gym.

Being younger, the evening clients were slightly more boisterous at first, cracking jokes and making sly comments. When the only response was respectful assistance from men who were completely at ease in their skins and devoid of embarrassment, they soon settled and fifteen minutes later, fitness was their sole interest. Like the women earlier, they listened and followed instructions with almost exaggerated respect as if being imperturbably and professionally naked conferred an exalted, godlike status on the trainers. Of course Bart's detailed fitness plans, plenty of equipment, and unstinting assistance was a major contributor to this success.

Four weeks after opening, the merely curious ceased coming and numbers settled. Both male and female gyms operated afternoons, evenings and weekends at capacity, patronised by men and women who were serious about fitness, but didn't want to be reminded of their ordinariness by seeing rooms full of straining body-builders. Most women wore the usual gym uniform of skin-tight brightly coloured Lycra; faces made up, necks and arms decorated with baubles, bangles and bright shining beads to impress their fellow gym bunnies.

The men were luckier. Within two weeks the absence of critical female eyes and tongues saw them dumping the standard male gym uniform of restrictive baggy shorts and sweat-inducing T-shirts in favour of Speedos and naked torsos. A few asked if they could emulate their trainers, but Arnold politely explained that while he could guarantee the personal hygiene, absence of disease and sanitary habits of the trainers, he had no such influence over the clients, so in the interests of everyone's wellbeing the luxury of unconstrained bodies was to remain the preserve of trainers. Curiously, not one man or woman asked why there were no female trainers.

Six weeks after opening, Arnold closed the unpopular first-floor mixed gym because all except two patrons had changed to the single sex gymnasiums. The men got sick of females flirting and offering unwanted personal comments, and the women felt pressured by the critical gazes of men. The space was converted into a for-hire venue for private parties and receptions, conferences, club socials, dances, or musical and other performances. Catering to be handled by contractors. With its large rest rooms, grand mirrored space, and small private rooms, it was ideal.

Ten months later the fitness and health training programs were running like clockwork under Bart's expert guidance and the gym was making a profit, overseen by Robert. Cleaning, staff rosters, day-to-day management of clients and staff and a thousand other things were safely under the expert control of Fidel. Arnold's enthusiasm, good looks and charm kept everyone happy.

Bart's 3Vs group was popular and, according to clients, of enormous psychological assistance, but he still made time to work in the gym several hours a day. The six no-longer-new staff members were very well liked and pleased with their jobs, especially as Arnold had decided that every cent of the profits would be divided into ten and distributed to the trainers as a bonus, with the predictable result that the trainers worked three times as hard now that their already generous salaries could be more than doubled.

The first-floor gym that had been converted into one of the most affordable yet elegant venues for small private functions in the city, and was constantly fully booked—adding to already substantial profits.

One afternoon when Fidel returned to the flat he shared with Arnold, he discovered him on the bed between the legs of one of the more attractive patrons. Fidel laughed to hide his embarrassment, shook hands with the guy, apologised for interrupting, found what he was looking for, and with a cheerful wave went back to work.

Later, he waved away Arnold's apologies, confessing he was relieved to discover Arnold wasn't in love with him, because although he loved Arnold as a wonderful man and friend, he wasn't in love, but had said nothing because he didn't want to hurt him.

Arnold was totally gutted. The fling with the client had meant nothing. He'd felt flattered, that was all. He loved Fidel desperately and now he'd ruined it. Swallowing his self-disgust, he concealed his misery behind banter and smiles, telling Fidel he'd guessed, after the incident with the stripper, that his love wasn't fully reciprocated, and the adventure with the client had been a crude and stupid way of trying to force Fidel to admit the truth. He now wished he hadn't, because half a lover was better than none, but he hoped they could still be best friends.

They most certainly could. Fidel too was regretting what he'd said. Because it wasn't strictly true. He was in love with Arnold, but the powerful memory of Hylas was always hovering at the back of his mind. He didn't dare commit to loving someone until he'd sorted his feelings for his brother. And so they kissed and made up and continued to share a bed and caresses. But it wasn't the same, so pleading a need to try being independent for a while, Fidel renovated a structure on the roof of the gymnasium and went to live up there.

Arnold remained in his apartment. Alone.

The winter school holidays had started and Fidel had just finished a strenuous evening session with five high-school students whose parents also came to the gym, when he was called to the phone. He listened attentively, grin slowly fading to concern as he nodded, then said softly, 'I'll be there as soon as possible. No, it's no trouble, relax. Everything will be fine.' He replaced the receiver thoughtfully and went to find Arnold.

'You look shocked.'

'I've just had a call from Hylas.'

'Your brother?'

'Yes. My father suicided a couple of weeks ago and today Mum walked out without any explanation, leaving him alone. The house is up for sale and he doesn't know what to do.'

'How old is he?'


'Then go and get him.'

'What? Bring him back here? You wouldn't mind?'

'Don't be a fuckwit. Of course I wouldn't!' Arnold took a card from the desk and tossed it at Fidel. 'Take the car. Go on! And stop worrying.'

Fifteen minutes later Arnold's Volt was zipping north on the Bruce highway. Inside, confused thoughts were zipping around the driver's brain. 'What if Hylas had changed? Would they still like each other? It was almost five years! Perhaps they had only felt so close because of the shared environment. Would he still feel the same or had he been fooling himself—imagining he was in love with the guy. How could he have been in love with an eleven year old? How should he behave?' He decided to play it cool and see how his brother behaved before making a fool of himself. But if Hylas was also playing it cool, how would they ever find out what the other was thinking? But at least Hylas had phoned him and not someone else. But how did he know the phone number? Had he been receiving the letters and communication updates all the time and just not bothered to reply? It was all too complicated. He'd have to play it by ear.

An oncoming vehicle flashed its lights and Fidel swung the wheel with seconds to spare. Back on the correct side of the road he began to sweat. A fat lot of good he'd be to his brother in a coffin. He was more tired than he could remember. He yawned, stretched and pulled into the next service station for a coffee. Mustn't fall asleep.

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