by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 13

Perdita staggered in at first light, showered, then collapsed onto the bed beside Mort who pretended to be asleep. She rolled over and he tried not to gag on her breath before sliding out and showering, dressing and going down to breakfast.

Perdita snored softly.

When he returned she was up and about, looking as fresh as boiled lettuce.

'I brought you some croissants and a coffee.'

'Put them over there. Are you packed? We leave in five minutes.' She downed the coffee, tipped the croissants into the rubbish bin, took one last look around, then marched out to the lifts.

It was Mort's first flight so he was disappointed to see only the back of the seat in front of him, as their seats were in the centre of the plane.

When her bag appeared, Perdita grabbed it and marched towards the main terminal area, leaving Mort to wait for his own. After collecting it he looked around the rapidly emptying Arrivals Hall, hoping she'd abandoned him. He'd give her five minutes then see about boarding a return flight. His heart thumped in hope, and a slight smile — the first of the day, flickered.

'I imagine you're Perdita's boy.' The accent was English Home Counties, the tone cynical, and the effect fascinating. It emanated from a slim man wearing tan loafers, form-fitting blue jeans and an unbuttoned, sleeveless white shirt. His skin was very black and slightly shiny. An Art Nouveau-style bone ornament was suspended against his taut chest by a narrow leather thong around a powerful, columnar neck. An aquiline, fairly broad nose sat between slightly blood-shot eyes with pupils as black as the smooth, wrinkle-free skin that surrounded them. His ears were small and flat against his head. Sensuous lips and strong chin and jaw were enhanced by a finely sculpted, three-day-old moustache and beard.

Mort grinned in delight. 'And I imagine you're Perdita's Elbert.'

'You're taller and better looking than I expected for a fourteen year old.'

'You're blacker and much better looking than I expected of a Kenyan/Ethiopian.'

'Did you have an interesting flight?'

'If staring at the back of a seat in the middle of a tin box hurtling through the stratosphere for three hours is what locals consider interesting, then I suppose it was. Next time I'll walk and actually see something.'

Both men laughed and shook hands.

'It looks as if you've lost your mother.'

'She's not my mother, merely the incubator.'

'Which makes you an incubus?'

'Right, so be afraid when you're sleeping tonight.'

They had wandered into the concourse and were looking around when Perdita appeared from the direction of the ladies toilets.

'Where's the car?' she snapped.

'Follow me, madam.' Elbert said sarcastically, leading them across the car park.'

'Carry my bag. It's heavy.'

'Carry it yourself. You insisted on packing a year's supply of clothes.'

Grumbling and muttering, she followed, occasionally sitting on her suitcase to rest.

'Sit in the front with me,' Elbert ordered when they arrived at the very ordinary, beige Toyota hatchback.

'What about Perdita?'

'She can sit in the back.'

His wife apparently expected this, because after heaving her bag into the boot, she clambered into the back seat with no more than an exhausted sigh, lay back and closed her eyes.

They took the motorway north, then headed west into anonymous suburbia, stopping in front of a pair of wrought iron gates in the centre of a two-metre-high wall that extended about fifty metres on each side. Elbert reached out and ran a security card through a slot, the gates opened just long enough for them to drive through before clanging closed. Immediately behind the wall was a sealed parking area surrounded by six identical townhouses. Expensive cars were parked in front of four. They pulled up beside the house nearest the gate.

'So this is your place.'

'It's where we live at the moment,' Elbert said quietly as if not wanting to be overheard, 'thanks to the generosity of Frank, who owns the whole place.' Shaking his head to deter further questions he led the way inside.

Perdita followed and made straight for the toilet where she could be heard alternately vomiting and wailing softly.

'She looks terrible,' Elbert said with no trace of compassion, 'and sounds worse. Any idea what's wrong?'

'No sleep last night; too much sex and alcohol,' Mort informed him with a similar lack of compassion, having decided not to protect the women who didn't give a toss about his happiness.


'She dressed me up as a girl because she reckoned she didn't want to go to the roof-top dance alone, then promptly dumped me to go to a stag party with nine guys she used to fuck at school. All nine did the honours again last night, apparently, so I suggest you take health precautions before screwing her — or even kissing. She could have picked up any of a dozen lethal bugs.'

'Thanks for the heads-up. She'd better be on her feet tonight, we have to go out. No choice. Frank insists. And Frank's the boss.'

'What do you do for a crust?'

'Now? Obey Frank. Before? Its a long story and I'm hungry.'

Elbert was a proficient cook, so an hour later they had eaten well but Perdita had eaten nothing and, if possible, looked worse; vomiting from both ends, sweating, turning yellow, sure she was going to die, but refusing the reluctant offer of a doctor.

'Come for a drive.' Elbert led the way and ten minutes later they were sitting on benches in a small park with a view across to the towers of the city in the smoggy distance.

'I don't like to talk in that place. It's probably bugged.'

Mort looked a question.

'In England, I worked for a company exporting a wide variety of stuff to Australia. They offered me the chance to become a junior director and run the Australian end of the business, so I sank all my savings into setting it up. Great for a couple of years, then they went belly up in the UK. I found other suppliers, but globalisation hasn't been good for small businesses. I saw another opportunity, but needed a lump sum and took out a loan from Frank, who seemed a thoroughly nice guy. Which should have rung alarm bells — con men are always nice guys you'd trust with your sister. Then everything collapsed and Frank demanded his money.'

'How much.'

'Getting on for half a million.'


'Fuck indeed. I'd no way of finding that in a hurry, so he forced us to come and live here and work for him — running errands, delivering payments, meeting and rewarding clients. That's what we have to do tonight. There's a wealthy bastard due for a large kickback. Nothing's above board or straightforward with Frank. Instead of just paying the bloke, he throws a conspicuous party, politicians and big end of town. Then someone no one knows shows up with beautiful partner, the money is quietly handed over while Frank is otherwise engaged, and…' Elbert sighed, shook his head and slumped. 'And now my bitch of a wife gets herself fucked stupid, catches some dreaded lurgy and won't be able to go. Frank will probably kill me.'

'I'll take her place.'

Elbert's face lost it's tension, he relaxed and laughed. Mort looked at him in delight. His beautiful smile made him even more handsome. At that moment he would have done anything to make this man's life easier.

'One slight problem; you're not a female.'

'But I fooled everyone last night, even my school teacher.'

Elbert's face had relapsed into despair. 'Thanks, Mort, but it won't work. Especially with the dress she has to wear.'

'At least let me put it on and see what you think! Don't be such a wimp!'

'Elbert pulled a wry face. 'Wouldn't you be embarrassed to be partnered by a black man?'

'Idiot! That's the attraction. I think you're incredibly sexy and handsome and…' He stopped, suddenly realising that Elbert was more than likely a gay basher.

'You're queer?' the voice expressionless.

'No. I'm a sexual being, like all men.'

'With no particular preference?'

'With a preference for people who are strong, slim, intelligent, adventurous, honest, healthy and good looking.'

'Narrows the field somewhat.'

'At the moment the field numbers exactly none, because the only possibility is not adventurous.'

Elbert laughed again.

'Come on.' Mort challenged. 'Prove me wrong.'

The dress Frank had provided for Perdita consisted of a short sleeved, heavily embroidered bolero fastened between the breasts by a silver chain, and a flat wrap for a skirt. The bolero had the advantage of concealing Mort's squarer-than-usual-for-a-girl shoulders, but the disadvantage of preventing the use of a brassiere. This was solved by separating the cups of one of Perdita's bras, padding them and sewing them on the inside of the bolero. When the chain was fastened Mort's pecs were squeezed together slightly, providing a hint of cleavage.

The bolero stopped just below the breasts. The skirt, made of the same fabric, began thirty centimetres lower at the hips, and was joined at the right thigh with a silver chain. Each step caused the skirt to part, revealing a well-turned leg from ankle to hip. Perdita's red bikini thong was again pressed into service, and the ensemble was garnished with glittering sandals, a navel jewel, matching silver earrings, necklace and bangles. The same simple makeup and hairstyle as he'd used the previous night completed the transformation.

Elbert's grin refused to go away. He kept shaking his head in astonishment. 'You are so beautiful,' he kept saying. 'So sexy. And the way you speak, low and slightly husky, like a cat purring. Very seductive.'

'Why thank you, sir. That deserves a kiss.'

Elbert brushed his lips against Mort's then stood back. 'Do you like dressing as a girl?'

'I hate the dressing; but I think I'm going to love the adventure. This is only the second time and will be my last. What astounds me is the clothes they wear. You don't realise till you put them on. They're insane. They serve no purpose other than to advertise the wearer's sexuality. I don't care about being practically naked, in fact I'd prefer to be naked because you can't run, jump or bend, or even sit comfortably in things like this, or what I wore last night. That females wear this sort of thing by choice confirms my opinion that they're too different from men to permit serious mental contact.'

'I'm sorry... you don't...'

'No, no. I'm enjoying it, in the same way as I enjoy sitting exams. It's not pleasant, but in this case it's a chance to prove to myself I can be as good a girl as any female. But what'll I do if someone gropes me?'

'The people Frank socialises with think of themselves as cosmopolitan sophisticates; high flyers socially and financially. Not cheap or common, so there won't be any overt groping.' Elbert moved closer and gently squeezed Mort's breast.

No reaction.

'I've just squeezed your breast.'

'I didn't feel it.'

'Exactly, so you must keep an eye on them in case someone does overstep the bounds of propriety.' Elbert slid his hand into the slit of the skirt and caressed Mort's groin.

Mort grinned. 'Mmm...nice. So you do fancy me Elbert?'

'You're a slut. What should you do if that happens?'

'Slap them down?'

'No. With a gentle smile, take the offending hand and lightly place it somewhere else. I'll show you. Touch me inappropriately.'

Mort caressed the bulge in Elbert's jeans.

With a pleasant smile that suggested things might be different in another place, at another time, Elbert gently took Mort's wrist and, without drawing attention to what he was doing, returned the hand to where it came from. 'Try it.'

They practiced this several times.

'Remember, you are a decoration, nothing more. Do not attempt conversation — no one has any. Do not try to be amusing — no one has a sense of humour. Do not be clever — Franks social networkers are as intelligent as a nest of wasps. You are there solely to prove that Frank can afford the best and most extravagantly dressed female appurtenances. Your job is to make men feel like gods, able to have any woman they desire, not to make them insecure.'

'Won't Frank be annoyed that it's me and not Perdita?'

'He's only seen her twice and never spoken to her. If he's there, which is not certain, he'll think you're her.'

'And what is this transaction you're making?'

'I know nothing, and neither should you. Ours just to do or die, ours not to reason why. I'll be wearing a specially lined dinner jacket, that's all I know. When whatever it contains has been checked, I'll be given an identical one and return to the party.'

'Sensible. How long have we got? I need to pee and let the blood flow back into my cods.'

'Four hours. Go take a rest. I'll be back in time to help you dress again.'

A stretch limo carried them to a mansion in the hills. The tree-lined driveway was festooned with fairy lights. Music drifted from the floodlit house onto a terrace where several couples wandered like confused inmates of a geriatric ward. A liveried servant offered drinks. Carrying glasses of a pinkish bubbly liquid, Mort and Elbert mingled elegantly. Over-painted and underdressed women eyed Mort with jealous suspicion, while their dinner-suited males eyed him with ill-concealed lust.

Elbert discreetly pointed out a thin, stooped, elderly man in a loose fitting dinner suit, who looked as if he might drop dead at any moment. 'That's Frank. Nervous?'

'Shitting myself. Is it too late to get a headache?'

'I'm afraid so, he's on his way. Deep breaths, calm. You look brilliant.'

'Perdita, you look ravishing. I hope you like the dress?' The voice was low, almost a whisper, and strangely intimidating.

'You have excellent taste, Frank. It's a wonderfully elegant fantasy.'

His nod was perfunctory, as if he'd already forgotten who she was. Turning to Elbert with the smile of a doting father, he placed his hand affectionately on his shoulder. 'Don't hang around here afterwards. Just do the rounds making sure everyone sees you, then leave. I want to see you first thing tomorrow regarding that little matter we discussed last week.'

'What time?'

'I'll send someone.' The smile evaporated and he shuffled away.

His place was taken by a corpulent fellow sporting several large rings on equally large fingers. He chatted to them amicably but incomprehensibly about nothing they understood, as if they were old friends, then moved on. Elbert excused himself and wandered casually into the crowd, while Mort retired to a corner seat to wait.

Within seconds a middle-aged tuxedo sidled up and sat beside him, absentmindedly placing his hand on Mort's naked thigh. Mort smiled apologetically while gently removing the intrusive hand with slightly trembling fingers. As he did so he happened to look up. Frank was staring. When the hand was safely removed, he nodded as if to himself and disappeared. Seconds later the tuxedo excused himself and Mort was left alone until Elbert returned.

As instructed, they mingled for a few minutes, accepted compliments and fended off vague enquiries, then went out to their waiting limousine.

Perdita's room stunk of vomit and diarrhoea.

'You can't sleep in there, come and share my bed.'


They stripped, folded the borrowed garments carefully, showered, then with sighs of relief that it was over, flopped onto the bed and recalled everything that had happened that night.

'I reckon the bloke with his hand on your thigh was a plant. Frank testing you. You did well.'

'Thanks to you. What do you think he wants to see you about in the morning?'

'The money I owe. It can't be anything else because I've not the faintest notion of anything that's going on in this place. I'm frightened all the time. Frank is evil. Depraved. What I did tonight is obviously something to do with money laundering.'


'Probably. He asked me if I'd like to get into that and make big money. I said no, and that pissed him off no end. He doesn't trust me, I'm certain.'

'Can't you quit the country?'

'He has my passport, as well as videos and documents 'proving' I'm some sort of gangster. If I leave here he'll give them to the cops.'

'That's roughly what Perdita has done to Marshall to force me to come with her.'

'We'll get to that in a minute. First I want to clarify a few things. When I realised I was in trouble with the cash flow, I had what I thought was the good fortune to meet Perdita. She seemed sweet and innocent and in love with me, so I told her about my debts. She said not to worry because she was due for an inheritance. Her father had died and her mother was on her last legs in a nursing home, and she'd inherit enough to settle my account — if I married her. I've never wanted to marry, but being congenitally stupid, I did. Unfortunately, the mother, your grandmother I suppose, took longer than expected to die, and finally Frank forced us to move here where he could keep an eye on his investment. Then when she did finally die, it turned out Perdita didn't inherit anything — the money was gone. We checked the lawyers and found nothing, so she became convinced it had been given to you. Her plan was to bring you here and get me to torture you or something, and force you to hand the money over.'

'And here I am lying naked beside the man who is prepared to murder me to get his hands on my non-existent filthy lucre.'

Elbert rolled onto his side and gazed at Mort. 'I've known you less than twenty-four hours yet it feels like a lifetime. If I had a son I'd want him to be like you — honest, intelligent, thoughtful, witty, daring, decent…' He paused for a few seconds as if debating whether to continue, grunted a laugh and added, 'this'll sound mushy, but... you've liberated me. I was digging a hole deeper and deeper into the muck we call civilization, not realising I didn't even want to go there. Everyone I've ever met has espoused the idea of progress, money, growth, profit, with never a mention of consequences. You're a natural philosopher who seems to know instinctively how to live and retain your self respect. Thanks.'

He leaned over and kissed Mort lightly on the forehead, then removed the ring he wore on his right ring finger. It was gold, heavy, and set with a deep red sapphire into which had been carved a winged man. 'My biological father left this to me. You are my defacto son, and now it's yours.'

Mort placed it on his right forefinger and remained silent for a minute. 'Thanks, Elbert, I'll treasure this till the day I die. I wish you were my real father, so I've decided to…'

'No! You are not going to do anything! I don't want to hear any more about this. If I was young and free I'd take you away and we'd live together in bliss forever. But I'm not, and you've given me the courage to face the devil within, as well as the usurer without. Tomorrow morning I'm going to tell Frank the truth.'


'And I will feel cleansed, pure and worthy of you, my precious stepson. Whatever happens tomorrow, remember it is my fault, my decision, and nothing whatever to do with you! Do you understand that?


'Good, repeat it.'

'Whatever happens tomorrow is not my fault, it is the result of your choices.'

'Oh, Mort. I do love your rational, logical mind. Thanks for being with me tonight. Now, to sleep.'

Elbert rolled onto his left side and Mort snuggled in behind, arm draped over his new father's hip, relieved the evening was over but still worried that Elbert was not out of the woods. Despite his fears, however, within minutes he was asleep. Elbert too slept deeply; happy for the first time in years that his torment was about to end one way or another. He had had more than enough of this life.

Mort woke with a start. Sunlight streamed through uncurtained windows. Elbert was gone. He leaped out of bed. Nine thirty. Perdita was banging about in her room. He went in. She was hurriedly throwing everything she owned into several suitcases and carry bags. She looked up, face drained. Fear staring from bloodshot eyes.

'Go pack everything. We're leaving.'

'Where's Elbert?'

'They took him away at six o'clock. He's not back so I think he's not coming back.'

'Who took him?'

'Two men in overalls. They came in here first, then went to your room. You were wrapped around him, deep asleep. He woke and slid out without disturbing you. They told him to dress but he refused, said something ridiculous about facing his accusers clothed only in his innocence. They took him across to Manolo's house, over there.' She pointed out the window.'

'Who's Manolo? And what are all those huge cars doing there?'

'Manolo is the boss of this place, and the cars belong to the Big Boys who surround Frank. I guess they're here to question Elbert about the money he owes that you refused to give him! If anything happens to him it will be your fault.'

Mort was saved a reply by the appearance of a short, fat, bespectacled man in a dark suit. He knocked at the door and Mort ran to open it.

'I'm Dr. Toksyn, looking for Elbert's wife.'

'I'm his son. What's happened? Where is he?' Mort was beginning to panic.

'I'm his wife.' Perdita looked awful.

'It is my unfortunate duty to inform you that your husband died this morning of a heart attack, here is a copy of the death certificate.' He presented a piece of paper.

'When? Why?'

'During questioning he became excited and it turns out he had a faulty heart that suddenly ceased working, so he collapsed. I was there, but could do nothing.'

'But he was so healthy!'

'After a certain age too much exercise weakens the heart.'

'He was only forty!'

'Can I see him?'

The doctor looked at Mort with a quizzical expression. 'They said you were sleeping with him, naked, last night.'

'Yes. Can I see him? I want proof that he's dead.'

'Put something on then.'

Mort returned in seconds wearing a pair of shorts. As they crossed to Manolo's house, the large cars purred softly away, whoever was inside, invisible behind dark glass.

Elbert was lying naked on his back on the faux antique dining room table. He looked asleep. Mort ran to him and grasped his shoulders. They were already cold. He lightly kissed Elbert's slightly parted, unresponsive lips, whispered, 'I envy you,' then turned to the doctor. 'Did he suffer?'

'Not physically, it was very sudden. I was not privy to his mental state.'

'He was happy,' Mort stated firmly. 'Thank you for letting me see him.' He held out his hand, which the doctor shook with some embarrassment, and returned to Perdita, who was loading everything into the Toyota.

A heavy-set man in his late forties with no bum in his trousers but a generous belly in his T-shirt waddled across and stood staring at them as they worked.

'Frank sends his condolences on your loss.'

No response.

'You can't take anything of Elbert's, it'll be sold to pay his debts.'

Mort shrugged and buried his ring hand in his shorts pocket. Perdita zipped up a bag.

'He didn't want a funeral, so that's a saving.'

Again no response.

'Luckily, the life insurance Frank took out on him will cover his debts, so we won't be chasing you for them.'

This was too much for Perdita who hissed, 'You're a slimy toad, Manolo. One day you'll be poisoned by your own lying, cheating, murderous venom.'

Manolo laughed and strolled away.

Perdita got in and started the engine.

Mort covertly kissed the ring on his forefinger, checked his stuff was all packed, sat in the passenger seat and they drove quietly away.

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.

'Wait here.'

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...'

'Relief massage.'

'So if I strain a muscle you can fix me.'

'More like... tension relief. '


'Sexual therapy.'

'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.'

'They are.'

'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. okay?'

'Okay. 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 okay 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.

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