The International Writers Magazine
Need a bit of company sir?

One in Eleven
Mathew A Kaufman

he wet, wintry evening forced Matt Kaufman to up-turn his jacket collar. He stared blankly at the reflection of a streetlamp on a puddle. It was here, amid the dank back streets and meandering alleyways of Soho that he lingered, after his latest and decidedly final altercation with his landlord in New Barnet.

The circumstances in which he had been forced to flee his former lodgings were considerably hasty; he had not been able to recoup his security deposit. He fumbled through his pockets and produced a card with which he inspected his bank balance at a convenience store. Not enough for a deposit on new digs, but enough for another night at the hostel off Piccadilly Circus, continental breakfast included. He heard the familiar ‘clack’ and ‘whirr’ as his funds dwindled. The teller machine charged him one pound-fifty for the withdrawal.

Kaufman stuffed the crumpled, worn notes into his wallet and tramped off down a rain-soaked Great Windmill Street. Ahead, car headlights glared in the drizzle. To his left, a doorway revealed a long corridor and a flight of stairs leading underground. The corridor was aglow in soft red light. A girl seated on a high chair just inside the doorway introduced herself as Sylvia. She was a peroxide blonde, petite and nubile, with a fake-fur collar on her tan suede jacket. She listened to a portable radio for company.

‘What are the rates?’ Kaufman enquired. Sylvia told him a fiver entry then thirty quid for half an hour. He followed her down the stairs to a room where pissed-up punters were milling around apprehensively. He handed his money to a gargantuan receptionist who had the complexion of baked mud and thick black wavy hair scraped over her head into a ponytail. She assured him that the establishment did not sell liquor; he was in no danger of being ripped-off. She told him there were no hidden charges. Sylvia then led him through into a small alcove, where a paisley curtain was drawn for decency.

She took a seat. Kaufman’s eyes followed the shimmering, bronzed curve of her thigh until it disappeared beneath her tight denim miniskirt. She caught his eye and as he looked away he noticed a small closed-circuit camera in the top right-hand corner of the ceiling. He wondered who was watching him. Sylvia handed him a piece of laminated, yellowed paper with the word ‘menu’ printed in bold at the top and asked him if he was an undercover police officer.
‘I’m not under the covers just yet,’ he winked. She frowned and curled her upper lip at him. He quickly added, ‘I’m not a copper.’
‘Only,’ she continued, ‘this place was raided last week and I’m only 19; if I get busted I’m in trouble. My mum’d kill me.’ Further small talk revealed that she was a psychology student at Goldsmiths and that she worked as a hostess to subsidize her tuition fees. ‘I can make £400 a night here,’ she claimed. ‘It beats working at KFC.’

There was a sudden commotion from behind the curtain, followed by an abrupt silence, and then a man’s voice, shouting something about fairness and professional conduct. Then there was calm again.
With elephantine delicacy the receptionist drew the curtain aside and stepped into the alcove, armed with a clipboard.
‘Okay, sir,’ she said to Kaufman. ‘You’ll see ten ladies, one at a time, and you pick one, and she will dance for you.’ He grinned eagerly. ‘You’ve already paid for the dance,’ continued the receptionist. ‘That just leaves two hundred and ninety-five pounds for your hostess’s time,’ and nodded to Sylvia. Kaufman’s eyes widened; there was no apparent means of escape. He boggled at Sylvia. His mouth opened and closed a couple of times. A sound like draining bathwater came up from his throat. Red-faced and panic-stricken, he managed to squeal: ‘I … I was assured that there were no hidden charges!’
‘It’s all on the menu,’ Sylvia said, indicating the laminated paper Kaufman was still holding.
‘Do you have any other method of payment, sir?’ asked the receptionist. A beady-faced heavy was silently ushered in behind the curtain. Pinpricks of sweat glistened on Kaufman’s forehead. His glasses steamed up.
He was asked to turn out his pockets in front of the camera to prove he had no more money, and then the heavy threw him into the street.
Kaufman blurted: ‘I assume my thirty quid is non-refundable?’ Then he staggered and ran the length of Brewer Street. He reached Golden Square and collapsed, panting and wheezing horribly in front of the Virgin Radio building.
Matt Kaufman can’t even pay for sex.

© Matt Kaufman September 2006
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