Talulla Rising Page 56

My new room wasn’t quite the minimalist luxury bedsit of Poulsom’s white jail (no TV, no en suite, no Harrods toiletries, no bath robe), but it was an improvement on Murdoch’s hospitality. The same concrete windowless walls, but a floor of blue gym mats that evoked, comfortingly, high school; a pillow, a woollen blanket, and a nifty little camping toilet that smelled of brand new plastic and bleach. My clothes were confiscated (though I was allowed to keep the book) and replaced with a stiff white hospital smock. Restraints depended on the guards. There was a single leg-cuff on a steel cable bolted to the wall that allowed me to pace-out my little square, or there was the wrists-to-ankles contraption, or, for the ultra cautious, both. All sealed behind a steel door with a food hatch and a viewing plate an observer should’ve been able to slide open or shut but which was in fact jammed permanently open. Beyond my cell door was a corridor – cameraless, it appeared – containing three more (empty) cells and at the end a tiled recessed shower cubicle, where I was allowed to wash (and brush my teeth – joy!) when my stint in the lab was done. From the corridor another door led to a small white-walled antechamber, where one of three rostered guards sat with laptop and com-unit at a fold-out table and chair.

Three guards.

Three men.

‘No, there aren’t any cameras in there. Why, what did you have in mind?’

This was Devaz. Of Goan descent, in his late twenties, not much taller than me, with a schoolboy’s side-parting, a roundish face, bright brown eyes and a fruity little gap between his upper front teeth. He wasn’t good-looking, but there was nothing insurmountably wrong with him. He’d sneaked me the toothbrush and toothpaste, so I couldn’t hate him. Crucially, he was so plainly susceptible to sex (which was probably behind the toothbrush and toothpaste) that whoever was responsible for putting him on duty here would be in epic trouble with Murdoch if my plan worked – and if Murdoch survived it.

‘I see, sir, that you derive an ungentlemanly pleasure from making a lady ask.’

‘Madam, not at all. Not at all.’

This was the established nonsense. He knew what I had in mind (though not why) because I’d told him on my first day under his guard. He’d overseen me showering, drying off, dressing, by the end of which I knew all I needed to know. Later, through my open door-plate, I’d spoken to him very quietly and reasonably, exactly in the manner of an intelligent woman mastering enormous self-disgust because she had to. The levity and decorum, I made it obvious, were in inverse proportion to the hateful lowness of my desire. Colonial memsahib in houseboy’s power. He loved it.

‘Did you talk to Wilson?’ I asked him, the next day, when he started his shift.



‘It would be lovely, I’m sure, if it weren’t for these notions I have about keeping my job.’

Rhetoric. His having talked to Wilson told me it was a fait accompli. I could of course have talked to Wilson myself, but of the two of them Devaz called the shots. Plus the Goan’s ego was precious enough to have been miffed if I’d gone to Wilson first. He’d been adored by his mother and sisters. It was there in his eyes’ twinkle and the uncorrected tooth gap.

‘Well,’ I said. ‘You know where I am.’

It was a two-part seduction. Part One was simple. It addressed, through or beneath or cunningly alongside the established nonsense, the pornographied man exclusively. All it required was me looking at him in a way that said I knew the things he wanted and would do most of them willingly and the remaining few with either arousingly obvious resentment or hot-faced surprise at myself. Part Two addressed the sceptic and the lousy WOCOP employee. It required persuasion, reasoning, argument. Didn’t he know what happened to my kind the closer we got to full moon? On top of everything else I was suffering – imprisonment, the loss of my children, the indignities of the lab, the certainty of death – was the non-stop assault by you know what. I told him, again very calmly, that in the world outside I wouldn’t look twice at him, but that these were extraordinary circumstances. In these circumstances, believe it or not (again calmly) he’d be doing me a favour. I’d even keep the restraints on, if it made it easier for him. The pornographied man had already said yes, yes, Jesus Christ, yes. The sceptic and the lousy WOCOP employee had a period of denial to work through.

‘How can you expect me to have relations with you when you’ve told me you don’t find me in the least attractive?’

‘Because I know that’s just the thing to pique a gentleman’s ardour.’

‘My God, what a thing to say!’

‘Not at all. We modern ladies know how things work.’

‘I’m shocked and stunned. I’m saddened.’

‘Oh, I can help you with that. I really can.’

I had to remain playful and calm, a combination of convincing sexual readiness and resigned realism. Not easy, given the loudly ticking clock. If the amputations started I’d be in trouble. Bloody or bandaged or visibly regenerating stumps wouldn’t help. There were of course men who liked that sort of thing (Lauren’s brother had a stash of warped porn: one picture of a woman with amputated legs and two bearded men rubbing their cocks against the big satiny stumps) but Devaz didn’t strike me as one of them.

‘Really, sir, I do think Wilson’s agreement in this matter removes the last obstacle to our happiness.’

Naturally, Wilson, a tall, wiry twenty-six-year-old with red hair and an Adam’s apple that bent his gullet like a little elbow (but who was nonetheless the unit’s arm-wrestling champion) and who’d have to keep lookout while Devaz was with me, had wanted to know what was in it for him. What does he think is in it for him? I’d said to Devaz, having momentarily lost patience with the established nonsense. He’s not gay, is he? It’s not as if you and I are getting engaged. The fact was I needed Wilson. Devaz on his own might not be enough. The third guard, Harris, was the best-looking of the bunch, with angelic dark eyes and cruel cheekbones, but he was also, according to Devaz, Wilson and my own intuition, a stickler for protocol and a WOCOP idealogue in the making. It was a shame. I really needed three. Three was the number I’d had in my head from the moment I’d decided what I was going to do.

‘I don’t feel you fully appreciate the risk involved, madam. The atrocious risk to my reputation.’

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