Prudence

Prudence: Chapter 2f

The leather pants pinch at Noah’s crotch and chafe the inside of his thighs. He tries to pick them clear, but it’s only seconds of comfort before they seize him again. The vest sticks to his naked back and scratches his chest.

‘This is uncomfortable’ he says.

Teo leans on the jamb of the doorway of the change rooms. ‘You won’t be wearing it long.’

‘What?’

‘Come on.’

The gaming rooms are interconnected through a series of winding hallways. Noah tries to map their course in his head, but it’s not long before he’s disorientated. The twists are many and he’s sure there is a gradual descent. The architecture seems to go from Napoleonic to Early Modern – not that Noah is an expert in such things. The music from the Gallery continues to be piped in. It’s the one constant, given something different happens in every room. Karaoke. Arcade games. Virtual reality games. Card games that involve stripping competitors. Dancing competitions. And more. It’s such an eclectic and jarring mix that Noah has trouble reconciling any single activity, let alone all of them.

They arrive in a domed room with a pool table, this the demesne of one our top Icons, Patricia. A buxom brunette, Patricia wears lingerie, a leather miniskirt, and fishnets. Her breasts bulge in her corset with a firmness that convinces Noah they’re implants. When she bends over the table to have her shot, her miniskirt hikes up. She wears a g-string, the swell of her pussy framed between her buttocks. Around her, a crowd of guys cheer as she misses her shot.

She steps back, sees Teo, and rolls her eyes.

A young guy approaches the table, his face serious, his jaw set. He could be playing for his life. He isn’t. But his concentration is unfailing.

He leans over the table and pots the fifteen, an easy shot in the middle pocket. His next shot – the thirteen – misses the corner pocket, but ricochets off the banks and enters the opposite corner. The other guys in the room cheer.

‘Good shot, Chester!’ Patricia gushes.

Chester lines up the black in the corner pocket. A bead of sweat runs down from his temple. He shoots. The black goes in. The chorus of cheers overwhelms the music piped in from the Gallery. Chester throws his arms up triumphantly.

Patricia approaches him and lifts one leg, cordoning him off and balancing her heel on the edge of the table.

‘One stocking,’ she says.

Chester’s hands tremble as he reaches for the garter holding the stocking. The other guys start a slow hand clap. Chester fumbles. Patricia negligently flicks the garter clear. Chester grabs the hem of the stocking. The handclapping quickens. Chester pulls the stocking clear to reveal Patricia’s taut leg. The other guys roar.

Noah drifts across to an archway into an adjacent room. There’s another game going on, although this room is filled with screaming women. The player is one of our most prized commodities – Savage, a bald, bronzed, muscular young man, a long topknot of hair held in a gold ring flowing behind him. He’s dressed just like Noah is. Noah pivots, and watches as Patricia strides to the corner of the room. An upended hat sits on a table. She reaches into the hat and pulls out a raffle ticket.

‘Blue fourteen,’ she says.

Another young man jumps forward from the crowd. ‘That’s me!’

‘Set them up.’

Patricia approaches Teo. Teo beckons Noah to return. He does so, his gaze fixed on Patricia. She casts Noah a fleeting look.

‘Who’s this?’ she asks.

Noah picks now that she is American. She is breathtaking, her lips small and set in a permanent pout, her forehead glistening with a smattering of sweat. The long, curled lashes of her eyes flutter almost demurely. But her beauty contains something melancholy. Noah knows nothing of how she aspired to become a top international model; how she was told she was too short, that she didn’t have that intangible quality, and her look was suited to something lowlier; and how she from lingerie catalogue to softcore magazines and websites, her standards lowering, until she found herself here. But, collectively, he feels the lament – she is somebody whose life hasn’t gone to plan, and he is determined not to follow her.

‘Noah. Patricia,’ Teo introduces them.

‘Pleasure to meet—’ Noah begins.

‘Noah’s going to become an Icon,’ Teo says.

‘Half your luck,’ Patricia says.

‘Thanks,’ Noah says.

‘Your bad luck,’ Patricia says.

‘Easy, Patricia,’ Teo says. ‘I need you to show him the routine.’

‘What routine? Play to lose, let them strip you off one piece of clothing at a time. It’s not neurosurgery.’

‘They’re set up!’ the young man calls from the pool table.

‘I’ve got to go.’

Patricia heads back to the table. Noah turns to Teo.

‘I’m a bartender,’ he says.

‘We don’t hand out bartending jobs to just anybody,’ Teo says. ‘You’ve got to earn it. Prudence isn’t for the faint-hearted. Or the imprudent.’

‘But isn’t this just sort of …?’

Noah watches the game unfold. The young man is average at best, but Patricia is hopeless. With her first shot, she miscues, and the cue ball rolls harmlessly off to one side. Surely she cannot be so bad. But of course she’s not, because this isn’t about winning for her. She is a sacrifice to the collective lust and desire in this room, no more than a prop who might be discarded when she’s done – or at least that’s what Noah concludes.

The game itself doesn’t just feel wrong. It is wrong. How is this happening here? It’s a tawdry exchange suited to some seedy bar, or a cheap strip club, a transaction where inhibition has been shredded and self-decency mocked. Even the men who vie for Patricia’s virtue seem ill-fitting, dressed-up goblins masquerading as humans in a place they never should’ve been allowed into.

‘Sort of what?’ Teo asks.

‘Cheap,’ Noah says.

‘Things go on here, Noah. I’m sure you’ve heard stories. Everybody circulates them. Some of them are even true. This may be cheap, it may be the extreme end of the petty scale, but it’s games like this which let us know where people stand. Get it?’

‘No.’

‘And nor do you have to. So what do you say?’

‘I don’t have much choice, do I?’

Teo grins. ‘Watch and learn. Then we’ll get you your own room.’