Prudence: Chapter 4a

The more that I watch her, the more unusual Joy becomes to me.

There is an endless stream of beautiful woman who come here. If you could survey one hundred people and ask them to describe their fantasy partner, you would be sure to find them here. It is a menagerie and part of what makes being here unique – it’s not just the elitism, but that pursuit of avarice and decadence. Most try to deny it. But some, they give in a little. Others give in wholly.

Joy is different. Yes, she is beautiful. Yes, she is sexual. And, yes, she is confident. But now that I have watched her, I can feel that she exalts herself above the others here – or perhaps she doesn’t, and just is above the others here. The truth, I think, is that those who have no desire to come here are those who shall be exalted. Perhaps that’s what I feel from Joy: that dismissiveness.

Striding from the Blue Lounge, she enters the Gallery, her chin held high as she takes in the sights of couples dancing, drinking at either bar, or making out in darkened corners. Sometimes, she smirks, as if she understands their passions. Other times, she gives a little shake of her head.

Rupe always trails her, like a puppy wanting a treat. He doesn’t fully understand his attraction, but he grasps at the periphery of what Joy is – this intangible quality that puzzles me (and I am so rarely puzzled) and draws the attention of whoever she passes.

I’m not sure where Joy plans to head next, which is unusual, because after all this time I’m generally a good judge. Joy glances at Constance’s office, and for an instant I think she might charge right through security and take the stairs. But then she saunters through the gaming rooms, finally entering Patricia’s pool room.

Patricia, in only her corset and a tight little skirt, draws a raffle ticket from a hat. There’s not a man in the room who can take his eyes from her. Some shift uncomfortably, their fantasies exuding from them like a fog that clouds their memories of partners, families, and homes. Their judgement is so easily warped – embarrassingly so, but this is men, or at least most of the ones I’ve known.

‘Green twelve,’ Patricia reads the ticket she’s pulled out.

‘That’s me!’ Marcus says, waving his ticket above his head.

The collective mentality in this room has emboldened Dante. He claps Marcus on the shoulder.

Marcus starts to strut forward. He carries presence himself, and has become a leader in the room. Other men envy his easy charm, his cavalier manner, and his sun-bleached good looks. They wish they could be him, or like him, but for now are content to live vicariously through him.

Their cheers bounce off the walls, and they pat one another on the back, like they have been responsible for some great accomplishment.

Just like that, that hive mentality announces itself, a seemingly companionable mongrel that would sit docilely at your feet, although ticking away in some unexplored corner is the imminence of threat. This crowd exist in that niche, and while that might not be fine, it’s manageable as long as they can be kept there.

‘How about making it me?’ Joy says.

All eyes turn to her. Irritation flickers across Patricia’s face.

‘Have you got the right room?’ Patricia says.

‘You discriminating?’

‘Just checking.’

‘Are you sure?’ Marcus says.

Like me, he has sensed something, albeit on a much shallower level. Yet he has sensed it all the same, and it threatens him. He does not like that Joy is brazen and confident. It does not fit Marcus’s ideals of what a woman should be – at least in this room, although I feel for Marcus that this room is how he sees the world.

‘I’m where I need to be,’ Joy says.

She is a whirlpool that draws in each man, and captures them. The cheers trail away. The silence becomes thick. Security are attuned to unusual shifts in this mood, and this is unusual – not the same-sex challenge. That goes on all the time. But the weight of the challenge. It is confrontational. Security drifts into the archways to check that everything is okay.

‘How about if I play her?’ Joy proposes to the room. ‘Strip for strip. Wouldn’t you like to see that?’

The men start murmuring, some grinning stupidly at each other, as if they cannot believe what they might see. Now they are not just adolescent, but simple – stupid. It easy to captivate such men. But that simplicity also is provocation because they understand so little else, and see everything through an arbitrary filter that has no reason.

‘Go for it,’ Marcus says, almost challengingly.

His endorsement breaks the stupor. The men roar.

‘I shouldn’t be doing this,’ Patricia says.

Joy starts pulling the balls out of pockets, filling them into the rack. ‘You have their undivided attention.’

Patricia joins Joy at the table. ‘What’s happening for these guys is a show,’ she says quietly. ‘I’m really good. You don’t want to lose.’

‘I won’t.’

She doesn’t.

Patricia sinks two balls from the break, then another two, before just missing her next shot – an attempted bank into the middle pocket. From there, she doesn’t get another shot. Joy clears the table, then strips a stunned Patricia of her corset. Underneath, she has a bra so sheer it barely contains her. In the next game, Joy breaks, then clears the table. She removes Patricia’s skirt to the catcalls of those who watch, transfixed. The third game unfolds identically, leaving Joy to slowly unclasp Patricia’s bra. The men shriek and clap but Joy leans in over Patricia’s shoulder and whispers in her ear.

‘This is demeaning,’ Joy says.

‘You don’t know what’s at stake,’ Patricia says.

‘I know everything,’ Joy says, and in that instant I believe her – she knows every secret there is here, every nuance, every breath. The chorus of appreciation loudens, but it is like white noise to Patricia as Joy continues. ‘What’ve you got to lose?’ she asks. ‘That is if you haven’t lost it already.’

She undoes the remaining clasp on Patricia’s bra and pulls it clear. Men jump and whoop, insubordinate and juvenile. All reason is gone now. A spotlight has hit that niche. The companionable mongrel rumbles. This is when they are at their most reckless.

And dangerous.

Joy heads for the door, holding Patricia’s gaze while letting her bra fall to the floor.

‘I think that’s about it for me,’ she says. ‘You fellas can do the rest.’ She looks sidelong at Rupe. ‘Still interested in the chase?’

‘More than ever,’ Rupe says, following her out.