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For the book itself, see Club Vesta: A Journey Through the Valley of the Shadow of Love, or, Love-Letters to America

. . .“Who the hell is that?” I cried, startled.

Up by the cash register, a tall, skinny, bearded man in a dark, shabby suit and cracked shoes was waving his arms in the air, gesticulating wildly with a hand filled with sheaves of paper. Two men, clearly restaurant staff, were already headed toward him. “The forces of Hell are gathering! The legions of Satan are lying in wait! Your souls are in jeopardy!”

Ignoring the two men, who tried vainly to grasp his arms, the tall man was thundering directly toward us. His wild gray beard, long and matted, was heavily stained a variety of interesting colors with what was probably old food plus God alone knew what. His eyes, distended and bulging, were gray-blue; they pulsed with internal lightnings, reddish lights swimming eerily in their irises.

We sat there, stunned, as he stopped right next to our table. Turning to face us, he began screaming, “The Harlots of Babylon! Your wickedness shall overtake you! You shall go down unto the bowels of Hell for your fornication and wickedness! Repent! Repent now, before the Judgment of the – erk!”

“So sorry about this, ladies,” grunted one of the two men who’d chased him down here from the cash-registers, as the lunatic gibbered and frothed at him, a spill of Biblical evocations bubbling out of his heaving throat.. He had one arm around the wild man’s middle, the other around his chest, close to his throat, hauling him backward, away from our table. The other man, who had grabbed one of the street-preacher’s outflung arms, helped the first to drag the man farther down the aisle between the tables, past ours, to a door in the back of the room, which stood open. In the doorway stood several others, who were rushing forth to help the two men with their wildly threshing burden.

Vikki was hurrying toward us, a tray holding two glasses of water, a basket of hot biscuits, a tub of margarine, and a honey-pot in her hands. “Oh, God, I’m so sorry, so sorry!” she cried as she set the glasses, biscuits, and other things out before us. “Mr. Dunn. Mr. Dunn!” she cried, turning to one of the men who had come to help the first two.

“Yes?” Dressed in a white, short-sleeved shirt and tan slacks, tall, bald, and harassed-looking, the man turned from trying to help the others wrestle the raving preacher out of the room and came over to us. “What’s the matter?”

“Mr. Dunn, that – that nasty man was harassing these poor ladies. Can’t we do something nice for them, to make up for it?”

“I – oh, I suppose so.” Assuming a tired smile for our benefit, he turned to us. “I’m so sorry for this intrusion, ladies. We . . . we’d like to make up for it, if we can. Would dinner on the house be all right with you? Anything you want on the menu.”

“Sure!” Lu' exclaimed, grinning broadly. “Esh’, does that sound all right?”

“I – sure, why not?” I told her. “I’d love to try some of your famous chicken,” I said, turning to the man who stood by our table. “That, and a beer, if you’ve got it.” . . .

“You do love Erik, then.”

“Oh, God, Esh’ . . .” Suddenly tears formed in her eyes. “If I ever lose him, I . . . I don’t know what I’d do. I truly don’t.”

Giving her hand a quick squeeze, I told her, “We won’t let that happen, will we? – Hey, come on, sweetheart, let’s eat up, we want to get on up there to the cabin before dark.”

“Oh, yes, I guess we’d better do that . . .”

. . . We walked up to the cash register. Vikki was hurrying toward us. “Anything wrong?” she asked anxiously, batting those big blue eyes at us.

“No, we just want to hit the road and get to where we’re going before it gets too late,” Lu' told her. “So we’ll just get our boxed chicken take off, okay?”

“Sure, let me go back to the kitchen and get it.”

“Vikki?” I asked her, before she could leave.

“What?”

“Are there any places around here to get soft drinks or anything?”

“Sure. A few miles east of here – you are going east, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, you’ll see a billboard advertising something called Big Cat Café and General Store. It has a big leopard on it. The general store is right next to it, and they should have what you want.”

“Great! Thanks.”

“No problem.” Spinning about, she hurried to the kitchen. Soon she was back with a large box of fried chicken parts. “Here, still hot and everything,” she said, handing the box to me, putting a strong emphasis on the word “hot.” Looking up at me as she handed the box to me, she slowly ran the tip of her tongue over her lip, smiling like Aphrodite on the make.

“Thanks. We really appreciate it,” I told her, somehow put off by that smile.

“Well, good-bye,” she told us, as we turned to leave.

“ ’Bye,” I said as I headed for the door. . . .

§ 17: Signs and Portents

“Hey!” I exclaimed. We’d been driving for what seemed a long time, a couple of hours. At one point, we had come to a sign that said “DETOUR” in huge orange letters on a black background. Below, it had two arrows, one pointing right, labeled “Highway 28 Alternate,” the other left, labeled “2 Alt.” Not far ahead was a junction, one road going south and east, the other north and east. Shrugging, saying, “Well, guess we go to the left,” Lu' turned onto the road going northeast. At that point, the countryside began to look unfamiliar, and became increasingly strange as we continued driving along, the normal late-summer vegetation of the hills and mountains giving way to something more and more characteristic of semi-desert country.

“What?” Lu' asked me now.

“There’s that billboard Vikki mentioned, just ahead! We want to stop there,” I said, pointing to it. On the left side of the road, it had a one-story, sprawling building next to it. “Big Cat Café,” said the sign. A roaring leopard perched on top of a Caterpillar tractor glared at us from the billboard, paws planted as if it were getting ready to spring.

“Oh!” Quickly, checking her mirror and then looking ahead to make sure no one was coming up behind or toward us, she cut left and turned across the highway into the parking lot in front of the building next to the billboard.

Sure enough, on the big front window of the building were painted the words “BIG CAT CAFÉ – steak and ale our specialty!” in two curving banks of dark red letters. Below the painted words, a small rectangular sign at the base of the window announced: “Children welcome.”

There was a wing attached to the café which had to have been the general store – indeed, “Big Cat General Store” and another picture of the leopard riding the tractor was stenciled on its windows and a sign over the door, which was around the side from the café. Since we’d just eaten, there was no point in going into the café, so together Lu' and I went through the door of the store.

It was cool in the store, not as cool as it had been in Mae’s, but still very comfortable in comparison with the heat of the day outside, which had by now risen to what must have over 40° C. It never got this hot in Washington State, not even in August’s Dog Days – hadn’t they finally stopped the Greenhouse Effect with that pulverized comet whose colloidally-fine debris had been injected into orbit around the Earth, and all the rest of it?

The counter, long and covered with rough pine boards, was at the back. A clerk, a youngish man simultaneously suffering from premature baldness and acne, was busy there working his accounts with a calculator, going over the day’s receipts with bleary-eyed irritation – no wonder, given the dim lighting back there. Walking up to the counter with me in her wake, Lu' called out, “Hello, can you help us?”

Looking up from his receipts, something a little nastier than irritation on his face, the clerk said, “Depends on what you want, lady.”

“Uh, we need directions, I guess,” she told him. “And we need to get some soft-drinks, and ice, I guess.”

“Soft drinks ’re in the cooler, over there,” he said, pointing to the side of the big room that served as the store. “You can get ice from the dispenser next to it – it’ll cost ya two credits for a bucket. The buckets’re right next to the dispenser,” he said in a surly tone. As he started to turn back to his calculator and receipts, Lu' asked him, “Uh, we also need directions from here. Can you tell us when this road connects back with the regular highway? We don’t recognize anything around here.”

“Where you headed?” he asked her, looking up again, fixing her with a gimlet stare and a smile that sent chills down my back.

“Uh – east. We’re planning to cut off the highway a bit before Leavenworth. The problem is that this seems to be a new road, not on any map we’ve got, and we don’t know where we should go from here.”

“Wa’al,” he drawled, “you want to keep on going east. You should find the turnoff soon.”

“How far north of the regular Highway 2 are we, anyway?” I asked him. “I’ve been along it lots of times, and I haven’t seen anything familiar since we left Monroe, I think.”

Grinning, he said something unintelligible that sounded almost like Arabic, but so distorted and filled with odd syllables that it couldn’t have been. And the clerk didn’t look Arabic at all – if anything, judging from what was left of his reddish hair and his pale eyes and his accent, he was probably Celtic by descent and Texan in origin.

“Hunh?” said Lu'.

“I said, lady, it don’t matter much, it’ll take you where you need to go. Just keep following the road – you’ll pass a big billboard that says ‘Simba Safari Park, next left,’ picture of a park with a lion in front, that’s where they’ve got a big natural environment sort of thing, charge people to drive through it on a tour. Just hang left at the turnoff about a quarter-mile beyond it.”

“Uh, okay. So we just keep going east?”

“That’s what I said,” he snapped. Then, clearly shutting us out, he turned back to his receipts.

“Do you really want to get the soft drinks here?” Lu' whispered to me.
“No. We’ve got some in the car, and we’ve still got ice – well, a puddle and a few slivers, anyway. There’s sure to be another store farther up.”

“I think you’re right. – Brrrr!” she added, putting her arms around herself, miming a shiver. “This place gives me the creeps.”

“If you want the honest truth,” I told her, as we started back outside, toward the car, “everything that’s happened since we stopped at Mae’s has been weird, you know? Like, not too long after we left Mae’s,” I said as we got into the car, “we should have passed Gold Bar, Index, maybe even Baring Way before we got to that turnoff. Instead, the towns we passed on our way here from there have been named things like ‘Last Chance,’ ‘Despair,’ ‘Worldsend,’ ‘Doom,’ ‘Apocalypse’ – the sort of thing you’d expect to find out in the Mojave Desert or places in Arizona, but sure as hell not here! And we’ve been traveling east from Monroe for about the last two and a half hours, and you’d think we’d have come to something by now, the edge of the Wenatchee State Forest or a real town. Instead, looks like we’re at the ass end of nowhere, with nothing but a few stinkers of tiny little hamlets here and there, nothing else.”
“Hmm . . . I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re right. I don’t remember any of the names of the towns we passed from when I lived here as a girl. And all of those places we passed looked old – like the places you see up around this way dating back to the 1930s and 1940s or something, and weathered to match in a lot of cases. And Jesus, it’s hot – I’ve never heard of weather like this in Washington State at any time of year, even summer.”

“Just what I was thinking. Does it get this hot in California in the summer now?”

“Maybe up near Sacramento or in L.A. or something. But we’ve actually been having cooler summers and colder winters than before. They think maybe the Greenhouse Effect is reversing, thanks to the Comet Squad. So what is causing this I have no idea. And the weirdest part of it is the way the environment looks – like someplace in Baja California, mesquite, scrub pine, cactus, and Spanish bayonet and other desert plants, and not many of them, mostly bare ground and rocks blazing hot from the Sun, looks like. No animals except a few lizards and a chipmunk or two. The only birds I’ve seen since not long after we left Monroe have been some buzzards and a couple of crows – and all of them were headed southwest. I don’t think they like this area, either.”

“That’s what I was just thinking. – Lu',” I asked her as she put the car in gear and got back onto the highway again, “if I’m not being too . . . nosy, did you and Erik ever do anything . . . interesting together? I mean, beyond what you’ve already told me about”

“Thought you’d never ask,” she told me, grinning. “In fact, some of the lovely little tricks I used on you the past couple of days weren’t from Donna Lee, but things Sobol taught us.

“Like, not long after Sobol started getting together with us, one night he asked me if I’d ever been tied up, for sex. I said no. So he tied me up the way I did you the first time, and then he and Erik tongued me all over while they fucked and stroked each other. Then he tied Erik up to an overhead beam in the rec’ room, and he and I teased Erik to distraction, not letting him come, while we messed with each other, only bringing Erik off after we’d had our fun.”

“Hoo! God, and I’d never had any idea you and Erik were into that sort of thing. – Not that I object. It just goes to show, you can’t ever tell about people, can you, not even the ones you know best?”

Laughing, she said, “I guess it does. Well, if you think that one was something, this one’ll blow your mind . . .

“A few years ago, Erik was going on a ten-day trip to Mexico to host something there. Sobol was on his vacation at the time, and suggested I come stay with him while Erik was gone – the dojo was out for spring break at the time, and I had decided to take a few days off, myself. So Erik and I both agreed – Sobol’s a great guy to be around, anyway, almost as good as Erik when it comes to using combat arts, if I happened to need backup, plus when he wants to, he cooks like an angel, and as a conversationalist and companion, he’s one of the most fascinating people you could ever meet, been everywhere, done a little of everything, read just about every book worth reading and seen every movie worth a damn, or so it seems – he’s even into poetry, including the works of various German, Arabian, Japanese, Scandinavian, Chinese, French, and Portuguese poets (he knows about 15 different languages, you know). Sounded to me like a great way to relax and enjoy myself while Erik was gone, and if any of our students needed us before Erik got back, I had call forwarding from our home phone to Sobol’s, and Sobol and I together could do whatever they needed. We could park our ferrets with a neighbor who likes ferrets, so that wouldn’t be a problem, either.

“Well, after I dropped Erik off at the airport, I drove over to Sobol’s. He let me in the door, closed it, and said, ‘Okay, honey, how’d you like some real fun while the big cat’s away?’

“I asked him what he meant, and he said, ‘First, get naked.’ And he stood right there, not letting me out of the front hall until I took off all my clothes. I’d finished my period two days before, so I wasn’t going to have that embarrassment, and Sobol had seen every part of me to be seen, already, so why not?

“So I stripped, and he took my clothes, and took them back into some other part of the house. When he came back, I asked him what he’d done with them, and he said, ‘You won’t need them for a few days, so don’t worry about it.’

“Then I noticed he was carrying some things in his hands. I asked him what they were, and he said, ‘Ever been Erik’s slave?’

“Uh-oh, I thought, but then I realized he wouldn’t do anything irreparable to me, because if he did, Erik would track him down to the ends of the earth and kill him – very slowly and painfully – so I said, ‘Well, no. What’s it like?’

“ ‘You’re about to find out,’ he told me, grinning. ‘Now we’re going to put this on you . . .’

“What he had was a high collar, a sort of harness, some little golden handcuffs, nipple- and labia-clamps lightly lined with fur, and a little vial of some sort of oil. He put the collar on me first – it was gold, trimmed with pearls, and it looked rather cool in the mirror.

“Then he opened the vial and put some oil on his fingertip and began to rub it on my nipples and clit, and into the first part of my vagina, and then into my anus. By the time he was through, it was clear that the oil, which smelled spicy, like a combination of cinnamon and ginger and clove and something else that smelled just heavenly, contained some sort of tissue irritant, because by then all the areas he’d anointed with the oil had begun to itch, my clit and anus most of all. It wasn’t hot, so much, not like the Jalapeño distillate that’s almost pure capsicum that the boy-toys down in the Lavender District in North Beach back home like to put on when they tie each other up in the bathhouses and Do Things to each other there, but oh, God, did it tickle!

“Then he had me put on the harness. It was leather, trimmed here and there with more pearls and some faux gemstones. It looped between and under my breasts, holding them up, around my waist, around both thighs where they joined my torso, and one strand went between my legs, so tightly it rode up between the cheeks of my ass and my labia, right up against my clit and vulva. The leather was rough, not finished, and the way it rode up against my cunt and anus, which were already itching like crazy from the oil he’d used on me, nearly drove me crazy. I was becoming desperate to get some relief, any way I could, either by having him bring me off or bringing myself off – and that’s when he suddenly grabbed my wrists, pulled my arms up to the back of my neck, slapped the handcuffs on me, and then hooked them to a hook at the back of the collar, so that my arms were held up high, displaying my breasts to great advantage. The itching had so distracted me I didn’t see it coming until it was too late – and like I said, and I’m sure you remember, that guy is good at ninjutsu, and by then I couldn’t have stopped him anyway.

“As I stood there wondering what the hell was next, he quickly snapped the nipple-clamps on me. They weren’t under a lot of tension, and as I said, they were lined with fur, and they didn’t hurt, really, but between the fur and the oil on my breasts they added to the tickling, which by then had me panting hard, like a bitch in heat.

"Then, reaching up between my legs, he attached the other clamps to my labia. Like the nipple-clamps, they didn’t hurt, but did irritate the tissue in a maddeningly pleasant way. He put them on well back of my clit, so that the little chains that ran from them slid over my cunt on either side of the lather strap of the harness.

“He brought those up and, along with the chains from the nipple clamps, he gathered them together and inserted them through a hollow piece of wood, fastening them securely on the other end of it with wire that ran from one side of it to the other, looping it through a link of each chain, so the chains couldn’t be pulled back out. And, of course, every time I moved or he pulled on the chains, the chains teased my crotch and clit even more.
“Then he stood there inspecting me awhile, a huge grin on his face.

“Finally I asked him, trying not to show how frightened I was starting to feel, “Now what?”

“Well, let’s see how hot I can get you . . .”

“I tried to back away. Holding onto the piece of wood that held them, he pulled hard on the chains. ‘Here, bitch, you want to obey your master,’ he told me.

“Before I could bolt and maybe pull the clamps loose and get away, he grabbed the harness where it came down between my breasts with one hand and began tracing patterns on my belly with the other. As he did so, he planted his mouth on mine and kissed me hard.

“You’d think I’d be fighting mad by then, or screaming, or something. Instead, I was so hot for him all I could do was let him do anything he wanted. My legs opened up, more and more, my nipples got harder and harder, I was so wet it was a wonder there wasn’t a puddle on the floor under me, and my poor clit seemed to be about two inches long under that strap when he finally let go.

“Or rather, when he finally stopped teasing me. Rather than letting go, he just backed me up to the wall at one side of the hallway – we were standing where the front hall of his house opens into his living-room, and there are coat-hooks there on the wall for guests’ coats. He just looped the one of the chains between the handcuffs – there were two; he’d already looped one over the hook at the back of my collar – over one of the coat hooks, then stepped back and looked me over as I stood there, securely held by the coat hook, since the chains between my hands were about two inches long, each, and the coat hook was about as high off the floor as my collarbone, and I had no leverage or slack to do anything to get free.

“Then, still grinning, he started taking off his clothes. He’s got a lovely body, as I’m sure you know, and the more naked he got, the hotter I got, looking at him.

“ ‘Okay,’ he told me, when he’d stripped off the last of his clothes, which he tossed over a chair nearby, ‘now, little bitch, you are going to learn how to be a good slave. If you don’t, poppa won’t ever give you what you want. So you’ve got to be good if you want poppa to reward you, hear me?”

So saying, he came back over to where I was tethered to the wall and gently lifted my arms up and got me off the coat hook. He spent a few minutes using those Magick fingers of his to tweak my nipples and stroke my belly and otherwise get me hot as hell, and then he led me over to his big easy-chair, where he told me, ‘Kneel down, bitch.’
“Pushing gently on my shoulders with his hands, he got me to kneel down without falling over, so that I was right in front of the chair. Then, taking a seat in the chair, he told me, ‘Poppa wants you to give him a good blow-job. Do it right and poppa will give you something nice.’

“. . . So I blew him. I leaned over as far as I could, his hands behind my head, put my mouth on his cock, and worked him with my tongue as if my life depended on it – which, at that point, I wasn’t sure it didn’t, but somehow that only made me hotter. After he came, he told me, ‘That was fine, that was real fine, little bitch. Now poppa will give you something good . . .’

“That’s when he unhooked the harness strap that went between my legs and began to play with my clit. He had me stand in front of him, legs spread apart, for what seemed like hours, while he teased and teased and teased my clit, sometimes rimming my vagina with his fingertip, as well, but never quite brought me off. Then he had me turn around and sit in his lap, my back to him – and he slid his cock into my ass and got off again that way.

“At the back of my mind I had a hunch that if at any time I told him I wanted him to stop what he was doing and take off the things he’d put on me, and showed that I really meant it, he would. The thing is, I didn’t want him to stop. I was so ashamed of myself for liking it – but I did like it. With one exception, which I’ll probably tell you about sometime, nobody’d ever done anything like that with me, or even tried to, and I was so turned on I was ready to screw the bedposts!

“Well, after he put the strap he’d taken off back on the harness, then he marched me out to the kitchen, where he had me turn around, took off my cuffs, and told me I was to do all the cooking while I stayed there, and all the other housework. He had me fix a big dinner, roast and potatoes and salad and everything, and the whole time he kept playing with me, stroking my labia, my anus, my nipples and belly. When dinner was ready and on the table, he put my handcuffs back on and sat me down at the table and began feeding me, tenderly, as if I were a very small child, or ill with something.

“He alternated between feeding me and feeding himself. When we were both done, he said, ‘Ah, time for dessert.’

“That’s when he took me into the living-room and had me lie down across a big hassock. He didn’t take the cuffs off, just supported my back as I leaned backward and gently lowered me onto the hassock so that I was bent backwards over it, belly up. Taking off the strap between my legs again, telling me to lie still for a minute or so, he went into the kitchen to get something from the refrigerator.

“When he came back he told me to close my eyes. I did. The next thing, there was a shhhplook! sound and something freezing cold hit my belly. I opened my eyes to see what he was doing, and there he stood, stark bare naked, holding a huge can of whipped cream aimed right at my navel. Grinning, he told me, ‘Hold still, now, so poppa can trim the dessert . . .’ He sprayed whipped cream all over my belly, my breasts, my thighs, and my cunt. It was so cold – and yet I was hotter than ever.

“Then, rubbing his hands and putting down the can, which was empty, on the floor next to him, he said, ‘Ah, now for the piece de resistance!’ and, kneeling down next to me, began to slowly lick the whipped cream off one of my breasts.

“He actually managed to lick all of it off me. You can imagine the state I was in by the time he was through – of course he never did it fast enough to bring me off, and after what seemed like an eternity of his licking and licking the stuff off my cunt and my ass, I was begging him to finish me off and be done with me. If you think his fingers are Magick, they’re nothing compared to his tongue! He can do things with the tip and even the sides of his tongue that . . . well, you’ll see, when we get you down there to visit again and invite Len to join us for some fun.

“Anyway, as I was saying, I begged and begged him to bring me off, but he just told me, ‘Oh, no, little bitch! Erik told me to make sure you were safe and sound here while he was gone, and we want you to be in good shape for him when he gets back – so I don’t want to do anything like that to you, because he’s supposed to do that,’ and laughed like a demon all the while. I wanted to kill him and fuck him senseless all at the same time.

“It went on like that for the next ten days. I spent the entire time either naked or wearing no more than the harness, collar, and clamps. And every few hours, he’d touch me up with the oil again, keeping me as hot as a tokamak the whole time. I was only allowed to piss and shit when he went into the bathroom with me, my hands tethered to my collar the whole time, him helping me onto the pot and then wiping me and cleaning me off and helping me out of the bathroom afterward. He took me into the shower twice a day, washed me down, shampooed my hair, dried me off, then oiled me down again.

“When I wasn’t doing housework, with him sitting or standing by to make sure I was doing nothing but housework, my hands were either tethered behind my neck or otherwise secured. At night, he had me lie on the bed, flat on my back, my arms and legs secured to the posts with soft cuffs, so I couldn’t play with myself – and then he’d sit there for hours, teasing me, saying the most deliciously nasty things to me, getting me so hot I’d have done anything for a good screw by then. And then he’d sleep on a mat at the foot of the bed, getting up in the morning and letting me up and taking me in to use the bathroom while he watched.

“Some of the things he did were . . . God, I thought I’d die of shame, but at the same time I craved it, it felt so good. He’d secure my hands over my head to a beam that ran the length of his bedroom, then use this strange little dildo on me, soft rubber, the same material as the one I used on you, very, very slender, shaped like a corkscrew, the ribbing standing up about half an inch from the main surface of the thing. He’d use it in my anus while he worked his finger in and out of my vagina. He’d put his damnable oil on the dildo and gently, slowly, slide it in and out of me, making sure it teased the rim every time, and the way it made me feel – God, the sensations! They weren’t like those in my clit, of course, but they felt just as delicious, in a way, and several times I almost came from it, like an orgasm in my anus, not my cunt. Sometimes he’d take his fingers out of my cunt and use them to tweak my nipples, too – God, Esh’, that man is a devil with what he can do with his hands! I can see how easy it was for him to seduce Erik that night . . .

“Sometimes, when he had me tied up to that beam, he’d work me over with his lips and tongue, all over, for hours and hours. Or he’d just flat fuck me in the ass, without any preliminaries. And when I was . . . when I was bad, when he said I was bad, he got out this . . . this whip . . .”

She stared almost dreamily off into space. “Careful, Lu', you want to watch the road!”

“Oh, sorry,” she said, pulling back into her own lane – she’d been drifting left, and a car was coming toward us.

After the car had passed, she continued: “When I was . . . bad, he’d tie me up to the beam, and then he’d bring out this leather strap, and he’d whip my ass with it, several times. Never enough to break the skin or bruise me, but enough to make my ass red as a beet. Then he’d bring out a vibrator, bring it up between my labia, hold it there with my clit getting harder and harder, bigger and bigger, letting the vibrations flow through me but not letting me actively rub against it – every time I tried, he’d crack my ass with the strap again, hard enough to bring tears to my eyes. I learned to stand there, letting him stimulate me, eyes closed, fantasizing about what he and I and Erik would do with one another when Erik got back.

“Once, when he was doing that, I actually started to come. He hit me between the legs, then, right on my clit, so hard I saw stars. I cried out, maybe screamed. That’s when he loosed the manacles holding me to the beam and dragged me toward the bed and threw me down on it on my back and manacled me to the bed. Then he started working that oil into me again.

“Then he brought out a metal dildo, a little cylinder of bright aluminum about six inches long, and slipped it into my vagina. Then he knelt on my chest and made me take his cock in my mouth and bring him off . . .

“I had to call him ‘sir’ or ‘master’ every time, never ‘Len’ or ‘Sobol,’ or he’d tie me up and whip my ass, hard. The whole time he called me ‘bitch,’ or sometimes ‘cunt’ or ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ and, once, ‘baby,’ but never ‘Lu’. Not once.”

“It went like that right up until Erik finally came home. When Erik arrived in a taxi from the airport – we’d all arranged for him to do that when he left – Sobol had me tied up to that beam in the bedroom, my harness on, the oil worked into me so that I was raging with need, a vibrator up my ass, a gag in my mouth. Sobol, who was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, let Erik in when Erik rang the bell, brought him into the bedroom, and asked Erik, ‘What do you think?’

“Erik, grinning, said, ‘Is this my Unbirthday present?’

“Sobol said, ‘It sure is, dickhead – wanna open it?’

“Erik said, ‘Naw, let’s you and I have a little fun, first. And they both stripped down right then and there, and got onto the bed, and started making it. The way Sobol had me tied, I was facing them and had to watch, and though I could have closed my eyes, I was so horny that I couldn’t have done so to save my soul. It had been ten straight days of teasing, and no relief at all, just more stimulation, and I had a wide-on so big I could have fucked a sequoia, no problems, then and there.”

“Did they let you join the fun?”

“It was two more days before then. All three of us weren’t due back at work for at least a week after Erik got back. So those two bastards spent the next two days having me be a slave for both of them, blowing one while the other took me in the ass and then switching later, being tied up with both of them teasing me and/or making it in front of me. By the end of those two days, Esh’, I was just about insane with the need for it – I kept bumping and grinding, trying to bring myself off, Sobol laying into my ass or even my clit with the strap when I looked as if I were getting ready to come, Erik just sitting there, grinning like a fiend, watching him, then, when Sobol finished whipping me and joined him on the bed or couch or whatever it was again, going at it with him like two sex-crazed weasels. And both of them called me ‘bitch’ or ‘hey, you,’ never my name, the whole time.

“The third day after Erik got back, instead of untying me in the morning and letting me get up, Erik, who, like Sobol, had already been up for an hour by the time I woke up, kneeled down between my legs while Sobol got behind him, and began to stroke my clit with his tongue. They had me gagged – if they hadn’t, I’d have been screaming for them to fuck me so loud the neighbors would have been banging on the door, demanding to know what was going on – and while Erik ate me and ate me, using his hands to tease my nipples the entire while, Sobol fucked him in the ass. Finally, I came, bucking like a bronco, it felt so good. Erik came at the same time, as did Sobol – good old Len, he knows how to time things! Erik collapsed on top of me, and Sobol kneeled down on the floor for awhile.

“Then Sobol went and washed up, and when he came back, he ate me out, and then fucked me, while Erik fucked him. I guess seeing me tied up like that got them both going good, so they were both ready to go at it again a second and even a third time – the third time, after Erik washed up, he fucked me while Len kneeled on my chest and had me blow him.

“Then we all got up – Sobol untied me, and let me have a shower, and when I came out Sobol had made breakfast for all three of us. We had a splendid breakfast, steak and eggs and waffles with real maple syrup and real butter, and then it was time to go home. I drove Erik home, we picked up the ferrets on the way, and he and I had a few more days together, having all kinds of fun, the sort you don’t tell other people about, unless they’re like Len.”

“I’m hot already, just hearing about it,” I told her. “But I’d have been scared stiff if I’d been in your place at the time!”

“Maybe not, honey. You haven’t been around Sobol in quite awhile – and never that close. When I get back to San Francisco, we’ll have you down there and maybe do a foursome with you and Sobol, so you can find out,” she told me, looking at me sidelong and grinning wickedly.

“Did . . . did you or Sobol ever have Erik be your slave?”

“Yes, we have. Once I was gone for ten days, and Erik was Sobol’s slave. Sobol made him wear a cock-ring at all times except when he used the head, put nipple-clamps on him as well as clamps on his scrotum, used a collar on him, whipped him, all of it. After I got back, Sobol and I made it on the bed while Erik, who was chained up to that beam, watched us, and then we teased Erik into a frenzy. Then we made Erik eat me while Sobol fucked him in the ass. And so on and so forth. We kept doing that for a couple of days – just like Erik and Sobol had done to me. And then on the third day, I blew Erik while Sobol fucked me in the ass, and then Sobol blew Erik while I blew Sobol, and then we had breakfast and Erik and I went home.

“We’ve had sessions like that with Sobol lots of times. And at home, Erik and I sometimes take turns being slave and master or mistress, when we’re by ourselves.”

“Has Len ever played the, the slave?”

“Come to think of it,” she said, “no, not as far as I know.”

“Now, what would you do with me if I come down there for a visit and you and Erik invite Sobol over to play with us?”

“Oh . . . you’d be my personal slave, my dear. I’d put you into that harness and the nipple- and labia-clamps, and maybe one on your clit, too – after oiling you all over with that delicious oil Sobol uses on me, of course – and I’d dress up in my sexiest blouse, with no bra, and high heels, and have you kneel at my feet and eat me out while the boys had fun with you. Erik’d lie down and have you straddle him and impale yourself on his dick while Sobol took you in the ass and I stood over Erik so you could eat me out all the while. And then I’d have Sobol eat me out while Erik tied you up to the overhead beam and fucked you in the ass and teased you into fits while I watched . . .

“And then, my dear, you and I would trade places, and you’d be the mistress, and I’d be the slave –”

“Oh, God, stop, stop, I’m so wet I’m likely to flood the seat any minute!” I said, laughing. “I wonder if Sobol’s – hey, there’s our turn-off!”

She looked up. Dead ahead, on the left, was a billboard proclaiming “Simba Safari Park, one-half mile.” On it was a picture of a great lordly lion with a heavy dark mane, standing guard over the carcass of a wildebeest, roaring a challenge into the air, a vast veldt, a glorious blue sky, and what looked to be Mount Kilimanjaro in the background.

“You got it,” Lu' told me, putting on her left turn signal as we approached the turnoff.

As she made the turn, I looked around. There wasn’t another car in sight anywhere. The sky above us, unlike that on the sign, was like molten silver, the huge bronze sun standing about three o’clock – it wouldn’t be setting for at least another five-six hours. On both sides of the road, there was very little ground-cover now, a few large, green-and-purple cacti, several motionless tumbleweeds – there wasn’t a breath of wind in the furnace-hot air – a lot of rocky outcrops and, here and there, small patches of brightly poisonous-looking plants, purple, dark green, and bilious yellow, that looked like something out of the Twilight Zone.
Above, there were no birds. No bird-calls anywhere. No signs of life, in fact, other than those few strange plants and Lu' and myself.

After going about a mile up the road toward whatever Simba Safari Park was, we came to a small cluster of buildings that included a run-down gas station, a small, tacky-looking greasy-spoon whose neon sign proclaimed, “Gina’s Day-’n’-Night Diner (coffee refills free),” a little mom-’n’-pop store, “Lonny’s Polka-Dot Superette,” apparently a franchise in some chain neither of us had ever heard of, and a two-story house with a red lantern hung from the front porch ceiling that looked exactly like some bordello that would have done a roaring business during the California Gold Rush. What the hell was that doing here, way the hell out in the back country of Western Washington State, where the Republican Right roamed everywhere and the Fundamentalists were lords of creation?

“I’m going to pull into that little store, there,” Lu' told me, looking worried. “We’d better ask for directions again. This sure doesn’t look like it’s getting us where we’re going, does it?”

“Nope. And let’s see if they have ice – we need some. And maybe something like Slurpees. It’s hotter than hell – have you noticed?”

“Yeah,” she said thoughtfully, pulling into a stall on the street in front of the store. “It’s like the end of the world or something out here . . .”

Getting out, we walked up to the store. No one seemed to be around. When we entered the store, rather than the lovely coolth we’d enjoyed at Mae’s and even at that horrible little general store a ways back, it was warm, almost hot. Either they didn’t have air-conditioning, or it was broken – I couldn’t imagine anyone working here not wanting it on on a day like this.

“’Lo, girls, what kin I do fer ye?” A wizened little old man behind the counter faced us, smiling cheerfully.

“Uh, we need ice, and something cold to drink, if you have it. And directions,” Lu' told him, without any preamble. Mopping at her forehead with a red-white-and-black neckerchief she’d pulled from her jeans pockets, she told him, “We seem to be lost.”

“Waal, that’s too bad,” he said commiseratingly – except that the gleam in his eye looked rather like glee, not sympathy. “We do got ice, an’ lemon or raspberry granitas, too, if ye like. Whar you two heading?”

“We were heading up Highway 2 to Leavenworth, only there was a detour and we took this road called ‘Alternate 2,’ and then we came to this place called ‘Big Cat Café,’ turned off there for directions, and then followed the road they told us to take until we got to the turnoff for Simba Safari Park, and turned off there, as per their directions, and that’s how we got here.”
“Waal, ye’re on the right road, that’s fer sure! Ye don’t have too much further to go, like – all ye need to do is keep going up this road, it’s called Simba Drive, and ye’ll come to the sign fer Romulus Farms, shows a she-wolf with the two twins, Romulus ’n’ Remus, ye know?”

“The founders of Rome?” Lu' asked him. “I’ve seen the original of that statue – the one in the New Vatican Museum in Warsaw – on a trip, actually.”

“Ye know it then!” he said, chuckling in a high, strange laugh that sounded like a monkey chattering. “That’s the one, girl. Waal, when ye see that sign, ye turn off at the next left, and that road’ll take ye right ta where ye’re goin’.”

“Oh, thank heaven!” Lu' said, sighing in relief, not noticing the strange smile with which the little old man favored her words. “Esh’,” she said, turning to me, “let’s get that ice and a couple of granitas, what do you say?”

“Sounds good to me. – Mister, where do you keep containers for the ice?”

“Got ’em right here, sweets,” he said, reaching under the counter and bringing up a large tub of waxed paper, good for about a volumetric liter.

“Great!” said Lu', taking the tub from his outstretched arms. “Where’s the ice?”

“Over there, in that dispenser by the wall,” the man told her, pointing. Turning, she went over to the wall with the tub and began letting ice into it from the dispenser. “Esh’, you want to get the granitas?”

“Sure. – Where do we get those, sir?” I asked the man.

“By the wall on t’other side,” he told me, pointing. “See the thing over there? First, ye put the cups under the spigot for the ice, comes out in a slush when ye pull that handle. Then run whatever flavor ye want into it usin’ the taps.”

“Okay . . .”

Soon Lu' was back with the ice, and I joined her at the counter with two raspberry granitas. “Raspberry okay for you?” I asked her.

“If it’s cold, it’ll do. – Okay, how much do we owe you?” she asked the man behind the counter.
“That’ll be two credit fifty.”

“Hey, that’s not bad!” she told him, smiling. “Okay, here you go,” she said, pulling out her wallet, pulling out two one-credit bills from her billfold and a half-credit piece from the coin-compartment.

“Thank ye kindly,” the little old man said as, smiling, he received the money.

“Okay, Esh’, let’s go, it’s getting on,” she said.

Going back out to the car, we climbed in. “Want me to hold your drink for you?” I said, as she dumped the ice from the tub into the bucket, which, besides the milk, juice, and other things we’d put in it to keep cool. was filled now mostly with tepid water.

“Sure, that’d be great!” she said, sitting down on the driver’s side and putting the key in the ignition. A few minutes later we were heading up the road again almost due northeast.

It wasn’t long until we came to the sign announcing the presence of Romulus Farms, whatever the hell they were. On it was a blown-up photo of that statue in Warsaw of Romulus and Remus suckling the she-wolf. Below that it said: “Romulus Farms – Home of the Incredible, Edible Washington Egg! (Turnoff one-quarter mile.)”

Soon we came to the turn-off, where the road to Romulus Farms veered off to the left, almost due north. “Well,” Lu' told me cheerfully, “here goes nothing . . .”

The road, “Lupus Avenue,” soon brought us to a complex of buildings, some sort of farmhouse, which was only a few yards from the road itself, behind which stood a barn, a silo, and numerous other outbuildings. Oddly, nowhere could we hear the sound of chickens.

A man stood by the road, morosely staring down at a large pothole at its side. Pulling in next to him, Lu' called out, “Hey, can you tell us where we are? We’re trying to get to Leavenworth!”

“Oh, sure, lady, just keep going on this road up that way –” He pointed to the north. “It’ll get ye there. ’about five miles up thetaway ” He spoke with the same accent the old man at the previous stop had, something like Idaho crossed with the Appalachians.

“Thanks!” Lu' told him. Putting the car in gear again, she turned back onto lupus Avenue and started barreling northward again.

“You know, Lu', I can’t see how the hell this is going to take us to Leavenworth,” I told her. “Leavenworth was southeast from Monroe – we’ve been trending north ever since we left there. We must be halfway to Canada by now!”

“Well, let’s see what’s up ahead. Something should be – he said we’d get there, wherever it was, about five miles on from there.”

“Yeah, right,” I told her sourly. “If we don’t, let’s turn this car around and head back the way we came, until we get back to Monroe, and then we can take the other fork of the road, all right?”

“Okay, that’s a promise.”

§ 18: The Mall at the End of the World


What actually happened was that five miles went by, then ten, then fifteen, and we still hadn’t come to any towns, or even a house or other building of any kind.

Lu’, turning to me, looking utterly frustrated, said, “Well, I guess we’d better –”

At that moment, a terrible, loud clang! announced that the car had just thrown a rod.

We rolled to a stop. “Oh, that’s great!” Lu' snarled, trying again and again to re-start the car and finally giving up. “That’s just fucking great! How the hell are we going to find anyone to help us all the way out here?!”

“Well,” I told her, feeling almost as frustrated, “I guess we’ll just have to hoof it from here. There’s got to be something up there ahead. Maybe we can find a phone and call for a tow.”

“Shit,” she snarled, furious. “God damn this car – it was in perfect condition when I left San Francisco, according to Miguel’s Auto! And damn Miguel Sanchez and his rip-off mechanics, too!” she added in afterthought. Slamming the door on her side back, Lu' eased herself out of the car, while I got out on the other side. “Christ, it’s hot!”

“Well, it won’t get any cooler for awhile. We’d better start walking.”

“Yeah, you’ve got a point. I guess we’d better figure out what we’re going to take with us. I’m damned if I’ll leave the guns here, or my case, or anything else worth stealing.”

“Jesus, that’s about sixty pounds of weight apiece, Lu'!”
“We can leave some of it here, like the fishing-tackle, most of the food and soft drinks, that sort of thing. But I don’t want to leave my guns and ammo behind.”

“All right, I have to agree. Well, let’s get started sorting our things out and see what we need to take with us . . .”

Twenty minutes later we were trudging north along the road. I was carrying my 12-gauge in my back-holster, my Magnum in my shoulder-rig, one of Lu's Glocks in an impromptu belt-holster she rigged for me from safety-pins and some rags in the trunk of the car, and my own .22 Baretta in my hide-out holster at the back of my pants. I was wearing my big Sansom & Traveler’s backpack – which, fortunately, was on a frame, so that its weight was carried mostly on my hips, not my shoulders – filled with some of my clothes, about half the books, the boxed chicken, two quart bottles of Coke, various knives, some utilitarian and some strictly weapons-quality, a box of maxi-pads, my makeup kit, my notebook, plenty of ammunition for everything I was packing, my credit-cards and Traveler’s Cheques®, and numerous other items, the total coming to about 40 pounds. I carried my good black leather jacket, as well, because, as much like desert country as the area looked, it was sure to turn icy-cold tonight, and while I didn’t want to wear it in this heat, I wanted it readily available when I needed it. In a pocket of my jeans I had some bills and loose change. I was wearing my good black boots, black jeans, sports bra, and white tank-top; as hot as it was, I was beginning to fantasize stripping down to my briefs and boots and letting it go at that, but I didn’t want to court skin-cancer, and who knew who might come along this road at any time?

Lu’, for her part, packed even more heat than I did, starting with the Mossberg with the pistol-grip stock she wore in a hip-holster and going on through two more Glocks, a Firestar .40, and a snubnose .38 in her own hideout holster. Her backpack, like mine one of Sansom & Traveler’s top-of-the-line frame packs, held her clothes, the rest of the books, ammunition for her arsenal, her makeup kit, the little bag of tricks that carried all the toys we’d had so much fun with the last three days, the sandwich makings, the orange juice, an assortment of knives like mine, a box of mini-pads, plenty of Bullfrog Sun-Block, her traveler’s cheques, and her credit-cards. Like me, she carried a warm jacket, hers of natural leather; like mine, it was studded everywhere with brass and steel. She carried a wallet in a back pocket of her jeans.

Both of us were almost literally ready for bear – but in this climate, better we should have been ready for the South Sea Islands, I thought. – Then again, though, maybe not – that might be inviting melanoma all over, instead of just on our exposed arms and faces. The Sun was, if anything, hotter than ever, beating down like the brass door-knocker of Hell out of a blistering, milk-white sky. As bleak and barren as the surrounding area was, with only outcroppings of rock, an occasional cactus, countless heat-mirages, and, far in the west, the saw-tooth peaks of the Cascades to break the otherwise unchanging vista of low, shallow hills and flat hard-pan desert, there was virtually no shade anywhere. Sunset was still hours away, and what shadows there were were meager and few.

As we trudged north along the road under the blazing sun, sweating like pigs and feeling as if we were already trussed and ready for the oven ourselves, we said little to each other. As it was, we needed the energy for our trek, however far that might be, and every time we opened our mouths to speak, precious moisture was released from our bodies, moisture we weren’t sure we could spare. True, we were carrying things to drink, but the Coke, warm as it was, was likely to leave us even thirstier than before, and there wasn’t a hell of a lot of orange juice. So, in near-silence, we made our way up the road, hoping against hope that we didn’t have far to go.

Vain hope. It wasn’t until later in the afternoon, when the Sun was hanging about 40 degrees above the peaks of the mountains in the west, its red light gleaming tantalizingly off snow-pack still hanging onto the peaks even this late in the year, after what seemed an eternity of trudging along that dusty, ever-narrowing road, that we finally saw a structure of any kind, about half a mile ahead of us. We had just crested a rise in the road, panting and gasping in the furnace heat that still baked the land, and were starting to descend on the other side when Lu' rasped, the dust clogging her words, “Esh’ . . . I think I see something up ahead. There, on the left.”

Beneath that white-hot horror of a sky, we both stopped to peer northward at whatever it was she had spotted. Staring, I could just make out, far in the distance, what seemed to be a cluster of buildings arranged along the two sides of a square. All around it, as far as the eye could see, there were no other buildings, no man-made structures of any kind. To the west, the land was flatland desert that apparently stretched all the way to the Cascades. South of us, there was nothing but desert, rolling on and on as far as the eye could see. To the east rose low, brown hills or small mountains that looked like nothing that could be found in the Cascades, mostly barren but graced, here and there, with an occasional scrub-pine, burnt-looking swale of brown grasses, or cluster of cacti. To the north – well, far in the distance we could see what looked to be high mountains, probably an eastward extension of the Cascades, while on either side of us the land rose in barren ridges that became rocky hills, the road running through a declivity between them and descending to more desert in the north running all the way to those northern mountains. Clearly we must have gone far beyond the eastern limits of the Cascades – but how we could have done so, trending north as we had, I had no idea.

“Well, that looks like someplace we might be able to call for a tow, Lu',” I told her. “Don’t those look like a lot of little buildings, there? And I think I see a flag, the sort you see in front of post offices. There should be somebody there who can help us . . .”

“As if we had a choice,” she muttered savagely. Then, groaning as she hitched at her pack to try to balance the load a little better, she said, “Come on, let’s get on down there, see what they have . . .”

A few minutes later, we came to a sign. Stuck on a post on the left side of the road, made of rough-hewn boards in the form of an arrow pointing toward the little cluster of buildings toward which we were making our way, it informed us, in amateurishly stenciled, bright-red letters, that we were approaching

THE MALL AT THE END OF THE WORLD

“That sounds intriguing,” I remarked. “Maybe it’s one of those huge, brand-new malls that cover half a city or so, containing everything from hotels and motels and theaters and skating-rinks to a post-office and any sort of restaurant or boutique you could want! We’d be sure to get help there!”

“Dream on, Esh’ – look at it! Does it look like one of those big malls?”

“Er . . .” I peered through the heat-haze to where the cluster of buildings, now getting larger with every ten yards of ground we covered, huddled in the distance. “No, I gotta say it doesn’t.” If anything, it looked like a cluster of shacks arranged around two sides of a square, the other two marked off by what looked to be rail fencing.

“Shit. – Well, I guess there’s nothing for it but to try it anyway,” Lu' said. “Looks like the best chance we’ve got anywhere around here. Let’s head on down there and see what there is.”
Resignedly, we both began trudging down the hill toward the buildings in the distance. . . .

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