"We'll leave the smell of the sea in your bed,
Where love's just a job and nothing is said."
ELTON JOHN - Sweet Painted Lady
"Webster", she said, standing on tiptoe so that she could speak into the intercom set high and to the right of the door. "Tina Webster. I'm supposed to start today".
"Of course you are. Come up". The voice was young, light, cheerful. Tina felt the tension in her stomach lift a little.
"I can't get in", she told the disembodied voice. "There's no door handle".
"I know that", came the sing song reply. "Wait for the buzzer, you fool".
Fine, she thought. No problemo. I'll wait for the buzzer.
The buzzer sounded. Tina pushed. And the door opened.
She found herself in a rather tatty entrance hallway, with new maroon flock wallpaper, but peeling paint and worn carpeting.
"Dump", she muttered to herself, and headed for the stairway immediately ahead of her. She'd just started to climb it when a girl no older than she appeared at the top.
Tina stopped to study her. The frank gaze was returned. Both girls grinned, a little embarrassed. "I don't know your name", Tina mentioned. "So I can't say hello."
"Sarah", the other said. "Come on up."
"Hi, Sarah", Tina said.
"Hi, Tina", Sarah replied, and giggled. Then disappeared to the left.
Tina continued her ascent. She was a little taken aback by Sarah, who was gorgeous, a lissom girl with an explosion of ash blonde hair and sizeable breasts. She'd expected that the girls in this job would be presentable enough to earn a living, as she believed that she was, but not babes (which she believed that she wasn't).
So. One thing was clear. If she was going to be working with Sarah, she'd have to be grateful for busy days.
At the top of the stairs was another corridor, which led into a small lounge. To the right, another staircase, which presumably led to the bedrooms. To the left, a small kitchen section with a cooker, a kettle and a table, separated from the rest of the room by a low partition. Directly ahead, two black imitation leather sofas, placed around a coffee table and in front of a television set. The furniture all looked a little the worse for wear.
Sarah was standing between the sofas, still smiling. Behind her was an older woman, clearly less happy with life. Tina guessed that this would be Irene, the lady who, according to Mr. Giannopoulos, looked after "his girls."
Now that she could see Sarah properly, Tina realised that she hadn't underestimated her. Sarah was a vision, with hourglass figure, big pink sensuous lips, big friendly blue eyes and a tan which just had to be real. She looked for all the world like a younger version of Meg Ryan. Meg Ryan in a nurse's uniform, rather too tight at the top and cut so high that the crotch of her frilly black panties could be seen.
Tina saw the comparison in Irene's eyes as the older woman weighed her new charge up. She wished she'd put makeup on. Wished she'd not chosen to wear jeans, which always accentuated her broad hips. Wished her breasts didn't push to the side quite so much under her white T-shirt. Wished her blonde hair was real, that the brown roots weren't showing so clearly today. A flicker of resentment creased her forehead, and she found herself unwisely challenging her employer's representative. "Will I pass?"
Irene merely shrugged. "That's not for me to say", she replied coolly. "Mr. Giannopoulos clearly thinks you will, and that's all I need to know. You have another judgement to pass, of course. That of our customers".
Sarah wasn't prepared to allow such a dismissive response. "Of course you'll pass", she gushed. "You're a doll".
Tina coloured slightly. "Thanks", she managed, meaning it. Her confidence was at an all time low.
Irene coughed, to draw the girls' attention, and when she had it, she scowled. She seemed, in fact, to have a face which was a permanent scowl.
Tina studied her new boss. Reedy, taut, with iron grey hair and almost no figure. Dressed down in thick pullover and tweed skirt, as though trying to divert attention away from herself. Perhaps, Tina thought mischievously, Mr. Giannopoulos had advised that should any customer be desperate enough to prefer Irene's company to that of "his girls", then she would be under obligation to provide it. Irene was therefore doing her best to make certain that such a situation never arose.
But it was more likely, Tina thought, that the woman was simply dowdy.
"Can we set the mutual admiration society aside for a minute", Irene suggested icily, "and get down to business." She instructed the girls to sit down.
Tina obeyed, perching on the edge of one of the sofas. Irene and Sarah sat on the other.
"Mr. Giannopoulos will have explained your duties", the woman began briskly. "You won't be under any misconceptions?"
Tina shook her head. "I'm clear", she confirmed. "I know what I'm going to be doing."
Irene nodded. "Then", she said, "we'll get down to the details."
Tina had answered the question about misconceptions with swift, easy honesty. It was fair to say that the owner of Hardman Hill had left her with no illusions. She was here to do a job of work, and it would be occasionally unpleasant, as all jobs were from time to time.
She'd been busy behind the bar in Rileys on Torch Street when she'd seen Giannopoulos for the first time. She'd noticed him approaching, a brick outhouse of a man with huge shoulders, with big hands heavy with gold jewellery, with a wild brown bushy beard. He had smiled at her as he'd ordered his drink, and she'd been amazed at his white, even teeth, an unusual presentation for a man who clearly didn't look after himself in other ways.
Even before she'd known who he was, she'd sensed wealth. And for Tina, there was no stronger aphrodisiac. She wasn't ashamed about that, because it was simply true. It was part of who she was. Money had always been hard to come by for her.
She'd asked her friend anf fellow bar girl Tara about the man. Tara had been delighted to confide, "He runs Hardman Hill. You know, the brothel."
Tina knew little about Hardman Hill. She was aware of its status as one of three massage parlours in town, and she'd picked up from conversations that it had a reputation for quality. Well, maybe not quality. But certainly high prices.
Well, hello, Mr. Gangster, she thought, and she'd watched him, when she could, as she served his whisky and dry ginger. His eyes seemed normal. His posture wasn't threatening. But there had to be something. Just had to be.
She'd been conscious that he was watching her just as keenly.
The notion had come to her fully formed, and it took the form of, "Well, why the hell not?" After all, she was earning a pittance at Rileys and she ended up getting fucked by someone she'd only just met two nights out of five anyway. Getting fucked, and paid nothing for it.
So the next time that Giannopoulos came to the bar, she'd been direct with him. "You're Hardman Hill, aren't you?", she'd asked without preamble.
The big man had grinned wolfishly. "In some circles", he had confirmed, "I am known as Panos Giannopoulos. Close friends call me Pano. Hardman Hill, that is not a name by which I have been addressed. But if you are referring to Hardman Hill, the establishment, then yes, I have a connection with it."
Unfazed, Tina had pressed bluntly, "Any jobs?". She'd known that he'd find her cheek unusual, perhaps even breathtaking, but it was a case of carpe diem. Sieze the day.
The Greek had weighed her up. More blatantly than before. He had actually stood back to do so.
And then, after a moment or two, he'd nodded. "It is a possibility", he'd allowed carefully.
She'd grinned back. Bacardi courage. "Make it more", she'd demanded. "Make it a certainty. You wouldn't regret it. I could bring you testimonials."
Those teeth again. Grin like a shark. "You want to work for me without knowing the terms?", he'd queried. "Isn't that a little reckless?"
"I've heard that Hardman Hill isn't cheap", she'd replied. "I'm guessing the girls don't go away empty handed".
"The girls get fifty per cent of all they earn", the Greek had informed her. "Which can, as you imply, be a substantial amount."
Tina had folded her arms in a "well now, that's settled, my friend" posture. "Sounds good to me", she'd blustered. "I get more money, and you get me. You get the better deal, by the way."
Giannopoulos had chuckled. "I can understand your interest", he'd conceded. "But by "knowing the terms", I wasn't necessarily referring to the financial rewards. I was talking rather about what you need to do to obtain them".
Tina had nodded. "I'm not naïve, Mr. Giannopulos", she'd assured. "I know exactly what I have to do. I lost any innocence I had left when I started working in clubs. And let me tell you, there wasn't all that much left to lose."
The Greek had leaned in towards her, invading way too much of her space. She had felt his hot, whisky breath on her cheek. But she'd held her ground.
"There is a difference", he had confided, "between being good at sex, for yourself perhaps, or for another in a loving relationship, and simply pleasing a man. A man you've never met, and may not meet again. My girls are specialists. I only employ specialists. So, before I could consider employing you... ". He had paused then, extended a hand, indicated that he was waiting for her name.
"Tina", she had obliged.
"A lovely name", he'd complimented. Shit, he'd been smooth. Then, after a pause during which he was apparently giving further thought to the loveliness of the name, he'd continued, "Well, before I could consider employing you, Tina, I'd need to know that you were capable of such... selfless detachment".
When she'd first approached Giannopoulos, Tina hadn't been entirely commited. The thought of working at Hardman Hill didn't revolt her, and she'd guessed, correctly it seemed, that the rewards were high. But if her friends found out, she'd never live it down. And then there was the thought of the really unpleasant customers - men old enough to be her father, or men who hadn't had a bath in weeks.
The Greek's doubts, though, had fired a burning pride in her. Of course she was good enough. How dare he?
"I've told you", she'd insisted. "Just try me. How can you lose? If I'm not up to scratch, don't pay me".
He'd rocked his head from side to side, as though considering a question which would have vexed Solomon. "It's a risk I can't take", he'd advised finally. "I need my customers to be satisfied every time. A lost customer is potentially lost revenue for a year. For ten years. You have to make me sure, Tina".
She'd been at a loss. "Then what... ?"
The lupine grin had returned then, as the Greek had sprung his trap.
"You have suggested that I try you", he'd reminded. "Was this empty talk?"
Okay, Tina had thought. It had all been leading up to this. She'd led herself into the lion's den. Why should she be surprised if the lion growled?
She'd reacted with venom, burning her boats. "I said I wasn't naïve", she'd spat at him. "But I suppose I must be. Look, get lost. Just forget it".
Giannopoulos had shrugged. "I try all my girls", he'd responded calmly. "It's a business thing, for reasons I have just explained. Look, you are suggesting to me that I might employ you to have sex for money. With whoever happens to turn up at Hardman Hill, during your shift. Whether you fancy them or not. So how can it be unreasonable that I propose a test which mirrors those circumstances? Have sex with me. A man you have just met. And in return, I will pay you two hundred pounds".