Chapter One: First Wednesday
Philip hadn’t been down to the Venice in a couple of years, maybe longer. He’d been a regular for a while, but just got out of the habit. Then a friend recommended a band called Blindfold and said they played at the Venice on Wednesday nights, Bennie’s old spot on the calendar. So here he was, nine-thirty on a Wednesday, stepping in and paying his cover to Bill at the door and making his way back to the bar.
The band was in full swing – he’d been able to hear that half a block away – and there was a fair crowd. Not the crush there used to be sometimes, but the stools looked to all be taken, and a few people were leaning against the wall over by the stairs. There’d be seats upstairs, but Philip always preferred to be down with the band. He recognized the drummer from other bands, and the harmonica player, too. Blues bands around town have a pretty fluid cast of characters. These guys must have started on time. A nine o’clock start time usually means that’s when the band starts lugging their equipment in.
Philip got the bartender’s attention and ordered a bourbon and water. He stayed leaning against the bar, scanning to see if he’d missed seeing an empty seat somewhere. That’s when he recognized one of the women sitting at the tall cocktail tables between the bar and the band. Seeing her out of context, it took a couple of seconds for it to register that he knew who she was: Kathleen, from work where she’d been his user group contact for a project last year. She’d been pleasant to work with, and very pleasant to look at. They must have been in meetings together a couple dozen times. She was sitting with another woman, both of them clearly enjoying the music.
The band wound up that number and launched intoDust My Broom. Kathleen’s friend leaned over and said something to her, Kathleen nodded, and the woman collected her purse and headed for the door. An empty seat. Philip thought about claiming it, but decided against it. He could stand. And the friend might just have gone to get something out of her car. Who knows?
Half a dozen songs later, the lead guitar announced a pause for the cause, and suddenly the whole crowd realized their glasses were empty, Philip included. The bartender was swamped, but Philip had a certain positional advantage over most of them.
“Oh, hey! I know you! You’re Philip! The guy from Facilities!”
Philip turned away from the bar, looked back at Kathleen, who was standing by her table. “Well, hello! I saw you sitting there. Recognized you even with your back to me. You want a refill?”
“Sure! Vodka tonic.”
When the bartender got to Philip he ordered another bourbon and a vodka tonic, and then worked his way over to Kathleen’s table with them.
“Here you are. Enjoying the band?”
“Blindfold? Yeah! We love ’em, come down here almost every Wednesday night. Girls’ night out. Haven’t seen you here before, though.”
Philip shrugged. “First time I’ve been here in quite a while. Wednesdays here used to belong to Bennie Smith and his band, but that was years ago. Mind if I take this stool?”
“Please! My friend Kris was here earlier. She’ll be back, but not until late.”
“She’s not such a big fan of Blindfold?”
Kathleen looked uncomfortable. “Oh, she is. But she had to meet someone.”
Philip raised an eyebrow but decided to change the subject. “So you guys happy with your new space? I haven’t gotten any complaints.”
“Oh, yeah. It’s fine. It’s still life in a cubbyhole, but it’s a much nicer cubbyhole than we had before.”
“I figured if your department was really unhappy my first clue would be that all our computers would stop working.”
Kathleen laughed. “Yeah, if tech support ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. We should get that printed up on tee shirts.”
The band was back up front. They started the set withSweet Home Chicago, then moved intoSoul Serenade. Philip leaned over to Kathleen to be heard. “The guy on slide guitar is really good.”
Kathleen grinned and bobbed her head, leaned over to Philip. “He really is! They had another guy take his place last week who was even better. Older guy.” Philip could feel the warmth of her breath on his ear. He scooted his stool closer to hers.
He leaned in. “Slightly built white guy? Mustache?”
He leaned back, she leaned in to him, which put some strain on the top button of her blouse. “Maybe. I guess.”
She didn’t lean away, but turned her head to hear his response.
“Might have been Tom Maloney. He’s one of the best.”
She nodded. “Maybe. I don’t remember his name. But he was good.”
They couldn’t really carry on much of a conversation over the music, but Philip enjoyed Kathleen putting her head close to his. She didn’t seem to be shy about it. They finished their drinks and Philip got them fresh ones. The band played on.
At the end of the second set Kathleen excused herself, picked up her little clutch bag, and headed for the ladies’ room. When she got back she put her hand gaziantep escort on Philip’s shoulder to steady herself as she climbed back onto her stool. He put his hand on her waist, lightly. She turned toward him, her knees against the side of his thigh. “Look, um, I don’t want you to misunderstand. I just come for the music.”
Philip smiled. “That’s fine. Me, too.”
Kathleen opened her mouth but took a second to actually say anything. “Well, good. I mean, covering for Kris is one thing, but I don’t want, well, I don’t want you to think she has to cover for me.”
“You don’t take turns?”
“No! I mean, she’s got her issues, and her husband is kind of an asshole. I’m not going to throw rocks at her for stepping out on him. She’s been my best friend since high school, for fuck’s sake!”
“And you don’t have issues and your husband isn’t an asshole so she never needs to give you an alibi.”
Kathleen didn’t say anything. She drank the rest of her vodka in one swallow. “My husband’s a decent guy. I didn’t say I don’t have issues, just different. And besides, that not just a friendship ring you’re wearing.”
“We all have issues, if the word means anything. And I may as well be here as anywhere. My wife’s got her night out with friends, too. I don’t think there’s anything to that. Nobody’s turning a blind eye to anything because they’re all nice and proper pillars of the community so there’s nothing to pretend not to see.”
Kathleen caught something in his tone of voice and looked sideways at him. “You sound like maybe you wish she weren’t so nice and proper.”
Philip looked at his glass, at the band returning for their final set, back at his glass. He drained the last of the bourbon. “Maybe I just wish she got her share of the hangovers and mistakes. You want another drink?”
Kathleen picked up her bag. “No. I want some fresh air. Let’s go out front.”
They left their stools and empty glasses and headed out. Philip nodded at Bill at the door as they passed. It was noticeably cooler out on the sidewalk. Kathleen leaned back against the front wall of the building, her left knee bent and her foot flat against the wall. She folded her arms under her breasts, which made her figure even more appealing. Philip stood to her left, leaning his shoulder against the building. Neither spoke for a while.
“Okay, so I didn’t say I never made mistakes, and I sure as shit know hangovers. My decent guy husband is pretty plain vanilla. I love him, but he’d rather sit home and watch the news than be here. Which is lucky for Kris, I guess.”
“She’ll be back tonight?”
“She’d better be! She’s driving my car! She’ll get here maybe twelve-thirty or so.”
“It’s midnight now.”
“Shit. I wish I still smoked.”
“Everybody needs a vice.”
“Maybe half a dozen. Will you be back next week?”
“I’m inclined to. Save me a seat. So tell me, Kathleen: What do you really want?”
She snorted. “Really want? Really? To not get caught. To do any fucking thing I want and not get caught. Not even by myself.”
Philip laughed. “Ah! Yes, of course! If you don’t catch yourself you don’t have to feel guilty!”
Kathleen turned and looked at him. “Well, yeah! I mean, that’s half the problem, isn’t it?”
“I think that’s sort of what’s behind most bondage fantasies: I can’t feel guilty for what just happened because I wasn’t responsible because I was all tied up with these silk ropes, right?”
Kathleen had caught her breath and looked away. Philip stopped leaning against the wall, reached over and touched Kathleen’s chin, turned her face toward him. Softly, he said “Well. Have I touched a nerve? A taste for something other than plain vanilla?”
“I just don’t want to see myself as some kind of cheating slut.”
“You won’t see anything. I’ll bring a blindfold.”
She looked down, pursed her lips, considered the situation. But she didn’t back down. Philip watched her, thought about what he’d just committed himself to, thought about the consequences, thought about the rewards. She had an attractive body, certainly, but a more attractive spirit. He wouldn’t back down either.
A car rolled past, slowly. Kathleen quit leaning against the building, dusted her skirt, and watched the car – a white compact, maybe a Toyota, Philip wasn’t very good at knowing one make from another – back into a parking space up the block. “That’s Kris. I’m just gonna go meet her. Next week?”
“Let her do the driving. Next week, here.” Philip watched Kathleen stride up the sidewalk to where the car had parked. Strong, determined steps, with maybe just a hint of a vodka wobble.
* * *
Thursday and Friday, Philip resisted the urge to drop in on the IT department to follow up with the director on how the new space was working out, maybe take a walk through, chat with the staff.
On the weekend he and his wife went shopping for new sheets and towels. Philip’s eye for color and pattern was much better than Mary Ann’s. He’d been thinking about bandannas, since handkerchiefs were usually too small, but while they were in the linen department he spotted cloth napkins. Big squares of soft, heavy cloth.
On his lunch hour on Monday he returned to the store and bought four napkins, each a different rich color – deep red, royal blue, gold, and cream. Back in his office, he closed the door, cleared a spot on his desk, and took out the gold napkin and spread it out. He folded it into diagonally, then folded it over again and again in one inch strips. It made a fat and bulky blindfold, and the last fold kept flopping down, but he covered his eyes with it and found it was just barely long enough to knot the ends behind his head.
He tried again, folding the triangle in wider strips, but the tail of the last fold still wouldn’t stay put. He folded it again, this time starting with the tail and folding towards the long side. There. No loose end. He folded the others to match.
On Tuesday he got into the department’s employee parking spreadsheet. If he ever needed to close off a few spaces in one of the garages for concrete patching or to repair a guard rail, he had to know who those spaces were assigned to so he could give them an alternate assignment. Now he just reordered the list by last name and found Kathleen. North Garage, space B34. He closed the file without saving the changes.
Mid-afternoon on Wednesday, Philip took a clip board and a flashlight and walked through the North Garage looking for damaged concrete. A white Toyota was parked in space B34. Philip took a dark blue blindfold out of the pocket of his jacket and knotted it around the driver’s door handle, then continued on his inspection tour.
* * *
After dinner Philip made excuses to his wife for leaving as soon as the dishes were done. He left the house and began making the necessary preparations.
By nine o’clock he was done. He drove to the Venice Café, parked, and went in. Kathleen and Kris were at one of the cocktail table, and Blindfold was cranking outBuilt for Comfort.Kathleen saw him and waved him over.
“Kris, this is Philip, from my office. He’s who I ran into last week.” Kris smiled and shook hands with Philip. She was about the same height at Kathleen, but quite thin, with a narrow face. They had saved Philip a seat. He worked his way over to the bar, got his bourbon, and joined them.
They couldn’t talk much except between songs. Kris worked in retail and drank chablis. That’s about all Philip learned before she excused herself and headed out. At the end of the next song he leaned over to Kathleen and asked “Are you ready to go?” She nodded quickly, picked up her purse, and slid off her stool.
Bill the doorman smiled and nodded his wise smile as they slipped out. Philip offered Kathleen his arm, and they strolled down to where Philip had parked. “Did you tell Kris what we’re up to?”
“Do I know what we’re up to? No, I told her about knowing you from work. She’d seen us talking outside last week.” She didn’t sound as bubbly as she had last week.
“You seem nervous.”
“I almost – ” She stopped, tried again. “I found this tied to my car door this afternoon.” She pulled the blue blindfold half out of her purse, then stuffed it back in. “I don’t know what I almost did. Almost screamed. Almost shit. Almost had a knee-buckling orgasm right there in the parking garage.”
They had reached Philip’s car. He unlocked the front passenger door, reached in, and pulled out a helium balloon, silvery mylar with ‘Surprise!’ printed on it. “Hold out your hand.”
A big grin came over Kathleen’s face, and she held out her right hand to take the balloon. There was a loop at the end of the string, and Philip slipped it over her hand and slipped it tight. Kathleen looked up at it. “You goof-ball! What’s this for?”
“Take off your glasses and squint at it.”
Philip reached into his pocket as he stepped behind her, pulled out the gold blindfold and flipped it over Kathleen’s head and across her eyes. With the balloon and her purse in one hand and her glasses in the other, she was too startled to block it. “The balloon, my dear – ” He settled the blindfold better across her eyes, crossed the ends, pulled them tight behind her head. ” – is so that if we get stopped by some attentive police officer I have a likely story to tell about why I have a blindfolded woman in my car. It’s a surprise. To you, at least.” He knotted the ends and guided Kathleen into her seat in the car. She gathered the balloon and held it protectively in front of her. Philip closed the door and went around to his side, got in, and they drove off.
“So where are you taking me?”
“Telling you really would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?”
“Well, yeah, I suppose. I really can’t see anything through this.” Kathleen felt the car come to a brief stop, then turn left. They had been parked facing south. And another left turn. Accelerating. The interstate? Must be. “Okay, so if I wasn’t nervous before I sure am now.” By feel, she folded her glasses and tucked them into her purse.
“Good. You wanted a thrill. But how nervous should you be? Kris could testify that you were last seen with me, and Uncle Bill saw us leave together. I’d better be damned sure you get back to your bar stool all in one piece, not long after midnight.”
“I thought about some of that. Why does everybody call him Uncle Bill?”
“I’ve heard him tell the story. Something to do with his nephew.”
Kathleen had lost track. They were still on the highway, but had they taken a ramp to another interstate or not? “Where – Okay, so you won’t tell me. I’m just really nervous.”
“I can tell. Your chest is heaving. Looks good.”
“Keep your eyes on the road.”
A few minutes more and they were slowing down, rolling to a stop, then moving again. Kathleen paid attention to the feel and sound of the car’s movement. Another stop, a turn, another turn, and a very slow turn into what Kathleen was sure was a parking space. Philip put the car in park, turned off the ignition, and got out. In a few seconds he was opening Kathleen’s door, helping her get out of the car with the balloon, and guiding her a few steps. He halted. Kathleen heard a jangle, a click or snap, and then Philip said “Mind your step.” She brushed past an obstruction on her left and felt carpet underfoot. A door closed behind her; locks snapped into place.
Kathleen stood up straight, squared her shoulders, and tried calming herself. The air smelled of furniture polish. She felt somewhat foolish standing there, blindfolded and holding her purse and a helium balloon. The sudden feeling of warm breath on the back of her neck made her jump.
“Jesus! Sorry. Can I take this off now?” She reached her free hand up toward the back of her head.
“No.” Philip caught hold of her hand, gently but firmly, turned it, and kissed the inside of her wrist, gently but firmly. “We can dispose of the balloon for now, though.” He loosened the string, pulled it over her hand. She might have heard it bump against the ceiling. He took her purse; she heard it being set down on a hard surface.
“Here.” She felt him lean away from her, then there was a thump. “Have a seat.” He turned her part way round and she felt a chair at the back of her legs. He held her right hand and she waved her left in the air behind her as she cautiously sat. She found the arms of the chair: coarse, nubbly upholstery on a solid, square piece of wood furniture. She adjusted her posture, sitting all the way back, putting her hands on the arms, crossing her legs at the ankles. There were a few seconds of silence, then she realized Philip must be behind her. He put his hands on her shoulders. “Relax.” He began to knead her shoulders. She sighed.
“Take a deep breath. Hold it for a couple seconds, then purse your lips and blow it out slowly. Empty your lungs.” She did as he said. He spread his fingers and pushed squarely down on her shoulders for a count of twenty. She felt something inside let go. Tension fled her shoulders. She rolled her head from side to side.
“Thank you! That feels so much better.”
Philip considered a variety of smart remarks, but passed up all of them. He put his hands on the sides of Kathleen’s neck and began rubbing the nape with his thumbs. Kathleen was almost purring. He slid his hands forward, his thumbs tracing a line just under her jaw. He stroked under her chin. Then he tipped her head back and kissed her mouth hard, his tongue pushing deep past hers for a moment before he pulled off and pushed her head upright again.
His hands were on her shoulders again. They plucked at the shoulders of her top. “A very becoming blouse.” It was a shimmery red material that glinted in the light, scoop-neck, sleeveless, with buttons up the back. He ran his fingers a few inches forward and down from her shoulders. He could feel her bra straps through the material, and hear the change in her breathing as his fingers moved. He leaned down, kiss her on the right cheek – she turned partially to return the kiss – and then he ran his hands lightly down over her breasts. Even through the bra and blouse he could feel her nipples spring up to graze the palms of his hands. It was his turn to find his breathing had turned ragged.
Bending over her from behind he cupped her breasts from below, lifted, and let them slide past. He resisted the urge to clench and grab but instead brought his hands back to her shoulders. He leaned over to her other side and kissed her left cheek. He straightened up and moved around to the front of the chair, took her hands, and helped her stand. In her heels she was nearly as tall as he was. He put his arms around her waist, she put her arms around his neck, and they kissed. They kissed and kissed again and kissed repeatedly. Philip’s hands explored her back. Kathleen’s hands pulled his face to hers. He ran both hands down past her waist. When he reached the lower curve of her ass he gave in to the urge to clench his fingers, taking great handfuls of her first with one hand then with the other. She responded with deep and desperate kisses.