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 Clock's Runnin, Mister
a short story by Stuart Hughes

Swallowing bubble gum, she stepped from the doorway of a downtown video arcade - pulling her black halter-top down and her miniskirt up for effect - and walked her practised walk to the kerb.

Fog was drifting in from the Bay, giving the lights of the Golden Gate bridge a fuzzy brightness.

The Buick crawled towards her, its headlights dazzling. Squinting against the glare, she stood by the kerb and beckoned.

As the car pulled up she leaned forward, placed her palms flat on her knees, and stared through the window. Her tongue slowly traced its path across her glossy lips as she studied the driver. He looked okay: dark hair, cut short; clean shaven; wearing a suit. A reasonable bet.

The electric window hummed down.

She rested her forearms on the door and leaned inside. "Hi there. I'm Jane," she lied, then let her tongue perform its sensuous trick again. "See anything you like?"

The guy leant towards her. "I like what I see so far," he said confidently, his voice full of macho bravado. "Are you getting in?"

"Well, that depends ..." She let it hang, unfinished. There were plenty of risks in this occupation. Safe sex and condoms could protect her against some of them - gonorrhoea, syphilis, AIDS - but not all of them. Some risks you simply had to take a chance on, but you could still do your damndest to minimise the risk. Unlike some girls who would do anything for money and if their luck ran out they would die regretting it, she wasn't afraid to say "no" or refuse a trick, even if it did incur Angelo's wrath. She would sooner anger her pimp by earning less money, than take a risk with her life. Angelo could make things real unpleasant when he wanted to, but at least she knew he wouldn't kill her.

The guy in the Buick looked a reasonable bet, but looks could be deceiving, very deceiving ...

"Depends on what?" he asked, surprised.

"On what you have in mind."

"I see." He rubbed his chin in thought. "Straight. No gimmicks."



She nodded and allowed herself to relax slightly. "You get an hour for a hundred bucks. If you want longer the rate doubles. Deal?"

He looked away and she thought she'd pushed it too high, then he was looking back at her, smiling. "Deal," he agreed.

"You got somewhere to go, mister?"

"Berkeley," he said.

She opened the door and got in.

"Want to stop somewhere for a coffee first?" he asked.

"Huh?" She was fastening her seat belt and the question surprised her.

"Coffee?" he repeated. He seemed amused.

"Well ... yeah, but it's your time, mister. Clock started soon as I got in."

"That's fine by me."

"So what do I call you, mister?" she asked once he'd pulled into the flow of traffic.

"Just call me Jack."

"Okay Jack," she said. "Let's grab some coffee."

Jack knew how to drive; the Buick handled perfectly as he put it through its paces. It was one of the fastest, smoothest, and safest drives through the streets of San Francisco she'd ever experienced.

Neither of them spoke which was fine with her. What wasn't fine was the direction her thoughts were heading. She kept trying to think about something else, but she couldn't get away from it. She thought about home. Not the feeble excuse for an apartment she shared with a couple of other girls in San Francisco, but home back in Phoenix, Arizona. Even though it was two and a half years since she'd left, she still thought of her parents' house as home. She wondered how Mom and Dad were? What they were doing now? What they were thinking about her? That was the one that really hurt: What were they thinking about her? She really ought to call them, but it was eighteen months since she'd last spoken to either of them and the longer she left it the harder it got.

Jack took a right into the parking lot outside the IHOP diner and dropped the transmission into park.

"Here we are," he said.

The diner was sparsely populated. It was too late for the dinner crowd that seemed to flock to fifties style diners like this and still too early for the late-nighters.

They sat on opposite sides of the table in a booth next to the front windows overlooking the parking lot. An Oriental waiter came over and took their order.

Jack smiled sheepishly at her, appeared as if he was about to say something, then gazed out the window. Realising she was out of his peripheral line of vision she carefully studied his profile. His hair was dark, but in the light of the diner she noticed for the first time the grey streaks at his temples, and the slight ripple in the bridge of his nose that signalled its having been broken, perhaps more than once. He was older than she'd first thought: thirty-five, maybe nearer forty.

The waiter returned and poured their coffee. Jack added cream and two sugars, she took hers as it was.

"So ..." he said, breaking the silence, "... you seem like a nice enough kid, so how come you wound up playing this ancient game?"

"Shit." She looked directly at him, making eye contact for the very first time, and her face must've shown her surprise because he laughed.

She fought to maintain eye contact and realised that his eyes - an incredibly beautiful, haunting shade of blue - were his most striking feature. Like the ocean, she thought. They seemed to be smiling at her as if he knew all about her parents and understood.

"Shit," she repeated. "What the hell kind of question's that?"

"I'm sorry," he said. "That was out of line. Way, way out of line. Please, forget I asked."

"S'okay." She looked away. Outside the diner darkness had settled in. She watched the endless traffic parade past.

"I bet I could make a good guess though."

She turned back and sipped her coffee. The coffee was strong and bitter, she took another sip before setting the mug down.

"Let me see," he said thoughtfully. "You probably had a lot of hassles at home. Straight B's weren't good enough for your folks. That sort of thing. You left home, I guess, ran away about ... two, maybe three years ago, swearing never to go home. You tried to get a job, tried really hard, but there was none about. Found yourself here in the city. Still no work. You needed money and this was the only way you could get it. How am I doing?"

"Not even close," she said.

He nodded and she found herself being drawn into his fascinating blue eyes. Not even close, huh? they seemed to say. Maybe, maybe not.

"You probably rang them on and off - your folks. Just to let them know you were okay, but you never told them where you were or what you were doing. Probably called them once a week at first, then once a month, then you stopped. You don't know why, you just did. You probably haven't spoken to your folks in ... the best part of eighteen months or so."

"I sure hope you fuck better than you talk, mister," she said, "cause you're boring the shit out of me."

"There's a payphone over there." He nodded towards the restrooms. "Why don't you go call them?"

"Why don't you go fuck yourself?"

He laughed. "You hate your life here in San Francisco but you've sworn never to go home. Never. My guess is that things are so bad for you that it's only the power of that vow keeping you here." He smiled at her. "And that's a tragedy."

"You know shit, mister."

"It's never too late."

She drained her coffee. "Clock's still runnin, shall we go do it?"

"You sure you want to?" he asked, surprising her for the third time.

"Yeah," she said. "I am what I am, and ..." she let her tongue perform its sensuous trick again, "I'm damn good at it too."

Jack's place was situated outside the city in one of the more affluent suburbs. The gate opened automatically triggering four incredibly bright security lights. The house was large and expensive, set back from the street in the bosky privacy of pines and oaks that disappeared into the darkening night sky.

Jack cut the motor. They got out the car and he led her up a wide path, through the front door, and into the living room.

"Make yourself comfortable," he said.

She sat down in a huge, comfortable armchair and surveyed the room. Everything was mammoth: the sofa and armchairs, the elaborately carved table, the bookcase with its shelves and shelves of books, and the drinks cabinet. It looked nice, in a masculine sort of way, but it lacked the feminine touch.

"Would you like something to drink?" he asked.

"Clock's still runnin," she told him.

"I know," he said, moving towards the cabinet. "Drink?"

"Sure," she said. "Pepsi. If you have it?"

He raised his eyebrows and those ocean eyes looked at her astonished.

"I don't drink," she said. He was still looking at her with that expression of astonishment on his face and for some reason she felt she had to qualify it further. "When I'm ... on the job, that is." It was true, at least. Staying sober kept you in control, stopped things getting out of hand. Another way to minimise the risk.

"Fine by me," he said. "Pepsi's in the icebox, won't be long."

Despite the size and ornateness of Jack's place, she wasn't too impressed with his air conditioning. She could hear it cranking away in the background but it didn't seem to have kicked in yet. The air was hot and thick. Her throat was dry.

He was back in less than a minute, drawing the drapes and flicking a switch to send the room into subdued light.

He snapped open a can of Pepsi and poured it into a tall glass, then poured himself a vodka. "Ice?" he asked. She nodded. He added ice, carried the drinks over, and put them down on the coffee table between them. "Don't go away," he said and left the room again.

She gulped her drink. The cool cola refreshed her and soothed her dry throat.

He returned carrying a small red and gold 49'ers holdall, its contents rattling every time the bag knocked against his knee. He set the holdall down on the sofa and sat next to it.

"I'm afraid I didn't level with you earlier," he said.

"No shit, Sherlock!" she said harshly, trying to sound street-wise and controlled. She had trusted her instincts on this one, but she was beginning to suspect her instincts had been wrong. Hell, her luck had to run out some time. She wondered if this was going to be a bad thing. She had a damn good idea what was inside the holdall, but she wondered about that as well. "Jack ain't your real name, huh?" Street-wise and controlled, she hoped, but she was afraid the expression on her face might let her down again.

He smiled at her. "That too," he said. "I guess I need more stimulation than most people. I'm into bondage, S & M, that kind of thing."

"Shit!" she exclaimed. She stood up. Her left knee banged the coffee table spilling Pepsi and vodka over the glass top. "I don't do that shit man! I don't mess with it!"

"Hold on," he said, raising his hands and holding the flat palms towards her in a warding off gesture. "Please hear me out."

She stood staring at him, hands on hips. He was looking at her sadly, and his ocean eyes pleaded with her. His lower lip trembled slight_ly and he seemed about to cry.

She nodded. "Okay," she said. "I'm listenin."

"Please ... please sit down."

"I'm okay standin," she told him.

"Fine," he said. He dropped his gaze and stared at the coffee table. He picked up his glass and drained what remained of his vodka. Then his gorgeous blue eyes locked with hers again, and she found herself being drawn in, found herself swimming in the ocean of his eyes. She forced herself to concentrate.

"Yeah ... I'm into bondage, but I don't top, I only bottom. All I want you to do is top for me. Tie me up, beat me up, use ..." Without dropping eye contact he picked up the holdall and tossed it to her. She caught it. "... as many of those ... toys, I guess you'd call them ... as you like. Hurt me. I'm dirt, a maggot, scum. Beat me. I deserve it."

She stared at him, trying to weigh him up again. She'd already miscalculated once, what were the odds now? Jack was no under-cover cop for sure, but was he likely to turn nasty? Did he really want her to top, or was he just saying that?

"There'll be no risk for you. Absolutely none. And I'll pay you well. How does a thousand bucks sound?"

Still she thought about it. There was always some risk involved. He seemed a genuine enough masochist, and she had topped before, albeit reluctantly. Tie him up, beat him up, tease him, grant his needs and drive him crazy. She'd done it before and it was easy money. A thousand sounded great and Angelo would know nothing about it. But-

"Fifteen hundred," she said.

He looked away, and this time she really did think she'd pushed it too high. But this guy wanted it, he really did. He looked back and she knew the bid wasn't out of the question.

"Fifteen hundred?"

She nodded.

"Fine," he said. "Deal."

She relaxed and sat down. She rested the holdall in her lap and unzipped it. One by one she took out the contents and placed them on the coffee table: a towel, sand paper, a candle, dog-grooming brushes, four sets of handcuffs and keys, nipple clips, testicle clamps, a straight razor, a leather ball-gag, a strap, a tawse, a paddle, a cat-o-nine-tails. None of the paraphernalia surprised her.

"Okay," she said. "Money first."

The bedroom, like the rest of the house, was huge. There were two large closets against the wall to her left, connected by a row of cupboards across the top. In the middle, between the two closets, was a stool and dressing table. An oval mirror hung on the wall above the table.

The four-poster bed took centre stage. It was made of oak and strange gargoyles had been carved into the posts. She stepped nearer and let her hand run over the carvings. The post was smooth and highly polished, but the gargoyles were so life-like she almost anticipated being bitten. She took her hand away.

Through the wall she heard the toilet flush. The basin taps ran for a while, then stopped.

If curtains had hung round the bed he'd removed them. He had also stripped away all but the bottom sheet.

"Outstanding," Jack said. "Isn't it?"

She nodded.

He was naked. His pubic hair was thicker and more profuse than the rest of the hair on his body. She could see some yellow discolouration on his chest and thighs, fading bruises from previous beatings. His penis was dark, reddish and soft. He had been circumcised.

He got up on the bed and lay back, smiling.

"Ready?" she asked.


"Okay, let's do it."

She took the handcuffs from the dressing table where she had al_ready laid out the contents of the 49'ers holdall. They looked and felt like the real McCoy. These cuffs were identical to those used by the San Francisco P.D. And she should know; she'd been arrested and warned - never charged - on three separate occasions. She picked up the tawse and slipped it into the waistband of her mini-skirt.

"No padding, huh?"

"Padding's for wimps."

She cuffed his wrists first, leaving some slack, then on Jack's insistence ratchetting them tight against his wrists, so tight that the cold metal bit into his flesh. She locked the other end of each cuff around the top bed posts, splaying out his arms. Patiently she grabbed his ankles and fastened them to the bottom bed posts.

She got off the bed and surveyed her handywork. He lay beneath her, spreadeagled in a way that stretched and strained his muscles. A light sweat filmed his forehead.

His money - all fifteen hundred bucks of it, in crisp hundred dollar bills - was safely tucked inside her bra. For a brief moment she found herself tempted to take the money and run, to leave him stranded on the bed in this exposed position. She knew girls who always took the money and ran, but she wasn't like that. She picked up the leather ball-gag, and got on the bed, straddling his chest.

"You want me to use this?" she asked, holding the gag above his face. The leather ball was the size of a tennis ball, a real jaw breaker.

"Please," he said. "But let me say two things first ..." She nodded, and he continued: "Don't hold anything back. Hurt me. Beat me. I'm scum. I deserve it. Beat me hard enough and the pain and pleasure will drive me wild. Sometimes, when I'm really wild ..." he rattled the cuffs at his wrists and ankles, "... these aren't enough to hold me. I want you to promise me that you'll run if I go wild and begin to break free. Promise me you'll get the hell out."

She jammed the leather ball into his mouth, silencing his crazy ramblings, and buckled it tight behind his neck. Saliva dribbled down his chin.

"You sure talk some crazy bullshit, mister," she said. "I'm going to beat you black and blue for that man. You bet."

She smacked his right thigh, hard. Then the left. Then the right again.

She took the tawse, from the waistband of her mini-skirt, to acquaint him with that. She raised it and cracked it down across his right thigh. His head jerked back, eyes opening wide. She slapped him again and again.

Jack's face creased.

Sometimes, when I'm really wild these aren't enough to hold me.

She sat back on her heels. The recollection of his crazy warning brought a smile to her face. There was no way he could escape these cuffs. No way in hell.

She got off the bed and stood looking down at Jack. His breathing was coming in short, laboured gasps.

"They were only teasers," she said. "Now we start for real."

She smacked the tawse down on his stomach. He bucked.

"That's one," she said. She hit the left side of his chest. "Two." She smacked his left thigh. "Three." She slowly walked round the other side of the bed and hit the right side of his chest. "Four."

Pausing, she looked into his face. His eyes were beginning to water. His chest, stomach and thighs were marked red. His penis was hard.

She raised the tawse and hit his right thigh. "Five." She continued to beat him - stomach, left side of his chest, left thigh, right side of his chest, right thigh, and back to his stomach again - counting each blow out loud, and with every blow she felt release, felt all the pain and hurt of her life flowing out of her, flowing into his ocean. It was crazy, she knew, but every time she hit him, she felt him absorb more of her pain and hurt, really felt it, and it felt euphoric.

Jack was sweating, the muscles of his face tight and trembling. Burning marks striped his chest, stomach and thighs.

He could take it though. He could absorb more.

By the time the count reached thirty, Jack was snuffling and groan_ing behind the gag. By fifty he was bucking at every stoke, curling his fingers around the metal chain and tugging against the restraints, his heels rucking grooves in the sheet as they pulled against their bonds. As she watched, a tear ran down his cheek.

She was sweating heavily herself now and the muscles in her arm tightened with fatigue. She rested, to catch her breath, and glanced at his restraints to make sure he wasn't hurting himself. If she had known he was going to writhe like this she would have padded them for him.

She hit him again and this time he jerked madly, his chafed wrists and ankles wrenching against their restraints.

She stopped hitting him and took a step back.

Eyes screwed shut, tears running down his anguished face, sweat pouring from under his armpits, Jack arched his back as high as he could and thrashed wildly against the cuffs.

She took another step back. The tawse fell from her hand.

Sometimes, when I'm really wild these aren't enough to hold me.

Jack continued to writhe frenziedly against his restraints. His back arched off the bed. Muscles bulged in his arms and legs, bigger and bigger until she thought his limbs were about to explode. The cords of his neck swelled to enormous proportions.

Sometimes, when I'm really wild these aren't enough to hold me.

Jack turned his face towards her and opened his eyes. No longer ocean blue, the tide had turned and his irises were a dark, menacing indigo.

Wild eyes.

She screamed.

And then the handcuff chain securing his right wrist snapped. Jack grabbed hold of the leather ball-gag, tore it effortlessly in one blur of motion, and hurled it towards her. White froth, flecked with blood, foamed from his mouth.

She screamed again.

"WWRRROOOOONN," Jack gurgled through the escaping foam. He seemed to like the distorted noise and gurgled it again: "WWRRROOOOONN."

Sometimes, when I'm really wild these aren't enough to hold me.

The crazy warning didn't seem so crazy now.

Promise me you'll get the hell out.

"WWRRROOOOONN!" Louder this time, but just as distorted. It sounded something like "run". She wasn't sure, but it was damn good advice anyway.

She ran.

She ran five, six blocks before stopping, out of breath, her heart jammering in her chest. She bent double, hands on her knees, gasping for air. For the first time, since that first occasion she had had sex with a man for money, she found herself at a loss what to do. She was frightened, physically exhausted, and cold and wet from the rain.

Her response to the situation she found herself in came more from a gut reaction than through any deliberation or thought. She was scared out of her wits. If she hadn't been so frantic, or if she'd had time to think about it, she probably never would have done it.

There was a payphone a few feet away. She went to it, dialled the operator, and asked for a collect call to Phoenix, Arizona.

"Name?" the operator asked.

"Hollie," she said. "Hollie Grant."

The line hissed for a while, then she found herself listening to an excited voice on the other end of the line. A voice she not only knew, but as the tears glistening in her eyes revealed, a voice she also loved.

"Hollie? Is that you, Hollie?"

"Yeah, Dad. It's me."

"I'm glad you called, Hollie. How are you?"

"Daddy," she said, her voice choked with tears. "I want to come home."

© Stuart Hughes 1996, 1998

'Clock's Runnin, Mister' first appeared in Peeping Tom (1996)

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