‘No, Jack. I’m not. I’m doing the only thing I can do.’
‘It’s something to do with your mum, isn’t it?’
‘Oh! Shit, Lana. You didn’t.’
‘You’re better than this.’
‘Jack, my mum’s dying. She’s stage four. She doesn’t have months to live. The doctors have given her weeks.’
‘Oh, Lana. Can’t we borrow the money?’
My laugh is bitter. ‘Who can I ask, Jack? Jerry? And if I ask Jerry what will I need to do for the money?’
‘What do you need to do for the money now?’
‘What I am doing won’t land me in prison. It’s just sex, Jack.’
Jack goes silent.
‘It won’t be for long.’
‘It’s for a month.’
‘It’s a lot of money, Jack.’
‘Don’t give the shit a day more than a month.’
‘I won’t. I’ve got to go, but I will see you during the weekend. And thanks for caring about me.’
‘It’s just a bad habit.’
‘I miss you, you know.’
‘Just be safe, Lana.’
‘Bye, Lana,’ he says and there is so much sadness in his voice that I want to call him back and reassure him that it isn’t so bad. I am not selling my soul, only my body.
In the doctor’s surgery I pass over the envelope and am ushered into a room with the nurse who asks and performs the necessary blood tests with brisk efficiency. Afterwards, she discusses several options and recommends Microgynon.
‘Take it from today. Since your last period ended two days ago you should be protected immediately, but just to be safe use a condom for the next seven days,’ she advises. Twenty minutes after I entered that small blue and white room I have a prescription for three months’ supply of contraceptive pills.
The receptionist has an envelope for me. It is addressed to Mr. Jay Benby. This letter is sealed.
I thank her and go outside. Tom jumps out of the car and opens the door for me before going around the back of the car and getting into the driver’s seat.
‘If you give me the prescription, I’ll pick it up for you while you are at the solicitors.’
For some strange reason I feel the heat rush up my throat.
‘I have daughters your age,’ he says kindly, and I lean forward and hand him the prescription. ‘Thanks, Mr. Edwards.’
‘No worries. And call me Tom.’
‘Er… How long have you been working for Mr. Barrington?’
‘Going on seven years now.’
‘Is he… Is he a fair man?’
Tom meets my eyes in the mirror. ‘He’s as straight as a die,’ he says, and by his tone I realize that he will volunteer no more than that. I turn my head and watch the people on the street.
The solicitor’s offices are in an old building in the West End. I am surprised to note that it is not the slick place I expected. The hushed air of importance, mingled with an impression that nothing much ever happens here, makes it feel more like a library. A receptionist shows me into Mr. Jay Benby’s room.
The room smells faintly of air-freshener. The carpet is green, his table is an old antique inlaid with green leather, and the old-fashioned, mahogany bookshelves are filled with thick volumes of law books. Behind Mr. Benby there is a dark, rather grim painting of a countryside landscape in a gilded frame. The painting is so old that the sky is yellow in some parts and brown in others.
Mr. Benby rises from the depths of a deeply padded black leather chair. His grip is very firm and his smile serves as a polite welcome. He is wearing a dark, three-piece suit and a red, silk tie. And his hair—what little is left of it—has been carefully slicked back.
He waves his hand towards one of the chairs in front of his desk and I see that he is wearing a ring with a large, opaque, blue stone on his little finger. It strikes me as incongruous. I remember a story my mother once told me.
He was rich and wore a turquoise ring from Nishapur on his little finger.
Everything else about Mr. Benby and his office says, Trust me. I’m good for it. The opaque ring alone screams, I’m a liar.
After exchanging brief pleasantries he pushes a stapled, thin bunch of papers towards me. ‘Here is your contract.’
I look at it. Consensual Sexual Acts and Confidentiality Agreement.
‘You are within your rights to take it home, read it yourself and if you prefer, get your own lawyer to look at it, but no amendments can be made to it.’
I bite my lip and eye the contract. ‘Can you show me where it says I will receive the hundred thousand pounds?’
He appears surprised. ‘Of course.’
His kind obviously don’t talk about money openly. They just bill you. He turns the contract to its second page and puts a clean, blunt finger to the clause that I was asking for. And I see that it clearly states that I will be paid the sum as soon as I sign the contract. I look up at Benby. ‘Do you have a pen?’
His eyebrows rise. ‘Don’t you want to read it first?’
I shake my head.
He looks at me disapprovingly. ‘This agreement has been drawn up so there is never any…misunderstanding. You must be fully aware of the gravity and nature of the contract you are about to sign and agree to abide by its conditions. There are some clauses in there that are of utmost importance.’
‘The most important being the confidentiality understanding. This clause means that you will never be able to write a book, sell your story, or reveal any personal details about Mr. Barrington or his family. There is no information, even outside of sexual activities, that may be revealed to anyone. Not even friends or family. You can never bring a guest to the apartment you will share with Mr. Barrington. This clause applies to family, friends and acquaintances. In the event that they reveal anything, you will be held liable.’
He stops and flips the pages of the contract.
‘Please pay particular attention to this section,’ he says stabbing a stubby finger on the paper. ‘It expressly prohibits any form of recording device while in the company of Mr. Barrington.’
He clears his throat. ‘And you must practice some form of birth control. In the event that you get pregnant you must terminate the pregnancy immediately.’