The Unreliable Placebo

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Chapter 6 Ordeal by Flunitrazepam

THERE’S A SCHOOL of thought that says that you have to try to make things happen yourself, that nothing will occur if you don’t do anything that might bring it about and that thinking about something a lot really can make it more likely to materialise. My horoscope suggested the same thing this morning i.e I’ve got to take active steps to further my objective.

Ordinarily, I don’t take much notice of horoscopes. In fact, I think they have no rational basis at all any more than reading tea leaves or telling the future from crystals. I mean, astrology can’t have any real authenticity. For a start when you look up into the sky, the stars in the constellations aren’t really in those positions. Some of them are much further away than others. It’s just the order in which you see them from the position in which you’re standing. It’s a matter of perspective. If you were able to travel to a planet billions of miles from earth, and looked up into the sky at the very same stars, then you wouldn’t see them in the same formations at all. Even down in the southern hemisphere, you can’t see Ursa Major at the pole. You see the Southern Cross instead.

And while we’re talking about hemispheres, most if not all of the astrology that you hear about must have developed in the northern hemisphere because it’s all about the constellations as we see them from Europe etc and there were no civilisations that left written records behind in the southern hemisphere. Nothing like Greek or Roman from which our own language developed; who named the Gods and dreamed up the mythologies that, for example, had the mortal Castor being allowed by Jupiter a place in the heavens with his brother Pollux to form the constellation Gemini, or the beautiful youth Ganymede being whisked away to the heavens by a lovesick Jupiter to serve forever as Aquarius, cupbearer to the Gods. So doesn’t that mean that people in the southern hemisphere can’t have horoscopes because they couldn’t have been born when Taurus, say, was visibly in the ascendant or been born under the sign of Capricorn for example, could they?

No, it’s all tosh. A Tory MP said recently that astrology had a role to play in healthcare. He apparently was born under the sign of Capricorn himself. He also mentioned homeopathy. He’s a member of the Science & Technology Committee which is supposed to ensure that government policy and decision-making is based on good scientific and engineering advice and evidence according to Should I be worried by this? Because it is a little worrying. Prof Brian Cox had plenty to say about it on an Australian chat show with Robin Ince.

Still, if my horoscope says I should be proactive (it doesn’t say about what, leaving that tantalising possibility that whatever I apply it to, if positive results come about, then I may think that horoscopes really do work) then I should at least give it a go, so I stretch to reach my smartphone on the bedside table trying not to knock over the glass of Baileys (my chosen comfort drink tonight). In my current circumstances an innocent diversion that does no harm has to be grasped and indeed embraced. I often find that if my horoscope says anything remotely earth-shattering any day (as opposed to mere bland generalisations that could apply to just about anyone on the planet as they mostly do) I can’t help going back to it time after time and later taking it to bed with me with a large glass of some sort of tipple and weaving all sorts of intricate fantasies around it.

I reckon I’ll phone Simmsey. Why not? I don’t fancy him in the least. He really is the epitome of my good old pal with whom I could never have any kind of serious relationship, not even a serious friendship because we could never be serious about anything. It would always be a complete, usually drunken, hoot. On the scale of just good mates versus someone with whom one could have a serious romantic relationship with JGMs being 1 and SRRs being 10, I find I’m fairly relieved to mentally place Dennis at a good 8 at least if not a 9 or even 10. Simmsey of course would never make it past 1 but I wouldn’t mind spending an evening with him just for the entertainment value.

I have his card on my bedside table but as I touch the phone, it starts to vibrate and I draw back momentarily. Then I pick it up and it displays a mobile number I don’t immediately recognise. Still, nothing ventured and, with my horoscope and proactivity in mind, I press to connect and wouldn’t you know it; it’s Simmsey. I’d recognise those laid back tones anywhere, especially not having very long previously been fed into a taxi by him after we jointly scared off my date for the evening.

“I was just about to ring you,” I say guilelessly.

“ Oh yeah, course you were!”

“No really! I thought maybe we could meet up one evening and have a laugh. I really enjoyed seeing you again and chatting. Not to mention the slap on the bum you gave me. I’m still rubbing in baby oil to soothe the vivid red hand-shaped mark. It feels like Fifty Shades.” I’ve never in fact read the book nor less even seen the film but this sounds about right.

“Oh, you liked it did you?”

“Well actually I was‒”

“Good. And as to going out, I’ve got just the thing coming up. I’ve been invited to a dinner and dance by the MD of a company I want to develop a game for. And I thought you’d make the perfect partner to impress this guy.”

“Well, I don’t know. I was thinking of a quiet drink somewhere so we could pick up on old times.”

Hasn’t he got a wife or girlfriend he could take to some boring business do I think. But then I haven’t, or the equivalent so‒

“No, no, no. We can do that another time. I need arm-candy for this gig and you’re the business.”

“Arm candy!” I don’t know whether to be flattered or appalled. I feel I’m losing track of this conversation and where it’s leading. “I’m not sure‒”

He names a hotel in Chelmsford and the date. It’s next week. Next Friday. “You’re not doing anything are you? If so, cancel it. This is a must.”

“Is it?” I say weakly. “Right. Er … what’ll I wear?” I’m a bit short on ball gowns. The Arsehole and I didn’t go in much for scoffing and trotting.

“No worries. I’ll sort something out.”


“I clocked your vitals from the other night and we supply software to a firm that designs women’s stuff. They’ll come across with a few nice outfits. Just get there early, about six, and you can try some on.”

“Yes but, I mean I’ll need to go home to shower and things. And there’s the traffic and what if‒”

“Stop fussing. I’ll book a suite. You can do all the primping and tarting up you want. The actual event doesn’t start until eight-thirty or nine.”

“But I mean … does that mean … will I be …?” I want to ask if the intention is to spend the night at this hotel and whether I’ll have my own bedroom. I’m not sleeping with Simmsey! No damn way! If it turns out like that, I’ll holler for the management to get me a taxi.

“So that’s agreed then. Good. I’ll send you an email with a link to get directions to the hotel and a bit of information about the company. There’ll be others on the table trying to win this contract, so I’m depending on you Annie-Girl.”

“Well I suppose … yeah…”

“Good,” he says again. “Sweet dreams then.” And he rings off. Just like that.

I put the phone back on the bedside. I find I’m wringing my hands. I’ve no idea what I’ve let myself in for. It feels a bit like Milton and his presumptions, though they were the result of an unjustified over-developed ego. Simmsey wasn’t like that. If he’s gone a bit strange ‒ or to be really fair more strange ‒ and lost his abilities to read situations correctly and acts inappropriately as a consequence, then it would have to be the outcome of his over-indulgence in cannabinoids.

Or, horror of horrors, after meeting me in a bar with a man I obviously hardly knew, he’s formed the view that I now operate as a high class call girl in my spare time. Or worse, a low class one. But that of course is nonsense. Has to be. I chuckle to myself and think about texting him and saying: “Actually I charge by the hour”, just for a laugh; but I don’t. Just in case he takes it seriously. I save his number and start looking forward to an evening out.

I quickly write down the name of the hotel before I forget it and then look it up on google and forthcoming events and it does at least turn out that they have a dinner-dance next Friday. I look at the prices of the suites and they’re eye-watering, to a person of my modest earnings anyway. Well, I think, I wasn’t doing anything next Friday and it sounds like a posh enough do. I’ll be getting a ball gown loaned to me from a firm that apparently designs them so I won’t have to whip out one of my old Matalan frocks and spend an evening cutting the bobbles off the cheap material or mending it where it’s come adrift or poncing it up by sewing sequins on to make it look more upmarket.

Yes, why not. I mean, I don’t recall Simmsey being so forceful in the past. It’s a bit worrying. I do know people change. I haven’t seen him since we were both about twenty-one at a party in our home town when I was back from uni for the summer working at a McDonalds (I quite liked it actually. I rather wish I’d stayed there and taken the management courses on offer. Who knows, I might have been an area manager by now or I might even have branched out and be owning my own chain of fast food establishments and making a fortune instead of … oh well, never mind). Simmsey, to my recollection, wasn’t doing anything useful at the time. He was sitting in a corner giggling and sharing spliffs with other like-minded individuals, people actually I’d never seen before but whom he had apparently met at the local tech he attended seemingly spasmodically but where he apparently learned to program, leading to his building up, in due course, a viable enterprise and earning a lot of money (as I might have done if I’d stayed at McDonalds).

OK, so he’s now well-off and apparently reputable but you do have to worry whether the amount of marijuana he consumed may have had some deleterious effects. You know, it might have numbed or blunted some of his finer senses, his ability to read situations and know what’s appropriate. I start worrying again that Simmsey may have got it into his skank-befuddled brain that I’m some sort of call girl. If he tries anything, I’ll just have to disabuse him of that view. As I’d found earlier in the year, perhaps a sharp connection of my high-heeled pointy-toed shoes with his soft, trouser-encased gentleman equipment would get the message over clearly enough, though in the previous case it was trainers combined with a four-mile-run-induced epinephrine spike that did the trick. Perhaps an evening of heavy dancing will have the same effect if the worst was to happen.

As I drift off to sleep, I wonder how Simmsey thinks he knows my email address. He said he was going to email me. The Baileys has kicked in and I’m obviously not firing on all cylinders. Of course he’ll get it from my firm’s website. But then he doesn’t know my married name either. How’ll he track me down to my firm at all without my surname? How in fact did he know my mobile number? But this is getting too difficult and within another thirty seconds I’m fast asleep.

I’VE FOUND the hotel without difficulty and there were no hold-ups on the A12 for a change so I’m not late. I drive my kranky Citroen round the back to the car park and find that there’s a barrier. In fact the car in front of me can’t get in and after an obviously unsatisfactory exchange over the intercom to the upright of the barrier, it fails to gain admittance. It backs up, nearly colliding with my car, and turns round. I see the driver’s angry red face through the windscreen as the car races past me back onto the road and zooms off at high speed.

I worry whether I’ll be worthy to gain access or similarly impeded and turned away but the management must have my car registration number which I’d emailed to Simmsey at his request. The barrier is soon raised and I cruise into the hallowed and clearly exclusive grounds of the Chelmsford Monaco Hotel. I feel deeply honoured. I park and take out my overnight case which I’ve packed and brought with me just in case I need to stay the night and Simmsey has arranged a separate bedroom for me, otherwise later I’ll be off by whatever means suitably presents itself.

There’s a doorman at the rear entrance, which looks for all the world like a front entrance with pillars, a canopy and steps up to huge quadruple glass doors. The doorman smiles cheesily and opens the door for me though he doesn’t take my case or call a bell hop. He clearly recognises an item from the Tesco hand-luggage selection when he sees it. However it’s not heavy and I don’t have to stagger through the doors and the rear foyer to the check-in desk. I walk straight and upright, seeing cameras at all angles following my every move.

The girl at the desk takes my name. She then picks up the phone and says to whoever it is at the other end that his or her guest is here (I can only hope that it is Simmsey) and I’m directed to the lifts further across the foyer. I mutter my thanks and start to walk away then I suddenly think: Actually, where am I going?

“Excuse me,” I say turning back, “but could you tell me the room number I’m supposed to be going to and the name of the booking.”

She looks at me strangely. “Mr. Ebenezer Simms. Room 402.” You can see why he wanted us to call him Simmsey, though perhaps now in adulthood he’s managed to turn his Christian name to his advantage somehow. I have no head for business but others clearly spot opportunities that just pass me by entirely and good luck to them.

“Oh, thanks.” I’m still apprehensive but Simmsey’s my old mate. I have to trust him. In fact as I’ve accepted this uncertain assignment and I’m here now, I suppose I must trust him. I’ve very little choice. Of course I could turn around, I think, as I walk into the lift, and go home and perhaps I should. But actually even if all this is a bit strange and uncertain, I definitely want to go ahead with it. Even if I am a pawn on Simmsey’s gameboard, I’d like to enter the fray and see what’s to do.

I ARRIVE trembling, breathless and on time at the door of the suite and knock quietly and discreetly. Unexpectedly, a strange man answers. He’s thin and be-suited. He bows to me dramatically and says in a mid-Atlantic accent with a camp manner:

“Oh do come in Ms. Duke. The team are ready for you.”

I crane my neck round the door and see an army of people assembled looking in my direction. I’m seriously worried. They have a pack-like appearance. Are they going to pounce on me once I’m in the room and tear me to shreds? Or will they devour me whole? They all bear implements of one kind or another and they don’t all look harmless. Not by any means. I swallow hard.

“My name’s Shaun,” says the man at the door. “I’m your host for the preparation period. There’s no need to be nervous. The team are very experienced. They’ve done this hundreds of times before. You’ll have a very good chance of being picked. Do come in.”

Picked for what? They’ve done what a hundred times?

“Where’s Simmsey?” I utter as I edge into the room, a worried frown on my brow. Shaun looks at me uncomprehendingly.

“Mr. Simms?” Still no reaction.


“Oh. Of course! Our Lord and Master is still working in another room. Just relax and allow our team to do their magic and render you without equal!”

“Do I have a separate room? My own bedroom?” I stutter.

Shaun smirks. “Well that’s for Ebenezer to know and me to speculate!” he croons.

I’m growing tired of this silly role-play, at least on his part. “Look,” I say, “just tell me where to put my case and then I’ll have a bath and get ready if you’d leave my dress out for me. Thank you!”

“Anna. Please,” he purrs. “Just relax and surrender yourself to the experience. Others have and have benefitted enormously. It’s a huge privilege. Your future could be mapped out tonight forever. The opportunities are boundless! The rewards unquantifiab‒”

“Please, I’m not interested in all that. Just let me have a proper bath. I’m quite tired. I’ve been working all day and this nonsense is making me angry. I’ll look at the dresses when I’ve had my bath. Show me to my bedroom or I’ll leave! NOW!”

“Well,” Shaun huffs at me, “if you have to be like that! Come this way.” And he turns on his heel and flounces off across the hotel room. He has a ponytail and a distinct swing of the hips from behind. Look under any ponytail, I think, and you’ll find an arsehole. I grab my Tesco valise and follow him through the wardrobe and makeup crew who are regarding me uncertainly now and looking less predatory as I pass them by. He minces towards a door, opens it, gives me a scathing look, another huff and walks off again. I escape into the room, shut the door behind him and examine it for signs of Simmsey. Seeing no evidence, I feel somewhat reassured.

It’s a nice room with french doors leading onto a balcony overlooking an attractive garden. I turn to the other side of the room and there’s a door which I assume leads into the bathroom. Before I investigate that, I check the wardrobes for evidence of male occupation. I mean, I don’t expect to find a man actually in there but men’s clothing would have worried me considerably. Finding none however, I start to relax. There’s a jug of water and glasses on a small table. I’m thirsty not having had any liquid since my four pm cup of tea. I pour a glass and take a large slug.

It’s only six-thirty. I’ve got plenty of time to have a relaxing bath and then see what evening wear is on offer. If these people outside, hovering like an army of drones, wish to arrange and package me in some order to suit themselves ‒ and presumably Simmsey ‒ I shan’t be so bothered once I’ve washed away the cares and worries of the day. My uptightness will have dissipated to some extent and I’m surprised that Shaun, if he’s anything of a seasoned experienced host, doesn’t appreciate how most people feel on a Friday evening at the end of a working week. They may not want to be regimented into … whatever it was he had in mind.

Seeing that there’s every kind of pampering aid in this bathroom, I lock the door and turn the taps on. On the wall opposite there’s a huge mirror. I hope it’s not a two way mirror I semi-joke to myself. I can’t believe it would be though. I climb in and after five minutes, it’s so relaxing I want to fall asleep. I really do start to drift off, but suddenly a disembodied voice calls softly in a sing-song voice over the airwaves:

“One of Nine. Wake up One of Nine. You have work to do.”

I cast about for the source of this imperative. I recognise Simmsey’s voice. I know he must be watching me in the bath and I realise at that moment that whatever Simmsey has planned for tonight, I have almost zilch chance of escaping it. I sink further down into the soapy warm water for a final flannel around my oxters and so on as I scan the room for hidden cameras and try not to present too much frontal aspect to the mirror when I get out of the water. I rush to put on the soft towelling robe, envelope myself in it and rub myself dry with that.

As I emerge from the bathroom and my bedroom into the suite twenty minutes later, a smiling oriental woman in a cross between a kimono and a kaftan greets me holding up an outfit for my consideration. It feels like a Bond film. One of those scenes where I have a vague idea that doom awaits me, but I play along notwithstanding because I have no alternative and every confidence that 007 will effect a rescue in the nick of time.

Except that I have no confidence at all. I have no reason to hope that before my fate, whatever it’s to be, overtakes me, that a gentleman of Her Majesty’s Secret Service will leap out of the wooden panelling, grab me, take me to one of the balconies and abseil to the ground with me clinging to his trouser waist band. Even for me, the daydreams are getting a bit ridiculous and I start to wonder what might have been in that jug of water, but I’m also feeling golden too and ceasing to care what happens.

Nothing of the sort in fact occurs and I try on one costume after another. They all have the same overall theme. Skin tight, cut out in various places, short to the point of indecency and incorporating integral pointy support of the kind I wore on my internet date when I was accidentally reunited with Simmsey after so many years. I imagine that’s what was behind the reference to One of Nine. Oh dear, I think and giggle.

And rather as I’d feared, when a particular costume was being zipped up my admittedly taught and toned body and I was put before the full length mirrors on three sides of a small space in one corner of the suite, Simmsey’s voice suddenly spake unto us from above saying: This attire is the most suitable garment for this evening’s exercise. I cock an ear in the direction of the sound but can’t locate the source, let alone see Simmsey so that I can talk to him directly. If I didn’t feel so mellow from whatever substance was in the bedroom jug of water, I might have started whining and complaining why doesn’t he make a proper appearance, but I’m just not bothered.

Having settled on a dress for this ordeal I’m to have to endure, the crew get started on the rest of me. Some depilation takes place; arms, legs, moustache. I’m glad to say that the beaver is left unmolested. My hair is blow-dried and then whipped into a frenzy by Shaun who swears assiduously throughout as my wild unruly locks refuse to succumb. Gallons of spray is applied to the problem and the air becomes almost unbreathable. I’m offered a drink of something sweet and unrecognisable which I don’t refuse. My defences seem to be down. I don’t know why this should be but I feel relaxed without feeling limp or wobbly. Mentally relaxed but physically robust. Energised in fact.

Whatever I’ve been given I’ll have to get some more of it. The film ‘Limitless’ springs to mind. That’s how I feel. That I can do anything. I challenge Shaun to a game of chess (I’ve never played but I’m sure I could beat anyone just now) but he scoffs at me. Then he whispers something in the ear of the Asian woman. I have super-sensitive hearing, or that’s what it feel like. I could hear a pin drop in the foyer four floors down. “It’s working.” That’s what he said. I should be alarmed but I know I can overcome any shit that might be thrown at me tonight. After all, earlier in the year, I kick-boxed a man’s goolies (or rather gooly) to a pulp. And I wasn’t even on what I’m on tonight.

’Tonight, I am invincible!” I say in a Russion accent, Boris style. My character must be Zenia. Zenia Onatop from Golden Eye. Yes. Onatop.

“It’s definitely working,” Shaun repeats not bothering this time that I can hear. He’s lucky, I think. Being gay, we won’t get into a clinch and therefore I won’t need to crush the life out of him with my legs as I have a monumental orgasm in the manner of Onatop. No. Simmsey will be the recipient of such attentions. Simmsey, who has invited me here on the pretext of an ordinary dinner with possibly some competitive element, though it wasn’t supposed to involve me. Now however I know for sure that it does. I’m to be picked for something and I’m determined not to fail in this mission. It would be handy to know what the mission actually is nonetheless I feel sure I’m equal to just about anything.

My hair having been teased and glued into whatever design Shaun had in mind, I have my arms, legs and any other parts of me visible, which is frankly, most of me, chemically tanned. The Asian lady expertly applies makeup to my face. I have no idea what this looks like. I’m not allowed near any of the mirrors now. My feet are forced into impossibly high heels.

And then … and then … I think I pass out.

I’M IN A large room full of people. The noise is incredible. I find I’m already seated and have no idea how I got here from the hotel room. As I come round, I briefly see a huge screen on the stage flash off. I’m not sure what it said; something like SPAG WEST. Spaghetti western? Simmsey said he did medieval battle re-enactments. Doesn’t sound much like that. Maybe he’s branching out. However I’m not dressed for horse-riding or gun-toting. I can’t work it out.

There are revolving glitter balls hanging from the ceiling throwing differently coloured shapes around the room and onto people’s faces and clothes, and mixing confusingly with the psychedelic patterns on the walls. Several girls in separate elevated cages are gyrating to the hypnotic music. When I look at them for a little longer, I see that they’re all stark naked. Some spread their legs; others face the other way and bend over displaying the full works. This piques my interest and I wouldn’t mind going over and having a closer look at some of them, just in order to make a comparison. But I see that Simmsey, sitting next to me in a dinner suit, is eyeing me up analytically. I don’t worry about this and none of it seems strange. Not at all.

I cast an eye around our table. There are men in dinner suits and women in a diverse range of outfits. Some like me are in ultra-short sparkly dresses. Others more along the lines of One of Nine. A few are kind of dressed up as Marie Antionettes with white-powdered faces, black beauty spots and huge wigs, sporting elaborately decorative fans. They all look pretty spaced out. The men with them are nervous and twitchy and move around in their seats. They look worriedly around them, apparently sizing up the opposition. They look at me. I can’t tell what impression I’m making.

I feel a little sore in one of my thighs right near my crotch and I pull up the hem of my dress to reveal a small round plaster. I peer at it curiously. What can this mean? I have no idea! Simmsey slaps my hand while not actually looking at me. I fail to let my hem down and, still looking around the room and smiling, Simmsey grabs my hand and squeezes it hard until it hurts and I have to let go of my dress. I open my mouth to squeal.

“Shut up,” he hisses in my ear, “I really need this contract. Do you realise that it’ll net my company three billion quid if I get the contract?” I nearly pass out again. “Don’t worry. You’ll get your cut. For God’s sake for now just be-have!”

So unaccountably I do. The money is of no concern to me though. If Simmsey had wanted the money to influence me, then he should have picked a less mind-altering, mood-flattening drug to induce me to do his bidding tonight.

This is supposed to be a dinner and dance and I do wonder fleetingly where the food is but it doesn’t look like there’s any on offer. I look down at the table. I am hungry. I take up a corner of the table cloth and start to gnaw on it but Simmsey soon puts a stop to that by wrenching it from between my teeth. I feel sure he may have loosened a few in the process. I still don’t worry too much though. This stuff I’ve somehow had administered to me is something else. They say childbirth is painful. My friends with children can’t stop talking about it. Rot them! I don’t know why they don’t make this drug available to maternity wards. But maybe it’s harmful. Though even this doesn’t puncture my euphoria. I’m still invincible! Or I think I am.

For a brief moment I compare Simmsey with Milton. Milton seemed to want to use me and so now does Simmsey. I wonder what Dennis would make of this. But at least Simmsey is making it a fairly pleasant experience by virtue of the use of probably illegal substances, illegally administered without my consent. With Milton it was in your face unpleasant, start to finish. I can’t work out which of them was the more dishonest. Suddenly the music reduces in volume and a compère rushes onto the stage.

“Welcome to …” he says as Simmsey and the other men on the table, in the room in fact, roar a greeting, drowning out his words. Even my super-hearing can’t make out what he’s just said. He carries on outlining a number of obstacles to be overcome by the contestants. They make very little sense. You’d presumably have to be aware of the context and I’m not. Neither are any of the other girls on my table to judge from their glazed expressions.

“Simmsey,” I whisper to him, “I don’t feel well.”

“Oh dear.” He looks at me consideringly. I look back at him and, though my visions is somewhat blurred, I see a person I barely recognise; the shared experiences of our puberty all dissipated; all our youthful conspiracies to cause havoc to the educational system melted completely away. He just appears hard, cold, calculating and totally money and business oriented now. Though whatever it is that’s coursing through my veins, it still acts like a major pacifier and stops me from making the mental leap from Simmsey’s air of analytical detachment to what the next few hours might have in store for me. “Oh well,” he says, “I have just the thing to make you feel better.” Under the table, he feels about in his trouser pocket and produces a small white pill. He starts the smiling around the room routine again and puts the pill into the palm of my hand.

“It’s important Anna,” he says, “that you don’t let anyone else know you’re taking this tablet. Otherwise everyone’ll want one!”

“Oh,” I say trustingly, “like Limitless!”

“Er, yes of course, just like that. So do something. Pretend to cough or yawn or something and slip it into your mouth then take a slug of the water in front of you to help it down and … er … enhance the effects!”

I do as he says.

I HAVE no further recollection of most of the rest of the evening or what I was asked to do or indeed actually did. I just recall coming round towards the end and seeing in large letters on the screen on the stage the words ‘SLAG FEST - THE ULTIMATE MID-LIFE CRISIS MALE FANTASY’.

Simmsey excuses himself to go to the toilet. He hasn’t realised I’m no longer fully under the influence. I have a lucid interval, as the Mental Health Act says, and decide to leave before anything else bad happens.

I don’t know the way out but I walk in the opposite direction to Simmsey. As I leave the room, the compère is saying: “And the winner is …” I don’t care. I don’t want this accolade whatever it is that may be foisted upon me.

“Anna Duke!” The applause reaches my ears outside the hall as I tear off my high heels and make for the exit. I see, however, several large bouncers turn towards me. I know instinctively that they won’t let me out. And I haven’t got my bag or my car keys or my mobile phone. I head towards the toilets and the bouncers lose interest. When their backs are turned, I go in the direction of the stairs and, to fool them, I head up the first flight instead of down. Then the next. I’m not sure if anyone’s following me.

I see a large laundry bin on the landing. It’s full of used bed linen. Also I spy a set of french windows at the end of the corridor. I grab armfuls of the soiled sheets in the bin and tie them together. I race to the french windows. They have odd, heavy handles to them. I pull and push at the handles and the doors open outwards. I realise that they’re fire doors so they can’t be locked from the inside for safety reasons. I go out onto the balcony and look down. There are lights in the area below. It seems a very long way to the ground. Gulping, I tie one sheet to the top of the balcony and push the rest over. I see they nearly reach the ground. I climb over the balcony. Gradually I let myself down. I have to jump the last six feet. It feels further than it really is.

I run to the shrubbery at the side of the open area in which I land and force my way through it to a fence. The material of this dress is undamaged. God knows what it’s made of. A new softer version of cast iron? Or maybe graphene even. I follow the fence around to the front of the hotel and climb over the low front wall and onto the street.

There’s a commotion coming from the hotel. I see men in black suits with wrap-around dark glasses to match run out of the front entrance talking into the cuffs of their shirt sleeves. They separate and dash off round the sides of the building. In my still somewhat semi-befuddled state I can’t believe it is to do with me. I’m a free agent and quite entitled to leave the building if I wish. But all the same I walk further away to put space between me and that suspect place.

Rounding a corner, I see taxis lined up and take one back to my home. The driver takes no obvious interest in the fact that I am barefoot and dressed like a thirty-something streetwalker at four am. The fare is considerable. When we arrive at my home, I ask the driver to wait and I have scoot round to the rear of the house where there’s a key safe near the back door since the previous owner was an elderly lady living on her own. I knew it’d come in handy some time. No actually, I didn’t really. I always thought it was an ugly box on the wall of the pretty cottage that I’d have removed when I got round to it. But now I kiss it and beam at it. I’ve hardly ever used it and have to strain to recall the code. I get it right third time and the little door swings open and blessedly the back door key’s inside.

I pay off the driver using cash in the house. I know where the Arsehole kept a stash for emergencies and he left too precipitately to take it with him, the complete Arsehole.

Then, since my bag with all my credit et cetera cards is back in that weird hotel bedroom, I spend the next several hours calling up the numbers to cancel all my cards, knowing it’ll cause financial havoc for days if not weeks. If it comes to it I’ll have to lie to my mother and borrow off her. But I’ll try not to as it always creates such a fuss to involve her in any aspect of my life.

I guess I’ll also have to have the locks changed, curse it.

I look at the clock and it’s six-thirty in the morning and I feel terrible, like the worst hangover ever and I decide maybe mums in labour shouldn’t be given that stuff after all. They’d go into a sharp decline the next day as I do and not want anything to do with their offspring. It takes me at least the weekend to overcome the effects. I’ve seldom felt quite so depressed, and I’ve been pretty depressed of late.

Towards the end of Sunday afternoon, I toy with the idea of calling Simmsey and asking for the antidote but I know that’d just be asking for trouble and possibly spiral me into an up-down up-down cycle I’d never get out of. Simmsey always was into drugs. Probably he can control them OK. But other people like me can’t. I’d end up giving up my job and becoming a template for ‘SlagFest’, known to millions as the middle-aged man’s fantasy virtual shag. My face and other parts on the wrappers of a trillion jewel cases thereby earning me a fortune. Retiring rich to Monaco and spending the rest of my life in idle luxury, isolated from the rest of humanity. If I was lucky, having occasional visits from Simmsey to replenish my store of propping-up substances, paying more and more frequent trips to cosmetic practitioners, trying to attract younger and younger men to assuage my feelings of inadequacy.

I think I’ll stick to village life actually.

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