Root Memory

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The Sting

“Right, for the final time, don’t use our real names. I’ll be ‘Honey’ and you can be... ‘Jock’.”

“But Sabrina – I’m sorry, Honey’; Jock is just too cliché Scottish. What about ‘Rab’?”

“What, and Rab isn’t?“ Nigel looked aggrieved. “Whatever... Rab, then, if you insist.”

Nigel could slip easily into a believable Scottish accent: either broad Glaswegian, or the softer Edinburgh lilt his father had maintained in spite of all of his years amongst Sassenachs. He would use it to disguise his own voice from Dixey.

It was now the following Friday on the calendar and the two of them were back in Maia’s flat, though by now Maia was safely back with her family in Romania, ready to start her new life free of Dixey’s grasp. During the time she’d spent with the girl overnight, Sabrina had teased more details from her over their intended victim’s habits during his visits.

She’d learned that he insisted on drinking Paddy Irish Whiskey half mixed with soda, and that occasionally he would ask for a packet of crisps or nuts to wash it down with while Maia performed in front of him, as if settling down for the evening as the sole customer of some seedy club. One unsavoury insight Maia shared was that sometimes he demanded she go down on him before she danced. Then, later, after he had satisfied himself, Dixey would always take a shower before leaving – he liked his routine. That suited Nigel and Sabrina.

On the day, Nigel was in charge of setting up the audio-visual experience planned for Dixey – based somewhat on Flannery’s setup in the lighthouse – and obtaining several doses of ibogabeta in gel capsule form. They didn’t have the luxury of Graham’s tracker this time, having now completed his task, so it would be just the two of them waiting anxiously at the flat until he arrived.

Sabrina had prepared some hors d’oeuvres for the occasion – or whore d’oevres as she’d mischievously taken to calling them – which were to contain the capsules within the fillings. The idea was then to distract him for long enough, without submitting to any degrading foreplay or worse, before the drug kicked-in; they were then confident they could overpower him and perform the “treatment”.

Just like a week before, Nigel was buzzing with anxiety: repeatedly peeping through the curtains and continually reacting to false alarms as residents returned home from work. When he wasn’t doing that, he was pacing the room or making his umpteenth visit to the toilet. Sabrina, however, appeared calm.

The moment arrived. The doorbell rang. A jittery and wide-eyed Nigel disappeared into the bedroom. She opened the door and smiled at Dixey with ruby red lips. He was immediately wary, leaning round her to peer into the flat.

“Sorry; just little old me here.”

“Where’s Maia?” he demanded, sternly.

“It was a last minute thing; she had to work, though she told me to say she’ll be back again next week – and to apologise to you of course.”

Sabrina noticed Dixey’s eyes gave her body the once over, seeming to look right through her polka dot gown; she saw how he very subtly licked his lips in appreciation, though believing he wasn’t betraying his attraction to her.

“Did she leave anything for me?”

Sabrina continued to beam at him and appear welcoming. “Yes. She was very insistent I should give you her rent money. Why don’t you come inside; we don’t want to be discussing her business on the step, do we now?”

Dixey followed Sabrina down the hall, using the opportunity to admire her sensuous slink into the lounge.

With singular lack of charm, he began to interrogate her: “So who are you?”

Sabrina held out her hand. “Oh, I’m Honey... Honey Porter. I use to work with Maia; we’re great friends. Please, why don’t you sit down.”

Dixey barely touched her outstretched hand, but yielded to her invitation.

“So did she say anything else, apart from about the rent?”

Sabrina continued with her light and carefree approach. “Oh, I know what you mean. She told me how you like to watch her dance, and how you like a little drink,” she said, while turning in the direction of the cabinet at the other end of the room.

“And that was all, yeah?”

Sabrina gently took his arm and led him across. “Well she did say you had a bit of a thing going between you. Anyway, look, I’ve prepared a few snacks to have with your drink, before you have to go. She explained it all to me: your special whiskey done just the way you like it. See, I’ve already poured it out for you.”

Dixey continued to look uncomfortable with what was going on but lifted the glass to his lips.”

“Yeah, it’s OK I suppose.”

Sabrina stretched out an arm in the direction of her dainty appetizers. “And I thought as a special treat you could have a couple of these. Go on, try one.”

Dixey hesitated, turning his nose up slightly at the fancy pastries.

“Look, I’ll have one first, then you try one,” she said, carefully popping between her lips the one snack on the plate not to contain a capsule.

“Go on, then.”

“With these, they are so light you must swallow them straight away without chewing. Have a sip of your whiskey right after.”

Dixey slowly placed one of the “whore” d’oevres into his mouth and swallowed – followed by a slurp of Paddy and soda.

At that moment, Sabrina pressed the “play” button on the hi-fi and the distinctive Bollywood intro of Britney Spears’ Toxic filled the room. Sabrina took hold of Dixey’s arm once again and guided him towards the sofa while she removed her gown, letting it fall to the ground, to reveal her matching pink lingerie. Sabrina mimed along to the words of the song while he watched, captivated by her sexy, soubrettish moves. Dixey was hooked.

By the end of the second track, Sabrina could see that the initial surprise of her act was wearing off and that he was more than likely getting impatient for her to remove some clothing, as Maia would have done by this point. With no sign yet of the drug at work, she unclasped her bra, twirled it immoderately around her head and flung it into Dixey’s lap. Dixey took another slip of whiskey and openly ogled her naked breasts.

Coyness wasn’t really a word in Sabrina’s vocabulary; she enjoyed teasing men, but with this performance she was all too aware how vulnerable she was; no bouncers to protect her against this potentially over enthusiastic punter, only nervous Nigel hiding in the bedroom clutching a baseball bat – and she couldn’t be sure he’d know how to use it.

As The Sugababes gave way to Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy on the stereo, Sabrina felt she could hesitate no longer in discarding her final item of clothing; Dixey appeared restless.

With a theatrical flourish, she flung her pink panties towards him and prayed for inspiration. Her shot was a little mistimed, and instead of landing in his lap, to be reunited with her bra, they instead draped themselves over Dixey’s head. She was expecting him to quickly snatch them off and ardently point to the bedroom, just as she’d seen with Maia, but he didn’t; he simply sat there breathing heavily in and out as they comically covered his head. At this point, Sabrina suspected he might be enjoying it: a bit of a knicker-sniffer, she thought. She’d encountered many sexual foibles in the collective repertoire of her clients as the softcore dominatrix of her “dungeon”: rubber wearers; toe-suckers; food fetishists; erotic spanking; men who dress as babies, and including the odd sniffer, but usually, in her experience, they tended to prefer the panties to be rubbed into their face while they inhaled and expressed delight. But Dixey just breathed in and out; the light, lacy material billowing out as he exhaled, seemingly in no hurry to gaze at her naked body.

Gingerly, Sabrina approached him, believing she could distract Dixey along this avenue of ecstasy, instead of the weekly fate suffered by poor Maia, and potentially by her too if the evening took a wrong turn. She caressed his face through the silk, gently offering words of reassurance: “Mmm, is that nice? Do they smell good?”

“Fucking get off me!” was Dixey’s exasperated and slightly muffled reply, as he grabbed the unwelcome knickers from his head and flung them to the floor. “You mad bitch!”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I thought you –“

“My guts.“

“Are you all right?”

“Do I fucking look all right? Dixey had turned an unhealthy colour and was clutching his abdomen.

“Jock… Rab. Now!” shouted Sabrina at the top of her voice, eventually remembering the agreed Safe Word. This was his signal to burst out of the bedroom and to forcibly subdue Dixey if things were getting out of hand. Nigel had been waiting tensely for this moment, his ear to the door, but hadn’t been able to follow precisely what was going on because of the loud music pounding out. He gripped the baseball bat tightly and flung open the door. Nigel made an indecisive entrance, first of all noticing Dixey seemingly doubled-up in pain, then the briefest of glances at Sabrina’s unclothed body before averting his eyes. Dixey stared towards him with a grimace and a look of genuine surprise through his pain.

“What the fuck?”

Sabrina had brought along a spiked leather gimp mask for Nigel to wear as a disguise. It worked in as much that his features remained covered, but for someone attempting to project such an uncompromising and sinister stance he presented a somewhat diffident figure at the scene.

Nigel unzipped his mouth to speak.

“He disney look wal.”

Failing to cover her modesty, Sabrina turned to him and furrowing her brow at his mangled Glaswegian.

“What?”

Nigel repeated his summary of the situation with a toned down accent, while keeping his eyes resolutely on Dixey: “He-doesn’t-look-well.”

“Turn it off!” shouted Sabrina, pointing at the hi-fi.

Nigel complied. The room fell silent. But then Dixey started to moan, miming out a request for something to vomit into. In the following seconds of equivocation, their victim threw-up onto the carpet. After a couple more productive convulsions, Dixey spat the foul taste out of his mouth and looked in turn at Nigel and then to Sabrina with angry disgust.

“You’ve poisoned me... with that shit you made me eat.” he groaned accusingly, punctuated by another retch.

Sabrina picked up her gown and covered herself, then retrieved two pairs of handcuffs she’d hidden under the armchair cushion. Nigel lifted the baseball bat to a largely defenceless Dixey as Sabrina shackled him with the swift and proficient ease of her “evil” twin, Shona Mercy. With his hands behind his back, Dixey was thrown off balance and briefly nodded his head into his own sick. Nigel couldn’t help taking spiteful pleasure at his misfortune. Sabrina then proceeded to attach the second set of cuffs around Dixey’s ankles.

“Is he safe now?”

In response, Sabrina gave him a look which shouted just how superfluous the comment had been.

Now that the ibogabeta was clearly starting to take effect, Nigel decided it was time to reposition the TV in front of Dixey, ready for the audio-visual section of his “therapy”. However, Sabrina had a different idea on what was highest priority.

“That’ll keep for now... Rab. Go and get some kitchen roll and get the worst of that up – it smells disgusting in here.” Nigel did what he was told, returning with a basin of water and proceeded to scoop up Dixey’s mess with outstretched arms, head tilted away in revulsion. Their unwilling patient now appeared to be masking a sense of panic: his eyes like saucers. “Make sure he doesn’t swallow his tongue,” instructed Sabrina, curtly.

Nigel carefully opened Dixey’s mouth to check, half expecting to have one or more fingers bitten off in the attempt.

The convulsive stage now seemed to be over. He’d now ceased staring at them with pent-up venom and had stopped writhing; instead he was limp and inert, constrained but now hauled into a more comfortable seated position on the sofa. Dixey’s head rocked back and he seemed to be staring into the middle distance, his face devoid of expression. Fearing the worst, Sabrina checked his pulse.

“It’s a bit lower than normal... for a second I thought he’d...“

“He’ll be seeing the first of his visions by now; the lights and shapes,” observed Nigel, swivelling Dixey’s head towards the TV as Sabrina disappeared into the bedroom to get changed.

Nigel had bought a DVD off the internet which was supposed to closely simulate Bwiti iboga rituals; similar to the one he’d experienced in Flannery’s lighthouse. In order to enhance the experience for the initiate, it contained a succession of arresting images of burning torches, brightly coloured costumes and flashing coloured lights, in combination with hypnotic chanting and drumming. All of this was intended to feed Dixey’s hallucinations; to transport him back to childhood, to revisit in turn his manifold transgressions in life.

An hour into his trip and Dixey was struggling in his manacles, fighting some mysterious, invisible threat. Sabrina appeared concerned at his safety; if they hadn’t been so expensively manicured, she’d have been tempted to bite her nails.

Carefully out of earshot of their victim, Sabrina leant forward and whispered. “Nigel, look: he’s getting sores on his wrists. How long are you planning to put him through this?”

“As long as it takes: hours yet probably. With me it was the best part of a day before I came round again properly.”

“So you’re going to sit with him for that long?”

“Yeah, if I have to. Look, there’s no real reason why you should have to stay; why don’t you get off home?”

“How about when he’s conscious again, won’t you need some help?”

“No, you’re all right; I’ll be off myself before he’s properly round.”

“If you’re sure, then, I think I will get off; there’s a train that will get me back in time for the first show if I hurry.”

“What, you mean you’re going on stage... after all this?”

“Of course, luvvy; if you’re a true professional...” she said, breezily and with a wink.

“Look, Sabrina, I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done... I don’t know how-“

She approached Nigel, smiling, and then planted a sisterly kiss on his forehead.

“If you want to thank me, buy me dinner some time – and for goodness sake, try and keep in touch with mum, eh?” she beseeched, gently.

“You’re right. I will speak to her. I will.”

“Perhaps after tonight, once you’ve sorted this thing out with him,” she said, directing her attention at Dixey’s twitching form on the sofa, “you can get on with your new life up there?”

“I fully intend to, Sabrina. And it would be great if you could visit one day.”

“And do a little performance? Do you think the people on this island of yours would up for a little titillation? Look, I’d better go if I’m going to catch this train.”

As the clock unwound past midnight, Nigel wondered if Dixey was now suffering the throes of self-loathing and remorse like he had done with Flannery. Several times he had attempted to ask Dixey what he could see; what he was feeling, but he was either refusing to answer or, Nigel hoped, was locked inside his own internal movie theatre, watching reel after reel of his misdeeds in life unfold before his tortured psyche.

At that moment, Nigel realised he was taking an unhealthy pleasure in Dixey’s imagined suffering. Hadn’t he learned that his anger and desire for revenge didn’t achieve anything, and would reflect back on him? For the first time, Nigel felt pity for his ex-tormentor and unlocked the handcuffs attached to Dixey’s wrists. There seemed to be no outward sign of relief, his hands just flopped beside him. Next he offered him water. Dixey opened his mouth, with eyes moving rapidly beneath his closed eyelids, and took several gulps before returning to his inner visions.

Unlike his own experience at the lighthouse, Dixey seemed to be maintaining a determined struggle, as if resisting with every muscle and neuron against the drug and its message. His exaggerated shudders and spasms reminded him of footage he’d seen on TV of possessed Pentecostalists casting out Lucifer and ridding themsleves of demons before a church full of enthusiastic worshippers.

While sweating inside the gimp mask, forcing his fingers underneath the taut, tight leather to scratch yet another itch, Nigel began to ask himself if Dixey was managing to hold the disturbing images at bay; that his own force of will, of raging, self-serving egoism was somehow triumphing in a perverse parody of leukocytes banishing disease from a fevered body.

It was unsettling for Nigel to imagine that this whole exercise might have been a waste of time and effort. But surely, he thought, Dixey wasn’t bigger than such a powerful encounter; blindingly narcissistic enough to resist the hard-won enlightenment which had so profoundly modified his own direction in life?

The small hours passed and Nigel heard the latest of numerous taxis drop off returning revellers and tried to convince himself that Dixey might at least emerge from all this with the merest flicker of conscience at his own behaviour; that he might just feel the tiniest amount of pain and distress that he inflicted on others and moderate his greed. But with Dixey beginning to show signs that he was surfacing again from whatever adventure he’d endured, Nigel knew he was perhaps never to know the answer – it was time to get out of there.

As he began to peel off the mask, he stopped, noticing Dixey’s keys had fallen out of his pocket and onto the seat cushion next to him. On impulse, he picked them up. He knew it was wrong, but it would be his final satisfaction against Dixey. Nigel slipped out of the flat and blipped open the Range Rover’s locks. He quickly familiarized himself with the controls before selecting “Drive”. With a sweep of the wipers removing the morning dew from the windscreen, he swiftly exited the car park.

So this was how Dixey saw the world, he mused, as he wafted himself at a commanding height through the empty streets. Should he drive back to Oxford, perhaps risking being stopped by the police, he worried, or should he just dump the thing? Mindful of CCTV cameras identifying him, he chose a discreet location within easy walking distance of the station before abandoning the vehicle, remembering to wipe off any fingerprints. He left the driver’s door wide open and the keys in the ignition.

Nigel felt distinctly happy and unusually carefree as he strode into the drizzly darkness.

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