Chapter 61: En Garde… Engage!
We three were eating an early dinner al fresco on the back patio when we heard the crunching of coarse road gravel approaching the house, followed by the higher-pitched shissh of parting pea gravel in the parking area.
I got quickly up from the table and jogged around the side of the house to greet my client, emerging from the juniper maze just before the man shifted his car into Park and cut the engine’s purr. I greeted the man and led him around the side of the house.
We were all dressed, for a change.
Naturally, I had on the magewear needed for my therapy session with this new Martin guy.
My Davie was still in his work clothes: cargo pants, a polo, and suede shoes, which counted as dressed-up, for him. He’d been called in early this morning for an emergency site visit to rescue an office LAN crawling with crypto-malware, whatever that meant. Sounded scary, anyway.
Chanel wore skinny jeans and a white form-fitting loose-knit top that only managed to concealed half the skin on her torso; maybe less. She wore a bright red bra beneath it, not hidden at all.
Those two stopped eating when they saw the man I’d brought with me. Not only was he a stranger, his three-piece suit, polished patent leather shoes, and briefcase were unusual for the area, especially for the season. This was clearly someone who worked in an air-conditioned office all day.
Davie swallowed his last bite and stood to greet our newest client. “You’re Martin?”
“I am,” the man confirmed, extending a hand as my Davie stepped down from the deck onto the patio, taking the man’s proffered grip.
He glanced past Davie to Chanel, still sitting at the patio table, fork in hand, adding, “I guess I shouldn’t have shown up so early. I just got off work, but I can go sit in the car and do a few things while you three finish your meal.”
“No need,” I told him. “We were almost done anyway. Sure I can’t talk you into a four-handed massage?”
Our shishya put in, “Not to be missed, if I may say so.”
“I…ah…think I’ll stick with just the one, thanks.”
Davie said, “Well, Chanel, let’s get this stuff inside and let them be about it.”
“I’ve never had a massage, Kaitlyn,” the man admitted to me once they’d left us alone together. “Not professionally, I mean,” he clarified.
“It’s just as well,” I informed him; “we do things a bit differently here. I’m going to guess by that suit that you didn’t shower before you came over.”
“No,” he replied, looking a bit embarrassed.
“Perfectly fine. There’s an outdoor shower and fresh towels in the patio cabinet behind that dressing screen there,” I said, pointing. “You’re welcome to use the drawers to keep your things in; they’ll keep the shower’s overspray off. When you’re ready, come out undressed to your level of comfort. We’re private out here, so don’t worry about anyone seeing you on the open sides. If you wish to be draped, bring a towel; I’ll take my draping cues from how you wear it. I have several things to get ready, so take your time.”
The man looked embarrassed, saying, “I apologize if my early arrival inconvenienced you.”
I shrugged and said, “It’s fine.”
“Are you sure no one’s going to see me, ah, showering?”
“This is a safe space, sir. There’s no one out there looking.”
I spoke with rock-solid conviction borne of having already stretched my senses out into the land to check for peepers, finding no startle responses in the nearby animals. I wasn’t as effective at it as while nude, but with my bare legs on the sand like that, reaching down through the good earth to bypass the back yard’s techie interferences before returning to the all-natural landscape surrounding the house, I was confident out to maybe a quarter mile, plenty good enough for this evening’s purposes.
I did all this before he brought the matter up. I check for peepers routinely now, ever since that house-painting episode with Jasper, because the good officer’s right: we were gathering a reputation, one that would eventually attract skeevy types.
Thinking momentarily of The Goat, I reflected darkly that we already had!
‘Lock that down, Kate-girl!’ I scolded myself. ‘You’ve got a client and a task!’
Unaware of my internal debate, Martin turned uncertainly to face the landscape, doubtless imagining eyes everywhere, but he scooted off behind the screen without another word.
By the time the shower shut off, I had the massage oil heating on the sand, a pulse of magic having gotten it up to temp, my dad’s gift of the brazed-together magnifying glass rig arranged to keep it warm.
My client brought his clothes with him in a bundle, held protectively to his chest by one arm, one of our oversized bath towels wrapped around his waist. In his other hand, he held the black briefcase he brought from the car, an old-fashioned soft-sided sort with a leather flap on top, rather than the more common attaché style.
I almost busted out laughing at this image, but held onto it, only thinking to myself, ‘Another shy one!’
The man was looking around, lifting his briefcase, so I said, “You can put that down anywhere.”
The man set it atop a low side table we kept near the garden, laying the clothes pile beside it.
In a neutral tone, I said, “Skin-on-sand massage is a house specialty, but it requires going without your underwear. Should I lay a towel out on the sand instead?”
We’d come up with that roundabout way of asking if the client was wearing underwear under the towel, finding that for some strange reason, asking directly caused some clients to get stroppy.
He replied simply, “Best do.”
I picked up the towel I’d fetched for this eventuality and spread it over the massage area to prevent sand from getting trapped in his underwear waistband, then said, “If you will please lay down here, we can begin.”
He almost lost the towel as he folded himself gingerly down to the ground, just managing to grab the rolled hem before it popped off, giving me a peek of a plaid underwear waistband, confirming my guess too late to have the towel laid out in advance.
I held out a hand to help him down, but he just said, “Thank you, Mrs. Bhat, I’ve got it.”
His knowledge of Davie’s surname sent up a red flag, but I calmly corrected him, “I still go by Gutierrez, but to clients, I am just Kaitlyn.”
“Ah, excuse me, my mistake,” he apologized as he lay face-down on the spread towel, the sand baking him slowly through its minor insulation.
I tented the upper towel around his body, reconfirming the presence of boxers beneath, and began work on his middle-aged body.
I found and fixed the usual assortment of desk-job ails from my recently expanded power reserve: lower back pain from sitting most of the day, bunions from the rigid narrow-toed shoes he favored, and stomach ulcers from the acidic coffee he drank all day. It was hard work to heal all this with the towels and my own magewear in the way, but I was honor-bound to drain myself dry, if that’s what it took.
It was harder to use magic on him than it should be, and I didn’t think all the fabric nearby fully accounted for it. I started looking around for techie artifacts laying about where they oughtn’t be, thinking maybe Davie or Chanel had left a smartphone out here or something, but the closest candidate I found was the solar power system’s pump/generator combo, yards away, placed there for the very purpose of not interfering with our massage therapy practice. Same with the lower water tank immediately beneath us, its depth not purely a matter of getting it below the frost line.
Then I heard a buzz from the clothing pile; my client’s smartphone, I inferred.
Still, it wasn’t all that close to me at the moment. Weird.
I just kept on the far side of his body from the patio table where his things were piled and worked through the interference. Davie was right: practice was making me better at coping.
The man came to us reasonably healthy, all things considered, so I had Martin fully healed before it was time to turn him over.
…Healthy enough that he now sported a length of fresh-grown maple hardwood.
He spoke, “Could you, ah, um, take care of that for me?” gesturing at the front of his boxers, glancing between me and then away, back towards his clothes pile.
I replied, “Sorry, we can’t. Only healing thru therapeutic massage is provided here, sir.”
“I’ll double your fee,” he offered. “Please?”
Damn I hated being propositioned! If it wasn’t for the higher mission, I might give this up, but I mastered my emotions and stayed silent.
Only I must not have done a very good job of schooling my face to stillness, because he got a bit of a frightened look on his face, then raised his hands protectively beside his head as if he might need to shield his face. “Sorry, sorry, just asking!”
Without meaning it, only trying to be diplomatic, I said, “It’s fine.”
Apparently this man did not understand what a woman means when she says, “It’s fine,” which translates into man-speak as, “Either apologize profusely, right immediately now, or hold onto your nuts!”
He confirmed my surmise with his next words: “I know about your house guest. Chanel has a certain…reputation, let us say? She could take care of me. For an additional fee, of course!”
‘Great!’ I said to myself. ‘First I’m a trollop, now I’m a brothel-keeper?’
Trying to keep my tone civil, I replied aloud, “I don’t think so.”
The man persisted, “Call her out here. I’m certain her affections are negotiable.”
“Sir,” I began in a tone as cold as frozen methane, “one more such implication from you and I will kick you off of my land, clear back to the roadside! And don’t you dare assume I mean that figuratively.”
The man’s eyes squinted, and he rolled off the ground towel into a squat, keeping his eyes on me the whole time as he backed toward his briefcase, fist clutching the flaccid towel over his stiffy, his boxers clearly deemed insufficient cover.
Without looking away from my face, which felt flushed and must look rather frightening given his reaction, he reached blindly into the briefcase with his free hand.
That encounter with the police lieutenant must’ve scarred me good, because I tensed, instantly wondering if he would now present a weapon.
…But I held fast, didn’t run, only relaxing once his hand emerged holding but a single sheet of paper.
He glanced down at it quickly to be sure he’d grabbed the right one, then handed it to me without a word.
I took it, but I held my gaze on his until he glanced down at the paper, clearly wanting me to read it.
I scanned the form that shouted “government bureaucracy” at me, realizing that it was a police arrest record. Up at the top, I read, “BRANTLEY, CHANEL AMY,” in 10-point Courier New amidst the 4-point Arial box labels. Below that, in the box marked “Charges,” it read, “SEXUAL SOLICITATION.”