S-t-r-e-t-c-h

Claire had phrased the ad so simply and concisely that any man with an ounce of sense should have been able to understand it. 'Stretched limo driver' was what it asked for. Just the three words, four syllables, nothing more. Still the applicant would insist on reading so much into it, though, see so many possibilities. Was it the limo which was stretched, for example, or would it be the driver? It would be the first, quite obviously, though he thought the second would be an amusing alternative, and when he asked for some clarification she gave him a weak smile. What a clever question it was, she pretended, her icy stare challenging his clever lob-sided grin.

 

Quite a charming grin he had, but still a little too smug. Patiently she asked him if he wanted the job, he agreed that he did and she said it was his, so concluding the briefest of interviews. She told him he could start that evening, scribbled down an address and handed it to him. He was to pick up the limo there. Six-thirty sharp.

 

Once he had left Claire wrote down some observations for her partner, noting that the successful applicant was young and well-presented, pleasant to the eye and affable in manner, that he had the requisite clean driving license and some modicum of intelligence. Then she added a postscript, wondering if intelligence might also mean curiosity and cautioning her partner to watch out for any signs of this.

#

The drive of the house was long enough to accommodate a small fleet of stretch limousines, though only one was parked there, wide enough that the vehicle could easily have negotiated a three-point turn in it, and the taxi which dropped Lenny off seemed lost in the expanse of carefully raked gravel, a tiny speck of a beetle against the sleek black limousine.

 

“Some place,” said the taxi driver who had brought him, admiring the sprawling house as he took Lenny's money, then frowning at the meager tip he received, as if he thought the address entitled him to more.

 

“Hey pal, I'm just here to work, not take up residence in the fucking place!” Lenny told him, walking from the taxi to the house's imposing facade.

 

And what an intimidating facade it was, the length of a whole terrace of houses, large double doors approached by three shallow steps, coach lamps illuminating the porch, so many windows that they made a mosaic of lights in the evening gloom. For a moment he wondered if he would have the courage to actually knock at this house and demand entrance, his step a little hesitant as he approached. Thankfully he was spared this test of his resolve, though, for as he approached the doors they swung open.

 

“You'll be the driver?” supposed the woman who stepped out, and even as he nodded she was giving him curt instructions. “Right, here are your addresses and directions,” she told him, handing him a clipboard. “Other instructions might be passed over the intercom and there will be no need, absolutely no need, for you to get out from behind the wheel. Understood?”

 

Lenny understood, though in truth little of what the woman said had sunk in, so distracted had he been by her manner and her presence.

 

In her heels she was his match in height, a fraction of an inch over six foot, wore a dark pinstripe suit, crisply cut jacket and tight skirt just reaching the knee; black hair drawn severely back from the face, steel-rimmed spectacles and the leather briefcase she carried gave her the air of a professional woman. But what manner of profession could have a woman -a young woman, not yet in her thirties- living in such a house and traveling in such a vehicle? Lenny had little time to ponder the question, though, her brusque manner would permit him no time to dawdle, and realizing that she was to be his passenger, seeing her move to the rear of the limousine, he hurried to beat her to the door.

 

She waved him away. “That won't be necessary,” she told him, ducking into the vehicle, flashing silky slim thighs and elegantly tapered heels as she drew her legs in after her. “You drive, you don't open the door.”

 

Fair enough, thought Lenny, and got behind the wheel, turned on the ignition and slipped the car into gear.

 

The first address on his schedule was some ten miles away, on the other side of the city, a suburb as prosperous as the one where he had collected the limo. So who would he be picking up? A boisterous hen-party, he wondered? Some rich man's daughter celebrating her eighteenth birthday with the daughters of other rich men? Apparently not, for as he pulled up outside the house he saw just one man come hurrying down the drive to the car, in the wing mirror saw the passenger door swing open to admit him.

 

To be taken where?

 

Lenny checked his schedule again and was surprised to see that the man was to be taken nowhere, that the limousine was to remain there, parked outside the man's house for the next sixty minutes. Shrugging, he sat back in his seat, fingers drumming on the steering wheel as he counted down the minutes on his watch. There was no radio set into the dashboard -though there would no doubt be a sound system and other entertainments in the main body of the vehicle- the glove compartment was empty and also the side pockets in the doors, nothing at all to distract him, not even a workshop manual. He wished he had brought along a newspaper, a book, but all he could do was wait and wonder, imagine what his two passengers might be doing. There were no sounds from beyond the black glass which separated them from him, just the occasional rocking of the car on its suspension, but that was only slight, as if heavy traffic had passed.

 

What traffic, though? The neighborhood was quiet, the lane deserted. His passengers were shifting in their seats, then, making themselves comfortable; the vehicle was a limousine after all and its suspension would be the best, sensitive to any movement.

 

Making themselves comfortable for what? This was Lenny's next thought, his mind curiously mulling over the possibilities, fighting the boredom. He recalled the briefcase the woman had carried. They were discussing business then? But why not in the man's house rather than the car?

 

A sudden more vigorous lurch of the vehicle on its springs snapped him out of his reverie and he chuckled softly to himself. Of course! The dirty fuckers were having it off back there! His employer had scheduled some sordid assignation before the business of the evening began for real!

 

Lenny checked his watch. Two minutes shy of eight o´clock. Now he counted down the seconds rather than the minutes, right on schedule heard the passenger door open and shut and turned to see the man returning to his house, moving less eagerly than he had exited, back bent as if weary of life itself.

 

Either the young woman was a good fuck or the man was past his prime.

 

"Right, next stop," the woman's voice crackled over the intercom, and Lenny moved the vehicle slowly forward.

 

The next address was in the center of the city, there were some narrow streets and awkward turns to negotiate, but he made the rendezvous more or less on schedule. This time his passengers were a man and a woman, there was nowhere to park outside their home, and so he followed the route as described on the clipboard beside him, out of the city and around it, check-points listed and carefully timed.

 

Some job this was! Where were the hen parties he had imagined? The puking teenagers, the pissed up sluts, the horny old hags celebrating someone's entry into middle age?

 

Returning the couple to their apartment an hour later, he noted that they left the vehicle even less quickly than his first passenger, the woman with head bowed as if with guilt, the man looking back with something like reluctance or regret.

 

And on it went. In the five hours up to midnight he had carried maybe a dozen people, all in groups of one or two or three, when the vehicle could have accommodated maybe twice that number at any one time.

 

One or two or three... and his employer.

 

What was the woman up to?

#

Penny's cell phone vibrated, a couple of minutes past the hour, as they traveled from one appointment to the next, and she flipped it open to receive the call.

 

“Hi Penny! How goes it?”

 

“Fine, just fine,” she answered.

 

“No problems?”

“The new couple were a little nervous, I think the husband was rather less keen than the wife, but apart from that everything's been okay.”

 

“I was thinking more about the new driver than the clients. No problems with him?”

 

“The driver?” Penny glanced at the dark partition which separated him from her. “No, no problems there. He seems quite competent, he´s keeping more or less to schedule and he hasn't hit anything.”

 

“And he's behaving himself? Doing as he's told? No awkward questions or signs of curiosity?”

 

“Discreetly dumb so far,” Penny answered. “And if there should be any curiosity, well, you know how we deal with that.”

 

There was a wicked peal of laughter down the phone before the call finished with, “Bye then, see you later.”

 

Evil cow, Penny smiled to herself. She wants the man to be curious.

#

The last call on Lenny's schedule was at a country club some miles out of the city, a place he knew of but not one he could afford to frequent. He was to arrive there at midnight, or as close as possible, and remain there until one, after which he was finished for the evening. He was instructed to drop his employer at the door, then park, the voice over the intercom harsh and grating again, and as he brought the vehicle to a halt his single passenger stepped out, ran lightly up the steps and into the club.

 

No briefcase now, Lenny noticed, as he set the limousine in motion once more to turn it in a broad arc, moving it to the furthest corner of the spacious car park, as far as possible from the bright lights of the clubhouse. He switched off the engine, stretched, but still felt too cramped by the confines of the vehicle. Needing fresh air after five hours behind the wheel, thinking to have a cigarette now that he had made his last call of the night, he got out and lit up, inhaling deeply. The evening air was crisp, the cigarette smoke rough, almost sulfurous, as it filled his lungs.

 

He walked around the limousine, stroked its smooth flanks and polished sides as he sometimes stroked a woman, then rested against it as he finished his cigarette. The windows of the vehicle weren't just smoked, but as black as tar, though he bent down and cupped his hands around his eyes it was impossible to see inside. Wondering what it was like in there, curious as to what the icy bitch he had been ferrying around carried in that briefcase of hers, he dropped his cigarette to the floor and ground it out with his foot. Yawning and stretching, he made another circuit of the vehicle, moving with a feigned lack of interest as he glanced across to the clubhouse. All was quiet, no sign of activity from within.

 

A chance to take a peep, then? A taste of stretch limo luxury?

 

He bent to open the passenger door, peered into the limo's dim interior, and saw a bank of dark leather upholstery to the rear. But way way back to the rear, a ridiculous distance away. It was surely some trick of the light, or the lack of it. The densely tinted windows, the interior of the vehicle so dark that he might have imagined a pitch black sky above his head waiting to be flecked by stars, these were distorting his sense of perspective. As he fought to bring the scene into more comfortable focus, eyes straining in the darkness, that same darkness spoke to him, sang in his ears, a plaintive sound like a lament, and he saw shadows shifting within it, a restless procession passing back and forth, advancing from the murk and receding back into it. He reached out, to steady himself against the vertigo which threatened, and for a moment it seemed that he reached forever, his arm extending with a strange elasticity, a feeble fist on the end of a wasted limb disappearing into the distance.

 

He snatched his hand back, saw it return slowly to the limb he was familiar with, one of more human proportions, fumbled around in the dark. His eye caught a glint of metal, his fingers brushed something cold and unyielding, ran along some contraption of steel and leather. In his mind he constructed an image of it, stirrups where feet might be placed, grips where hands might find purchase, a pillow of black leather where a head might rest and enough chains and straps that for all the seeming rigidity of the polished frame it was obviously also a thing which had flexibility.

 

“An exercise machine?” he laughed. “She's got a portable fucking gym in her limo?”

 

“No, dimwit, not an exercise machine!” he heard, and he was suddenly tumbling forward, drawn by the void before him, overcome by the dizziness it caused him, helped on by a firm push in the back which sent him sprawling into the darkness. He tried to rise, to roll over, but a foot came down hard in the small of his back, keeping him pinned, and all he could do was twist his head, peer back over his shoulder to see the two figures standing above him.

 

Standing? Inside a limo?

 

“We just knew you'd be the curious type who wouldn't be able to resist a peek,” said the one he had been driving around all evening. “You remember my colleague and partner, Claire? She interviewed you for the job?"

 

“Pleased to make your acquaintance again Lenny,” said Claire mockingly as she grinned down at him. She too was dressed as if for business, as professionally as she had been for his interview, her tailored jacket hugging her waist, white silk blouse open at the neck to show a single strand of pearls, her skirt just short enough to suggest a discreet manner, looking like a company director with her briefcase on the floor at her feet.

 

But older than he remembered. Older, or ageless. As shadows flitted about her she swatted them aside with a lazy gesture, sending them swirling about her face like smoke caught in a breeze, some seeming to cling to her, as if wanting to join with her and become a part of her.

 

“So how do we respond to curiosity, Penny?” she wondered.

 

"Perhaps by satisfying our nosy driver's curiosity?”

 

“You think?”

 

“Yes. Let's. It might be fun.”

 

Lenny felt the car sink on its springs as Penny knelt beside him, shuffling forward, and then the two women were manhandling him, flipping him over onto his back, raising his arms above his head and stretching them out. “Don't struggle, you'll only hurt yourself,” she told him, winding leather straps around his wrists and buckling them tight.

 

“You should be grateful to us, our clients pay a lot for this service,” Claire added, leaning forward to fasten more straps around his ankles, tugging on them to ensure that they were secure enough. “Have been doing so all night, you might have noticed. And their wives sometimes.”

 

“Adds a whole new meaning to the idea of a stretch limo, doesn't it?” chuckled Penny, as the two women, satisfied that their victim was securely fastened, sat one to either side of him.

 

“Comfy? But not for long, I'm afraid,” said Claire, and his head lifted a moment, trying to see what she was doing as her hand slipped out of sight. Then he heard the clatter of cogs and ratchets turning, causing the straps gripping his wrists to tighten and contract, pulling his arms out further, then those on his ankles tugging his feet in the other direction. A final quarter turn to the device and he was stretched to the limit, the muscles in his arms and thighs straining, his chest filling, his belly tightening. “See? Not an exercise machine, more like a rack.”

 

“Should we take him home now?” asked Penny.

 

“What about the paperwork?” said Claire, with a glance to the briefcase by her side.

 

“We can sort that out later. Flip you for who drives. Heads or tails?”

 

“Heads.”

 

“Tails.”

 

“Damn!”

 

“You drive.”

 

They maneuvered themselves around inside the car, Penny moving to the front of the vehicle, to the bench seat which backed onto the driver's compartment, Claire opening the passenger door on her side to swing her legs out.

Then she popped her head back inside. “The blindfold, do you think?”

 

“Good idea, it's so disorientating for them when the car is moving,” Penny agreed, opening her briefcase and rummaging inside. “Head up, dear,” she told him.

 

Soft fabric was draped across his face and he tossed his head, trying to shake it free, but she clenched her fingers in his hair and tugged, lifting his head just high enough to knot the blindfold. Darkness fell, then, as he heard doors open and close, the ignition turn and the engine fire, the limousine begin to move slowly forward. The vehicle turning in a broad arc, his head also turned, as if he needed to follow its movements. A shallow dip down to the main road caused his stomach to lurch, a quick left turn followed by a sharp right made his head spin, and but for the hiss of the tires his world was as silent as it was dark.

 

“Are you still there? Why are you doing this? Speak to me!”

There were moments more of silence, the nauseating movement of the car, and then the voice, sounding remote, dispassionately describing how his arms would ache, his thighs, but that initial pain he felt slowly became a numbness, as though there was no longer anything of substance to harbor that pain. Sight denied him, the dizzying darkness of before was reconstructed, he sensed the shadows shifting all around him, brushing against him, plucking at his clothes like drunken beggars. And then at his flesh. Their touch was a soft irritation, as if of dust falling on his face. And like the shadows it seemed that he, too, became a shadow of a man, as if his body was peeled of the skin, the flesh, bared to the bone.

 

“Tell me Lenny, what do you really hope for in life? What do you want out of it? Are you happy just to be a lowly driver, ferrying around better people than you, people like my partner and I?”

 

No, in truth he wasn´t, but before he could speak out there were other voices answering, as faint as the shadows, as distant as dreams.

 

“I wanted money...success... the money that success brings and beautiful women on my arm...I wanted my bitch of a wife to be as subservient as a wife should be.”

 

“Dreams, Lenny, everybody has them," said Penny, smiling to hear the chorus of voices filling the darkness. "The question is what you would give to have them fulfilled. Our clients, they offer everything and they receive all that they wished for. The shadows that you see, they have left behind as collateral if you like, a down payment on their desires.”

 

But it seemed that what they had wished for, this milling throng of dissatisfied souls, all they had been granted, had not satisfied them, for Lenny heard their lament grow even as he was giving voice to his own dreams, his own desires, his own ambitions.

#

The limousine had come to a halt, a dark blot on the gravelled driveway, gleaming in the moonlight. Claire stepped out from behind the wheel, opened the passenger door to find Penny smiling behind closed eyes, her cheeks flushed, as sated as a gourmand who has dined well. Next to her lay Lenny, his shadow a step away for the moment but slowly receding, joining the others who milled about aimlessly, lost creatures lacking purpose.

 

"You impatient cow! You couldn't wait?"

 

“Sorry, the luck of the toss,” Penny said, as weak mewling sounds escaped from the figure beside her.

“You really went to town on him, didn't you? Really gorged yourself this time? I guess that all that´s left for me is the paperwork?”

 

“If you´d be so kind.”

 

“Here we go then, Lenny, the gist of our agreement,” said Claire, rummaging in her briefcase, taking out a contract which crackled with age as she unfolded it. "You do promise that, when you be fully sated of that which you desire, we may order, ordain, reign, rule and possess all that may be yours, body and property, flesh and blood, herewith duly bound over in eternity and surrendered by covenant in your own hand by the authority and power of those present -namely Penny and I- as well as of your mind, brain, intent, blood and will. In doing so you do now defy all living beings, all the Heavenly Host and all mankind, and this must be.”

And though his limbs were bound, so securely that any attempt at movement was torment, he was aware of his fingers stretching out for the pen she offered, its polished nib like a blade dripping red ink thick as clotted blood.

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