Slowly, I began climbing the stairs, and - as I did - I considered the severity of what I was about to do.
On the one hand, I knew full well that this was behavior unbecoming of a professional landlady. I was completely aware that if I did enter his room, I was violating his privacy, potentially inflicting immeasurable damage on my professional reputation.
However, having sacrificed the greater part of my adult life in keeping this house operational, I was not going to have its standing ruined forever because I let a criminal, or the like, stay under its roof. I am not implying he was a murderer, more that the number of 'red flags' he waved made my actions necessary.
The sheer range of suspicions he evoked necessitated further investigation. Honestly - I really had no choice.
With heavy legs, I continued to climb.
For a start, there was his appearance.
Simply put, it was too impeccable. Straightaway, that had been a 'red flag' for me.
He'd wanted me to call him 'Adam.' Normally, I didn't entertain such informality. It was surnames here, and nothing else. However, given that it was the middle of winter, and potential guests were scarce, I was willing to pander to this customer. Just this once.
And he claimed to be a 'a salesman.' But he looked like no salesman I had ever seen.
I am not an expert, but the succession of dark grey suits he wore looked tailored - they fitted his slim body snugly, and were a far cry from the baggy, polyester monstrosities my usual guests wore. My clientele was, ordinarily, travelling salesmen, just as the new lodger claimed to be, so I knew their ‘type.’
However, even the most cursory of glances at his attire told me he was different from the burnt-out, lonely, badly-dressed bachelors who usually stayed at my guest-house.
If I had any interest in such things, I would've described him as good-looking, handsome even. There was a touch of the old-school, Hollywood matinee idol about him. With his short, dark, brylcreemed-hair, there was a of trace of Cary Grant about him. He exuded an air of class, of sophistication.
In short, he was most definitely not what he claimed to be.
Having reached the top of the first flight, I marched down the short-corridor on the first floor, and then turned right. I began ascending the house's second stair-case.
Then there were the hours he kept: When I said he could come and go as he pleased, I wasn't expecting him to take me at my word literally. There was no pattern. I could easily imagine him seeing clients in the daytime, during normal office hours, but he'd leave, and return, at incredibly unsociable ones.
Another 'red flag.'
I would hear him speaking on his mobile phones at all hours. The conversations were always indistinct, but I could tell they certainly didn't relate to any goods he was (supposedly) trying to peddle. Anyway, after one of these calls, he'd depart my house, returning a few hours later.
The first time he did so, I was in the hallway filling a small crack in the wall by the entrance to the kitchen, and was able to notice the alteration in his appearance. Although, at first glance, still to a very high-standard, I noticed that it was no longer perfection.
It is a strength of mine, those powers of observation: Mother said I always noticed more than I should.
His hair was ruffled, and his cheeks were pink. I wouldn't go as far as claiming he'd just run a marathon, but some degree of physical exertion had certainly taken place.
His tie was slightly askew, and the knot had fallen; the top button of his white shirt was clearly visible. However, it was a blustery day on the South Coast; his slight dishevelment could have been due to battling the elements on his return journey back to my home. So, that first time, I decided to think nothing of it.
We had exchanged a polite, yet impersonal greeting, and he had then returned to his room.
However, a few hours later, he had again descended from the third floor: He had fixed the flaws in his attire, and hair, and now resembled the same person who'd arrived the night before. I'd been able to observe this as I'd been busy trying to fix the handle on the living room door.
He returned two hours later, in the same, marginally scruffy state as he had done so earlier that afternoon. Again, his cheeks were colored. He went to his room, and emerged, one hour later, spic and span once more, and - then - again he left.
The pattern had now been repeated a total of twelve times. He'd leave for short periods, at random hours, then return, slightly bedraggled, and as if he'd been exercising. He'd go to his room, fix his appearance, and then - at some point - depart once more.
Every time, that tatty luggage left with him.
And that was another 'red flag.'
The salesmen who normally stayed with me usually brought all manner of things with them. Huge, sturdy plastic crates, over-flowing with samples of whatever it was they were trying to foist upon the businesses of Brighton.
His one solitary case was a clear giveaway he wasn't what he claimed to be.
As was the very suitcase itself.
Whilst he was well-groomed to the point of near perfection, his brown-leather case was old, battered. An antique. First appearances matter, especially in business. I couldn't imagine he'd arrive at an important meeting carrying that antique, and expect people to take him seriously.
Oh, no: This stranger was no more a salesman than I was Miss World.
Given all of that, of course I had to search his room. I really had no other option.
This morning, as usual, he was waiting for me in the dining room at six o'clock. Also as usual, he had a small plate of scrambled eggs, and three cups of coffee. We'd exchanged the customary pleasantries, and I tried my hardest to not to let on that anything was untoward.
Overall, breakfast passed without incident, and I don't believe he was aware of anything out of the ordinary.
There were no shortage of jobs that needed to be done. However, I began none of them. I just ensconced myself in the living room, waiting for him to depart. But my wait was not a pleasant one. What seemed like a logical idea the night before, appeared slightly ridiculous now: Sneaking into a guest's room?
Perhaps the years of trying to maintain my patent’s house had simply caught up with me, overwhelmed me. Maybe it was simply exhaustion playing tricks on my mind, encouraging me to consider doing something that was as about as far out of the ordinary for me as it could have been.
My body was awash with doubts, and nervous energy, and I found myself unable to sit still. I paced the small room like a caged animal.
At one point, I caught my reflection in the mottled mirror that hung over the fire-place. All I was saw was a lonely, graying, middle-aged woman who was about to betray a paying customer's trust. I looked haggard as well.
Perhaps I'd just never had the chance recently, maybe I'd just been too busy with all the tasks that had to be done to keep my house open, but I hadn't realized how thin I'd become. My cheeks were pinched; I'd lost weight. I looked, and felt, like a cadaver...
I had heard his door close, high above me. Moments later, the house had echoed with the sound of his footsteps on the stairs. The carpet covering was threadbare, worn. Even if you descended on tiptoes, the noise would still ricochet around the house.
I pretended to tidy Mother's china, animal figurines which lived - as they always had - one the ledge of the fireplace.
"Oh, hello," Adam had said, from the open doorway. "I'm just nipping out. Can I get you anything?"
"That's very kind," I said, busying myself with Mother's ornaments. "But I do not require anything."
"No problems," he said, jovially.
I looked up, and stared into the mirror above the mantle. I could see him, looking at my reflection. He'd stood there, motionless, and - for a moment - the friendliness had dropped from his face. In its place, there was an air of inquisitiveness, as if he was studying me.
But, as quickly as it had appeared, the look vanished. He smiled again.
"I will see you later, Miss. Lucasford."
He disappeared from the doorway, and, seconds later, I heard the front-door close.
I went to the window, and, peering through the net curtains, watched him turn right at the bottom of the drive, and head off, towards the City Center. ..
And, now, I was just one flight of stairs away from his room.
Slowly, I turned for a final time, and began climbing the last staircase.
Part of me regretted having to put him up in the rafters, but it had been inevitable. The winter months offered me the chance to fix up the rooms; as yet, the only one I'd completed was Room Six - where he resided.
As I ascended, I recalled the conversation we'd had the night he'd first arrived.
"It's a beautiful, old house, Miss. Lucasford," he'd said, as we climbed the staircase.
"It is unquestionably old," I had replied.
I wasn't convinced about the beautiful. I'm not sure it had ever been that.
Maybe it had before I was born. Perhaps my parents had been able to maintain it far better than I had. Back when they'd actually had money. Unfortunately, my arrival had heralded a down-turn in the family fortunes. Ill-health, failed business ventures...
In the twenty years following my birth, my parents had endured it all. When they were finally, mercifully, laid to rest, all we had to show for it was this house.
I would have gladly sold it. Except, given that my father had failed to make the mortgage repayments on several occasions, and also the state of disrepair he'd let it fall into, it was now in a position of negative equity. All I could do was patch up the old thing, hiding the worst from the guests.
And that's what I now spent my days doing; trying to maintain the prison I was now trapped in. My job as an accountant was a distant memory; trying to balance that career, and this house had been too much. In the end, my job went, so I could focus fully on trying to salvage this Hell-hole.
Another two years, that's all I had to endure.
Two years, and my father's debts with the bank would be paid off. Then, maybe, just maybe, I could sell it. Granted, the survey would show up a million of faults, which would only push its value down even more.
But, in two years, there was the prospect of at least breaking even.
Then I could walk away. For good.
Despite my home's condition, it did have six bedrooms - why my parents ever felt they needed six was truly beyond me. It also possessed a good location; Brighton's sea-front was two minutes away. Taking in guests was the logical thing to do when mother and father died.
As long as I had full occupancy during the summer months (and given the prices I charged, that was easy to achieve), I could chip away at the mortgage arrears. The winters were brutal on the south coast, so I never factored in having any guests at all in my calculations.
Any I did get, like 'Adam', helped that little bit more...
Well, unless he turned out to a criminal - the damage that could inflict would set me back years. So, I had to look in his room, see? It simply had to be done.
I'd reached the top of the staircase. Stiffly, I turned to the left, and walked down the hallway, and removed the hoop from my pocket housing the various keys for the house. I'd written the room number on each key using a thin, black marker. In no time, I'd found the one for number six, had inserted it, and turned.
I spun the door-knob, and pushed the door open.
I stood, on the threshold, for what seemed an eternity. Once I crossed, that was it. I'd violated his trust irrevocably.
I could close the door, lock it, and head back downstairs...
As if pulled by invisible strings, I entered Adam's room.
At first glance, nothing appeared unusual. The walls were still painted in the same shade of bland magnolia I had been able to pick up cheaply. Nothing in the room was new, and had been either in residence since my parent's time, or bought cheaply in a second-hand store. It was shabby chic, but not deliberately so.
Everything was as it always was.
That is everything apart from the suitcase lying on the bed.
He'd left without it.
Slowly, I moved over the bed. I knew I was going to open it.
I pulled it across the duvet towards me. I leant forward, and, using my thumbs, slid the small, metal clasps outwards. There was a loud 'snap' as the tiny clasps sprung open.
My heart beating, I lifted the lid.
Inside there was large, dark-green blanket. A blanket? My fingers explored the surface... there was something solid underneath.
I found the edge of the blanket, and began to unfold it. Slowly, something wooden emerged. I kept unfurling the blanket, and...
A cane. Not the walking kind; the sort of object which was wielded by a headmaster in days gone by.
Next to it, an object shaped like a carpet-beater. It had a long wooden handle, and its wicker head was in the shape of the ace of clubs. Except, it was small, too small to be used to expel dust from a rug.
Nestled under that, was a small, black-leather paddle.
The final item in the case was a whip.
None of four objects were new; these samples wouldn't entice customers to buy them...
I stepped backwards, as the realization washed over me.
These weren't samples: He didn't sell them.
He used them.
It was then that I realized something else very obvious: The case was still here. He'd left the house without taking it with him. If he needed the case for his 'clients', why was it here? Did that that mean he'd be returning sooner this time?
I received the answer to that when I realized the second obvious thing: He was standing behind me.
I span around; Adam stood in the open doorway, leaning against the frame. Again, that handsome face of his was wearing that look of inquisitiveness I'd seen just before he'd left the house ten minutes ago.
It was then that it hit me; the sheer wrongness of what I'd done. Oh, God; what had I done?
"I'm... sorry...." I spluttered. "I don't know what I was thinking. I've never done this before, intruded on a guest's privacy.… I honestly don’t know what’s happened. I feel like I’ve gone mad for a short time… I’m so, so sorry."
"It's okay," he said, gently. "I understand."
"No, it was so, so very wrong of me. I'm sorry. I really am. If you want to leave and find alternative accommodation, I can have no complaints. Indeed, if you wanted to report me to the police..."
"Miss. Lucasford," he said, firmly. "Please. It's genuinely okay; I understand."
"Yes," he said, entering the room. "I come and go, often at strange hours. I return to your lodgings out of breath. I appreciate why you had suspicions. And you're not the first landlady to have wanted answers to such suspicions. And, had the roles been reversed, I may have done the same thing."
"That doesn't explain why I actually..."
"Excitement," he said simply.
"You entered my room because it offered you a bit of excitement. A touch of naughtiness," he said. "It made you feel alive, even if only for a short while. I've seen it lot's of times."
There wasn't a trace of arrogance in his voice. Just understanding.
We fell silent.
That unanswered question hung in the air.
"So.... so what is it you do?"
"I am a salesman. I didn't lie to you. Except, I sell something very unique."
"Fantasy, Miss. Lucasford. I sell people - women, primarily - sexual fantasy."
"Are you a prostitute?"
"I don't like to see myself as such," he said. "However, I must admit that sometimes, intercourse is part of my service. But, it's the not the main part. Although sex is often the desert, it's not the main course."
"What is?" I asked. My earlier embarrassment was gone. In its place, intrigue. I honestly wanted to know what this handsome creature offered his women.
"Corporal punishment," he said. "In short, I spank people for a living."
"You spank.... you spank people for a living?!"
"Yes," he said, matter-of-factly. "I do."
"And... do you have a lot of clients? I mean, I can't imagine..."
"I have hundreds of satisfied customers." There wasn't an ounce of vanity n his voice; he was simply stating a fact.
“I live in London, but most of the year I am travelling around this fair isle. I tend to visit each town or city once a year. Ordinarily, I spend a few days in each place, ply my wares, then move onto the next. My clientele are quite devoted; they are more than willing to wait for my annual visit."
Casually, he made his way across the room, and perched himself on the edge of the bed.
"I have lots of regular customers in Brighton; I always make it here. However, my usual hotel recently closed. As luck would have it, I ended up under your roof."
"I don't.... know.... I don't know what to say."
"About what particular part?"
"All of it, I suppose," I answered truthfully. "What makes someone want to be spanked?"
"The most obvious answer is, 'who knows'?" he said, raising his hands. "People's desires are often mysterious; I've largely given up trying to understand them. If something makes them happy, then I'm pleased to facilitate that. However, spanking can be different."
"How do you mean?"
"People who like to be spanked very often have some guilt, some feelings of unworthiness, to process. Crudely put, they feel as if they've been naughty in some way; corporal punishment can allow them to release those feelings, safely. They also get the added bonus of sexual arousal. It's a win-win."
"A win-win," I said, distractedly.
In my mind, those two words, 'guilt', and 'unworthiness', loomed large, overshadowing everything else.
"Yes: A win-win."
Silence descended once more, as we stared at each other. There was no trace of anger on his face.
If anything, compassion.
"You could try it, if you wanted to," he said, tenderly.
"I can assure, I have no deep, psychological need to be punished," I protested.
"That's not true, is it, Florence?"
"How do you...?"
"Your post. All your mail is addressed to Miss Florence Lucasford. And, before you lecture me about snooping, I'd just like to point out what I've recently discovered you doing."
"I..." again, I was lost for words. "Does it help them?"
"With how they feel about themselves?" he asked.
"I think so. If it didn't, I'm not sure they would want to see me so often."
"Yes," I said.
"Yes," I repeated. "I think I would like to try it. But I don't..."
"Let me guide you," he said, gently. "You don't have to worry about anything."
"Okay," I said. "Do I have to get undressed?"
"No, not if you don't want to," he said. "You can remain fully clothed for as long as you like."
I don’t know why, but I had the strong urge to throw all my clothes off. To strip naked in front of this man, and let him do whatever he wanted to me. However, that cautious, conservative part of me held sway. I’d keep my clothes on.
For the moment at least.
"Come over to me," he said, clearly. There was no aggression in his voice; but the authority was palpable. Without questioning him, I slowly walked over to him.
He inched forward on the edge of the bed, and put his legs together.
"I'd like you to bend over my knees, please," he told me.
I stopped by the edge of the bed, so he was to my left. I turned, so his thighs were now below me. He reached out his hand for mine, and I took it. He helped lower me, and, moments later I was hunched over him.
“To begin with, I’m just going to use my hand,” he said. “My ‘tools’, although very effective, should not be employed straight-away on a novice.”
“I understand,” I replied.
I did not feel silly, or perverted. I felt...
I don't know....
Calm, I suppose. For the first time in years, my mind, and body, were in repose. I liked it already...
I felt a sharp stinging on my behind as he spanked me.
It penetrated through the barrier provided by my long skirt, and underwear...
This time I was aware of something else, something in addition to the pain. In a deep, dark part me, a tiny spark of sexual arousal flamed into being. A spark I had not felt since I had taken over sole responsibility for this...
This horrible, decaying prison...
It wasn't fair!
My than that, it wasn't my fault! None of this was to do with me!
My parent's failures were not mine. I was not responsible for their misery, their financial woes...
None of that was on me! None of it!
I deserved better than that. I deserved more than to simply be the human-shaped bell-jar that all of their pain had collected into.
I deserved more than to spend every waking hour rushing around this house, fixing, mending, and patching up.
I deserved to be happy!
... In this moment I was...
But I was something else. The more he spanked me, the greater my arousal grew. And, the larger that grew, the more the guilt, the shame, the unworthiness, shrunk.
For the first time in years, I felt 'me.'
Not the bitter, uncaring, cold, burnt-out caretaker of a house I could never return to it's former glory.
Not the unloved off-spring of two people unequipped to bestow affection on their only child.
And that tiny spark of lust, was roaring now.
"I think I'd like to get undressed now," I said.
"As you wish," he said. He gave me his hand, and, taking it once more, I slowly clambered upright.
I started to undo my aged blouse.
It had been years since I'd got undressed in front of someone else. I couldn't even remember my last boyfriend's name. But, I felt no embarrassment at doing so in front of Adam.
I felt no shame at all.
"And I think I'd like to try the paddle," I said, lowering my skirt.
"That would require a slight adjustment to our positions," he said, standing. He turned, and reached into the suitcase for the black, leather paddle. "If you... you don't have to be fully naked if you don't want to."
To his obvious surprise, I had taken off my bra and panties.
"I'd like to be," I said. "I want to feel it."
"You are in charge," he said. "Whatever you wish. If you could bend over the bed, and place your palms on the duvet."
I walked over to the bed, and leant over it. My open palms pressed down into the flowers printed on the duvet cover. I'd never noticed before, but, despite the obvious age of the bedding, the large roses decorating it were pretty. I moved my hands, and placed my palms in the center of two of the flowers. I don't know why I did. It just seemed the right thing to do.
"I will start gently," he said, kindly.
I was aware of the noise first. A resounding 'thwack' that echoed around the bedroom, bouncing off the magnolia walls.
Milliseconds later, the pain flooded over me. Raw, uncompromising. My buttocks were on fire. Yet...
The same intermingling of arousal, and diminishing guilt.
A beautiful feeling.
Would it happen? Through whatever alchemy Adam practiced, would my feelings of inferiority continue to recede the more my desire, my lust, grew?
I wasn't as yet certain. But...
I wanted to find out.
Another bolt of pain, of lust, ricocheted around inside of me.
Now, the lust out-weighed the nebulous mass of guilt, of shame, of unworthiness. The scales were tipping. I wanted more.
My nipples were hard, and my pussy was coated in a thin layer of moisture. It was had been so long since I’d been turned on, the experience took me by surprise.
A beautiful surprise.
Yes… please… again…
Instinctively, I reached my right hand under me. Towards my crotch.
My fingers went straight to my clitoris. There no need for any warm-up; I was wet, and aroused - having not masturbated for an eternity, I couldn’t be sure, but I was also fairly certain I wouldn’t need long.
The spanking, the smacking, had taken me to the edge.
My forefingers begin furiously circling my clit…
I was cumming…
As the final blow landed on my arse, I let out a groan, as my climax rippled over me.
My muscles lost all rigidity, and I threw my hand back on the bed to support me.
I shuddered, as the after-shocks erupted, moving outwards from my nether regions, and up towards my tummy.
I fell forward, lying on the bed. Spent.
And for the first time in years, that shroud of failure, of unworthiness, of guilt had been lifted.
Yes. Oh, yes: I was ‘me’ again.
We were sitting in the dining-room, drinking coffee. Outwardly, it appeared the epitome of civility. However, a more shrewd observer would have seen that I was not only not wearing my skirt, nor any underwear, but that, between my backside, and the surface of my chair, was a cushion. My bottom was incredibly sore.
However, despite the atmosphere of calm, my mind was burning with another question. Eventually, I gave in, and spoke.
"When do you leave?" I asked him.
"I was thinking of staying a few more days," he said, lowering his cup. "That is, if my landlady can accommodate me."
"I think she can," I replied. "In return, she would like to make an offer: Free board in lieu of services rendered."
"That sounds a very satisfactory arrangement," he said, smiling.
"Oh, and by the way, I know that this is a long way off, but when you return to Brighton next year, you may have to seek another hotel."
"I am both sad, and happy, to hear that."
"I think I understand the sad part. But why happy?"
"You've been trapped here too long, Florence," he said leaning forward.
I had. I had a lot to do, but it was time to move on, and let go of the past.
A past that Adam had helped me take that first step in relinquishing.
A past that, by the time he left my boarding-house in a few days times, he and that suitcase of his, would have been released just that little bit more.
I wasn't physically free yet. But emotionally? For the first time in decades, I felt able to breathe.
I felt alive.
Smiling, I raised my cup.
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