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By TG Stone

Beth couldn’t remember ever being this angry. Her knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel for so long. She didn’t even know how long she’d been down here in the underground car park, with the engine running, the car not moving an inch. The tap on the window snapped her back into reality.

A man's voice, straining to be heard - ‘You alright Miss? It’s just me and the boys in the control room were getting worried. That exhaust has been blowing out fumes for ages.’

It was Freddy, a security guard who’d been with the firm longer than anyone. Her mind wafted away the darkness, and she lowered the window to talk.

‘Sorry Freddy, I was miles away. Bad day upstairs, y’know? Thanks, and have a good weekend.’ She nudged the gear into Drive and started to roll forward, giving Freddy a wave on the way.

‘You too Miss,’ he called back, hand raised in goodbye.

She weaved round endlessly to the right, climbing up the car park towards the shutters. She slowed, stopping 3 feet away, and they started to rise. The state of the real world was revealed. Grey and gloomy, with rain starting to spit down. The wipers came on without her touching a button. She knew the car was a little ridiculous; engine 4 times the size she actually needed, an insurance bill that could be slashed to a fraction with a little city runabout instead. But she loved the feel of it, the softness of the leather, the reassuring clicks and clunks of high-end engineering, the growl when you pressed on the right pedal. She’d earned it, and it was the only flashy thing she owned.

Yes, she dressed in immaculate tailoring, from houses in Paris or Milan, but her outfits were black and understated every time. So she let herself off with the car, and let it drive her home.

After prowling through the early evening traffic for a while, stop-starting…..she muttered to herself, ‘Damn that slick-smiled fucking idiot….guess I will be going to the Club tonight.’

She hadn’t meant to attend, in fact she’d passed on the last 2 invites. You had to be in the mood, your head had to be exactly in the right place, otherwise the Club wasn’t for you. Now, it was partly the anger, and if she was honest with herself - the humiliation too. She couldn’t completely blame Simon Patterson for her change of mind. There was a small dark part of her that was saying, ‘It’s time for me’.

She shut the front door behind her, and threw the keys into the bowl on the side. She wouldn’t be driving again tonight. Kicking off her shoes, she padded through to the kitchen, flicked open the laptop on the butchers block, and placed her phone by the side of it. While the computer came to life, she poured a large glass of wine. Settling on a high stool, she took a sip; well, more like a glug – and welcomed the bittersweet tang on her tastebuds. She jabbed the phone into life, and went to Messages. Down the list, received 2 days ago, was the single solitary :) That was it, number withheld, nothing else. But received 2 minutes later, was another message. This time just a jumbled code of letters and numbers. It looked like a nonsense piece of spam. She carefully tapped it into the browser on the laptop, and hit return. Up came a black screen with small white writing – ‘42 Glendorn Square, Friday’. So that was where the Club was tonight.

This was how the Club worked. It was shrouded in ultra-high secrecy, and it was never to be spoken of unless you were actually inside one of it’s venues.

The Club had no fixed location, no website, no phone number. You had to be personally invited by another member, who would also explain that you could not invite anyone yourself until you had attended 6 events. These were held in private homes, possibly a member’s home – but no one ever admitted that it was theirs. The venues were dotted around the city, but were always incredibly large and grand. Mainly townhouses built with old industrial wealth, with seemingly endless floors and bedrooms.

Hence the :) text message followed by a meaningless code. If anyone else looked at your messages, you could bat it away as nonsense – some other desperate marketeer trying to sell you something perhaps. But after the :) you knew that in a moment the web code would arrive. After 24 hours the internet page showing the address would completely disappear, as if it had never existed. There was no trail back to discover more about the Club.

Beth herself had been invited by a retired colonel turned businessman; as cold and masterful in the boardroom as he had been on the battlefield. But in company, an utter pussycat. They’d hooked up at some wedding in the country, and ended up in Venice for a weekend. On the last night he held her hand, looked into her eyes and said, ‘Do you like to play...?’

When she smiled and said ‘Always’, then he told her about The Club. He took her to her first event.

He had escorted her in to the marble fronted mansion, brushed her cheek, and simply said, ‘Enjoy’; then he left her to it.

Beth refilled her glass, called to book a taxi for later, then went upstairs to run a bath. She knew exactly what she would be wearing tonight, so now she needed a hot soak to finally calm down. She had to get Simon Patterson out of her head.

If scientists hadn’t stumbled on Viagra – when they where looking for something else entirely - she’d probably never needed to have even met Simon. But the firm's Managing Partner - Noah Steinberg - had enthusiastically taken to the wonder pill, because he was a rich, powerful old man faced with a young and mind-altering distraction.

Noah had personally interviewed the young lady; a fresh faced college researcher. She laughed at his jokes, and wore stunning heels. Noah's fate was probably sealed that very day.

A couple more years and he could have spent everyday on the golf course, or sailing his boat. But no - Noah decided to employ a hot 24 year old as his new PA. Tongues wagged, but most people just smiled and chalked it up to the old boy simply wanting to enjoy a better view from his office. That obviously wasn’t enough for Noah, and he fell for the gym-toned beauty in pretty heels that brought him the monthly progress reports with his coffee. He should have known better, but she didn’t care; she went to conventions as his guest, and accepted flights to the firm’s outposts in the sun. She wore the couture he bought her, the jewellery, even finally got a dinky little sports car. It may have taken lots of small blue pills, but she was fucking Noah after 2 weeks in the job. And he’d been paying for all this fun with the firm’s money.

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