Friday, March 2th 2012 ‘Initiation.’ Oliver sat at his new desk, looking at his email. They marked the location as being at the ‘The Data Centre.’ The time was half-past five in the evening. He texted his girlfriend to let her know he’d be late home. It was his first day at Dragon Insurance and he wanted to make a good impression. What was limiting him so far was finding something to do. Frustrated, he leant over and spoke to the grey man next to him. ‘Roger?’ Bleary-eyed, Roger turned and looked at him with disdain. ‘What is it?’ ‘Is there any work I could pick up? I’ve read all the documentation, and I’m up to date with all the terms, including Lloyds Gross Gross.’ Roger looked as though he’d swallowed something distasteful. ‘It’s Friday. Nobody works on a Friday. The Wolfpack hits it hard on Thursday. ‘If you want to be one of the boys, you’ll learn to respect that. Just keep your head down and stay quiet.’ ‘Roger.’ Oliver persisted. ‘What.’ Oliver pointed at his screen. ‘Where is the Data Centre? We’ve a team meeting there tonight at five-thirty. I need to let the missus know when I’ll be back.’ ‘When you’ll be back? Never give a time to your other half. Never. You are setting yourself up for failure. The Data Centre is the code name for a strip club.’ Roger slurped his coffee, then tapped on the keyboard just enough to stop the screensaver from appearing. Grease from his morning bacon sandwich caused the keys to gleam. ‘We go to Diamond Girls. Most of the boys have girlfriends there. It’s harmless fun. As it’s your initiation, we’ll probably end up at a brothel.’ Oliver blinked. ‘I’m sorry, I have a girlfriend. I can’t go to a brothel. She isn’t going to be happy about the strip club either.’ ‘Are you simple? Why would you tell her? You absolute moron.’ Roger turned to face Oliver. ‘You have to go. It’s mandatory team building. You won’t last long here if you don’t join the Wolfpack.’ Five hundred and fifty pounds a day. A six-month contract. That is one hundred and thirty-two thousand a year if they extend. ‘I’ll be there,’ Oliver promised. ‘Too right.’ Roger resumed staring into space as his hangover held his mind in impenetrable chains. ‘You’ll know it is close to five-thirty when everyone turns off their location tracking and Dave hides his kippah in his desk drawer,’ he murmured, looking vacant. ‘That is when the wolf pack goes out on the hunt.’ ‘Right.’ Oliver began the exhausting process of looking busy whilst simultaneously doing absolutely nothing. He had previously done some programming work in the public sector, so he perfected the art. It just sucked. Oliver had finished all the documentation and was now reviewing the database line by line, drilling through it. It was painstaking and tedious. The code was a hodgepodge of different coding styles, which slowed him down. Everyone had their own naming standard and way of doing things which led to some unusual design choices. It’s five hundred and fifty pounds a day. Suck it up. At five-thirty, in perfect synchronicity, the boys locked their computers and began to circle Stevo’s desk. Oliver, looking up at them, nervously stood and joined them. ‘Are we ready, lads, for another night on the prowl?’ Stevo smirked and leaned back in his chair. ‘First round is on the newbie.’ Dave reached up, removed his kippah, sliding it into his jacket pocket. The other men disabled the location by tracking on their phones so that their wives would be none the wiser. ‘Last chance Dickie.’ Stevo called over to one of the coders who was still at his desk. He looked up briefly and then shook his head. Roger leaned in to whisper in Oliver’s ear. ‘Dickie recently got in trouble with the missus. They only communicate via letters on the kitchen table. He shares them on the team Signal group.’ ‘There is a team Signal group?’ Oliver muttered. ‘Yeah, prove yourself tonight and they’ll add you.’ Roger pointed with his thumb at Dickie. ‘Anyway, he has to return home on time every night, or she will leave him and take half his portfolio. He is worried sick that she’ll leave him with the kids, so he has lunchtime appointments now.’ ‘Bloody hell,’ Oliver shook his head. ‘No wonder he needs therapy at lunch.’ The conversation stopped. Everyone looked at Oliver. ‘Therapy?’ Stevo looked as though he had swallowed something foul. ‘Fucking therapy? Like, tell me about your father?’ The rest of the team cackled. ‘All I’d say to my therapist would be, 'My father was a fucking legend.' Jesus Oliver, you are so green.’ ‘So—’ Oliver tried. ‘Hookers. Dickie orders his hookers at lunchtime to save his marriage. I mean, it’s a beta move, but she has him over a barrel,’ Roger confided. ‘Pub,’ Stevo ordered and with that the pack descended upon the closest pub, The Bull, for their first drink. and gathering round Stevo, they supped their bottles of lager. Oliver had ordered a pint of ale. ‘Rookie mistake,’ Roger pointed at the pint. ‘You gotta play the long game here. Bottles of lager slow down the drinking so you can last longer. You don’t want to get to the Data Centre and find yourself unable to unload, do you.’ Oliver raised his pint, ‘I don’t really drink lager. I’ll just skip the next round.’ ‘The hell you will. Nobody skips a round. Next, you’ll try and order a soft drink.’ Roger slurped out of his bottle of Becks. ‘Next pub is All Bar One. At this time of the day it is rammed full of east European fanny. We buy them a bottle of prosecco, chill out with them for a while and then—’ Stevo interrupted. ‘Then we hit the Data Centre!’ A chorus of cheers erupted from the wolf pack as they clinked their bottles together. Oliver grinned nervously. His phone chirped in his pocket and he reached for it. ‘Don’t you dare.’ Stevo pointed his finger directly at Oliver’s face. ‘No bitches while the wolf pack hunts.’ Five hundred and fifty a day. Besides, it can’t be that important. All Bar One proved to be a bit of an anti-climax after another four bottles of truly abhorrent lager. They watched as Dave alternated between sending bottles of prosecco to tables of all girls and then calling them skanks when they refused to come over and join the wolf pack. When Oliver suggested he got a round in, Stevo shook his head. ‘Nah, enough of these bitches. It’s time to get the real thing.’ A chorus of ‘Data Centre, Data Centre, Data Centre!’ erupted. Bundling into the back of a black cab, the motley crew headed off to Earls Court. As the cab bounced around and they drove along beside the river Thames the lads cackled in the back. ‘I’ve already chosen mine. Jasmin. She has everything, a tiny waist, massive breasts, blonde hair. She is the real deal,’ Roger stated, holding up his phone with her profile and looking a touch smug. Stevo smirked. ‘Dealers choice as always. Madame Geurts knows her pussy. She always finds me the best one for the night. Don’t need to worry about the wife seeing my search history either .’ ‘I think it is time,’ Dave said, nodding thoughtfully. ‘Those whores at All Bar One pissed me right off. Only the Platinum Service will do.’ A chorus of applause and high fives erupted. ‘You madman!’ Stevo shook his head in admiration. ‘Two and a half grand? No fanny is that good, mate, trust me. You can get top-notch action for three hundred maximum, including anal.’ ‘What can I say? We don’t compromise in the wolf pack.’ Dave smirked. ‘I’m due some top quality tail.’ Oliver had been sitting quietly. ‘I thought we were just going to a strip club or something. I don’t want to cheat on my girlfriend.’ ‘What?’ Disgust lingered in the cab as the temperature lowered. ‘I thought you wanted to be one of the wolf pack. We don’t have beta males in our team.’ ‘You need to think about what you just said and develop some fucking loyalty,’ Roger snapped. ‘We are all married, but we still bond together. It is what makes us an elite team.’ The taxi lurched as it drove over some hidden bump. As the group righted itself, Stevo sneered, ‘Sit this one out. We’ll call this week probation. Next Thursday, when we head to the Data Centre, we will do your initiation again. See if you can man up.’ Oliver sat uncomfortably as the others muttered around him. He was ordered to go round to the nearest pub and get a round of beers in as well as 'post spuff sambucas'. After the lads had disappeared, all hooting and howling about how they were about to perform, Oliver sat quietly. He nursed a bottle of Becks and pulled out his phone. Five missed calls and a text message from his girlfriend. 'I wanted to tell you in person, but it’s late and I’m going to bed. I went and got tested. I am pregnant. We need to talk about this.' Fuck. He typed back a message saying he would be finished at the pub in about an hour, then he’d head straight home. Sarah didn’t reply. He hoped it was because she was asleep. About twenty-five minutes later, the boys started to filter in. Arms raised like football champions, they proclaimed their victory and, raising their shot, immediately downed it with aplomb. After relating tall tales about their conquests, they waited patiently for Dave to return. They almost didn’t notice him as he quietly walked in and sat down. He pushed his shot away. Roger looked round at the others. ‘Dave? The shot is right there.’ ‘I see it, Roger. I just don’t want it.’ ‘You what?’ ‘I said I don’t want it. I have just had the most amazing spiritual experience. It really put a lot of things into perspective for me. I don’t want to ruin it with more alcohol.’ The others looked at him, dumbfounded. ‘In fact, I am going to head home now. Thanks for a good night, lads.’ ‘Thanks for a good night? Whatever happened in there?’ Stevo looked horrified. ‘I’m not allowed to say, but it was worth every penny.’ Dave smiled at them. He practically gleamed with self-assurance. He walked away from the table, leaving his beer and shot, to the wolf pack’s mute silence. ‘What the fuck did they do to Dave?’ Roger looked as though he was going to be sick. Stevo straightened his shoulders. ‘Doesn’t matter. He’ll come to his senses, once a member of the wolf pack, always a member of the wolf pack. New kid, you can do his shot. I’ll have his beer.’ Oliver, aged thirty-four and older than Dave, ignored the reference to being a kid and sculled the shot. The beer was foul anyway. The sambuca burned as it went down. He listened quietly as the boys all discussed the 'Dave Situation'. After thirty minutes of disdain and theories about what the Platinum Service could be, Stevo raised his hand. ‘Right, I’m drinking myself sober. Dave’s gone and ruined the night. Let’s go.’ The wolf pack emptied the drinks down their throats and lurched off in various different directions towards their homes. Oliver staggered home to find his girlfriend asleep. He lumbered around the bedroom, drunkenly removing his clothes in a manner he hoped was stealthy, before she looked up at him. ‘Oliver, what time is it?’ ‘Go back to sleep, Sarah. We’ll talk in the morning.’ Oliver walked over and stroked her hair. ‘I’m so happy for us.’ Sarah smiled and slid back into sleep. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Oliver was still drunk as he pondered his options. If I just do six months at Dragon Insurance, we’ll have enough money to move into a bigger flat. We could hit our ISA limit for once, build a nest egg. He looked down at Sarah. She wouldn’t understand if he told her he had to sleep with an escort for the job. Even he thought it sounded pathetic. He lay down on the bed. It was all about the child now. He would send out his CV for new contracts at a similar day rate. Ultimately, he had to do whatever was best for the three of them. In the morning, Oliver woke with a heavy hangover. Groaning, he stretched out onto the sheets. He could smell chipolatas frying downstairs and his stomach gurgled. Sarah came up moments later. On a tray was black coffee. The acrid scent was ambrosia to him. Two plates of baked sausages and tomatoes on sourdough toast joined it and he eagerly sat up in bed to receive it. ‘Can we talk?’ Sarah asked as she joined him with her own plate. Oliver took his first sip of coffee and leaned back with appreciation. ‘Absolutely. I was awake last night thinking about our baby. I am so excited for us.’ ‘Awake? After the skinful you had?’ Sarah pulled a wry smile. ‘Well, not for long, but the pondering was intense and very… well, it was very deep.’ Oliver slurped down another gulp of the black gold. Sarah bit off half a sausage. Chewing on it, she looked around the tiny studio flat. ‘Can we even afford to have a child?’ ‘Absolutely.’ Oliver looked straight into her eyes. ‘One hundred percent. I don’t really get on board with the particular brand of toxic masculinity at Dragon Insurance. But, for five hundred and fifty pounds a day, we can get a nice two-bedroom apartment and even start saving up a nest egg for our baby. If I get renewed, perhaps we could even think about buying a place.’ Laughing, Sarah jabbed him in the ribs, causing the coffee to almost spill over the white Egyptian cotton sheets. ‘Buy a place? Come on, let’s keep things realistic. Nobody can afford to buy in today’s market.’ ‘Seriously, the amount I’m getting... Hell, I might even get more when we renew. All I have to do is keep my head down and get along with the boys.’ He beamed earnestly at her. ‘That is all, huh? I’m glad you feel that way. It’s a huge step.’ Sarah snuggled in closer to him. Oliver put his arm around her. ‘It is a massive step, but it's one we’ll take together. This is going to be good for us.’ Collecting the empty crockery, Sarah watched as Oliver slumped back into bed. ‘Seriously, back to sleep after a coffee?’ ‘Five fifty a day. My liver wrote the cheque,’ Oliver mumbled as he pulled the pillows tighter to his face. ‘Five fifty.’
Monday, March 5th 2012 On Monday, Oliver strolled into the office to find the wolf pack clustered around Dave’s desk. He was loading his stuff into his briefcase. ‘What do you mean? You haven’t turned into Jesus for Christ’s sake.’ Stevo was pacing. ‘Look, don’t make a rash decision. You are one of us.’ ‘Many things clicked into place with me on Friday, mate. I woke up and over breakfast, I told my wife everything. We just were honest with each other for the first time,’ Dave smiled. ‘It wasn’t easy. We both cried—’ ‘—Oh, for fuck’s sake.’ Roger muttered. ‘But we stopped arguing. It feels like we are best friends again. All the drinking, all the women, was just me externalising that I was deeply unhappy with who I am. The Platinum Service just brought all of this home to me. Dickie, I really think—’ ‘—Fuck off, I’m fine, thank you, you prick,’ Dickie sneered at Dave. ‘I used to think you were alright. Now, I see you for who you really are. A self-righteous piece of shit. I. See. You!’ Oliver sat down at his computer and avoided the confrontation, logging in to bring up his emails. His ears followed the argument. As he reached the door, Dave turned to the team. ‘Try the Platinum Service, guys. You don’t have to live like this.’ Stevo leaned back in his chair. ‘Go on then, fuck off.’ Dave shrugged and left. Silence filled the office as everyone looked around at each other. Oliver tapped away at his computer, loading up his programming software and working through the first of his assigned bugs. The muttering next to him drew his attention. ‘Never would have seen that coming. Dave was a legend. The Platinum Service made him into a beta bitch.’ Roger was distraught. ‘I won’t use it. Got my usual whores. I never needed anything fancy. My life is perfect.’ Oliver gave him a wan smile and returned awkwardly to his work. Someone had to do some coding. The others were all busy chatting and unleashing righteous indignation. Dave had been moved from the ranks of ‘Legend’ to ‘Traitor’. It was unnerving to see them turn on their own so quickly after Friday’s continuous pledges of loyalty and brotherhood. Stevo rallied the troops in the evening and led them down to the Bull, where the conversation veered between continued rage at Dave and just how happy everyone was with their idyllic life. Oliver got home at nine. The boys had steered clear of the Data Centre, so he was back in time to reheat his dinner and spend some quality time with Sarah, on the sofa, watching some TV. ‘Your breath is pure alcohol.’ Sarah wrinkled her nose as Oliver forked the contents of a chicken curry into his mouth. ‘How much of this five-fifty a day is being spent on drinks?’ Oliver grinned. ‘It’s tax-deductible, business entertaining. It is expected when you are one of the boys.’ ‘You know, you always said you were a computer programmer, not a professional drinker.’ Puffing out his chest, Oliver looked at her straight. ‘When you are earning big bucks, you have to do the grime to get paid for your time.’ Sarah pulled a face and returned her attention to the TV. Oliver paid little attention. Finishing his curry, he leant back and declared that he would have a shower and then turn in for an early night.
Thursday, March 8th 2012 Thursday night, Oliver was back much later, Thursday was the new Friday in the city and he stumbled home at two in the morning. After the Bull and All Bar One, the wolf pack had descended on Diamond Delights, a strip club. Sarah woke sharply as he slumped down next to her. ‘For fucks sake, Olly, I have to be up at six for work.’ She rolled towards him. ‘You reek of perfume. Where did you go?’ ‘The boys wanted to go to a strip club,’ Oliver confessed. Sarah’s eyes flickered open and Oliver immediately regretted his honesty. ‘I’ve been making sandwiches for both of us, to save money, and you have frittered away our earnings on strippers? Your life isn’t a non-stop bachelor party.’ She shook her head. ‘Olly, you used to be so proud of your job.’ ‘Listen, it’s five—’ He never got to finish. ‘—If you say five-fifty a day again, I swear I will scream. How much of that five-fifty are you actually keeping? If you are down at the pub every night and then going to strip clubs. Don’t forget you have to pay tax.’ Oliver made the mistake of patting her shoulder. She flinched under his touch. ‘Listen, I make more than enough for a bit of unwinding after work. This is where the real meetings happen. This is where we discuss what’s happening in the office.’ ‘Bollocks.’ Sarah rolled over.
Friday, March 9th 2012 In the morning, Oliver woke to find that Sarah had already left for work. She hadn’t made him sandwiches for lunch, not that it mattered. He had been binning the sandwiches when he went to the office. The boys would go out for a pint and a pub lunch or head to a proper sandwich joint. Oliver wasn’t going to be scorned for having homemade sandwiches. She won’t need to be up at six every morning when we have a child. She can quit her job as a nurse. I’ll be the breadwinner. Getting out of bed, he made himself a coffee with two spoons of sugar and two spoons of Nescafé. We should get a coffee machine like the Americans have on TV. He upended the carton of semi-skimmed milk over three Weetabix. Sitting in his underpants. He pondered on how he could fix his current dilemma. The way he saw it, Sarah had never understood money. She was a staunch saver and protective of their money but she didn’t understand that you had to invest if you wanted to make it into the big league. He had already sketched out what he needed for a promotion in his mind’s eye. Better suits were a must. He was still wearing his M&S interview suit and Clark’s shoes. He needed to see a tailor, buy three suits and buy a pair of Church’s shoes. It would be a good idea to buy Stevo an appointment. Get him on side. Mentally, he was committed to hiring an escort to prove himself to the wolf pack this evening. His initiation was going to be flawless this time. Oliver was determined to show that he could be an apex predator like the rest of the boys. The office was quiet when he arrived. Only Roger was in before him. He was sitting, hunched over his keyboard, working off his hangover on a bacon sandwich. His cheeks sagged unhealthily as he sipped at a giant latte. The Telegraph online news was on his screen. He flicked through its articles. Oliver gave him a quick salute as he entered, getting a perfunctory nod from him in return. He started his PC and began the process of loading up. The first email was a calendar invite, ‘Data Centre’ at five-thirty. With a grin, he clicked ‘Accept’. With Sarah kicking off at home, he needed a good night out. A cluster of new bugs had been raised, and he skimmed through them for easy wins. Accepting the first, he was able to submit fixes for two of them even before Stevo marched in through the door at nine. Scanning the bugs, Oliver looked for something challenging to keep him going through till lunch. There was an obscure rounding bug that Roger had tried to fix twice and failed. Oliver accepted it with a hungry grin and began pouring through the code. Roger might be better at networking, but he didn’t have Oliver’s analytical mind. Oliver tracked through the code, making notes and sketching out the data flow on a ring-bound A4 pad. Friday lunch was a pair of pints and a steak and ale pie at The Bull. They started talking through the pros and cons of various prospects for Oliver’s first time at the Data Centre. It seemed like the world was at Oliver’s fingertips. When you earn this much money, you can have whatever you want. He shook his head as he looked at the different girls on offer in the online catalogue. Why did people bother desperately chatting up women in nightclubs? You can pick and choose here. Order champagne and women come to you. His analytical mind, of which he was so proud, neglected to remind him of Dave’s repeated failed attempts to lure girls over with champagne. The taste of ale and testosterone flowing through his system blanked out his higher functions as they laughed at lewd jokes. At 52, the oldest of the group, Roger was imparting his wisdom. ‘The problem with women is that once they hit twenty-five they are essentially ruined. So it is important to have children early because when they hit thirty, you aren’t going to want to go anywhere near that.’ Nodding, Stevo raised his glass. ‘My wife is twenty-eight. We have an arrangement. She doesn’t bother me. I don’t bother her. As long as she keeps herself tidy and doesn’t embarrass me in public, we are all good. She knows she is easily replaceable if she lets herself go.’ Stevo raised a finger in warning. ‘The alternative is to end up like Dickie, where the wife is in control, so you have to get your release in lunchtime appointments. That is no way to live a life.’ Oliver didn’t mention that Sarah was thirty-two and he found her immensely attractive. Nor did he say that he loved her. Weak comments like that wouldn’t do anything to further his position within the group. When he got back from lunch, he looked at the test scripts. He had nailed it. The tests were all green, the rounding error was solved. Satisfied, he looked around for new bugs to pick up. He had solved another three bugs when the wolf pack started to gather, circling Stevo’s desk at five-thirty. It was time for his initiation. This time he knew what to expect and he was in the right headspace.
The boys drank their tiny bottles of Becks whilst making big statements about the problem with Britain today and the idiocy of woke culture. Without Dave, the girls at All Bar One went unhassled as, instead, the wolf pack sat waiting for them to come to them. Sadly, as Stevo noted, the girls tonight were frigid and none took the first move. They led Oliver to the Data Centre. He didn’t know why he had such grandiose expectations. In his imagination, he had seen the Data Centre as a Victorian mansion, with Madame Geurts clapping her hands together and a series of elaborately dressed women dancing out in a line, waiting to be chosen. The reality was far more practical. After advice from the considerably more experienced wolf pack, Oliver had reviewed the catalogue and had instead decided to leave the decision to Madame Geurts. The building was very modern, resembling a hotel. Madame Geurts was a middle-aged woman dressed in a severe dark grey suit, sitting at a desk in the entrance lobby. A short cut black bob framed a stern face. Her name badge didn’t even say 'Madame Geurts'. It said the considerably less exotic 'Mrs Geurts'. Stifling his disappointment, he was led to the woman by Stevo. ‘Mrs. Geurts, my friend Oliver needs someone experienced, blond, with good breasts, but slim. Not a Tonka truck.’ Slipping a well practised, taut smile over her inscrutable face, Mrs Geurts pulled a key from a pegboard. ‘I believe Candy will fit the bill. She knows how to handle a gentleman new to the more professional arts.’ Handing over a card machine, she keyed in three hundred pounds. As Oliver hesitated, she reassured him, ‘It will show on your statement as PG Holdings.’ Quiet amusement briefly flickered as she noted the expression of relief on his face. He took the key she held out to him. The others picked up theirs as they paid their due. Ascending the stairs. The building was clean, but everything looked cheap. The carpet was plain and thin, the walls painted an off white colour. The boys filtered off until Oliver was left outside room thirty-one, grasping his key. Buoyed up with overpriced lager, he took a deep breath and inserted the key. He wasn’t cheating on Sarah. This was just team building. He opened the door and found himself face to face with a buxom blonde with heavily made-up eyes. She was checking her phone. ‘Standard service today, I see. No extras.’ She patted the cheap, nylon quilt on which she was sitting and looked up at Oliver, saying brusquely, ‘Take off your clothes . You can hang them on the chair ’ The room was an unimpressive cell with a narrow single bed. A small table held the basics, condoms, tissues and a bottle of lubricant with a pump dispenser. A simple chair stood at the end of the bed. Nervously, Oliver unbuttoned his shirt. Apart from an awkward moment hopping around with trousers that refused to come off, he managed to remove his clothes and hang them on the chair while Candy continued to tap on her phone. ‘All done?’ She smiled and motioned again for him to join her. He moved down to the bed and went to kiss her. ‘No, no. No kissing, you naughty boy.’ ‘Sorry,’ Oliver said, embarrassed. He sat there, unsure of how to proceed. Reaching over to the table, Candy picked up a condom and opened it up the wrapper. ‘Why don’t you lean back while I pop this on, eh?’ Oliver gratefully obeyed. She slid the latex-free condom over his erect member whilst he lay there. Nervously he twiddled his feet until the task was complete. She clambered on top of him and slid down onto his shaft. After that, the rest was more manageable. Twenty minutes later, fully dressed, Oliver was in the local pub waiting for the boys to assemble. Stevo was first in, so had the circle of after spuff sambucas waiting. Stevo’s was obviously empty, face down on the table. When Oliver picked up his shot, he was greeted with a roar of primal triumph. He had passed the test and was one of the wolf pack. As the boys filtered in, all crowing their victories, they wanted all the details. Oliver glossed over the awkwardness, the clinical simplicity of the act. Instead, he went with an understated description of the event masquerading his discomfort as being gentlemanly. Regardless of his laconic recital, the boys lapped it up and cheered at the appropriate moments. When he got home, Sarah was asleep or pretending to be. He showered, then climbed in next to her.
Saturday, March 10th 2012 Oliver lay in bed with a hangover while Sarah slid out, made herself some breakfast and went out for a jog. He could tell that she was annoyed at him for coming home drunk last night and decided eventually to confront her about it over lunch. ‘No,’ she said, her eyes as steel. ‘I don’t care that you came home drunk on a Friday night. I am not the fun police. I care that you have come home drunk every night.’ Oliver shrugged. ‘Look, team building is—’ ‘—So you say. Repeatedly. I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned the five-fifty a day yet. You should tattoo it on your forehead.’ ‘I don’t think you understand just how much money that really is.’ Oliver pushed his fork at the desultory salad in front of him. Quinoa salad, and cheese and tomato quiche weren’t going to cut it today. He was going to need to order a McDonalds from UberEats. ‘I’m not an idiot. I understand how important it is to have money when raising a child. But at the moment, I have an absentee boyfriend and I absolutely will not allow my child to have an absentee father.’ Sarah stabbed her fork into her quiche, savagely spearing a segment. Oliver leaned back. ‘Your child? Don’t you mean 'Our child'?’ ‘How can it be our child? You are never here.’ Sarah said coldly. Oliver put down his fork. ‘I’m going out.’ ‘Of course, you are. Good to see that you choose avoidance as your primary coping mechanism. Very healthy.’ Sarah tore the quiche off the fork and glared daggers at Oliver. Why the hell would I want to stay here with ‘this’? Muttering a half-hearted, ‘Whatever,’ Oliver marched out of the front door into the drizzle. Slate grey clouds shielded him from the sun’s glare. It could do nothing about the harpy behind him. The rest of the weekend passed slowly. It was like being trapped in the house with a velociraptor. Oliver began to rethink the whole parenthood angle. All he wanted was to return to the office. A lifetime with Sarah was not looking appealing at all.
The boys clustered around Madame Geurts, receiving their keycards and heading to their allocated rooms. Oliver took a deep breath as he prepared himself to spend two and a half thousand pounds. He smiled nervously at Madame Geurts. ‘I think I’m ready. I would like the platinum service, please.’ Mrs Geurt’s face grew serious. ‘Of course. A few terms and conditions first. The Platinum Service is our premium product. It will bring you to new heights of pleasure and relaxation. However, we have a strict rule that each customer can only use it once, so we will need to take a copy of your ID for our records.’ Oliver listened intently as she continued to lay out the terms and conditions. ‘Furthermore, we require a gentleman’s agreement never to discuss what happens in that room with anyone else.’ Programming the card machine, Mrs Geurts slid it across the desk. ‘Ah, why do you need my ID? I don’t want to give my ID to a place like… well, I am a private man,’ Oliver blathered. ‘Unfortunately, the Platinum Service is a victim of its own success. Its sheer potency can grow addictive. We have the one time rule to protect our valued clients from themselves.’ Mrs Geurts tapped the card machine. Oliver hesitated. ‘It isn’t drugs, is it?’ ‘We cannot discuss the Platinum Service in any way other than its cost. Which is two thousand, five hundred pounds. It is worth every penny, or we wouldn’t have the one time rule.’ Definitely drugs, then. God, I hope it isn’t meth. He thought of the baby. He thought of Sarah. If this brings me clarity like Dave, it’s worth it. At less than five days’ pay, it would be worth it. He handed over his driver’s licence and paid the money. Mrs Geurts picked up the phone and dialled up an assistant to escort him upstairs to the top floor. Nervous energy competed with excitement at the prospect of this ultimate treat. The assistant, a long-haired brunette with a black lacy dress, gave him a coquettish smile. Her lip gloss gleamed in the soft downlights. Taking him by the hand, she led him up the stairs. Oliver eyed her up and down with heightened anticipation. Is she the Platinum Service? At the top of the stairs was just one short corridor with two doors, one marked 'Maintenance NO ENTRY'. The other was locked. The assistant pulled out a key with a flourish and unlocked the door. Opening it, she gestured for him to go through. The corridor continued a short way until it reached a pair of curtains. Behind him, he heard the door click shut and lock. Oliver sped up, his blood almost feverish as he felt himself growing engorged with excitement. Flicking the curtains to one side, he stormed through. What the fuck? The room was relatively spacious. In one corner was a large leather armchair. A small table stood next to it, bearing a bottle of cucumber water and a crystal glass. The sound of ocean waves played in the background. His eyes, however, were fixed on the room’s centrepiece. On the far wall was a hole, surrounded by padded faux leather and with two roll bars on either side for gaining purchase. Oliver had paid two and a half thousand pounds, almost five days’ pay for a fucking glory hole. After staring at it in mute disbelief, acceptance finally kicked in and he stormed back to find the door locked. He pounded on it and shouted, demanding to be let out and refunded. When that failed, he walked up to the hole and peered through. Nothing but jet black darkness awaited him. He shouted through it, asking to speak to Mrs Geurts. Nothing. No movement. No sound. He paced up and down the room, infuriated. He looked at the cucumber water. He looked at the hole. Shaking his head, he made a decision. Unzipping his flies, he approached the hole. Here goes nothing.
The assistant came for him an hour later. He vaguely heard the click of the lock as he sat in a daze sipping at the cucumber water. His entire body felt relaxed, as though he’d just come out of a long massage. Mutely, he watched her approach. He was deep in his own thoughts but all good things must come to an end. He stood up slowly. His legs felt like jelly but grew in strength as he followed the assistant to the door. ‘Did you have a good time?’ she asked quietly, her smile knowing. ‘That was quite the experience. It wasn’t at all what I expected,’ Oliver said. The world carried a residual sense of stillness to it. Sounds felt muted, colours felt brighter, more discordant. He passed Mrs Geurts, to step outside into the chill of the evening air. He could see the pub in the distance. The wolf pack was waiting for him. But he just wanted to get back home to Sarah. He dropped them a text. 'I’m knackered, heading home boys. See you Monday.' Hailing a taxi, he climbed in to avoid the Tube. He felt a pressing need to get straight back to his flat, to Sarah. Closing his eyes, he thought about what he really wanted out of life and how he could achieve it. The wolf pack had been a distraction, an attempt to fit in. It was unwarranted. Over half of the team’s bugs were solved by him and by him alone. He was more important to them than they were to him. The jewelled lights of London flitted by as his taxi rumbled along the roads. He looked out at the boats on the River Thames as a plan started to formulate in his mind. If he played this right he could achieve every single one of his goals. In the background, the radio was playing some kind of smooth jazz. The cloying scent of three Christmas tree air fresheners permeated the air in the car as he sat back, holding the support on the side. He hadn’t spared any time for Sarah. Worse, he had neglected to consider that being a nurse, she worked equally hard and she also needed some time to unwind. I’ve been a prick. When the taxi stopped outside the house. He gave the driver his fee and a ten-pound note as a tip. Opening the front door, he headed straight to the kitchen. Making up a pair of hot chocolates, he sprinkled some dark chocolate flakes over the top and carried them upstairs. Seeing Sarah lying in bed, the lights off, he placed down his mug. ‘Hey Sare, I know you are awake. I brought you a hot chocolate. I really need to apologise to you?’ Oliver held out her mug. Rolling over and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, Sarah regarded him critically. She shuffled up to a seated position and accepted the peace offering. ‘I had a… therapeutic session today which put many things into perspective.’ He smiled at her, feeling peaceful. ‘I was able to take a step back and see things from your position for perhaps the first time since I took on this contract and I want to apologise for my behaviour.’ Oliver sat down on the bed next to her and took his mug. The thick dark chocolate was still too hot to drink, so he blew on it gently. ‘I found the culture and the money all a bit overwhelming. I haven’t experienced anything like that before and it was like I had joined a different way of life.’ He took a deep breath. Exhaling slowly. ‘What I didn’t realise was that the lifestyle didn’t represent me, nor did I see how the toxic behaviour of others at the office was changing me and affecting my home-life.’ Sarah viewed him thoughtfully. ‘Change can be difficult, especially when you face change at work and at home simultaneously.’ ‘I’ll be back earlier on Monday. The hours are still long, but if they want me to be involved in meetings, they can do them in the office.’ Oliver leaned back against the headboard, his head cooled by the solid pine. ‘How about we order a pizza and watch something on Netflix? Spend a night in, just you and I?’ ‘Sounds good. It’s been a long time,’ Sarah said. She snuggled in closer to the warmth of his body as they sipped their hot chocolates in silence. Placing the empty mugs on the bedside table, they moved in closer and kissed gently, hands wandered and they made love slowly, sensually. As Oliver looked into Sarah’s eyes, all he could think of was the padded hole in the wall. Every time he tried to focus on her his attention wandered until his eyes closed. He visualised himself thrusting into that faux leather orifice. When they finished and rolled apart, sweaty and tired, she looked at him with a curious expression. He was worried she would confront him about it. Instead, she got up, went to the toilet and they both faded into sleep.
Monday, March 19th 2012 Oliver arrived early again on Monday. The weekend had been relaxing. They’d gone for a long walk in Richmond Park on Saturday, then for a roast dinner on Sunday for the first time in a month. They’d spent quality time together. Loading up the bugs, he chose himself a couple of easy ones to start the day with. Stevo had sent a project over for him to take on. Rewriting the bordereau reports for their new reinsurer. Oliver smiled. Proper work for once, not just crushing bugs. Roger walked up behind him. ‘The Bordereau reports are mine. I always work on them.’ ‘Sorry Roger, a rounding bug has cropped up in the Specialty reports. You can look at that instead. Stevo assigned the reports to me.’ Oliver typed on, growing aware of the ever-increasing silence from Roger. Finally, he turned, feeling eyes burning through the back of his skull to see Roger staring at him malevolently. ‘I see you.’ Roger pointed his finger level with Oliver’s face. Oliver eyed him coolly. ‘I am not interested in arguing Roger, I have no personal problems with you. Let’s just focus on getting our work done.’ ‘You are a snake.’ Roger took his seat next to him. Opening up his bacon sandwich. ‘Those are my reports. I’ve earned that project. I am loyal. You should have heard what everyone said when you ditched the team on Friday.’ He took a deep bite before mumbling through a mouth full of grease, bread and meat. ‘They don’t trust you.’ ‘They trust me to get my work done ahead of schedule, for it to be low in bugs and lead to an improvement in the surrounding codebase.’ Oliver shrugged. ‘Ultimately, that is more important than how long I stay down the pub or how many drinks I have.’ Roger’s lip curled. ‘That Platinum Service is toxic. It ruins everyone it touches. You had potential, kid.’ ‘Uh-huh.’ Oliver focused on his screen. The existing code base for the Bordereau reports was a mess. He’d need to recode it all to bring it up to standard.
Monday night, Oliver got home first before Sarah. He set up a few candles around the sofa and ordered their favourite pizza and a tub of ice cream from Papa Johns. He was flicking through the programs on Netflix, looking for a potential movie when Sarah got home. The warmth from the weekend had vanished. Sarah was brandishing her phone like a weapon. ‘What the hell is PG Holdings? Because it sure isn’t tea bags at two and a half thousand pounds?’ Oliver’s heart skipped a beat. ‘It is a one-time intensive therapy. It is what helped me so much on Friday. I really needed it. I think we really needed it.’ ‘We?’ Sarah walked over to the sofa. ‘Oliver, you keep telling me how rich we are and how I don’t understand money, so perhaps you could explain simply why we have no money in our current account and we are in debt on our credit card.’ ‘Think of it as an investment. I needed a realignment to set myself straight. I am not going down the pub anymore and it was one-time therapy. They actually don’t let you have more than one session.’ Oliver looked at her serenely, gently patting the sofa next to him. Looking down at the sofa, she raised an eyebrow. ‘I’m not a dog Olly.’ ‘I know.’ He smiled at her. ‘Listen, I know you are making changes, but we can’t be in debt when the baby comes along. I only get so much maternity leave. Things are going to be tight.’ Sarah said, her eyes worried. ‘Just keep an eye on your banking app. Watch the money flood in each week and those numbers rocket. I understand why you are concerned. But it was just some teething issues. It’s to be expected.’ Sarah sat down dubiously. ‘Well, are there any more teething issues for me to be aware of because I’m not feeling very secure right now.’ ‘Everything is fine, Sarah. It’s all going to be okay.’ Oliver stroked her hair. ‘I’m going to take care of us both.’ They sat back on the sofa and watched Cruel Intentions. When the pizza and ice cream arrived, they ate contentedly and reached a quiet acceptance, if not quite yet an understanding. Later that night, they made love again. Once again, Oliver’s mind was filled with memories of the padded hole in the wall.
Saturday, March 25th 2012 It was evening. The streets were getting busy as groups of marauding revellers began to search for pubs and bars to start their night. Oliver had no such compunction. He was standing outside the ‘Data Centre’. The Platinum Service had loomed in his mind all week. The concept of a glory hole had always repulsed him, yet now the memory of its warm, mysterious touch obsessed him. He wondered what the woman on the other side looked like. He visualised a young blonde. He could almost see a red cocktail dress. He’d thought about it and nothing else at work. His work had started to degrade. More bugs were being raised against it. His speed was slowing down. Oliver decided that he needed one more session of the Platinum Service to get it out of his head. He would need a new credit card otherwise, Sarah would be worried. He would also need a new form of ID. He picked up his phone and texted his brother, asking if he could take him to lunch at the weekend. The next problem was Madame Geurts. She would recognise him. Looking at the opening hours of the Data Centre, he saw that it was open seven days a week. He was willing to guess that she wasn’t working every day. He had decided to try at the weekend and see if they had someone else at the front desk. That time was now. In one hand, Oliver had a new credit card so that Sarah wouldn’t be able to check up on him and be worried. In the other, he had his brother Ralph’s driving licence. They looked similar, even though Ralph was two years younger than him. It had taken lunch at Belgos to persuade him. Oliver had lied and told him it was for a prank in the office. After a few steins of Flemish beer his brother had agreed and handed it over. Looking through the door, he saw that his supposition that they would have a different Madame on duty at the weekend had been correct. A severe-looking blonde sat at the counter, her hair pulled back into a ponytail and her eyes framed by a pair of thin spectacles. As he approached, she looked up. ‘Welcome. How may I be of assistance to you today?’ ‘I would like to try the Platinum Service, please.’ Eyeing him, she judged him quietly and then curtly ran through the cost, secrecy policy and the stipulation that you could only use the service once. Oliver nodded rapidly. He was fully erect already. His breathing was shallow in anticipation. It took all of his willpower not to run to the room. Instead, he was meekly led there by an assistant called Jessica. As the door clicked behind him, he wasted no time, unzipping his flies and pulling down his briefs. He grabbed the roll bars on each side of the hole and began rapidly thrusting. He could hear gagging sounds on the other side and grinned. An animalistic expression of primal lust distorted his face. An hour later, he was found reclining on the chair by the assistant, who gently led him out of the room.
Sunday, March 26th 2012 Oliver hadn’t slept that night. Thoughts of the Platinum Service dominated his mind. He had tried everything, hot chocolate, showers, even sneaking to the bathroom to relieve himself. That hole just echoed in his visions. He wanted it more. He needed it. After a sleepless night, Sarah got out of bed at six o’clock. He had listened to her sleeping most of the night next to him. ‘Right, I’m making us tea. Then you can tell me what kept you up all night.’ Oliver lay in bed, exhausted. How do I explain this? When Sarah returned twenty minutes later, she had bacon sandwiches with her. ‘Thought you might be hungry.’ She popped his mug of tea next to him and his breakfast. He looked at it forlornly. His appetite for food, for drink was non-existent. All he wanted was to return to the Data Centre. ‘Now, then, what’s on your mind?’ Sarah looked at him kindly. ‘I... I’ve been having a lot of stress at work. I am working on these reports. It’s tough.’ Oliver tried. He couldn’t tell if Sarah believed him or not, but she nodded sympathetically. Patting him on the shoulder, she asked him what she could do to help. Oliver looked her in the eyes, then his vision dropped to her mouth and his body reacted. Reaching for her hand, he guided it into place. When she began to work his shaft, he slid his hand round the back of her head and pushed it slowly down. ‘Oh, all right. Head pushing is it now?.’ she grumbled but acquiesced. As her head moved into position and the anticipation sent him into a whirl of excitement, she suddenly snapped her head back. ‘What is this?’ she asked. Pulling back the sheets, she reached back, got her phone and turned on its torch function. ‘What is what?’ Oliver looked down in a panic. Then he saw it, his eyes widening with alarm. A handful of black, soot-like spots were showing on his erect member. The veins around it looked dark and swollen. Sarah took a photo. ‘Don’t do that. Delete it.’ Oliver said, horrified. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this. It looks like a sexually transmitted infection, but it's like nothing I’ve ever seen before.’ She moved back to lie down next to him. ‘Have you been cheating on me?’ Oliver blinked. The question was cold, matter of fact and clinical. ‘No, I would never.’ ‘If it wasn’t for sudden onset and the veins, I’d say it was penile melanoma. When did you start to get these symptoms?’ Sarah asked, immediately in work mode. ‘I didn’t. I don’t know. You are the first person to spot them.’ She reached up to his forehead. ‘Hmmm, I need to get my thermometer. It feels like a temperature. But it could be just because you’ve been under the duvet.’ Oliver sat up. He felt shell-shocked. All he could think was, the Platinum Service did this. He closed his eyes. Even though he knew the cause, he couldn’t help but want to use it again. Sarah disappeared and returned with her infrared thermometer. Shining it on his forehead, she nodded grimly. ‘Yep, you have a temperature. We need to book you in with the doctor. As soon as it opens at nine.’ She looked at him coolly. ‘You are sure this isn’t an STI? It’s very sudden. Do you promise me that you haven’t been cheating?’ Oliver looked straight back into her eyes and lied. ‘I would never cheat on you.’ Sarah returned with some aspirin for his fever. He gratefully swallowed them with a mouthful of tea. His sense of taste had gone, leaving the drink lifeless and drab. The Data Centre opened at three o’clock. He would return and give them a piece of his mind. ‘You should try to get some of that bacon sandwich down you,’ Sarah tried. Oliver shook his head. He had no interest in food or drink. He knew what he wanted. He knew what he needed.
Oliver walked the streets. Sarah had managed to get him a doctor’s appointment. They had prescribed him antibiotics and had taken a battery of blood tests. No definitive diagnosis yet. He felt worse. He was alternating between freezing cold and boiling hot. His jaw was aching and his throat felt dry even when he drank water. He found himself sitting outside the Data Centre, waiting for it to open. As he shivered, he saw Madame Geurts walking towards the front door. ‘Mrs Geurts,’ He called towards her. She stopped and regarded him critically. ‘Let me open up. We can talk in about thirty minutes,’ she said professionally. The door opened. Oliver stopped pacing and went inside. ‘May I help you, sir?’ Madame Geurts had the same look on her face that she always did. Quiet, professional, calm. ‘The Platinum Service gave me a disease! I want a refund,’ Oliver demanded. Mrs Geurts looked concerned. She asked for his name. Checking her records, she tutted. ‘As I thought. You had a Platinum Service over a week ago.’ Looking up at him, she eyed him critically. ‘What are your symptoms and when did you first notice them?’ ‘Actually, I didn’t. I last used the Platinum Service yesterday under the name of Ralph Kinley.’ Mrs Geurts froze. ‘You falsified your data.’ She shook her head. ‘The Platinum Service is only to be allowed once per customer. We were very clear. It is to be used in moderation only.’ ‘What do you mean? That’s just marketing,’ Oliver ranted. ‘How often do you clean that hole?’ Hissing, Mrs Geurts motioned for the security guard to return to his post. ‘Never, ever reveal the secret of the Platinum Service.’ ‘Yeah? Well, right now, I am considering tweeting not only what it is, but also the fact that I caught a fucking disease from your skanky hole.’ Oliver’s voice sounded strained. His throat felt so dry. ‘Mr Kinley, we rigorously test all of our performers and keep our facilities spotless. I can see that you are upset. Allow me to offer you a complimentary session of the Platinum Service. Tiffany can take you there right now.’ Oliver gazed levelly at her. This is an addiction. Addiction is a social construct. You are just making use of two and a half thousand pounds' worth of entertainment. This is making me ill. You are on medication now. You’ll be better in no time. Besides, it’s probably nothing to do with the Platinum Service. You aren’t a doctor. How would you know? ‘Okay,’ he rasped. Relief and disappointment washed over him in equal measure. Tiffany took him by the hand and led him upstairs.
Monday, March 27th 2012
When Sarah woke on Monday, she found Oliver shaking.
He still wasn’t eating.
The darkened veins had turned black and were spreading up his torso.
His jaw hung slack.
He could barely speak.
His head wobbled on his shoulders as the muscles weakened.
She immediately dialled for an ambulance, looking at him with concern.
She helped him down the stairs and into the ambulance.
Wiping a bit of drool from his face with a tissue, Sarah sat in the back with him and held his hand.
Oliver was lifted into a chair and wheeled through the doors of A&E.
He groaned and shivered.
Adjusting the blanket, Sarah looked at him, worried. ‘I’m sorry, Olly, I have to get to work. I’ll come back and see you straight afterwards.’
He mumbled something, but it wasn’t clear.
Sarah patted his head and left him to begin her shift. The ambulance had taken him to St. Georges Hospital, not the hospital she worked at, the Chelsea and Westminster. Gathering her things, she clutched his hand, giving him one last worried look.
Oliver lay in bed until a need to go to the loo forced him to rise. He staggered to the bathroom and released a stream of urine into the toilet, clutching onto the roll bar.
Looking at his phone, he loaded up Uber and ordered a cab.
Staggering to the front entrance, he collapsed into the taxi, spending his last strength.
The taxi driver looked horrified as he drove him to his predetermined destination—the Data Centre.
When he arrived, his legs had completely given up.
He tried to explain to the taxi driver that he needed help, but his voice wouldn’t work. His jaw had lost all muscular control now and just hung slack.
‘Fucking junkies,’ the taxi driver swore at him. Looking around, he swore again before getting out and dragging Oliver to the pavement outside the Data Centre. ‘Someone else’s problem now.’
As the Uber raced off, no doubt after leaving him a one-star review, the Data Centre doors opened. Madame Geurts took one look at the problem and directed the security guard to carry Oliver like a swaddling babe. ‘Don’t you worry, sir, we’ll take care of you.’
He was carried to the top floor. Even in his condition, Oliver grew excited when he saw the entrance to the Platinum Service. They didn’t go through that door. Instead, Mrs Geurts led him to the door marked 'Maintenance NO ENTRY'. Unlocking it and holding it open for the security guard, she beckoned them on. Oliver’s eyes widened in horror while he was carried around the bend in the long corridor.
He couldn’t. His throat was ruined. He couldn’t cry out or scream.
Behind the hole for the Platinum Service, a grey-haired man in a suit had his head strapped to the wall. A UV drip was attached to his wrists.
Mrs Geurts undid the leather restraints and the man collapsed to the ground. Grunting with the effort, she dragged the body to one side as the security guard placed Oliver down in the position the old man had previously occupied. He felt rough hands strap his head against the wall. A UV drip was attached to his wrist, a catheter was inserted into his penis.
Tears rolled down his face as he knelt there for however long. He didn’t see what they did with the previous occupant. After a while, he heard the sounds of someone walking in. ‘What is this shit?’ he heard them complain as they paced the room behind the wall.
Minutes later, Oliver heard them unzip. He wanted to shout, to scream, but his throat was no longer capable of speech.
Moments later, his throat had other duties to perform as a thick, girthy member was forced into it. His eyes wept unabated as his first client received the Platinum Service.