Me – 07

Me – 07

The Boy
For the first time in my life, I was at loose ends with myself. It was a strange sort of feeling. It was not only there didn't seem to be nothing to do: I didn't want to do anything. Now that there wasn't no purpose in going back to Charlotte Ainsley's house, there wasn't any reason to anything.

Even worse, for the first time I could remember, Billy didn't seem to be with me anymore. It was only after he was gone – of course, he had been gone for a long time now, because he died of a fever when me and him were nine years old – that I realized just how much I had counted on him being there, somewhere just behind my left shoulder. In my mind, you see, I was always checking with billy. What would Billy do? Or what would Billy think? Or what would Billy feel? About this, that, or the other thing. Most important of all, as I passed through a day of life, what would Billy see in that day, take note of, appreciate, and enjoy? I had got so used to living life twice over, once for billy and once for me.

For a week or more I moped around the house, getting up early in the morning only to look at all that empty time up ahead before I could rightfully sleep again. I didn't go swimming, I didn't go sailing, I didn't go downtown to shoot a game of pool.

I didn't want to work. Mr. Adams found out I was idle, so he called two or three times, trying to persuade me to take up the grocery route. But even when he offered me one raise after the other, I couldn't take interest anymore in that line of work.

Which was just about the strangest part of it all. Because I did like my old ladies. I enjoy doing for them. Not on account of the tips and the nice presents, either, but because it's just a good feeling to be appreciated in this world. And they did appreciate me.

It wasn't that I didn't have my chances. Hardly a day went by that I didn't get a phone call asking me to mow a yard or weed a garden. I told all these good friends of mine that, feeling under the weather as I did, I couldn't see my way clear to take on a job of work just at this time. I tried to be nice about it. But I wouldn't see my way to take on a job of work just at this time. I tried to be nice about it. But I wouldn't see them.

It seemed like that Charlotte Ainsley, in doing her great piece, had used up the best part of me. She had burned me right down to the ashes, and all I had to show for it was the gold chain. I had that, at least; and I never took it off, except to take a shower, and I had got into the habit of fingering and feeling its heavy links as they hung down on my chest.

Not that I felt bad about what Miss Charlotte had done. I felt fine about it. Every time the thought crossed my mind of that statue being gazed on by thousands of people, it just made me feel great all over. The best part was, I knew that it would live forever, regardless of what happened to me. I would get old – why, I'd be thirty before you knew it – but the statue couldn't get old. It would always and forever be sixteen, standing at full tilt and more alive than me.

I was empty. The magic that had been a part of me – it had been magic, too, for it seemed like any old lady in the need couldn't take but one look at me without falling under its spell – had been transferred to the statue. So in one way Miss Charlotte's statue had given me immortality, in another it had taken it away, leaving me a mortal man. No more to me than any other man.

The magic might now dwell in the statue; but it could still have its effect on my life. Because it was Charlotte Ainsley's statue that brought Miss Ruby to me.

Two o'clock of a Thursday afternoon, hot and still. Out in the Gulf a thunderhead was building itself from the heat, towering there white and tall like a dream castle made out of hot air. No wind, so the sailboat or two I could see looked like they had been painted on the water. Just then, while I had been thinking for ten minutes I ought to go into the house and get a drink of water, a limousine pulled up to the gate. It was the longest and the prettiest automobile I had ever seen, sporting a special pain job of deep purple. Though I hadn't ever seen one before, I knew from the hood ornament that it was a Rolls-Royce.

A tall fellow, old and settled-looking in his ways, though wearing a purple uniform to match the car, got down and came through the front gate that hadn't been fixed for a good many years now, and so sagged on one hinge. He picked his way through the chicken droppings in the bare sand of the yard and stopped at the porch steps. Nobody around but me; my younger brothers and sisters down off in the willow thicket playing, Daddy downtown to enjoy the cool of the poolroom, Mama taking a nap in the back bedroom, which was the coolest place in the house.

He didn't have any doubt that I was the man he had come to see, because, politely taking off his cap, he said, "Miss Ruby wants to see you."

Like always these days, I was disinclined to go anywhere, do anything. "Who's Miss Ruby, and where is she?" I asked.

"Miss Ruby is Miss Ruby," he said. Then, nodding his head, "She's in the car, waiting to talk to you."

Having no desire to seem impolite, I figured I could bestir my laziness enough to walk that far. So I went out to the purple limousine, the chauffeur fellow following. When we got there, I still couldn't see anything, because the back seat was shaded with window blinds. The chauffeur fellow moved around in front of me and opened the door.

"Get in here, boy, and let me have a look at you," a deep, rough voice said.

I got in. The chauffeur fellow had left the motor running, so the air-conditioning had it nice and cool.

Miss Ruby was a woman big enough to match the size and deepness of her voice. Not that she was fat, though there was aplenty of that; just big, that's all, her shoulders broad, her thighs like the twin boles of oak trees, and she had the chest of a pouter pigeon. Big hands, salted with flashing rings, and a broad face, pale in color, as though she didn't ever let the sun get to her, and a tiny rosebud mouth that was as sweet and kind as her black eyes were sharp.

The automobile started moving. I said, "Wait a minute. I can't be going nowhere."

She didn't pay me any mind; she was busy opening up a bar built into the back seat there, and putting ice into a silver cup.

"Want a shot of sour mash, son?" she asked, glancing at me.

"No, ma'am, I don't drink," I said politely.

She tossed back the shot and smacked her lips. "Better learn to drink, boy. At my age, sour mash is damn nigh as good as sex, and twice as handy." She chuckled at her own saying, so I laughed too.

"How old are you, my boy?" she asked in a friendly tone.

"Eighteen," I said, like I always did.

She kept on looking. "You're a liar. Not a day over sixteen, and you know it."

Well, now, how did she know that?

"Maybe you're wondering why I'm here," Miss Ruby said.

"Yes'm," I said politely. "I reckon I am."

She fixed herself another shot of sour mash and tossed it back neat, just one ice cube in the silver cup. Then she closed up the bar and sat back to study me.

"It just happened that I drove over today to visit an old friend, son," she said. "Knew Charlotte Ainsley years ago in London, when she was first making her reputation." Her whole body shook with laughter. "That was before she was less, I want you to understand. In fact, I didn't know she had gone that route until I took note of that pretty girl she's got living with her."

She stopped, smacked her lips in remembrance of the taste of Jack Daniel's, and went on.

"Saw that newest thing she's done. Liked it. Tried to buy it. She wouldn't hear of selling it, even to an old friend with the right size of money. Swore she couldn't let it go except into a great museum, which she was sure it would do after her New York show this winter." Miss Ruby's chest shook with laughter. "Invited me to make the donation to a museum of her choice, but I don't have a charitable bone in my body." She stopped laughing as suddenly as she had started. "She's right, of course. It's a museum piece of the first water, if you don't mind my saying so." She chuckled all over herself again.

The limousine was creeping along slowly. We might as well have been in a private living room; the panel was closed between us and the driver, the window shades were drawn, the interior lit by soft hidden lights. There was music playing somewhere, soft and easy, just on the edge of hearing. Some automobile, all right; you couldn't hardly tell that it was moving.

"Since I couldn't own the work of art, I thought I'd have a look at the original. For some reason or other, Charlotte tried to keep you a secret. But I got it out of her finally, and since I'm a lady who makes up her mind in a hurry, I drove right over here."

I didn't say anything. There wasn't much to be said about all that she had told me.

Miss Ruby was still looking at me. "Did you like what she had done, once it was finished?"

"Yes'm," I said. "I liked it a whole lot."

Well, boy, I'm here to view the original," she said. "So flop it out here and let me see it."

I didn't move. She waited for an instant; then she reached over, squirming around in her seat, to unzip my pants. Her large hand plunged in and dragged Him out. You would have thought such attentions would stir His interest, but they didn't. She began to manipulate Him.

"Are you always this slow, boy?" she said.

I put one hand to the gold chain to feel its heavy links. "No'm, I reckon not," I said. "I just ain't been feeling any too well lately."

Her sharp eyes studied my face all over again. "Well, we'll just see about that," she said strongly.

I must tell you, she had a kindly hand, and you know how He's got a mind of His own. Before I hardly realized it, willy-nilly there He was, all of Himself.

Miss Ruby gazed upon Him. "I'll be damned," she said. "I'd have bet a hundred dollars she improved Him some, though Charlotte swore not. She was, by God, telling the straight truth, wasn't she?"

Letting Him stand by his lonesome, she started rummaging around on the rear-window ledge and finally produced the last free-standing model Miss Charlotte had made. She held the clay model on my leg beside Him, nodding in approval.

"Absolutely," she said. "That's a fine cock you've got there, boy." She looked into my face, laughing at my expression. "I bought all her working models, son, talked her into letting me have those, at least. Two hundred dollars each. But I've got an idea exactly what to do with them."

It hurt me to know that Miss Charlotte had sold even the working models. I comforted myself by thinking that they had, at least, fallen into hands that would appreciate their quality.

Miss Ruby put away the model. "How'd you like to work for me, son?"

I shook my head. "Like I told you. I ain't been feeling so good lately."

"Anything physically wrong?"

I started fingering the chain again. "No'm. Not that I know of."

"Are you working now?"

"Ain't doing nothing but sitting."

"Know anything about boats?"

I showed a spark of interest for the first time. "I've sailed a good bit, like any other boy raised in Pass Robin."

She nodded. "That's just fine. Son, let me tell you something. That artist woman has wrong you dry, that's all there is to it. But it's time you got up off your ass and started living again. You won't feel any better until you do."

I didn't say anything. But I was listening to her deep, rough, kindly voice.

"You've got something, boy, and it'd be a damned shame to let it go to waste. Now, working on a boat ought to be just the ticket. Especially the Liberated Lady." She put her hand on my bare arm, stroking it down. Her big hand was surprisingly soft, surprisingly gentle. "You'd be gorgeous with a real tan, the good deep kind you can get only from living on a boat. My crew work naked most of the time, once we're well out from port where no one can bother us."

"You mean you've got a whole crew?" I said.

She chuckled. "She's a big boat, seventy-five feet. Plenty of room for anything you might want to do." She paused. "It's a good life, son. The kind of life you need right now."

I thought about it. It sounded good.

"Where is this boat?"

"I sail out of New Orleans."

It sounded even better. I knew suddenly that I needed to get out of Pass Robin. Hadn't thought about it until this minute. But I knew.

"All right," I said, so quick it surprised me. "You've hired yourself a hand, Miss Ruby."

"Now, just one minute," she said, laughing and holding up one hand. "Got to try out first. Never hire a new hand without testing him."

"All I know is sailboats," I said. "But I . . ."

She wasn't listening. Instead, she had picked up the voice tube and was saying to the chauffeur fellow up front, "Paul, that Holiday Inn we passed on the way in . . . stop there, please." She cut an eye at me and added, "We might even stay the night, so book a nice suite."

She hung up the voice tube, put her hand on Him again. I understood, by now, that it wasn't anything like an examination for a mate's license that I had to pass.

It was a luxurious suite, king-size bed and everything. Paul brought in a couple of suitcases – I learned later she never traveled without being ready to stop anywhere, for as long as she liked – and then proceeded to replace the motel sheets with purple-silk sheets. Gathering up the towels, he put thick purple towels in their place. Then he went away.

While Paul had been doing his work, Miss Ruby and I had sat in two chairs watching him. I felt sort of strange in all this elegance, wearing a sleeveless shirt – I had just torn the sleeves out, leaving it ragged – and a pair of khaki pants. I didn't even have any shoes.

Miss Ruby heaved herself to her feet – standing, she was taller than me, and broader too, just the biggest woman I'd ever seen – and went to the bar Paul had fetched from the limousine.

Pouring herself a drink and knocking it back, she said without looking at me. "Strip off."

I did. But I moved mighty slow about it, and didn't have much to show when I stood naked. Miss Ruby turned around, after her second shot of sour mash, and gazed at me with a curious expression, like she didn't know whether to laugh or to cry.

She didn't say anything, just got busy taking off her own clothes. Which was quite a job. She was wearing this long purple gown, all the way to her ankles, and under it there was this girdle. Finally, tugging and heaving under the gown, she shucked herself out of the girdle, flinging it aside with a great sigh of relief.

"I hate that thing," she said. "Don't know why I wear it. But a woman's got to have some pride, I reckon. Come here and unbutton me."

The gown was fastened with a long row of buttons down the back. I was pretty much fumble-fingers, because I wasn't all that anxious to gaze upon her huge nakedness. Getting impatient before I had worked halfway down her back, she stripped off the gown over her head, regardless of her careful hairdo.

"Come on," she said. "Get on the bed."

"Miss Ruby," I said.

She turned sharply. "What's the matter?"

"I don't think I can do it."

She looked at Him. "Boy, you're mighty young to have that kind of trouble."

I had my hand to the gold chain, the heaviness of the links so comforting. "It's not that," I told her. "It's just that . . . I ain't used to having to prove nothing."

Her eyes rose to my face. "Listen, son, I've got to try you out before I hire you. But don't think for a minute that a big fat ugly woman like me doesn't need to get her ashes hauled, just the same as your pretty young things. Just looking at that thing, limp as it is, makes me feel like warm Jell-O inside."

I couldn't answer to that.

Her gruff voice got deeper and softer. "It's all to do with Charlotte Ainsley, isn't it?"

"Yes'm," I said uneasily. "I reckon so."

Her face turned soft, her rosebud mouth just as pretty as the mouth on a girl. "Come lie with me," she said. "You don't have to do a thing. I just want to hold you, that's all."

We laid down together on the king-size bed. Miss Ruby laid her arms around my waist, holding me close, stroking with her strong and gentle hands. It was not that she was trying to rouse me to my duty; just tender loving and a heartfelt care for the down feeling that dwelled so deeply in my soul.

I laid my head on her broad shoulder. I put one hand on her breasts, breathing deeply to take in the musky perfume she was wearing. That was a thing that Billy would have done: and suddenly Billy was with me again, breathing that scent just like I was. And so we laid together, the three of us, her and me and Billy, for the longest time, the air-conditioning whispering in the silent room. I took pleasure in the silk sheets, for I had never laid down my body on such fine sheets before.

At long last she spoke quietly. "You let that lesbian artist cut you down pretty good, didn't you?"

"It wasn't that," I said. "I liked Charlotte fine. It's just that . . ."

"Just that what?"

Held so lovingly, feeling the warm closeness of Miss Ruby's great body, I could say it. To myself, as well as to her.

"It's just that . . . I keep knowing myself a mortal man."

Her massive arms held me more tightly. "Of course you're mortal. But you're a man, son. A real man. That's what counts."

I hesitated over the words. "But the piece of work that Charlotte made out of Him . . ."

"You wanted her to make it, didn't you?"

"I sure did. But . . ."

"Listen," Miss Ruby said. "You believe that piece of clay took it all, don't you? You must remember that you're a man, while it's only a piece of clay. A great work of art, no doubt about that . . no real woman will ever be able to look upon it without feeling a tenderness and wanting down in her gut. That's a mighty thing, all right. But . . ."

She raised up on her elbow to gaze into my face. "But that piece of clay can't fuck a woman, son. Can't go up in there to stir her up, make her know herself for all the woman she's capable of being. You can. So you're a mighty work of art yourself – just because you are so fragile, like a butterfly in your youth, you are human and you are mortal and you will not last forever."

I didn't say anything. She leaned to kiss me, and still she wasn't trying to rouse me. A kindly kiss.

"Do you understand?"

"I'm trying to."

I didn't understand. But I had a feeling that Billy did, and Billy was with me again, and so that feeling was enough.

Miss Ruby lifted the weight of the gold chain in her hand. "Charlotte Ainsley gave you this, didn't she?"

I wondered how she knew. "Yes," I said. "When we had finished the work we had to do together."

"Take it off," Miss Ruby said.

"I don't have to," I said.

I rolled myself up and onto her, feeling her great legs part to let me sink into my place on her body. I took Him in hand, limp though He was, and put Him into her pussy. Then I just laid there and let Him grow to his natural size and heft, pushing at her warm flesh inch by inch, making His way into her. When I cocked my hips for the first stroke, she let out a long sigh, so that now it was me stroking her, comforting her, whilst she laid open under me, all that great size and all that great loving.

There came, then, the moment when it changed, when fucking Miss Ruby got to be like riding a hurricane wave on a skateboard. She just suddenly warped into it, such a big woman, and so passionate, all I could do was hang on, and the funny thing was, this big woman was small and tight inside, so I just filled her to the hilt.

Socketed home now, she started coming to me, and one thing led to another, the big waves shuddering up from deeper and deeper inside her, each wilder than the one before, until I just went crazy my own self, so that we rode together into the eye of the storm, where it was so quiet and peaceful you couldn't believe it.

Still wrapped in each other, we slept for a time, then did it all over again, just like it hadn't happened yet. After which, she picked up the telephone to order room service, steak and mashed potatoes and a great big salad for each of us. We ate, and did it again, then we slept some more and woke up in the dawn's early light to put on the finishing round.

It's hard to believe, but instead of getting satisfied, she grew more passionate with each trial. I had thought the first time was wild enough; but that last early-morning round, when she got up on her hands and knees, with Him into her from behind, I was afraid she was going to tear the bed down.

Over room-service breakfast, a double order of pancakes for both, she said sweetly, "Son, you're a fucking genius. And got the equipment to match."

"It's just that I've been without," I said modestly. Which was true. I hadn't touched me a woman for more than a week.

She snorted in disbelief. "In fact, I intend to pay you twice what I'm paying the other boys." She shook a warning finger. "But don't let them know."

"Regular wages is fine with me," I said.

"You're worth it." She looked steadily into my eyes. "That is, if you're prepared to go to work for me."

That was how, for the first time in my life, I left Pass Robin and set out into the world to make my way.

It didn't take but the first boat ride to find out what the Liberated Lady was all about. It wasn't sailing, let me tell you that.

She was a beautiful thing, all teakwood and shining brass, with great big Chrysler engines. There was a lounge topside, glassed in all around, with tables and chairs and a bar and all, and down below, a galley all shining and clean, and four staterooms. Miss Ruby's stateroom was a gorgeous place for a great woman, all purple, with a queen-size bed that took up nearly all the space.

The captain of the Liberated Lady was a weathered old woman, half the size of Miss Ruby but twice as loud, who was ugly as a mud fence in her seagoing breeches, made out of canvas, and her battered captain's hat. But she, by God, knew how to run a boat.

The crew was me and three other boys, each in his own way a fine-looking fellow and proud of himself. They all three had those deep tans Miss Ruby kept talking about. I don't aim to go into any detailed descriptions of the crewmen, because they kept changing all the time I was with Miss Ruby. In fact, one quit the day after I came aboard because Miss Ruby called me to her stateroom instead of him. He took it sort of personal, because Friday night had always been his, and he had come to count on it.

But, shoot, there wasn't enough seamanship to working on the Liberated Lady to put in your hat, except for keeping the brasswork shining and the teak decks polished, which we did whilst docked in the marina. And here's why, as I come to find out. On the Saturday, along about three o'clock in the afternoon, I noticed that Captain Phoebe was getting ready to put to sea. Then, in about half an hour, here come a bevy of ladies, arriving all excited and flustery in taxis or private cars, flocking aboard until there was a dozen of them, all told. Me and the other crew members – only three of us, now that one had left this morning – were leaning over the rail, watching the activity.

We were all dressed alike, in a sort of uniform, if what we wore could be called a uniform. It wasn't nothing in the world but a sort of black bikini that didn't cover up hardly nothing. I felt awkward and embarrassed being so undressed out there in public like that. The other fellows seemed well used to it, so I reckoned I could stand it too, given time.

Here they come, the horny old biddies," said the crewman that had a sort of mean streak to him. (He didn't last long after I got there; Miss Ruby threw him off the boat for beating up on a lady one time.)

"Now, there's one I wouldn't mind taking advantage of," the redheaded fellow said.

He raised an arm and waved. So many of the women waved back, I couldn't tell which one he was talking about.

I had my own thoughts, by now, what the Liberated Lady was all about. But those ladies coming aboard sure didn't look like they could be all that hard up. Most were pretty young, and even the older ones were just as nice as they could be. Only two or three out of the whole bunch that a fellow couldn't be anxious to get into bed with, and be proud of the chance.

For they were classy ladies every one, wearing beautiful clothes just exactly right for a seagoing adventure. You could tell money lay heavy in their backgrounds, because they had the look of ladies who went to the best hairdressers, whose bodies knew only expensive clothes, and all. There's a way a woman walks who's been raised rich like that; you can just tell at a glance that they are somebody.

We cast off and headed out toward Chandler Island. Once well away from the land, one of the fellows said, "Well, guys, let's give the girls a thrill," and shucked out of his bikini.

The other crewmen followed suit. And, hell, I've got to tell the truth, I didn't see nothing remarkable between their legs.

The fellow with the mean streak turned to me. "Bashful, boy?" he said, leering. "Or are you afraid to show what you got?"

Now, I wasn't all that used to undressing in front of other men. But, seeing no reason to be ashamed of myself, I stripped off the bikini and flung it to one side.

They stood silent. Finally, the redheaded fellow whistled. "Boy! Where did Miss Ruby find that?"

But, hellfire, do you think those ladies were out there cheering and carrying on over our nakedness? Don't bet your life on it. As I quickly found out, they had already chose up partners and had three tables of bridge going in the lounge. From the expressions on their faces, so tight and grim, and the lack of social conversation – as I saw when I strolled past the windows to find out exactly what was going on – they weren't playing for peanuts, neither.

So it's gambling, I told myself. That's what the Liberated Lady is all about. Which relieved my mind, because even if we split them up between us, it wouldn't be the right thing to do to take care of the needs of four ladies one right after the other. At least, not in my book, because I ain't no stud, and never claimed to be one.

This was the way it worked. Captain Phoebe just took the Liberated Lady out to anchor for the night. Early in the morning we'd come back in again; and that's all the seamanship we ever had to deal with. The least patch of rough weather, we'd up anchor and come on in, because you take a lady that's sick to her stomach, she ain't going to take much interest in gambling.

A bridge-playing cruise, like this one, was a sort of kindergarten class. Only taking a house cut from each table, Miss Ruby actually lost money on bridge cruises. But when she spotted a lady with the right spirit, Miss Ruby would invite her confidentially to come along for the real action, which was blackjack or a roulette wheel, whichever Miss Ruby felt like running that particular night. She dealt her own blackjack and ran her own wheel, and I tell you, she was something to see sitting there in her purple gown – she never wore anything but purple – her big clever hands dealing the cards or twirling the wheel, and taking in and pushing out chips like they had a life of their own. The smallest chip stood for a hundred dollars. Those ladies were dyed-in-the-wool gamblers; when real gambling was going on, the crewmen might just as well have been so many alligators wallowing around on deck, unless a lady happened to bust out and decided to console herself with another kind of action. This one nice lady, every time she lost all her money, she'd take us all on, one right after the other. She always seemed to lose so quick, I wondered, sometimes, if maybe it just wasn't her way of paying her dues to give herself a rightful shot at us boys.

The bridge was for pretty high stakes, too, just to break them in right. And Miss Ruby had her own little ways of making abridge cruise right interesting, because she wanted the ladies all stirred up and feeling risky. Only then could she find out which were the high-rollers, and which weren't.

The bridge games had gone on all afternoon. As it came sundown, Miss Ruby broke out the liquor so the ladies could partake of a social hour. The crewmen hadn't ventured inside the lounge, but stayed out on deck, getting our full tans. Miss Ruby fed the ladies – that's when I found out there was a cook in the galley, and a steward to serve – and afterward another round of drinks, mostly fancy stuff this time, or a snifter of brandy.

Miss Ruby came to find me. "It's time I showed you to the ladies," she said. "Come along."

I didn't know what was about to happen, but, buck naked as I was, I followed. Miss Ruby shielded me from direct view by standing in front of me whilst she called them to attention by rapping a spoon against a glass.

"Ladies, I want to show you our door prize for tonight," she said. "So pay attention now."

They got quiet. I was still hidden behind her bulk – at least, pretty much so.

"Remember the lovely new pieces of art I picked up this week?" she said. She gave her hearty laugh. "I must say, each and every one showed proper appreciation."

I saw, then, that on each bridge table, as a centerpiece, was one of charlotte's models of Him. So that was why, as they were settling down to begin, there had been so much laughing and carrying on.

"Now I have a secret to reveal. I've found the original of those models," Miss Ruby said in her deep, laughing voice. "And here he is, our newest crew member . . . if you'll pardon the expression."

With that, she stepped to one side, to show me standing there.

Not a sound in the room. The ladies looked at me, while I looked at them. And I want you to know, their eyes were so bright, their silence so appreciative, it stirred Him, so that He started coming to a stand. It seemed like an hour, though it was only a minute or two, at best, while those nice ladies watched Him rise slowly to his proudest.

"Now, that's what I call a door prize," Miss Ruby said. "And one of you lucky ladies shall win this lovely specimen for her very own. At midnight, a drawing will be held. The winner can reserve this grand cock for her private pleasure; or, if she so desires, she can auction Him off to the highest bidder."

I want you to know, that stirred them up. A murmur of sound whispered through the lounge, along with a nervous laugh or two; and one lady, covering her eyes with her hands, blushed a bright red, blurting out, "Oh, I just came along to play bridge!" Which brought a general laugh.

Miss Ruby turned to me. "Pass among them and give each a ticket." Which I did, Miss Ruby singing out, "No touching now, ladies, please, you'll have to wait till midnight, just like Cinderella," which made everybody laugh a lot more than the joke counted for.

As I went among them, handing each a numbered ticket, some looked at Him and some didn't; one lady, I couldn't tell which, because she did it from behind, sneaked her warm hand against the bend of my knee, then moved it up under my ass to barely touch my balls. Which caused Him to jerk and tighten. Didn't see which lady; just knew she wore a lot of rings.

The minute I was through, I left the lounge, motioning secretly for Miss Ruby to follow. Out on deck, I said, "Miss Ruby, I think you've got me wrong. I ain't no stud. I ain't never done it on account of money, and I never will."

Miss Ruby took me as serious as I had meant the words. "Son, you're working for me, not the lady who's lucky enough to win the draw. Then . . . it's between you and her. But she's not paying you. I am."

"It seems like kind of a narrow line to draw, don't it?" I said dubiously.

She put her strong hand on my arm. "You've always had heart for a needful woman, haven't you?"

"Yes'm, I reckon so," I said. "But . . ."

"But nothing. Do you think any of these women would have accepted an invitation to cruise on the Liberated Lady if they hadn't needed something to brighten up their lives? They all knew in front, more or less, what was going down. So if the lady who draws you doesn't happen to want you, she has the privilege of auctioning you off to somebody who does. The lady gets the auction money, not you . . . and some of these gambling women, they'd rather have cold cash than a warm cock any day of the week. Especially if they've been losing." She squeezed my arm. She gave me her sweet smile. "Just remember, son. You're doing it for me."

I stood thinking about it. Then I looked her straight in the eye. "I aim to keep the right to turn down anybody I feel like turning down."

It shook Miss Ruby. But then she nodded in agreement. "All right. If that's the way you want it, I'll let them know before the drawing takes place. In that case, the lady who wins the draw, or tops the auction, will have her choice of one of the other fellows."

I felt relieved. "That's fine with me."

She patted my arm. "I admire you for your principles. So will the lady; take my word for it."

I went up to sit in the bow for a while by myself. The more I thought about it, the shrewder I realized Miss Ruby was. If she had shown the door prize during the afternoon, whilst they had their minds on the game, it would have gone down wrong for sure. But after they'd had their drinks, and their dinner, and then some more drinks, everybody relaxed from the high-stakes gambling, just the very idea of such daringness put a thrill into them they couldn't deny.

Now, I had always had the idea that ladies liked above all to be private in their doings – though I had known some who just had to brag about Him to a good friend. But, being in it all together aboard the Liberated Lady, it just sort of let them cut loose, so they were not only not afraid to let their desires show, they were actually egging each other on, daring any one of them to show herself less free and easy in the situation. After all, nothing that happened on the Liberated Lady counted in their everyday life; it was all great fun and deep games, a spice to the lure of gambling. And so I learned something about womenfolks I hadn't known before; this waiting for the big event of the door prize made the bidding and the play of the hands heavier and riskier, their laughter was sharper, their faces were flushed, their eyes were brighter. There wasn't a one of them but didn't want the greater risk of winning Him.

When eleven o'clock rolled around, Miss Ruby stopped the tournament and invited the ladies on deck for drinks and dancing. Me and the other crewmen, dressed now in white trousers and dark-blue blazers, for it would have been indecent to dance naked with the ladies, danced in turn with each guest. Some couldn't wait their turn, so chose up dancing partners amongst themselves, to much kidding, of course, by all the others.

There was a bright moon, full, making it just beautiful out there on the still water, with the soft, celestial music wafting us about the deck. I just knew that Billy would have appreciated the scene. Of course, I wasn't much of a dancer, but, shoot, they just wanted to lay their bodies close and feel Him through the cloth of my pants. A couple of the ladies got bold enough, with the drinks and the music and the moonlight, to whisper that it would be the luckiest night of their lives if they happened to win His favor.

By the time midnight come around, and I made the draw out of a bar bucket, I had begun to feel appreciated all over again, so that I knew that, whoever won, I wouldn't want to deny them their reward. Which was a good thing, because the lady who won me – the young, pretty thing who had blushed and covered her face at the very idea – didn't know exactly how to take advantage of her good fortune.

"Oh, Lord!" she said helplessly. "What do I do now?"

Which made the other ladies laugh, let me tell you, and call out, "Auction, auction!" and "Highest bidder!" She blushed all the rosier, though, as I noticed, she couldn't take her eyes off of me, which made me to think she liked the idea of winning, but couldn't bring herself close to admitting it in such public fashion as the situation demanded.

"It all depends on whether you like money more, Mary," Miss Ruby said in her loud, tough voice. "Remember, it's your choice."

Standing there in my nice white pants and blue blazer, I was wishing Mary would just take me by the hand and claim Him. It was not only that I figured she could use a sample of what He had in store; I didn't relish the idea of being sold to the highest bidder. It might just curl Him up, sensitive as He was, if He didn't fetch a good price. Of course, I reminded Him, we were her property to do with as she would, so it wasn't my place to say anything. So I smiled at her and waited. But I did touch her secretly on the back, with the fingertips of one hand.

Which flustered her even more, if that was possible. She just couldn't admit it to herself, so she jerked away from my hand and said, "I suppose I should put Him up for auction, I really should."

Everybody laughed again, which only firmed up her intention. "Yes," she said. "I think I'll do just that." She got a stubborn look to her face. "I'll conduct the auction myself."

"Honey, you just go right ahead," Miss Ruby said. "It's your show."

Having made the decision, she turned bold as brass. Her eyes flashed to me. "You'll have to allow the ladies to view the merchandise, dear."

"You heard the boss, son," Miss Ruby said. "Go down and take off those nice clothes. Then come to the lounge."

Going below, I did as told. When I returned, Miss Ruby had taken advantage of the delay to move the ladies into the lounge and get a fresh drink into everybody's hand. She was doing everything she could to make the affair a success. And succeeding.

So I walked naked into a situation that, with the feeling of sex and excitement heavy in the air, brought Him instantly to a fine, hard stand. The ladies applauded, their eyes bright and ready, at the sight of Him, as my owner took me by the hand and led me to the chair I was to stand on. Given the no-holds-barred atmosphere Miss Ruby had created so cleverly, they could all act out their desires like never before in their lives. Women are much more that way than men, I do believe, once given the opportunity to let go all holds and be their true selves. As long as it don't count.

"Are you sure you want to offer that to the highest bidder?" someone called.

It was greeted with more laughter than you could imagine. My owner blushed again. "Well, I intend to place a reserve of fifty dollars," she said. They all just hollered, making her explain breathlessly, "Because that's how much I've lost tonight."

Then, forcing herself to a brave, free gesture, she motioned for me to give her the gold chain around my neck, which she then proceeded to drape on Him. The weight of the gold links bowed his head, but not enough so the chain slipped off.

"Here he is, ladies, the finest stud in the land, all yours for the money. Do I hear fifty dollars?"

I wanted to tell her I wasn't no stud, but I didn't. Mostly, I think, because I was suddenly wondering if somebody meant to bid after all. Because didn't nobody say nothing.

My owner, really getting into the action, stroked my hip with her hand, then reached to cradle my balls. I could feel her fingers trembling. "Fifty dollars for this fine cock, ladies, now don't be bashful, let's hear fifty dollars!"

"Hell, I'll take Him myself at that price," Miss Ruby said with a deep laugh. "Fifty dollars!"

"Sixty!" somebody sang out, and someone else "Seventy-five!" and it was rolling.

A weird feeling it was, let me tell you, to see how those old ladies took the spirit of the occasion. I don't reckon a single one but didn't get in one bid, at least, just to prove to herself she hadn't laid back shy. The price went up and up, jumping ten and twenty dollars at a crack. But at last it come down to two determined bidders, and they didn't care any more about letting it be known they were in serious need of winning Him and using Him. No more laughing, no more make-believe.

"Two hundred and fifty."

"Two hundred and fifty-five."

"Two hundred and sixty."

It went over three hundred before one of the bidders held up her hand, stopping the action. "Will a . . . will a check be all right?"

"Table stakes," my owner ruled sternly. "Cash on the barrelhead."

The other bidder glanced in triumph at her opponent and said, "Three hundred and fifty," making a twenty-five-dollar jump. Which was the price I went at.

The lady came forward. She didn't look at me whilst finding the money in her purse. But I was looking at the winner.

A nice lady. There might be wrinkles in her neck, but she had a figure she had took care of for a long time. Beautiful eyes, too, and a nice, kind mouth. I began to count myself the lucky one.

Paid in full, she gave me a slow, deep look. Then she leaned to place her mouth on my naked him, leaving the mark of her lipstick, then stood away, lifting the chain from Him as she did so.

"My brand," she cried out, turning triumphantly to the other ladies, throwing her head back, standing proud and unashamed. Which made the losers applaud such a good winner.

As I climbed down, she said quietly, "Go below decks, I'll be along." Then, to the group again, "I really hate to break up the bridge table," saying it very seriously.

"Don't worry, honey, I'll play your hand for you," Miss Ruby said. Her big laugh boomed out. "Either way, below decks or up here."

I waited, sitting on the bunk in one of the staterooms; but in no time at all she stood in the doorway.

Her voice came low. "I . . . don't know what got into me."

Knowing she just had to tell herself that, I didn't try to answer to it. Instead I said, "Did you bring my gold chain?"

"Yes." She handed it to me. Her mood had changed entirely. "I've . . . never bought a man before."

I put the chain around my neck and smiled at her. "I've never been sold before, either."

She came closer. "Really?"

"Yes'm," I said. "It's my first cruise on the Liberated Lady."

"Wonderful," she breathed. "I thought . . ." And then, "Can I do . . . anything I wish?"

"Yes'm," I said. "I reckon so."

She wasn't satisfied with herself yet. "But Miss Ruby . . . she said you had the right to say no.

"Yes," I said.

I was looking at her. Then she was looking at me. She suddenly caught a ragged breath. "Then . . . then take off my clothes."

I did. Piece by piece, as slowly as I could, to give her time to get used to the idea of taking Him. It worked, too. When I had her naked, she just laid down on the bunk, lifting her legs and her arms to receive Him. In the first move, I went so deep it must have hurt, because she moaned and grabbed and hung on.

I want to tell you, that lady – I never did know her name, because she didn't ever take another cruise – just wouldn't quit. She wanted Him every way there was, on and on and on, and every time He thought He was through, she found out how to raise him from the dead.

Close to the end, she wanted to take Him behind. I didn't know how she meant at first; when I did understand, I said, "Can a woman do it like that?"

"Yes," she said. "Yes!" Then, "I never have, I've never dared ask for it, but I've always wanted . . . and you told me . . ."

"Ain't I likely to hurt you?" I said dubiously.

"Yes," she said wildly. "Hurt me, hurt me, hurt me, damn it, hurt me to the quick," and flopped over on her belly.

It did hurt, easy as I tried to be. She laid there, panting saying, "I can't stand it, I can't stand it, how can he stand it, oh, God, I can't . . ." but when I'd back off, she'd say, "No, don't quit, damn it, you've got to hurt me."

Finally I just took the bull by the horns and rammed it home. She screamed so loud she must have been heard all over the boat. She laid limp under me, the cold sweat popped out all over her body, and it seemed like she just melted into the mattress, she went so soft and warm. When I started fucking, she began getting the deep comings like I had never known a lady to do before, her whole insides rippling and writhing.

When it was all over, she clung to me for the longest time, quietly weeping, and kissing my chest, and stroking my flanks with her hands, Him slid sideways into her true place, just laying easy in her soft pussy, and I knew for sure that she had got her money's worth.

At which time she said, "So that's how he feels," and I said, "Who?" and she said, "The man I'm married to," and then, "He's that way. I didn't know it until . . ." And she wept again, while I held her. But she never again came aboard the Liberated Lady.

That was my introduction to the Liberated Lady, where I stayed so long it come to be a way of life that satisfied me more truly than any I had yet known. I had found my place; and I knew it every day that I lived with Miss Ruby; maybe because there was something inside of me – or inside of Billy – that realized it couldn't last forever, that it would all come to an end long before I was ready for an ending.

Which it did.

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