There’s a short discussion after the workshop. Chain excuses himself early, citing his own class to run. Leon sits through it, half-listening as other people describe improbable-sounding visions of deserts and kings and angels. For his own part he mostly broods, giving a short answer when asked if he felt anything.
“Not really. Mostly I just spaced out. Sorry.”
“That’s perfectly fine,” Joani says. “Your experience is your own. Every experience is unique, and all are fine.”
When he leaves the cabin, feet jammed laboriously back into his shoes, an achingly-handsome man is pacing at the bottom of the steps. Leon recognizes him immediately: this is Connecticut Congressman Sinclair Everett. Deeply closeted, virtually married to Nate, and literally married to his high-profile socialite beard, with two darling children born of a lie.
“Leon,” the politician says as soon as he spots him. “We have a bit of a problem.”
Leon is slightly taken aback that the senator even knows his name. Yes, he’s a celebrity. But he never would have guessed Sinclair Everett for a disco fan.
“How can I help?” It’s not so much a generous offer as a somewhat incredulous query. Personally, he thinks he’s the last person most folks here would seek out to solve a problem.
“It’s the lesbians,” Sinclair says as they begin walking away from the Pillow Room. “They’re demanding to be allowed into the Dark Room.”
Even as an infrequent visitor to the space, Leon knows how much this will disturb the community. “What? That’s crazy.”
“I know. But Mr. T agrees with them and is putting pressure on Steven. He got T to agree to let them compete for it – the Cruisers will do a demonstration, and then the lesbians get to do their own. If they put on a good show, Steven has to let them in.”
“Well that should be an easy enough thing to squash,” Leon says. “But again, what are you looking for from me?”
“Steven wants you to judge the contest. He figures you’re a good high-profile neutral party.”
This presents something of a dilemma. On the one hand, Leon wants to be seen standing in judgement of the event, and he has the power to give all the men what he knows they want: keeping the women out of their club. On the other, he’s not exactly eager to incur the wrath of every last woman on site, lesbian or no.
Ultimately, though, he’d much rather keep the good will of the male side of that coin.
“Okay. When is it?”
The two hustle around the corner to the front of the Dark Room. Chain is just wrapping up his workshop, which was apparently on how to tie someone’s wrists. Men and women alike are gathered, in nearly equal numbers.
Steven sees him at the edge of the crowd and acknowledges him with a nod.
“Alright,” he says, raising his arms and his voice to gather their attention. “As some of you are aware, the women have requested – ” He puts sardonic emphasis on the word. ” – access to our Dark Room. They say they have no space of their own, and that they deserve a place to do their own bondage and discipline.”
A sussurus of whispers passes through the crowd. It’s hard to tell the disdainful from the confused and the excited.
“Mr. T,” Steven continues, “has asked that we put on a little show for everyone, demonstrating what we do at the Cruisers Club. The ladies will then do their own demonstration. If they are able to match our show… the Dark Room will open its doors to them.”
Half the crowd grumbles under its breath. The other half lets out a cheer.
“Leon,” he continues, “will act as judge, and his decision will be final.”
Leon flushes with importance.
“Walter,” Steven calls to his sub. “Step forward, son.”
The two make an interesting pair. Steven is shorter than Walter by more than a foot, a stocky, muscular, tattooed man who wears a leather vest over a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt and leather pants. Chains and metal studs decorate the ensemble. His hair is short, gray, and no-nonsense, and is face is shaven clean.
Walter, over six feet tall, has a similar leather vest, but its too-small size exposes a heavily-furred barrel chest and pierced nipples. His hair is long and wavy, with visible thinning on top, and a lustrous, drooping walrus moustache adorns his face.
“Kneel before me, son.”
“Yes, Daddy.” The larger man lowers himself to the ground and gazes up adoringly at the smaller.
“Remove your vest, son.”
“Give it to me.”
The vest is lovingly folded and placed on the Dark Room steps.
“Stand up, my son.”
Not one action is performed by the sub without instruction from his dom. Steven has Walter turn slowly, contrite and compliant, to display his body to the crowd, then remove his belt and give it to Steven. He directs Walter to a wooden rack leaning against the side of the cabin. Walter remains utterly pliable as Steven locks his wrists into leather cuffs.
“I’m going to mark you now, son.”
“Ten marks. You will count them, and you will thank me.”
Steven slowly caresses Walter’s back with one hand. Then, quick as a snake, he grabs the other end of the belt and snaps it hard across the big man’s broad back. A crack resounds through the campground.
“One, thank you Daddy!”
“Two, thank you Daddy!”
They continue to ten. At each blow, an angry red line slashes across Walter’s back. Walter remains still and stoic throughout the demonstration, his only reactions the steady count he keeps. Steven lays five marks diagonally from his left shoulder, then five more from his right, creating a diamond pattern of welts.
“See how beautiful my son is,” he says as he lands the belt across Walter again, and again. “Look at his beautiful skin. Look at his beautiful lines.” He seems to be speaking as much to Walter as to the audience.
When the beating is finished, Steven presses himself to Walter’s back. It must be painful, but Walter doesn’t flinch.
“I love you, my son.”
“I love you too, Daddy.”
Walter is unbound from the rack and his vest returned. Again, he shows no hint of pain when the leather contacts his wounds.
“My son did well,” Steven says to the crowd. “Now let’s see if the women can match him.”
Sinclair speaks just loudly enough for the men gathered near him to hear. “This ought to be good.”