Chapter 1: Mr Strickland
Owen knew that there was something missing from his sex life. It had been a difficult enough journey coming out to his family and then finding a boyfriend, but even now he knew he needed something more. Owen was the younger son in a staunch Irish Catholic family and he’d struggled with his sexuality, dutifully dating girls at college and in his early 20s until he just couldn’t see the point any more. He’d drifted for a while, avoiding relationships altogether. After a few misfires, he’d met Andy, a real estate agent, and the two of them were dating steadily and apparently happily. Owen’s dad and elder brother, both cops, had grudgingly acknowledged that he was gay, but they tried to speak of it as little as possible. His mom, initially horrified, had come round to it. To Owen’s surprise, she had become an enthusiastic advocate of same-sex marriage and had had several lively arguments on the subject with the priest. She frequently encouraged Owen to bring Andy home for dinner, and he was beginning to see where that was heading. He was already 28, which his mother thought was high time for settling down and she had pointed out that on their joint salaries he and Andy could afford a mortgage or at least move in together. The relationship worked—Andy was sweet and thoughtful and Owen was grateful for his support and attention. But it lacked a certain intensity that Owen couldn’t quite put his finger on. He liked the closeness of sex but couldn’t get over the suspicion that he wasn’t “doing it right.” He often felt uncomfortable during sex and found himself increasingly looking for satisfaction in fantasy.
Owen was drawn to images of control and restraint. He had started to seek out pictures and videos of men bound and collared and subject to punishment by their Masters, images that turned him on but raised deep feelings of guilt. These images frequently projected themselves on the back on his mind when he was with Andy and he knew he was using them to summon up a spark that was lacking between them. But the gulf between looking and experiencing seemed an impossible one to cross. Before meeting Andy, Owen had made a few tentative suggestions to his dates and with his very occasional hook-ups. He’d tried a few hesitant smacks, or suggested that his partner might like to make use of a discarded necktie, but all his attempts had been met either with laughter of embarrassment. He knew that there were men out there—on Recon or other more scary places online—but he just couldn’t take that step. He feared what he most desired. What if he couldn’t take it? Or worse, if he blindly got himself into trouble? Suppose he was robbed or made to do things he hated, or worse. The idea of giving up control to another man was always in his mind, but when he translated it into practical possibilities he drew back.
Owen knew that he wasn’t spending as much time with Andy as he should. He found himself spending long hours at work, partly as an excuse for his lack of commitment to the relationship, but also because he enjoyed his job as a paralegal. He had been thrilled to land a job at Lombardi and Hecht—a high-powered firm specializing in commercial law. After a year in the job he found himself being called on by Mr Lombardi, the senior partner, for assistance in researching and recording cases. Owen was more than willing to work late on cases. He enjoyed the responsibility of collecting and organizing the data, and took pleasure in being able to find the relevant detail when called upon by his boss. He didn’t mind putting in the hours when Mr Lombardi—a good and thoughtful employer—told him how well he was doing and how essential he was to the smooth running of the firm. Owen thrived on this praise. He had been promoted quickly and sometimes felt unworthy of the responsibility he was invited to take. He needed these regular confirmations that he was doing what Mr Lombardi wanted.
This week a particularly difficult and complex case was coming to a head. Owen had been working hard on taking witness submissions, and tracking and ordering points of evidence. He stayed late every evening to go over the information he had collected each day and ensuring he had a good recall of it. He was eating lunch at his desk on the Friday when Mr Lombardi called him into his office. Owen quickly discarded the half-eaten sandwich and hurried along the corridor to see what was needed of him.
Mr Lombardi was in a meeting with a man Owen hadn’t seen before. The firm had been calling in lawyers with additional experience, and Owen assumed that this was a consultant on the case. Owen saw him in profile and noticed for some reason how easily he sat on his chair. The man nodded briefly at Owen without really looking at him—he had a strong face with short cropped hair and closely-trimmed beard with flecks of grey. “Thank you for coming in, Owen,” said Mr Lombardi, “this is Mr Strickland, who’s helping us out. Could you bring us the Collins files?”
“Yes, of course, Sir. I’ve scanned most of the key documents—shall I set them up for you?”
“Yes, that would be very helpful, thank you.”
Owen went quickly to the records room and brought in the files. Then he put the digital versions up on screen for the two men and gave each of them a printed-out index.
Mr Lombardi complimented him on his thoroughness and asked him to organize some coffee for them with his secretary. Clara was busy on the phone, so Owen set up a tray of coffee himself and took it into the meeting room. He already knew exactly how Mr Lombardi liked his coffee, but had to ask the new lawyer. This time Mr Strickland looked straight at him. His gray eyes were deep-set and startling intense. As Owen handed him a coffee without sugar or cream he noticed Mr Strickland’s hands. They had long, slim fingers but looked immensely strong, like those of a pianist.
Owen felt something new. It was as if that single glance from Mr Strickland had penetrated into him. He went back to his desk but couldn’t properly concentrate. About an hour later Mr Lombardi called him in again. “Owen, I have to go to a meeting. We’ve been through the outlines of the Collins evidence, but Mr Strickland has a few questions. You know the details better than anyone so I’m going to leave you with him for the rest of the afternoon. If you need me, Clara can fetch me.”
Owen was exhilarated with the situation. To have Mr Lombardi’s trust was one thing, but to be given the responsibility of briefing Mr Strickland was a real privilege. Lombardi and Hecht did not often call on outside advice, so Owen knew that Strickland must be an expert in his field. With a glow of importance, Owen slid into Mr Lombardi’s chair and they began work on the files.
Owen was immediately impressed by Mr Strickland’s command of the issues. He asked a lot of questions and Owen supplied the details. From time to time Mr Strickland needed to know about intersecting evidence and Owen scurried off happily to fetch the relevant files. As they worked, Owen felt himself pulled into Mr Strickland’s presence. Even though he rarely looked the lawyer in the face he felt even more alert and focused than he did when working with Mr Lombardi. He was fixated by Mr Strickland’s hands, with their elegance and strength. And he was also aware of the way Mr Strickland held himself—controlled and poised but also relaxed—and his voice, which was modulated and formal but easy and friendly. Even without looking at him properly, Owen felt attracted to him, but a voice in his head told him not to be so stupid. This was a professional meeting after all.
They had worked for a while when Mr Lombardi came back into the office and said apologetically, “I’m afraid I’ll have to leave you two to it. Alice and I have tickets for the symphony and I said I’d meet her for something to eat first. Owen, you’ll look after Mr Strickland, won’t you? Don’t work him too hard, mind.”
“No, sir,” said Owen happily, delighted to be spending the afternoon in in this way. He reveled in Mr Lombardi’s trust, and his excitement grew at the thought of being alone with the new lawyer. Mr Strickland asked him clear and direct questions about the case and Owen was able to answer everything quickly and accurately.
Owen had lost track of time when Mr Strickland stretched and looked at his watch. “It’s 6.30 and I’ve been working on this case since 8.00 this morning. You’ve been extremely helpful, Owen—you’ve made things much easier for me. I think we both deserve a drink, don’t you?”
A shock of mixed pleasure and confusion ran through Owen. He looked properly at Mr Strickland for the first time as he pushed back his chair to stretch his long arms behind his head and saw a tall man with broad shoulders whose suit hung off an obviously well-toned frame. It would be hard to say that his face was especially distinctive , though handsome enough, but when he looked at Owen there was something magnetic about his gaze. To be asked for a drink was suddenly shocking—much, much more than Owen had expected. “Oh, yes, sure, I’d be happy to” he stammered.
Strickland smiled. “Of course I don’t want to interrupt your plans for this evening,” he said.
Owen mentally cancelled his evening of pizza and Netflix. “No, no that’s fine. Great, in fact.”
“Good. Perhaps you’d allow me to buy you a drink. There’s a place I know that usually isn’t too overcrowded on a Friday.”
Owen tried to concentrate. “Just let me return these files and shut down.”
“Sure. I’ll wait for you in the lobby.”
Owen hurried to put everything back in place, then grabbed his coat and ran down the stairs. Mr Strickland’s tall frame was draped over the lobby desk in an animated conversation with Julie the receptionist. Julie was obviously flirting with him. Owen checked himself, dialing down any expectations and kicking himself for believing that Mr Strickland might be gay. Why had he even thought that? The whole meeting had been strictly professional. His mood was sinking when he found himself being ushered out of the building to a waiting taxi. The traffic was very close on the street side and Mr Strickland held the door open for him. “Scoot over,” he said, and as Owen did so he felt the light touch of Mr Strickland’s hand on his back guiding him in.
That touch burnt through Owen’s clothes and he felt his skin tingling even as Mr Strickland chatted calmly about legal matters. The confined space of the taxi amplified Owen’s sense of the lawyer’s physical presence until he felt a little intoxicated. They drew up outside a bar that Owen had heard of but was well out of his league. Someone opened the taxi door for him and then Mr Strickland was taking him in, a waiter was showing them to a table and they were sitting facing each other.
The waiter took their order immediately. It was obvious that the waiter knew who Mr Strickland was. Strickland asked for a glass of wine, and Owen, unsure of what to order, a beer. The bar looked very expensive with widely-spaced tables. It was full, but without the usual Friday-night after-work crush. Strickland gestured around him at the clientele who were largely dressed in business suits. “Lawyers and bankers mostly, I’m afraid. No real style.”
They talked for a while about the case and then Strickland lightened the subject. “So, how do you like working for Lombardi?”
“Oh, very much, I mean I’ve been very lucky to get a place in a firm like that. And I really enjoy the work.”
“That’s good. But don’t undervalue yourself. I can see how much Lombardi appreciates your work. Though I’m sure you would do well anywhere.”
For a moment, Owen wondered if Mr Strickland had brought him here to offer him a job. “I don’t know, I mean, he’s a great boss. He’s been very good to me. I really like it there,” he said slightly defensively, and then cursed himself for his presumption.
Mr Strickland was smiling again. “Don’t worry, I’m not trying to poach you. You have made a real place for yourself in the firm and deservedly so. I’m sure you’ll do very well. How’s the beer?”
It was an unfamiliar Belgian beer that had come in a fancy bottle. “It’s very good,” said Owen, “but I guess this isn’t really a beer kind of place.”
Strickland laughed as if Owen had said something terribly witty. “The wine list is quite good here. This Saint-Véran is nice—why don’t you try it?” He slid his glass across the table to Owen. Owen went to take a sip, but did not taste it because he as he raised the glass he found that Strickland’s hand was wrapped round his own.
Scarcely hearing his own voice, Owen said, “It’s lovely.”
“That’s good Owen, I’m glad you enjoy it.” Mr Strickland was leaning towards him a little. He looked quizzically at Owen and said lightly, “I wonder what else you might enjoy?”
Owen stared wordlessly. Mr Strickland was smiling that knowing smile again and summoning the waiter. “Bring us another glass of the Saint-Véran, please, Michael, you can take the beer.” A glass of wine arrived. As he set it down, the waiter narrowed his eyes a fraction at Owen. Owen failed to notice this, but it did not escape Strickland’s attention. Owen took a large gulp of the wine.
Mr Strickland reached across the table again towards Owen’s hand but this time his long, strong fingers closed round his wrist. The pressure was considerably harder than a simple social occasion warranted. Owen froze; shivers of a new but long-awaited pleasure rippled up his arm. He looked down at his wrist locked in Mr Strickland’s fingers. He realized that his thigh was pressing hard against the sharp edge of the table. He left it there.
“I’ve noticed some things about you, Owen,” Mr Strickland was saying, “may I speak frankly?”
Owen swallowed hard. The idea that this powerful, attractive man was asking his permission confused him. He stammered “Y-yes, yes, of course, whatever you like.”
“Do you have a boyfriend, Owen?” Owen dimly registered that Strickland was taking it for granted that he was gay.
“Yes, well, sort of, I mean, I’m seeing someone.” He owed this at least to kind, supportive Andy.
“Of course you do, you’re a very attractive young man. That’s good. And I can see how accomplished you are in your job. I imagine the partners rely on you a great deal. Mr Lombardi gives you considerable responsibility. And that makes you feel happy. But perhaps also you find that responsibility can be a burden at time. Perhaps it’s also important to you that you are told how well you’re doing. You like clear instructions so that you know how to please your boss and you need to be told when you have pleased him.”
Owen listened wide-eyed, astonished that Mr Strickland could read him so easily after just one afternoon. He couldn’t think of anything to say. But his contribution to the conversation seemed in any case unnecessary. He nodded wordlessly.
Mr Strickland continued. “You see, Owen, I wonder if those things might also have a place in your private life. I wonder if you might enjoy receiving instructions. I think you might like the experience of pleasing a man and being praised when you do, and, if you do not … being corrected.”
Strickland had dropped that last word casually into the sentence but it meant everything to Owen. His world was shifting irrevocably under the spell of Strickland’s voice. Without really understanding what this meant, he was starting to yearn for Mr Strickland’s instructions, his praise and his corrections.
Strickland was looking at him harder now, his hand still locking Owen’s resistless arm. His voice dropped a little, but he spoke no less directly. “Owen, I think there are many things you would like to try sexually. At the moment you are afraid of these desires and perhaps also a little ashamed of them. But you can use that shame. It can become something deeply pleasurable. You need someone to open you up to those feelings. To give you some structure for exploring your desires.”
Mr Strickland lifted his index finger and stroked Owen’s wrist with it. “The thing is, Owen, do you want it more than you fear it?”
Owen’s thigh pressed harder against the table. Was it to push it away or to protect himself from this man who was suddenly and shockingly articulating his deepest needs? He heard himself say “please …” but he could go no further. He couldn’t breathe.
Suddenly Mr Strickland released his hand, and leant back in his chair. Owen’s hand curled round the wine glass and he drank deeply. Strickland was smiling again as if this was all the most natural thing in the word. He took out a business card and wrote something on the back. “This is my home address. I will expect you there at 7.00 tomorrow. You are of course quite free not to come and that will be the end of it.” Owen stared at the card and summoned up the conscious decision to put it in his wallet. Then Mr Strickland was beckoning the waiter, paying the check, and then Owen was being ushered into a taxi. Mr Strickland told the driver the fare was on his account and instructed Owen to give him his address. As Owen did so, he realized it was the first complete sentence he had spoken in a long time.
Adam Strickland watched him go. Owen wasn’t the kind of boy he often chose. His subs were mostly his own age or older--powerful, successful men who needed their sessions of submission to balance out their lives. Men who needed relief from their lives of decisions and action in total obedience to Adam’s voice or whip. To exchange their seat at the boardroom for the release of crawling submissively at his feet. Experienced men whose bodies would stretch and strain and suffer for his pleasure-- who knew what is was to feel a blindfold slipped softly over their eyes as a hard cock was shoved roughly up their ass. But such men had commitments and arranging a scene with them took time and caution. Adam returned the bar to pick up his coat. The waiter saw his chance and came quickly over to ask—with an obvious innuendo—if there was anything else that Sir would like. Adam considered it momentarily. The boy was extremely handsome and very practiced, unlike naïve, nervy Owen. But he just said ‘no, thank you, Michael, not this evening,’ and walked the short distance to his own apartment.