“I have a pu-pu-proposition for you,” said Luke to Farrah.
They were in his bedroom, Luke standing by the closed curtains pulling a sweater over his head, and she lying on the bed, wearing nothing but the hold-up tights he liked her to put on for their encounters.
“Proposition?” she asked. She rolled over on to her belly, reached down to the floor and began to rummage in her handbag. She pulled out a packet of Camel and a lighter, and lit a cigarette, her head hanging off the edge of the bed and her blonde hair spilling on to the faded carpet.
“I do-don’t want you smoking in here,” he bristled. “I told you before.”
“Ah, go on,” she said, rolling around on to her back again. “Your aul’ ones won’t be back for hours. Just leave a window open.”
Luke’s grandparents had gone on an excursion with the parish, as they did many Sundays. A bus had picked them and two dozen other elderly parishioners up outside St Mary’s church after twelve o’clock mass, for a tour of the Glen of Aherlow.
Luke cursed, but opened a window.
“I want you to dress up as someone the next time,” he said.
“Dress up?” Farrah blew a smoke ring and, like a question mark in a cartoon, it wafted on an air current towards Luke.
“Yeah. Nothing mu-mu-major. A wig. Some clothes. Sports gear. Ru-ru-runners. Nothing major.”
“Jesus. I thought you were going to be asking me to put on some kinky gear. Leather. Those weird masks that people wear.”
“No. Nu-nu-nothing like that. I’ll send you a photo. And if-and if you could go and get the clothes. I’ll gu-gu-give you the money up front.”
“OK,” Farrah said slowly, letting Luke know that she considered his request strange. “Will you pay me extra for it?”
Luke finished fastening his belt, looked towards the bed and gave a disappointed smile.
“Uh-uh-always on the mu-make, aren’t we?”
“You can’t blame me,” said Farrah. “Most of the children’s allowance my mother gets goes on getting her high or low or a mixture of both. I just want to put a bit of food on the table at home. Wayne needs new football boots. Shannon needs—”
“Will you fuck off for yourself,” snapped Luke. “Ye fu-fu-fuckers get everything for free. Haven’t ye a path beaten to St Vincent de Paul? What you want is money for fags and vodka and fu-fu-fucking credit for your fu-fu-phone.”
“I’d like to be paid more cash.”
Luke paid Farrah sixty euro cash for each session and topped this up with groceries, mostly out-of-date chilled products and dented cans of beans and spaghetti, a couple of times a week. It assuaged his guilt to know that at least some good was coming from his sordid and illegal dealings with Farrah: her younger brothers and sisters were not going hungry like they used to.
“From-from what I hear, you’re not-not short of cash,” he said.
“What the fuck does that mean?”
Farrah leapt from the bed and hurried across the room. She wrapped a curtain around herself as she leaned to flick a half inch of ash out the window.
“I hu-hu-heard you see other pe-pe-people. Other cu-cu-clients.”
“Who the fuck told you that?”
She let the curtain go and it spun and danced as it settled back into place, darkening the room once more.
“I no-no-know everything you do,” said Luke, with a sneering triumph in his voice. “Every minute of the du-du-day, you’re under surveillance.”
“Will you fu-fu-fuck off? Who do you think you are, Ju-Ju-Jason Bourne?”
Luke raised an arm and menacingly held his open palm in the air over Farrah. She didn’t flinch.
“You fucking hit me,” she said, “and it’s the last time you get laid by someone who isn’t some manky aul’ one brought over here by the Bulgarian mafia.”
His eyes seemed to swell even larger in their bony orbs and his skin draw even tighter around his narrow face, but Luke lowered his arm.
“Ju-ju-just get dressed and fuck off out of here.”
“I’ll finish my fag and I’ll go.”
Farrah felt like laughing in his face, telling him that he was too much of a coward to even slap a sixteen-year-old girl. She knew not to ride her luck, though. She had pushed Luke just about as far as he could go, and she wanted to keep their thing going. She already had plans for the three twenties burning a hole in her purse: a bag of zimmos to send her on a holiday from her life for a few hours, and the rest of the money for a couple of cheap tops in Penneys for Shannon, who seemed to be growing by the minute. She took another puff of her cigarette and repeated the action of robing herself in the curtain and flicking ash out beyond the windowsill. An idea came to her.
“I’ll let you take photos of me, you know, dressed up the way you want me to,” she said.
Even though her eyes were on the dark, mossy yard below, she could sense a change in Luke. His body was tightening the same way it did when he led her upstairs to his bedroom. The idea of the photo was making him feel sexy.
“I thought you did-did-didn’t allow photos?”
“For a few extra quid, I’d let you take photos.”
There were two reasons she hadn’t allowed him before. Firstly, she didn’t want to appear on one of those amateur porn sites on the net, for her face and body to go viral and be available to all comers for all time. Secondly, if Luke could masturbate at will to photos of her, he was less likely to want to do — and pay for — the real thing. She thought of her business studies teacher, Mrs Cunniffe. This dowdy and severe middle-aged woman had done nothing but tell her she had no “business acumen”, that she needed to study her textbook to “develop some nous“, whatever that was.
Dopey bitch, thought Farrah.
“An extra twenty,” she said, “for the photos.”
“Twenty,” said Luke in a distant voice. “OK. Twenty.”