Above the venerable silver shop in the Burlington Arcade, he taught her the uses of pleasure. Not the nervous-handed, spring-loaded fumblings of teenaged lust, or the ego-abraded outcomes of young love. Mr. Pierce offered Rebecca schooling in something quite different.
After quitting an English degree halfway through the first semester, alienated by the prospect of having to read and deconstruct ‘Waiting for Godot’ in French for the sake of authenticity, Rebecca Holloway found herself, both directionally and financially, at a loss.
Near Earl’s Court, she rented a drab bedsit with diurnally cyclical smells. In the morning it inevitably stank of burnt toast. At midday it was redolent with the smell of bleach. And, by nightfall, every rental room in the house was infused with the ghost of overboiled cabbage.
Having only ever had a Saturday job selling trendy clothes for pocket money, the possibility of full and gainful employment was daunting, but a lowering of expectations and a careful scanning of the ads in the evening newspaper paid off. Within a week, she found a position as silver-polisher and part-time shop assistant at Holmes & Sons Silversmiths in an arcade just off Bond Street. It was neither her previous work experience nor her successfully completed ‘A’ levels that got her the job. It was the fact that her antiquarian father had taught her how to decipher hallmarks and how to tell solid from plate—a skill she hadn’t dreamed would ever come in handy.
There was, of course, no Mr. Holmes or Mr. Holmes junior. The business’ name and stock had been sold on long ago to another proprietor with a less auspicious surname. The Ms. Patel who interviewed her made it clear that Rebecca’s chief job was to assist Mr. Pierce in polishing the silver as it tarnished, make minor repairs and otherwise remain scarce. She was only to be seen on the shop floor at the morning and afternoon delivery of tea to the sales persons, and during the lunchtime lull when the sales assistants took their lunch. Otherwise, she should remain invisible on account of her dyed-purple air and the ring in her nose, which didn’t bring the right ‘tone’ to the establishment.
The low-ceilinged room above the shop was dark. Light crept in from two small windows that let out onto the upper levels of an arcade that was almost Tudor in age. Night and day, summer and winter, the workspace was lit by a string of bare bulbs that ran down the ceiling of the tunnel like room. The walls were unevenly plastered in that way you only see in black and white movies, and down one of the long walls stood a massive set of shelves groaning under the weight of row upon row of old silver. Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau and Deco. There was no new silver. Holmes & Sons had ceased to be silversmiths long ago. Now they were the Aladdin’s cave of everything your mother didn’t want to have to polish. Roughly in the centre of the room was a long, wide wooden worktable, half covered in newspaper, and laden with all manner of silver objects in need of attention. There were two chairs, opposite each other at the table, reminding Rebecca of the sort you saw in paintings of old school houses. Wooden, upright and mean.
In this domain—Mr. Pierce’s preserve—he showed her how to set out the silver tea service, place the spoons onto the china cups and saucers in rigid gridlike order. On first meeting him, Rebecca thought he would have made the perfect butler in a murder mystery; he was a tallish, thick-set man of about fifty, with a pale complexion and graying hair cropped close to his skull.
His eyes were grayish blue and held a look of perpetual disinterest. He seldom spoke in sentences, and preferred to pass on his knowledge by showing rather than explaining. It was an approach he took to everything, Rebecca was later to learn.
The first day on the job, he sat at the large wooden worktable across from her and watched in solemn taciturnity as she polished teapots, salvers, trays and flatware. Then, he repolished every item again. At ten thirty sharp he prepared the tea and gave her the huge, rattling tray to take down the narrow stairs, carpeted and threadbare, that lead to the shop floor.
“They’ll have finished,” he muttered, at eleven, and sent her back down to retrieve the tea tray.
In turn, Rebecca sat and watched him as he tied an unnecessary apron around his waist and carefully washed the tea things at an ancient stone sink in the corner of the room.
She had never met a man like Mr. Pierce. His existential economy of words, of movement, of expression fascinated her. Her father had been a nervous and excitable man with a penchant for over-dramatizing the banal. Her boyfriend in secondary school had been loud, sporty and prone to fits of temper. The lover she’d taken at university—a fellow student —had been melancholy and furtive, one moment bemoaning the injustice of the justice system and the next demanding proclamations of undying love. Mr. Pierce was a very different sort of man.
At first his silence intimidated her. He never told her she was polishing the wrong way. He simply polished it again. After a week of this redundancy of labour, Rebecca gathered up the courage to express her frustration.
“Mr. Pierce, if I’m not doing it right, tell me how you’d like it done.”
This elicited a single word. He reached over the table, took the Victorian sterling milk jug from her hands and said: “Watch.”
In the afternoons, Mr. Pierce would do repairs at the other end of the worktable. With torch, goggles and gloves, he would solder handles, spouts and knops back into their places. He would reset hinges and unbend ornamentation. After hours of sitting and watching, Rebecca asked if there was anything she could do, and was told she could read him the newspaper while he worked. On Thursdays, they sat together in silence and listened to the horse race reportages on an old brown melamine radio, used solely for that purpose, it seemed. Other times, it glowered silently at her from its spot on the shelf between the racks of flatware and the decorative picture frames.
Only after three weeks did Mr. Pierce allow her to make the tea. He supervised her in silence as always and, once she’d settled the teapot onto the tray, he nodded his approval.
“You’ll put me out of a job, lass,” he said, and indicated with a nod of his head that she could take it down to the shop.
Rebecca very much doubted there was anyone with the balls to consider firing Mr. Pierce. And it was with an inexplicable glow of pride that she carried the tea tray down to the sales staff.
In retrospect, Rebecca attempted but failed to comprehend how, as time went by, her world contracted by inches, until the pattern of it was unbroken only by weekend visits with old school friends and the occasional trip to the cinema. Her life became a badly lit cycle of evenings spent reading in her bedsit, days in the workshop and the commute between the two. And equally incomprehensible was why it didn’t bother her. Even as she watched it happen, knowing it was happening, there didn’t seem anything unnatural in it. What mattered was that the tea was made correctly, the silver was polished properly and the public library was still open by the time she got off the bus after work. Her phone never rang, and the small portable television that came with the room offered her nothing that engaged her attention.
Then, one day, almost three months after her arrival at Holmes & Sons, something happened.
Having retrieved the tray at 3:30 pm on a chilly November afternoon, Rebecca went to the stone sink and began to wash up. She stood at the sink, washing out a cup when she heard—or rather felt—Mr. Pierce step behind her.
“Aren’t you forgetting something, lass?”
She glanced down to watch his arms reach around her waist. He placed one hand on her lower stomach and moved her back from the sink and against his big body. With the other, he draped the drab green apron around her and, smoothing it flat, he stepped away and tied its strings tight about her waist, leaving behind the mixed scent of lead solder, silver polish, and masculinity.
The moment was electric. Her hand holding the china cup shook. Blood rushed up her chest and climbed the sides of her neck, making her skin burn. Her nipples stiffened into a sudden, awful ache. At her cunt, she felt a blossom of heat and then the creeping wetness seep into the crotch of her panties.
And that evening, having reached her cramped, shabby bedsit, she pulled of the still-damp panties, flung herself onto her single bed, and masturbated her way to a panting, sobbing orgasm. She came with an intensity she had never experienced before. Not that she’d ever come with anyone else; neither of her lovers had had the skill or the inclination to uncover the mysteries of a body she hardly understood herself.
Why Mr. Pierce had elicited this extreme reaction was unfathomable. Rebecca only knew that he had. And so, at eleven the following morning, once she had brought up the tray and prepared to do the washing up, she knowingly and deliberately did not put on the apron. Sponge in one hand, dirty cup in the other, she stood at the sink apronless and waited.
The water from the faucet was icy. Her fingers numbed. But, after what seemed to Rebecca like an inordinately long pause, she felt him come up behind her, and do exactly what he’d done the day before.
“Forgetful, are we?”
But she wasn’t sorry in the least. All she could feel was his massive hand moving her into his meaty warmth and the efficient tug of the apron strings as he crossed them around her waist and tied them at her back.
Did that hand linger just a little longer over her belly? Did he take just a little more time in smoothing the apron in place? Did he tug the strings a little more snugly than he had the previous afternoon? The intensity of her arousal and the fog in her head made it impossible to know for sure.
It was Thursday, race day. The radio’s nasal drone gave out the progress of the horses as they sped around the track at Kempton, as Rebecca came upstairs with the tray and set it by the sink. At first, she thought that Mr. Pierce was so engrossed in the narrative, he probably wouldn’t notice as she washed the cups. But, having left off the apron, she set about her task. As she began to soap the second cup, she felt him behind her again.
This time he said nothing. All she heard was a slow long exhalation. The hand again, encircled her waist, settled itself just below her navel, and eased her back from the sink, against his body. But instead of moving to wrap the apron around her, he left it there. His heat seeped through her blouse, her skirt. And her body, realizing this was a breaking of the pattern, set her heart thundering in her chest. He pressed harder and she heard him inhale. The breath was uneven and stuttered as he drew it.
It seemed to Rebecca that he held her like that for an eternity, but it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. She had the sensation that somehow, she’d just stepped of a ledge and into thin air. It lingered until, with her ass pressed tight against his hips, she felt the slow and strangely frightening press of his cock as it came alive.
With his free hand, he covered her breast easily. At first the pressure was warm, gentle, but it grew into something demanding and raw. He squeezed until she squirmed, and, when she did, his other hand pushed down the front of her skirt, massive fingers wedging into the space between her legs and cupped her roughly.
Rebecca had been so worked up even before Mr. Pierce had touched her that she almost came apart in his hands.
“Put down the cup, lass. Turn off the water.” His voice was soft, almost inaudible above the radio’s drone.
Unsteadily, she lowered the cup into the sink and shut off the ancient faucet with a shaking hand. He held her there, letting her feel his erection throb against the clothed cleft of her ass. The hard metal of his belt dug into her backbone as she did what she was told.
Then, without any warning, the grip on her breast eased and the hand at her groin disappeared. He took her shoulders, moving her away from the sink.
“I’ll wash up today,” he said and, without glancing at her, stepped up to the sink and began to soap the cups and saucers.
For a moment, Rebecca stood in stunned silence, searching his impassive profile, glancing down at the dishes, and then back up at Mr. Pierce.
“Go on then, there’s all that Georgian flatware to be seen to. Don’t stand about.”
It was the most he’d ever said to her. With her heart still racing, and her body still wanting, and the echo of his fierce hands on her flesh, she returned to the table, sat down and finished her work.
Once the race commentary was over, Mr. Pierce switched off the radio, and they worked in silence until five-thirty. As her body cooled down and the hush stretched out, a sense of shame replaced the arousal. Only when he followed her through the darkened interior of the closed shop and let her out the door, locking it behind them, did he speak.
“It’s not a game,” he said, his stern, grey eyes meeting hers as he pocketed the keys and pulled on a pair of gloves.
“No,” she replied, unable to move in the pin of his gaze.
His face softened and he reached up, swiping the side of her cheek with a gloved finger. “You’re awfully young, lass. Find yourself a nice young man.”
There was no way to say what she wanted. She only knew that she did want, and with a terrible ferocity. Rebecca turned and fled down the arcade as if her body would burst apart into a thousand pieces if she didn’t use it to run.
Friday morning found Rebecca in an only slightly calmer state. She had hardly slept the night before. All she could see when she closed her eyes was the old stone sink, the running faucet, and the cup shaking in her hand. All she could feel was the overwhelming need Mr. Pierce engendered in her. All she could remember was the brief enormity of his touch. No one had ever held her with such purpose. For those fleeting minutes, when her body had quivered like liquid, she had never felt such a sense of being possessed in her life.
Throughout their morning work, she felt Mr. Pierce’s stare. He watched everything she did. And under that unrelenting gaze, she dropped salvers and spilt polish and fumbled the simplest tasks.
“Take it down,” he said, when the morning tea was ready.
She was sure she’d drop the tray as she brought it into the shop. And as the minutes ticked by, from ten-thirty until eleven, a great battle raged in her mind. But when she walked back up the stairs with the empty cups, she had decided.
Very deliberately, she put the tray beside the sink. And very deliberately she turned on the water and squeezed a generous amount of washing up liquid onto the scrubber. And very deliberately, she began to wash the dishes without wearing the apron.
Mr. Pierce had watched her the entire time, from his seat at the worktable. He didn’t move.
“Lass, put the apron on,” he said softly.
Rebecca didn’t glance at him. She stared down at the saucer in her hand and washed it with a furious purpose.
“Put it on.”
His voice was close, but she didn’t look up. Her blood was singing with an eerie defiance. Her flesh was on fire. Inside, muscles fluttered wildly, and the crotch of her panties was sodden with need.
Hardly touching, Mr. Pierce reached around her and turned off the tap. He covered her hands with his and guided them down to the bottom of the sink. She let the plate clatter to the stone and dropped the sponge.
“Good lass.” It was a soft, whisper close to her ear.
Without releasing them, he guided both her hands to the thick, rough lip of the sink and forced her fingers to grip it. Then he let them go.
“Don’t move. Not a word. Not a sound,” he growled.
The hands settled on her waist and then moved upwards, big and sure. They took her like territory. As they covered her breasts, she flinched and heard his breath hitch. He was behind her, breathing hard, one hand groping her right breast while the other unbuttoned her blouse and pulled it open.
He didn’t bother to fight with her bra, simply tugged the cups down and the straps dug and burned at her shoulders as he took a breast in each hand and squeezed them. His big, rough fingers burrowed into her skin.
At her back, she could feel the want bleed from his body. His hard on pushed into the roundness of her ass, ground it against her and unsteadied her, he growled again.
“Not an inch. I told you.”
Rebecca gripped the sink, steadied her body and closed her eyes. She clamped her mouth shut to stifle the moan that she was sure would emerge unbidden, but it was like trying to stop boiling water from bubbling.
His hands moved down, leaving her nipples throbbing. They paused to grip her hips and hold her steady as he rubbed against her, before one snatched at her skirt and pulled it up. Fingers raked up the nylon of her stockings and past them, over bare thigh, and covered her sodden mound.
He made a noise, soft and low in his throat. “Is this for me, lass?”
The contact made it impossible to be still. Rebecca rocked her hips, drove herself against the hand at her crotch. “You know it is.” It came out like slurry.
Was it for him? For him specifically? For a man more than twice her age who never flirted, never wooed her, hardly spoke? And did any of that matter once she felt him tug her knickers down her thighs, once she heard him unbuckling his belt, unzipping himself? She listened to his trousers, keys in the pocket, slither and drop to the floor.
The way he moved her to his liking, the delicious heat of him when he pushed his cock between her thighs and angled himself so expertly for the first, deep thrust. The way he bent over, bending her too and braced himself against the same cold stone sink with one hand, the other clamped over her mound.
She had been so ready for him, for what seemed like so many days. When he finally took was she was offering, it only took half a dozen thrusts to detonate the bomb inside her. As if he’d done this many times before, he knew, and shushed her as she came on his cock. And so what should have been a cacophony of pleasure came out as a stream of choked off whimpers.
“Good lass,” he panted. “Give me another.”
The hand that had steadied her pubic bone moved, fingers searched out and found her swollen clit. He coaxed it with each inward thrust, so that each felt like a stubborn door being battered open. And it was impossible to refuse him what he asked for.
He fucked her methodically, meticulously. Rebecca could feel the ridge of his cock head as he withdrew almost completely before plunging home again. If he was worried about being caught fucking his assistant, he didn’t fuck like he gave a damn. He fucked like he did everything else: quietly, carefully, thoroughly, until she broke again in shudders and sobs locked up in her chest.
Only then did he come. As if he’d been waiting to see that she’d done the job properly before moving on to the next step. It wasn’t quick or furtive. He just stopped thrusting and erupted into her cunt, letting her feel each hot spurt flood her passage.
Then he withdrew, pulled her panties up roughly and put his trousers back on.
“Stand up, turn around.”
With the lassitude that comes from orgasm, Rebecca straightened herself and watched, mutely, while he repositioned her bra, and buttoned up her blouse.
“Lots of work waiting. Better get to it, now.”
* * *
In the days that followed, Rebecca learned a lot. Mr. Pierce taught her how to clean off broken pieces of silver, coat the sheared edges in flux, and solder them back into place.
He also taught her how to please him. His huge hand wrapped around hers as she stroked his cock, using her saliva and his precum to make it slick. He showed her when he was ready for her, on her knees, looking up at him, to cover the head with her mouth and staunch the flood that resulted.
“Don’t make a mess, lass,” he said.
He showed her how to ride him as he sat on one of the two schoolroom chairs. How to let him use her body the way he wanted, to relax as he guided her hips up and down. How to stifle her cries against the side of his neck when she came so hard from his use.
Bent over the worktable, he taught her to lie still and silent and let him plunder her cunt and her ass with his fingers, his cock and his mouth.
He never kissed her. Never said words of love to her. Never asked her out or did any of the things that lovers do. All he ever offered her was the pleasure of being possessed by him in that drab room above the shop. She never learned his first name.
When, a year later, she left Holmes & Sons to have another go at a university degree, she left knowing exactly what her body could do, and with an unnatural reaction to the scent of silver polish.