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Benson & Co.

April 4, 2013

The doorway framed her, a portrait of beauty, feminine perfection that made the men stare and the women envy. She was neither young or old, but that interesting middle-age where womanhood matures into an exotic fruit that declares sexuality, confidence and interesting hips. When he saw her he nearly choked on his drink, the gin spilling on to the table in a glistening puddle. He had no idea who she was, he didn’t know who any of these people were. He had been invited at the last minute, seemingly more out of sympathy than congeniality, for he had only been with the company for a short time. This party, this gathering in such a grand hotel was to celebrate success and thank the workforce. At least, that was what the e-mail had said, an e-mail from none other than Collin Benson himself, the MD and founder, and overall god.

She stepped inside the room, legs shapely beneath the clinging fabric of her dress, hair shiny and glossy with health and expensive shampoo. Surprisingly the other men smiled, but made no effort to welcome her. So, taking the bull by the horns, fuelled by the confidence of gin, Mike walked over, offering her a damp hand;
“Hello,” he began, trying to appear confident. “I’m Mike.” She took his hand in her light, bony grip and squeezed gently. And then the smile came, a thing of white teeth.
“Fay,” she breathed.
“Drink?”
“No, Hollis.” Confusion and laughter tried to leave by the same passage. A kind of half-hearted blurting snort came instead.
“Oh! I mean, do you want one?”
“Want what?” she asked mischievously.
“A drink.” Mike stuttered.
“Oh, sure. Wine, white, dry.” Feeling silly, he scampered away.

At the crowded bar he tried to make small talk with the other guests, but this was proving to be difficult. He didn’t know if he was being paranoid or not, but it seemed as though he was being ignored. That was until one man, belly round, face red, barrelled towards him jovially.
“I see you’ve made her acquaintance,” he remarked. Mike nodded sheepishly. “Well my lad, be careful that’s all I can say.” Before Mike could reply the man was swallowed by the throng and the barman was asking him what he wanted.

They sat, one with wine, one with gin at a small table, the party going on around them. Mike felt a strange sense of detachment from reality, he found himself gazing into her eyes and being mesmerised by her ruby lips.
“So, Fay, what do you do?” the line was out and it sounded pathetic.
“Oh,” she smiled patronisingly. “This and that.” She sipped her wine and Mike felt like a moron. He tipped back on his chair and surveyed the room. It was a high class party. Waiters minced around with trays of drink and nibbles. A band was playing jazz and couples were whirling hopelessly about the dance floor. But nobody else was sitting, they were all laughing and mingling happily.

“Hello, glad you could make it,” a red-faced overweight man waddled over to him, champagne spilling over the rim of his crystal glass. “You are…?” the man eyed him myopically, trying to remember who he was.
“Mike from accounts,” Mike said with a self conscious cough.
“Of course you are. And, you do know who I am I hope?” the man laughed, jowls wobbling like a friendly Boxer dog.
“Of course, you’re Mr Benson the company director.” Mike said, smiling and offering the man who paid his wages, his hot, sweaty hand.
“Good man!” Collin Benson said, clapping Mike boisterously on the back and nearly knocking the drink out of his hand. “Enjoying the party?” Mike nodded. “Good, I like to throw a bash when we do well. And we have done well, thanks to chaps like you.” Collin stopped and looked at Fay, as if noticing her for the first time. His expression altered, his red-faced openness changed to a mask of closed pallor, and he wrinkled his nose, as if smelling a disagreeable aroma. “I see you’ve made her acquaintance?” he asked Mike, conspiratorially.
“Yes.”
“Well, be careful, be very careful.”
“Sorry?”
“You’re the new chap aren’t you?” Mike nodded. “Not been with us long. Do yourself a favour and keep away from her. You hear?” Mike felt uncomfortable and confused and Collin Benson walked away, hunched shouldered and slow, his expression sullen and grave.

“What was that about?” Mike turned to Fay.
“Oh, I have no idea.” She looked at him and he felt as though his heart would melt – he felt as though he could drown in her eyes, and not mind the dying.
“Umm, do you work for Benson and co?” Mike asked, trying to make conversation, but feeling foolish and empty headed. Fay shook her head, one elegant leg crossed over the other and Mike forgot to ask how she got an invite. Instead he just stared at her, feeling for all the world like a teenage boy who had seen the wonders of a top shelf magazine for the first time.

“John, over here!” Mike called to a man, who, in common with most of the men in the room, wore a dinner jacket. The man, a new colleague, his pretty wife on his arm smiled, waved and walked towards Mike.
“Great band,” John said, “How goes it?”
“Fine,” Mike said.
“This is my wife, Sarah,” John announced.
“Hi Sarah.” Mike smiled. Sarah kissed him lightly on both cheeks. “This is Fay,” Mike proclaimed , glancing towards the woman who stood next to him, gazing at the dancers. John stared at her, slack jawed and entranced.
“Hello, I’m John,” he said. Fay pierced him with her eyes, smiled coquettishly and walked towards the bar. “Jesus Mike, she’s… wow, you dark bloody horse, you!” Sarah looked uncomfortable and turned to her husband angrily.
“Put your tongue back in your mouth and grow up,” With an effort, John did so, but stood, blinking after Fay, hoping to see a glimpse of her at the crowded bar.
“Actually,” Mike began, “We’ve only just met.”
“Well, you lucky…”
“What John means to say is good luck.” With this she dragged him away towards the dance floor, leaving Mike feeling confused and more than a little alone.

The giggle made him stop and look; Fay stood, one hand on silk clad hip, chest thrust provocatively towards the man in the green waistcoat. She smiled, delighted by a comment he had made. He, clearly enthralled, took her hand and lead her towards a quiet corner. Despite the sound of the band, the chatter and general din of the party, Mike could clearly hear her heels clipping, and fancied he could even smell her perfume. To his surprise the sight of her sitting, leaning towards this man, eyes keen, face intense, made Mike feel an uncharacteristic pang of jealousy, that, if not checked, would turn into possessive rage. He shook his head, gulped down his drink and told himself that he didn’t own her, that they had only just met, that, despite her ravishing beauty, her sensual grace, she was after all just a woman, and, there were plenty of women at this party. Plenty of women who would dance, if not actually sleep with him.

Like a diver about to enter cold water, Mike held his breath, mentally crossed himself and dove into the throng of dancing bodies. Although not a good dancer, he was an average one, able to keep rhythm and vaguely look as though he knew what he was doing – and not look as though he was a middle-aged, half drunk man in the throws of some kind of seizure. The band played a mixture of swing and jazz, the musicians excellent, the music alive and vital. He was almost enjoying himself, engaged in a flirty conversation with a girl from HR, when he saw him, the green waist coated twat who strutted and preened like an overgrown peacock.
“Mike?” the girl, Michelle said.
“What?”
“I said, do you want to buy me a drink?” on any other evening, in any other place, if a pretty young blonde in high heels had asked him this question, he, like a rangy St. Bernard puppy would bound to the bar, and return, tongue hanging out, hoping for a treat.
“Oh, sorry. Sure. What do you want?” Michele followed his eyes;
“That’s Greg from contracts. He’s a bit of a nutter, but he’s ok.” Mike knew that this description described somebody who thought they were a character. Somebody who had a party trick and an array of witty anecdotes. This kind of bloke played squash, this kind of bloke was popular, and moisturised. This kind of dick head annoyed Mike, because this kind of man always wanted to be the centre of attention; and above all, this kind of guy always managed to get off with the girl Mike had his eyes on, if not his hands.

“What’s the matter?” Michelle asked, rapidly losing interest.
“Oh, nothing. Do you know where she works?” he pointed towards Fay.
“Don’t even think about it.” Michelle said, a serious expression eclipsing her face. “Come on, let’s get a drink.” From the corner of his eyes, Mike saw where Greg’s hand was headed. He saw his palm homing in like a guided missile on its target, Fay’s delicious, silk-wrapped backside. Mike stood, open mouthed, unable to move, unable to think. He felt himself blush with the embarrassment of a thousand schoolboy injustices, with the red of the underdog and the loser. But then, inexplicably and without warning, this feeling mutated. It changed into the heat of savage, jealous, rage.

Mate,” he said, looking up at the taller man. “Hands off, she’s mine.” The line, a bleak cliché of a dozen Hollywood films gave him a sense of satisfaction. He had always wanted to have the courage to say something like that. Had always wanted to have the bollucks to be male, to be dominant and protective. Greg, mind on the cleavage he was looking at, turned to face Mike.
“And, who are you?” he said, drunkenly. Fay smiled at Mike and turned, her dress revealing more of her gorgeous legs.
“I’m,” Mike began, trying hard to stay in control. “I’m her boyfriend.” To his amazement Greg laughed. And to his shock, Fay smiled and blushed delightfully.
“Oh, I see,” Greg said. “Sorry. Is this true?” he asked Fay. Mike’s heart stopped, his breath caught somewhere between his throat and lungs.
“He could be if he plays his cards right,” she purred. “But at the moment he’s interfering like a little boy.”
“Do you want me to get rid of him?” Greg asked, playing the gallant, if somewhat stupid insecure male.
“No, it’s ok. Run along Mike, we’ll play later.” Dumbstruck, Mike watched as she kissed Greg, open-mouthed and passionately. And then they were gone, swallowed by the dancers, engulfed in the music.

He stood, dejected, deflated and empty, staring at his image in the mirror above the sinks in the gents’, The water he had dashed into his face had done little to calm his ardour, or his nerves. He had mumbled something about a dickey tummy to Michelle and had literally ran into the gent’s, the overwhelming need to be alone to observe the strange sense of loss and humiliation he felt.

“I told you my boy,” the man said, zipping up his fly. Collin Benson’s reflection spoke to Mike from the mirror. “I did warn you.” A hand on Mike’s shoulder. Mike turned around and smiled wanly at his boss.
“Yeah.”
“How are you feeling? Don’t tell me… pathetic, empty, tired, sad?” Mike nodded. “It’s her way. Do you know what she’s doing now?” Mike shook his head mournfully. “She’s fucking Greg’s eyeballs out!”
“What?”
“Yes, she’s in his car as we speak, screwing him for all she’s worth. But do you know what?”
“What?”
“At the time he’ll love it, god, I loved it too, couldn’t get enough. But afterwards, afterwards he’ll feel a thousand times worse than you do now.”
“You couldn’t get enough?” Mike asked incredulously.
“Yes, I’ve had her, or rather, she’s had me, prayed on me to be precise. She’s dangerous.”
“I don’t understand,”
“She’s different to most women. She has the ability to use sexual energy, to thrive on it. She’s like a vampire. But, the problem is, it makes the people she’s used, feel… well, I was on antidepressants for six months.” Collin leaned against a wall. “But shall I tell you the worst thing?”
“Go on,”
“Come with me.”

They stood on the periphery of the party, a glass of mineral water in shaking hands.
“Him,” Collin pointed out a thin elderly man with wispy white hair. He limped to a seat and sat down, his wrinkled face protesting against the pain of arthritis. “DO you know how old he is?”
“I don’t know, around 70?”
“Nope, forty. He made the cataclysmic error of letting her move in with him. Yes, the sex was probably terrific, but when she left, when she got bored, he couldn’t survive, all the life-force was drained from him.”
“I don’t believe it.”Mike said, shaking his head.
“I got away lightly, and so did you, and hopefully Greg will too.”
“Why is she here? Why do you allow her to stick around?” Collin sipped his drink, ice tinkling , and sighed.
“Because I owe her. Because she saved my life.”
“How?”
“I met her twenty years ago whilst holidaying in Spain. I had seen her a few times lounging beside the pool in the briefest of bikinis.” He paused, enjoying the memory of lithe, slim oiled limbs and log hair. “But I didn’t speak to her, thought her out of my league. I was a rather portly chap who smoked Marlborough, and she, she was stunning. Anyway, I digress. I hired a jet ski and took it for a spin in the bay – great bloody fun. Have you done it?” Mike shook his head. “Anyway, I’m on this blasted jet ski contraption when, a freak wave hits me and I fall off. I’m in the drink, coughing and spluttering when the infernal machine smacks me on the back of the head.”
“Ouch,” Mike added.
“Ouch is right. I lose consciousness and the next thing I know I’m half way up the beach with this vision giving me mouth-to-mouth.”
“Was it her?”
“Yes indeed. She said she’d give me the kiss of life if I promised to take care of her.”
“Hold on. She gave you mouth-to-mouth and then said this?”
“After the mouth-to-mouth I was able to communicate, but I was hardly lucid. I just moaned something and then she kissed me. I felt my strength returning; it was as though I had been plugged into a power station, it was amazing.”
“And when did you realise she was… odd?”
“We became friends, and when she came back to England I gave her a job. Then we became lovers and I realised what she is.”
“Can nothing be done about her?” Mike asked, trying hard to believe.
“I’ve kept a log,” Collin seemed not to hear Mike’s question. “I have logged every man she’s ever seduced, every conquest and every broken heart. I’ve even noted the condition she left the men in, from severe depression to premature ageing. Can we do anything to get rid of her? Yes, but it’s difficult. You see, she wants you, you’re next on her list, I can tell by the way she looks at you.”
“What about Greg?” Mike asked incredulously.
“Oh him,” Collin waved airily. “He’s just a distraction before the main event.”
“So she still wants me?” Mike asked, excitement building within his heart and loins.
“Stop it, and listen. The only way we can get her to move on, to move away is if you refuse her. This will hurt her badly, it may even break her because I doubt its ever happened before.”
“I don’t think I,”
“Come on, do as I say and ignore quarter-to-three legs!” Mike laughed, drained his glass and shrugged his shoulders.

He barely noticed Greg’s trance-like state. His eyes, as if on stalks followed Fay everywhere. He wore a stupefied expression and his mouth was half-open.
“Hi Fay,” Mike smiled. “Where have you been?”
“Oh, just freshening up.” Mike noticed that she wore a different dress.
“Cool,” Mike said, wishing he felt it. “Sorry about that misunderstanding we had before,”
“Oh, don’t mention it,” she smiled and kicked off one shoe to remove a piece of gravel. With exaggerated care she put the shoe back on, and as graceful and aware as a choreographed routine she stretched out her legs, leant back and yawned, her nipples showing hard against the fabric of her dress. Mike stared open-mouthed, his body aching for her. Then, to his relief, Michelle came to his side.
“You ok Mike? I was looking for you.” She said, ignoring Fay and Greg, who still sat motionless, now-and-then sipping a pint.
“Hi Michele, I’m fine. Sorry, I had a bit of a dodgy tummy, I’m ok now though.”
“Do you want to dance?”
“Sure.” Mike was about to walk away when he felt the exquisite pressure of fingers pressing into his forearm.
“Actually sweetheart, Mike promised me a dance. Didn’t you..?” Those eyes caught him and captivated him. But he remembered the words of his boss and swallowed hard.
“Well, actually,” Mike said hoarsely.
“What’s wrong,” Greg chimed in, “I thought you were her boyfriend!”
“Well, that was all a bit of a misunderstanding, I’m with Michelle.” Michelle looked surprised and a little taken aback.
“That’s right,” Michelle said, sensing something strange in the air.
“Mike,” Fay continued, “Why don’t we get ourselves a drink and go for a nice walk. It’s still warm outside, the fountain’s on and there are fairy lights in the trees, it’s quite magical.”
“No thanks, I…”
“Maybe later we could… you know. Room 218.”
“Come on Mike, leave her – let’s dance,” Michelle dragged him away, and he came with her, half-heartedly, his mind awash with images and sounds.

At the end of the night Mike had exchanged phone numbers with Michelle, confident that they would meet up for more than just a drink; the kiss they exchanged during a slow dance promised much more. She was staying in a B&B in town, the hotel where the party had been held was full. A little tipsy, and more than a little confused he walked towards his room, quite sure that the story Mr Benson had told him was nonsense – a little joke. Fay was no more a sexual vampire than he was a Casanova. He whistled quietly to himself, and searched for his room. Then, it hit him like a fist in the solaplexis; room 218. He stopped dead, torn and nervous, trembling slightly. He took a deep breath and knocked.

She lay, the filmy silk of a chemise barely concealing her nudity. Mike gulped, and his heart felt as though it would explode out of his chest. She smiled up at him, the bed’s luxurious sheets appealing. “I’d knew you’d come,” she breathed. For a few seconds Mike couldn’t trust his voice.
“I…” he whispered,
“Shouldn’t you do what your boss tells you?”
“I, I can’t, I’ve.. I’ve only been in the company for a month and I,”
“You like what you see,” she purred, stroking the inside of her thighs.
“I want to, but…”
“You want me?”
“Yes,”
“Isn’t that naughty?” Mike shook his head and fumbled with his clothes. After he kicked off his shoes and clumsily hopped out of his trousers he sprang on to the bed and kissed her. His hand, like a wandering animal searched for a breast but her hand stopped him.

“Ok, that’s enough.” Collin Benson strode in from the adjacent bathroom, face flushed. “Get dressed please my dear,” he said. Fay smiled and put on a robe. “Sorry about that,” Collin said, patting Mike’s heaving shoulder. “Do get dressed, good chap.” Shakily, Mike got dressed. “Well,” Collin continued, cigar clamped between tight lips. “This is my wife Ruth. Ruth, this is Mike from accounts, his new.” Ruth nodded and Mike felt so confused he could cry. “Well, well, well. You know, I thought you would do it, I thought you would pass my test, but, like the others you failed. A test of loyalty is the hardest test,” Collin sighed. “But I do commend you for nearly believing my little story. You see, Ruth is Ruth, not Fay, not some kind of vampireistic nympho, she’s simply my wife. Every year I throw a party, during the party I choose one of my new employees and test them – I test their moral fibre and sense of loyalty. I must say, you did do rather well, but fell at the final hurdle. Still, you’re only human of course.”
“What?” Mike whispered. “What about Greg?”
“Oh Greg, an actor, as is the old man.”
“Mike,” Ruth said, “I am so sorry.”
“Sorry? You’ve made me look like a total bloody idiot!”
“Oh pish!” Collin interrupted. “You did well, you suspended disbelief, you listened to your superior and gave me the benefit of the doubt. Most people just laugh at my story.”
“How much of it is true?”Mike asked, hurriedly retying his tie.
“We did meet in Spain, that’s about all.”
“Great. Well, I hope you’ve both had a good fucking laugh.”
“It’s not like that Mike,” Collin said, sitting on the edge of the bed. “We all like you, despite your failure. We want you to stick around,”
“I’m not getting the sack?”
“We want you to stick around and keep an eye on our daughter Michelle, she’s the hot blooded one, the one you have to be careful of. Don’t tell me you like her?” Mike didn’t respond. “Don’t tell me you kissed her, exchanged phone numbers??” Mike nodded slowly.
“Oh dear. In that case I’m going to have to let you go, she’s only seventeen.” Mike shook his head slowly, as if trying to come to terms with indigestible news.
“Right,” he said, his face expressing a heady mixture of confusion, bewilderment and shame. “Ok, then.” He walked towards the door like a George A. Romero zombie and opened it slowly.

Mike lay in his room, 204 a spacious, luxurious suite, the bed he rested upon big and comfortable. He had no idea what time it was – all he knew is that he had a dull headache, that he felt confused, cheated, and above all, very, very stupid. When the knock on the door came he barely registered it, assuming it was part of his drifting mind, his alcohol fuelled imagination. When the gentle knock came again, he opened the door and was surprised to see Michelle standing in the hall, looking all the world like a fresh, beautiful and very desirable minx.
“Oh, it’s you,” Mike said, a trace of bewilderment in his voice. “I thought you were staying in a B&B?”
“It is, and I am.”
“What do you want? I’m already in enough trouble.”
“So I hear. Can I come in?”
“No, thanks to you and your mother’s games, I’ve lost my job.”
“What?”
“Come on, don’t play the innocent; I must say, I had no idea of your age, if I did I would have never…”
“My age?”
“Yes.”
“Look Mike, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I think we should talk.”
“Alright,” Mike said, yawning. “

They sat self-consciously on high-backed chairs, nursing cups of coffee. “So, why are you here?” Mike asked accusingly.
“I left my handbag at the hotel. I went to reception, retrieved it, and I heard some people talking about the mess Mike Stevens was in.”
“Right. Hold on…”
“No, wait a minute. What did you mean about my age?”
“Seventeen…”
“I bloody wish, I’m twenty-four! Who told you that crock of shit?”
“Your delightful father.”
“My dad’s dead, I live with my mum,”
“And your mum is?”
“Fay, Fay Benson.”
“Who the fuck is Ruth then?”
“Ruth? Ruth, Ruth Hollis was my father’s first wife.”
“Christ. What did your dad look like?” Michelle sipped her coffee and shrugged off her coat.
“Well, overweight, red-faced. He loved a drink.”
“Was he at the party?”
“No, of course he isn’t, he’s dead.”
“Course. When you overheard the guests talking about trouble, what kind of trouble were they on about?”
“You nearly being seduced by my mother, she’s such a pain in the arse, I wish she’d grow up and grow old gracefully.”
“Listen, I’ve had conversations with Mr Benson. He spoke to me during the party and in the gents. I spoke to him in his suite too.”
“What were you doing there?”
“Never mind.”
“Listen Mike, do you know who built this place?” Mike shrugged, “Benson & Co.” Mike nodded. “Room 218 is my parents’ favourite suite, but it’s closed up, my mother made sure of it after dad died.”
“Come on, that’s ridiculous!”
“I’ll prove it.”

From reception Michelle obtained a key-card. With it, Mike at her side, she opened the door of room 218. When she flicked on the light switch Mike gasped. The room was totally bare – devoid of bed, furniture, even wall paper. “There, you see,” Michelle breathed. Mike shook his head and smelled the damp air, noticing the mildewed walls and broken tiles in the bathroom.
“Two questions,” he whispered. “If you’re the daughter of the Bensons, if they own the hotel why did you not stay here?”
“Full, I told you.”
“Truth please.”
“Because, because of the ghosts.” For a moment Mike felt light-headed.
“Right. And you’re suggesting that I have been speaking to the ghost of your father?”
“Yes, he’s very obsessive about his family and his business.”
“So, how come your mother was talking to him?”
“My mother?”
“Yes, Fay, or Ruth.”
“Ruth, his first wife is dead.”
“Right.” Mike felt a mounting sense of disbelief and unease. “The woman I was with at the party, the one with Greg. Who was she?”
“Pass, I’ve never seen her before.”
“Fuck me! Where’s Fay now?”
“She’s probably in bed.”
“What does she look like?”
“Me.”
“Not dark?”
“No, blonde.”
“And Ruth?”
“Never seen her before.”
“I don’t understand this shit.” Mike said, backing out of the room.

They stood in Mike’s room, a strange dreadful awakening hanging between them.
“Mike,” Michelle said, kicking off her shoes and sitting on the edge of the bed. “Do you want to make love to me?” Mike’s heart skipped a beat. Of course he bloody did! She was gorgeous, sexy as hell, and he was, frankly gagging for it. But, he mastered his lust long enough to ask one question.
“What’s your name, your real name. Tell me the truth, please.” Michelle paused, sighed and cleared her throat.
“Fay,” she frowned. “Fay Michelle Benson, Collin’s widow.”
“So, you’re saying your Collin’s widow, and Ruth was his first wife, who is dead?” she nodded. “What about Michelle?”
“Ssshhh,” she put a finger to his lips and began to unzip her dress. “Don’t talk.” She said huskily.
“Where’s Michelle?” Mike whispered, his spine tingling with mounting fear and disbelief.
“She didn’t come tonight. I can’t stand competition. Collin had a habit of marrying strange women – women with appetites and needs he could never fulfil.”
“How did he die?” Mike asked, breathlessly.
“A broken heart.”
“And Ruth?”
“A jet ski accident. Tonight you’ve been talking to ghosts, but I am very much alive. Let me make you feel alive too.” Mike couldn’t resist, and he became a slave to the loveless warmth of a siren’s body.

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