Tea, Coffee, and Me (Fictional foot fetish and femdom story).

Apr 12, 2009
178
5
18
England
#1
Tea, Coffee, and Me.

Ch. 1 of 3: David has no option but to opt for option two.


Mrs Hilary Harper, businesswoman owner and manageress of Harper's Conference Catering, soon realised she'd landed on her feet when I landed at her feet.

Or - and more to the point:

At the feet of her exclusively female clientele.

***


To most people, in town about their daily business and routines, it was just a Thursday afternoon much like any other.

But not to me.

Pedestrians, though, who glanced my way as they passed by, could have no inkling as to my overnight transformation.

Of my new status.

There were no outward, visible, giveaway signs of change; nothing that anyone could put their finger on, and then point that same finger at me and say to a companion: Hey, look - he's different!

But, different, I was ...

It was the occasion of my eighteenth birthday, and with it came the abrupt culmination of my education.

As suddenly as that, the 'best days of my life' were behind me.

At eighteen I had reached adulthood, and with said milestone maturation had attained for a male what the UK's Authoritarian Female Party government termed 'Serviceable Age'.

And so it was, that on that Thursday afternoon with their Letter of Notification in my pocket, it was with the trepidation born of a lowered sense of place and a heightened sense of vulnerability that I turned up for my Career Classification Assessment at Brighton Job Centre.

As implied by the title, the CCA interview was for the Job Centre authorities to categorise my employability standard, and to then decide the direction my career path should take - I would have little or no say in it. My assessor, whose decision would be final, was empowered to decree my fate.

Before I entered the building, I took a moment to look at the latest poster messages in the windows, appealing for in-work male volunteers to help, in their spare time, to man some of the AFP's most critically undermanned female-friendly facilities.

AFP Prime Minister Caroline Flynt herself was pictured, pointing her forefinger in a Your Country Needs YOU!-style depiction.

More like a demand than a petition, more a command than a plea, the times of crisis-style posters cajoled rather than coaxed: 'Spare Time Is Wasted Time!' and 'Days Off Are Days Lost!' and others adjured: 'Sign-Up Here - Now!'

Not only did Prime Minister Caroline Flynt hold the top political job, but there was no question that she was also the AFP's best recruiting sergeant of non-enforcible auxiliary help.

Upon signing up, most volunteers admitted when filling in the attached questionnaire, that of all the AFP's leading-light Cabinet Ministers it had been Ms Flynt's influences and not least her personal appeals to them on AFP TV that had persuaded them to go along to their local Job Centre and sign on the dotted line.

Why did they do it?

While I, myself was neither impervious to Ms Flynt's charisma or immune to her charms, I was not one to be lured, summoned, tempted, or seduced - suckered and snared - into the AFP's Venus's flytrap.

I could only suppose that those sorry signatories who foreswore to fritter away their leisure time in the maintenance and furtherance of female-friendly facilitations, vacancy-filling the AFP's frivolous follies in their voluntary downtime servitude, were trying to ingratiate themselves with the Authoritarian Female Party.

Perhaps, misguidedly, they thought (or were slyly given the impression) that the gift of their freely offered precious downtime would not be forgotten - that their valuable self-sacrificing contributions to the female-friendly cause would be remembered and duly rewarded.

Perhaps, naively, they assumed (or were cleverly led to believe) that their ongoing volunteered services would not all ultimately be for nought - that they would be racking up and storing away a few credits for when almost inevitably they would be needed.

But I wasn't buying it - I saw it for what it was.

It was all a cunning, callous, carefully contrived con.

The AFP, users and abusers of their downgraded and downtrodden male citizenry, would be laughing up their sleeves - tickled pink, at the naivete and the soft-headed gullibility of so many of their menfolk.

So easily misled, so easily misguided.

Or rather: Deceived, taken in - hoodwinked.

The lingual latitudes of the AFP spin doctors, casuists, and sophists - their double entendres, clever misdirections, subtle sleights-of-tongue - all going right over the heads of woefully uncomprehending or lamentably overtrusting males who, in their almost wilful state of denial only heard what they wanted to hear.

The AFP's silver-tongued line spinners were making false promises and offering fake rewards - unredeemable inducements.

And the shortfall shoring, auxiliary helper in-work volunteers were falling for it.

When, almost unavoidably these dupes haplessly fell foul of the AFP, unintentionally or perhaps even unknowingly infringing one of the many rigid rules and regulations as applied to males under the all-female government's Constitution, there would be no in-the-bank credits for volunteered downtime services rendered.

No indemnity. No mitigation. No reprieve.

And no leniency.

Instead, there would be another cruel twist.

Informed by a Letter of Notification, they would then be put on a Placement Rota and forced, not just to continue to step up to the plate to fill a gap and to provide the same, relatively female-friendly 'light' services that previously they had voluntarily sacrificed most of their free time to facilitate. But also to perform some of the other, diabolically demeaning, grievously demanding, highly disagreeable functions and facilitation of a decidedly more submissive, servile, and subjugative nature.

It was, well documented, though, that more and more men were 'Coming Out':

Authoritarian Female Party sympathisers - seeing the way the political wind was blowing and, from every indication, was going to prevail for some considerable time, growing in confidence enough to nail the AFP's quartered red, green, blue and yellow flag to their mast.

Dedicated feminists - coming out of the closet to declare their wholehearted agreement with and unreserved passionate support for the AFP's female-friendly Utopian ideal.

Stating publically via social media outlets not just their avowed categorical allegiance to the movement's all-female membership and particularly to its exalted Cabinet Minister and MP leadership. But, many of them, supplying along with their female-rule/female-power embracing ideologue 'resume' their names and their phone numbers and offering also to local females their permanently available summonable services.

For in-work males who answered Ms Flynt's clarion call by signing up at the Job Centre reception desk to pledge their free time to help facilitate or to provide as required one or more of said advertised unremunerated or otherwise materially unrewarded female-friendly 'light' services, their willingness would be noted and recorded in their files.

I'd made sure to arrive early.

To miss a Job Centre appointment without a checkable justifiable reason would have serious consequences.

But just being late for one without good excuse would not go unaddressed either; would incur a sanction - perhaps a 30-Day Community Service Order.

60-Day penalties were not unusual, though, even for a first offence, if you happened to catch your interviewer on a bad day.

Come to that; even 90-Day Orders were not unheard of - in fact, I knew of one.

It all depended, upon the critical factors.

The 90-Day Community Service Order I knew about involved Eds - Eddie Edwards.

Eddie, a fellow Seagulls (Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club) fan and former school chum, had abruptly left full-time education a year earlier on the occasion of his eighteenth birthday. And like me, he had graduated with the same inadequate academic accomplishments - atrocious educational accreditations, that ensured his scraping the bottom of the job option barrel.

But as it turned out, it would be six months before Eddie's Career Classification Assessment took place and a Job Centre interviewer gave him a 'real' job.

Monday to Friday 8-5 and with the option of Saturday morning (8-1) as overtime with pay at time and a tenth, Eddie was still working for the AFP's minimum wage in Brighton council's recycling shed - which also served as the renewables hub for another dozen or so local towns.

Alongside other such unfortunates, Eddie spent his workdays standing in front of his designated conveyor belt, stripping and peeling the paper and plastic labels from the relentless flow of tins, bottles and other containers that both his fellow and nearby townspeople were either too lazy or uncaring of renewable and environmental issues to do themselves.

Less than jubilant at listening to the less than attractive recycling-plant worker's job description, Eddie, in the respectful lowered tones of his newfound reverent attitude towards females, had meekly asked if there were perhaps possibly please any other employment opportunities that might be open to him.

But his stony-faced hardhearted (Eddie's words) Job Centre interviewer had told him flatly and uncompromisingly that his "self-determined" circumstances were such that she was not prepared to sit there and listen to "the likes of" him bicker and complain. It was the recycling shed, or she would assign him to a Placement.

Well, apart from his humiliating verbal slapdown, at least it hadn't hurt to ask.

But as it was, even the dispiriting prospect of peeling off and scraping away stubbornly glued-on labels in the drab and depressing environs of Brighton City Council's smelly and noisy and draughty recycling shed was such a considerable upturn in Eddie's fortunes that he considered it nothing short of a blessing.

Because before that, for those intervening six months since he'd left secondary school, I had acted as Eddie's confidant and 'shoulder to cry on' as, miserably reliving his more memorable (haunting) household humiliations, he recalled and reflected upon some of the worst of his housebound belittlements.

Eddie had told me many times, as the weeks went on and turned into months, that he was struggling to cope; that he couldn't "go on".

That he was becoming so down and despairing, so dispirited and demoralised by the daily diabolical domiciliary demands - the torments and traumas of what, to magnify his misery, he had come to see as his self-inflicted misfortunes and self-imposed misadventures - that he was close to "breaking point".

Eddie told me that was it not for my sympathetic ear he didn't know how he could go on enduring such wretched, nightmare-inducing travails.

Eddie needed to let it all out, to let off steam - to rant and rave against the AFP machine.

But he couldn't tell just anyone about his abominable afflictions occasioned in the commissions of his Council-enforced, CSO-designated domestic drudgeries.

The Community Service Liaison Officer had put Eddie on attachment to the Domestic Work Detail.

The DWD was one of the AFP's female-friendly schemes, administered and overseen by the AFP's female 'foot soldiers' - the Community Service Officers.

Eddie's hours of Social Servitude: 08:00 - 18:00, or until finished. And for seven days a week until the completion of his 90-Day DWD Order - or until he had served any add-on penalties, served concurrently.

Eddie admitted that housework wasn't his forte, that his talents lay elsewhere.

But he swore that whenever he crossed the threshold of yet another residence, in the face of often appalling difficulties and sometimes abominable challenges, beset by the lady/ladies of the house he worked his albeit inexpert fingers to the bone, always doing his damnedest to deliver with distinction in the dreary domestic discipline.

But, for all of his albeit self-interested and self-protective commitment to housecraft assiduity, during his 90-Day DWD Order, he had nonetheless accumulated another three months' worth of such add-on penalties, resultant of complaints and allegations rightfully lodged or bogusly alleged by dissatisfied or otherwise disgruntled housewives or female house/flatmates.

Some, for valid reasons and so justifiable (but others, malicious and purely for cruel-minded amusement), seeking appropriate redress (or malevolently wishing to add injury to insult) they had demanded as per their AFP Constitution entitlement (or asked for the fun of it) that in their presence Eddie is Standard-Sixed.

Or even that they, themselves be allowed to pull down his community servant-style elasticated-waist white work shorts and administer the customary on-the-spot summary chastisement personally.

A not uncommon request, Eddie had said, his bottom lip aquiver.

And that usually, with an indifferent shrug or a nonchalant nod or an indulgent smile, such petitions to bare his buttocks to perform the Standard Six punishment penalties personally were also customarily approved and granted by the cane-wielding CSOs.

Assignment to the Domestic Work Detail involved being dropped off at a given number of residential addresses throughout the day; the two-man work teams delivered to the designations of their Social Servitude penances by CSOs in their AFP vans.

(The sister-detail, the BWD, predominantly served female-staffed office-based businesses, but also had presences with Placemented or drafted-in as required 'units' in many other female-staffed workplace environments.)

The organising into pairs of the 100-strong squad of two-man DWD work teams and the drawing up of their residential allocation worklists was decided and ordained at the arbitrary discretion of the supervising CSOs.

Equipped with fully accessorised rechargeable cordless vacuum cleaners, carry-trays of spray-bottle and aerosol cleaning and polishing materials, sponges and cloths, and some rubbish bags, DWD teams reported respectfully to the residences of housewives or female house/flatmates who had applied to the Community Service Liaison Officer for the free-for-the-asking services of the DWD.

As required by the housewife (or the female house/flatmate/s), in addition to the Standard Valet Service the two-man work team would unfailingly oblige and carry out whatsoever extra household chores and tasks as specified under her (or their) supervision as per her (or their) instructions.

Failure to obediently comply and to diligently perform any and all additional requirements would be to provoke a Standard-Sixing or risk an add-on penalty or receive both.

Assignment completed, on the AFP-network mobile phone issued to them, the two-man DWD cleaning crew would then contact the Community Service Liaison Centre.

Reporting in that the housewife or female house/flatmate/s had now dismissed them after having made her/their Performance & Attitude notations and remarks and signed and timed their worksheets, they would inform the CSLC that they were now waiting outside the residence to be picked up and taken to their next job.

Sitting in the back of the AFP van en route to their next Standard Valet Service assignment, they could plug their vacuum cleaners into the van's adaptor for a power boost and from onboard supplies replenish as necessary their spray-bottles.

During their thirty-minute mid-shift meal break back at the council yard, they could leave their vacuum cleaners to recharge more fully, while they topped up their spray bottles and replenished their cleaning sponges and polishing rags and retrieved and binned in the skip the morning's residences' filled-up rubbish bags from the parked AFP vans.

The two-man, mutually reliant cleaning crew had better have done a good job, too.

If the housewife or the female house/flatmate/s were not entirely satisfied with the housecleaning results, she/they needn't just passively leave things to run their normal course and get her/their satisfaction in absentia.

If she/they had a complaint (or any other issue) with either or both of the albeit non-pecuniarily procured pair, she/they needn't suffer her/their critical and dissatisfied Performance & Attitude notations and remarks on the DWD work team's worksheets to be noted and acted on in due course. She/they could state her/their grievance/s to the CSOs who came to pick them up and insist that her/their issue/s be addressed and settled immediately.

As alluded to, as female citizens dissatisfied with the quality of the services or unhappy with the attitude of the male or males provided to them by AFP authorities to serve whatever purpose, under the Female-Friendly Act they were entitled to request the administering in their presence of the Standard Six bare bottom caning penalty.

In the case of a two-man DWD team, the norm was that not just the culprit at fault (or out of favour) but both members of the housecleaning duo would receive the Standard Six penalty.

The not easily won exceptions/absolutions to this, were if for some reason one of them was let off the hook by dint of a female citizen invoking her rightful prerogative to decree either an 'Expressed Exoneration' or a 'Special Exemption'.

'Expressed Exoneration':

A housewife or female house/flatmate might feel moved to exercise her constitutional privilege to invoke this pardon, in token appreciation of her housecleaner's exemplarily diligent and uncommonly compliant application to and scrupulousness with his cleaning and polishing efforts on her behalf and at her behest.

'Special Exemption':

A member of a two-man DWD work team might also escape the cane, by the reprieving mercies of an otherwise favourably disposed housewife or female house/flatmate, for ... whatever reason.

Hence the two-man DWD work team's reliance upon each other to do an excellent Standard Valet/additional-extras job for the housewives or female house/flatmates they were sent to serve.

And the critical factors, in Eddie's case?

Eddie had reported five minutes late for his Career Classification Assessment interview; could provide no valid excusable reason for his delay; was not profuse or abject enough in his apologies and expressions of remorse to his interviewer, and exacerbated matters still further when he had seated himself without awaiting her permission for him to do so.

Eddie had told me that his interviewer had put him on notice, there and then, informing him that she would be referring him to the Community Service Liaison Officer, Miss Delia Dilmot - who was also the Authoritarian Female Party representative for Brighton.

Eddie said his interviewer terminated his interview and sent him home, pending the results of the inquiry she was initiating. His belated profuse apologies and expressions of abject remorse fell on deaf ears.

And that two days later Miss Dilmot - the higher authority to who these more egregious/multiple-offence infringements and transgressions were forwarded to and judged - evaluated Eddie's tardiness and his non-adherences to standard female-friendly protocols and awarded the 90-Day Community Service Order sanction she felt best befitted his string of insolent misbehaviours.

Hence my own, perhaps seemingly over-precautionary, but still nonetheless highly advisable half-hour early arrival at the Job Centre for my Career Classification Assessment interview.

And so, with a bit of time on my hands, I looked at the job vacancy boards and read the other prominently displayed urgent appeals for in-work male volunteers until when, at precisely two-thirty, a no-nonsense sounding female voice called my name over the PA system: "David Manners! David Manners, report to Job-Seeker Interview Desk Five."

I made my way over to Interview Desk Five, at present the only one of six that was vacant.

On my way to Interview Desk Five, I glanced at the other five interviewees.

Unsurprisingly, all of them were male, and upon seeing their glum faces and their hunch-shouldered, defensive postures, I saw the first tangible signs that things didn't bode well.

Nowadays, females were not obliged to work for a living.

Though not all females went along with the so-called female-friendly ways of the AFP - some, to the extent of protesting in the streets and participating in rallies and, after ignoring repeated warnings from local AFP representatives, ending up in prison in defence of their equal-rights values and beliefs - they were in the minority.

In fact, unless females wanted to work for their living (for career reasons or entrepreneurship - or choosing to work purely from a moral standpoint), they were not only allowed but actively encouraged by the AFP to claim the government's ludicrously generous Ladies of Leisure Living Allowance.

Benefits to recipients of the LLLA included: Automatic payment of their utility, phone and Internet bills; free bus, rail and Tube travel; cost-free admission to gyms, swimming pools, cinemas and theatres; and their pedicure salon, hairdresser, and coffee shop tabs paid upon presentation of their AFP-Supporter ID cards.

Hence, since they could live comfortably from proceeds of the AFP's male taxation-supported scheme (on a sharply rising scale, male workers were deducted tax from their gross income from a starting-point minimum of fifty percent), I was not the least surprised to see job-seeking females conspicuous by their absence.

I saw the second tangible sign of ill omen when I saw my interviewer.

These days, the Job Centre staff were all female - the AFP were of the view that male staff might be empathetically disposed towards male job seekers and would be tempted to stray from the rigidly mandated constraints of their remits and take it upon themselves to lean towards leniency.

My interviewer was a girl who was about a year older than me, whose Careers Adviser name tag told me she was Toya Tomkins.

When Miss Tomkins didn't say anything for some moments but merely regarded me, seemingly appraisingly, my rapidly growing nervous agitation became such that I took it upon myself to open our interlocution.

"Good afternoon, Miss Tomkins," I said respectfully, remaining standing.

From the discreet distance at which I stood, through the kneehole of her desk I observed with a leg man's appreciation the toned shapeliness of Miss Tomkins' bare, olive-complexioned legs, and noticed that she wore a comfortable-looking pair of well-worn red leather flats.

Miss Tomkins did not deign to return my polite pleasantry of the day or reciprocate my engaging smile but, crossing her right leg over her left and then dangling her well-worn red leather flat precariously from her toes as if it was something she did all the time, held out her hand for my Letter of Notification.

The Job Centre's Letter of Notification was their legally enforcible document.

Letters of Notification were sent out to all school leavers who had no work or training to go to upon finishing full-time education, which was why I had received mine.

Among other recipients of the dreaded official notices were Unemployment Benefit-claiming long-term unemployed, who had reached the end of their statutory two-week (soon to be reduced to one week) entitlement. For them, it was likely to mean a Placement.

For recipients thus advised of their upcoming Job Centre interview or apprised of the details of their assigned Placement, ignoring or not responding promptly or appropriately to these summonses or dictates was in both cases criminal and could incur anything from a stiff Social Servitude sanction to Detention and Rehabilitation custodial consequences.

I now handed mine over.

And only then did Miss Tomkins, with a curt nod towards the seat opposite her, indicate that I sit down.

As favoured by Prime Minister Caroline Flynt's Authoritarian Female Party government and therefore worn by their 'foot soldier' CSOs as a part of their uniform, I was both dismayed and discomfited to see that although a civilian Miss Tomkins supportively wore her hair in the AFP's trademark adopted but severely adapted concave bob style.

At seeing it, I felt the familiar sense of foreboding; a feeling of dreadful apprehension - for wearers of the unprepossessing hairstyle seemed, ipso facto, to exude threat and emanate menace.

For though Miss Tomkins comported the cocky confidence and arrogant authoritative assuredness of all AFP-empowered employees, her almost militaristic-like haircut was the finishing, fear-inspiring touch that gave her dyed-in-the-wool AFP apparatchik appearance an air of implacable harshness that otherwise she would not have projected.

I sat there, remaining silent, minimising direct eye contact, and hoping my facial expression was bland enough to be deemed neutral.

That I'd left full-time education with low grades would no doubt be reflected now, I thought, manifested in the dismaying standard of the work openings available to me.

Miss Tomkins leafed through my Final Term's teachers' reports and read the summary of my school grades appended to the Job Centre's Letter of Notification. And as she did so, she glanced at me several times, seemingly consideringly.

Upon having read the document, Miss Tomkins' hand then slammed down several times with thumps of fateful finality as she rubber-stamped each page with Brighton Job Centre's crest.

She then scooted on her castor-wheeled swivel chair to the long bank of grey metal filing cabinets lining the back wall; her bare heels, popping out from her well-worn red leather flats each time she propelled herself.

I watched her pull open to its full extent the long drawer labelled 'L-N', and insert the multi-paged document into a green file folder, in one of the several box-files marked: 'M'.

As Miss Toya Tomkins scooted back toward her desk, the momentary images of the bottoms of her slightly grubby bare heels and not least the even more fleetingly glimpsed suggestions of narrow, somewhat sweaty-looking pale olive-skinned soles, were still on my retinas.

Miss Tomkins then outlined my employment options - of which because of the limitations imposed by my abysmal academic accomplishments (although, only a few of years ago, pre-AFP, my end-of-education results would have been graded as above-average), she decreed I had just two:

1) Assignment to a Placement, facilitating one of the AFP's so-called female-friendly schemes.

But not duties female-friendly 'light', as often performed by the in-work free time-sacrificing auxiliary volunteers. But providing service/s and functions altogether more demanding, demeaning, and infinitely more disagreeable.

My hackles raised, I felt the almost uncontrollable urge to protest; to rant and rave against this, albeit, now all too common outrage.

But somehow I managed to stifle it; to nip the vociferous outpouring in the bud.

The consequences of such an outburst would not merely be deleterious, detrimental - but disastrous.

Miss Tomkins apparently understood that I realised the injudiciousness of giving vent to my emotions, as was attested by the smug smirk on her face as she then read out the long list of vacant/undermanned female-friendly Placement positions for my consideration.

When I did not volunteer a preference, Miss Tomkins highlighted the Placement vacancies that, due to both the ongoing expansions of established facilities to meet ever-increasing demand, and the newly operational projects and schemes furthering AFP ambitions of a widening diversity and more widespread availability, were most urgently needing to be manned.

Uppermost of these were 'Sock Room Attendant' and 'Air Purification Technician'.

Sock Room Attendant:

Assigned to assist (or temporarily replace, during the absented incumbent's undergoing of medical and- or psychiatric treatment for the increasingly common affliction of Community Servant Burn-Out Syndrome), run-down or washed-out Sock Room community servants, hand-washing the city's (or a nearby town's) females' dirty socks.

Air Purification Technician:

Assigned to man - be strapped onto supinely - during both outbound and return flights, one of an aircraft's Seat Line-serving computer-controlled under-seat railed conveyances (Air Purification Technician Service Vehicles). To attend push-button summonsing female passengers who, upon automated sequenced demand, took their turns in acquiring access to his sealed-mouthed, fixed-in-place face via their automatically retracting footwells.

With admiration in her voice and adoration in her eyes, Miss Tomkins proudly informed me that the Sock Room and the Air Purification Technician concepts were the brainchildren of Prime Minister Caroline Flynt herself.

I hadn't known that - but it didn't surprise me in the slightest to learn of it.

I remembered the day when ... maybe two years ago now, a TV programme I was watching was interrupted by an AFP broadcast, and a beaming Prime Minister Caroline Flynt announced the imminent introduction followed by the nationwide rolling-out in the very near future of the laughably titled Air Purification Technician service.

And then about a week later, out of sheer fascinated interest in this latest outlandish female-friendly scheme, I had watched on AFP TV the coverage of Ms Flynt presiding over the pre-launch ceremony.

At the time, it had struck me as odd that the AFP Transport Secretary, Yvette Carter, was not presiding - that she, herself was not taking the plaudits and basking in the glory and claiming the kudos for introducing the much-awaited and excitedly anticipated new female-friendly service.

But yes - thinking back, I think I had, seen the glowing, realised-ambition pride on Ms Flynt's face as she, herself cut the ribbon for the inaugural Air Purification Technician-served flight: SH 123 Manchester-Corfu.

AFP TV covered the Sunshine Holidays aircraft's mid-afternoon return to Manchester Airport, and I had watched that, as well - the earlier programme had given its follow-up show such a big, sense-of-occasion build-up, piquing my interest as to what the returning female air passengers were going to say.

The media were there en masse.

The national daily editions and local weekly issues and regional monthly magazines of the AFP Times were by then the UK's only newspapers and periodicals.

Standing alongside the AFP Times' chroniclers, though, foreign sensationalist red-top tabloid hacks and their better respected broadsheet brethren alike vied for advantageous position along the Arrivals Hall barrier rail.

Some looked on, pens poised on pads, while others scribbled away twenty to the dozen as jostling and shouting national and international TV journalists with boomed microphones accosted Flight SH 124's first appearing homecoming female holidaymakers as they pushed their suitcase-laden trollies of Duty-Free and dirty washing through Terminal 2 Arrivals.

I watched, along with millions of other captivated domestic and foreign TV viewers, as the badgering, pushy inquisitors followed their brighter, bubblier, more loquacious prospects outside to continue their interviews in more depth and greater detail.

Responding to the TV journos' cheesy-grinned, blatantly leading questions, the Grecian-suntanned female air passengers had nonetheless genuinely wowed and enthused, shouting over each other in their eagerness to recount their recollections of the new AFP-subsidised in-flight service.

And, how they had laughed!

Had laughed, chuckled and tittered as, looking unabashedly and unashamedly into the TV cameras they gave everyone at home their fondly remembered, often comedic and sometimes ribald account/s of their experience/s with the Air Purification Technician they'd push-button summonsed to their retractable footwell on the inaugural flight's return from Corfu.

Of course, there had been a tremendous amount of press and TV coverage of Flight SH 123's arrival in Corfu.

One such aficionado of particular note on the historic outbound flight was a stunningly beautiful girl who told everyone at home that her name was Anne-Marie, and that recently turned eighteen she was now "old enough to become an air hostess!"

Anne-Marie said that she'd had such fantastic fun, sitting in Seat 22 D. Tormenting with her "stinky feet", Air Purification Technician "Danny", who's automated under-seat railed Service Vehicle responded to the in-sequence demand of the push-button summonses of female passengers seated in Seat Line D.

So much so, said Anne-Marie, that having gleaned job-related information from members of cabin crew and procured from the flight's Chief Stewardess her promised personal assistance with an insider's influencing word with Personnel, she had already taken the first steps to becoming a Sunshine Holidays air hostess.

And why?

So that she, too, could share in more fully and enjoy more entirely and indulge in more completely - luxuriate in, more decadently - the air hostesses' previously undreamed-of fabulous perk of the job:

During the turnaround interlude at the destination airport, the same sealed-mouthed facial 'access' to the Air Purification Technicians as enjoyed in-flight by the service-availing female passengers; and then upon their return to their Sunshine Holidays crew room, their relieving and relaxing post-flight, hands-on foot-service attentions of the 'Techies' ...

Assigned to a Placement, I would earn the equivalent of the Unemployment Benefit to which as a school-leaver I was not entitled to claim.

2) Take up an urgent employment vacancy:

A full-time job at minimum-wage, working for a small company called Harper's Conference Catering.

Ah, this was more like it, I thought - until at Miss Tomkins' relating the dismaying, disturbing, and outright disagreeable details of the job description.

Miss Tomkins, picking up on my growing alarm and increasing dismay at what she was telling me, said that if I wanted to be difficult, I had a third option: Enrollment to a three-month ideological female-friendly indoctrination course at the Detention and Rehabilitation Centre two miles north of Brighton - the notorious Greystone Prison.

Mindset adjustment therapies, designed to instil into subjects a perfect understanding of all aspects of the AFP's female-friendly concept, were conducted by Greystone Prison's all-female prison officer training-instructor staff - the infamous browbeating, cane-happy, face-slapping, ball-kicking, Foot Service-teaching 'Jailhouse Blues'.

Miss Tomkins confidently assured me that was I to choose this third option, within half an hour of being incarcerated in the Intensive Cure Wing of the detention centre I would be begging to be let out of Greystone Prison and pleading to be assigned as first offered to a Placement.

Because by comparison, CSO-supervised hand-washing of females' dirty socks in a Sock Room; or forced inhalation of the fumes from push-button summonsing female air passengers' feet (ostensibly to improve air quality), and then serving at the air hostesses' post-flight feet back in their crew room - would seem like a let-off.

Miss Toya Tomkins told me that as my Careers Adviser she strongly recommended that I choose option two.

And that if I wanted to get into her good books - which wouldn't do me any harm, but might, just possibly do me some good - I wouldn't wait until Monday.

But start at eight a.m. tomorrow, Friday.

To please her, and to show willing to my new employer by getting her out of a fix.

Noticing my vocational indecision, Miss Tomkins reminded me that my only viable alternatives were to opt for a Placement as a Sock Room Attendant or an Air Purification Technician - and she told me that if I wouldn't or couldn't choose, she would decide for me.

Realistically I had no option but to opt for option two.

After I had respectfully stood to gratefully accept and profusely thank Miss Tomkins for the invaluable benefit of her career advice and the incalculable helpfulness of her wise counsel, she handed me her personalised Job Centre card to give to Mrs Hilary Harper tomorrow morning when I reported for work.

I had got up to leave and had almost reached the exit door, when Miss Tomkins stopped me in my tracks when she said, "Oh, and David ..."

I feared the worst.

Dreaded, that for all of the respect that I had so humbly accorded her, for all of the reverence I had self-belittlingly bestowed upon her - for all of David Manners' meek, mealy-mouthed manners - Miss Toya Tomkins was still going to slap some form of sanction on me anyway just because she could.

But when I turned around and retraced my steps to a discreet distance from her interview desk, to my surprise it was to see that, no longer playing hardball, her harsh, hardline, hard-faced countenance seemed to have softened slightly, post-interview.

Underneath it all, Miss Tomkins was a strikingly attractive young woman.

Miss Tomkins didn't immediately say anything. And soon feeling somewhat flustered under her apparent new, unofficial appraisal, I averted my gaze respectfully downward.

And through the kneehole of her desk, I couldn't but again note the beautifully sculpted bone structure and toned shapeliness of Miss Tomkin's bare, olive-complexioned legs. And to observe that, as if habitually, with one leg crossed over the other she was dangling from the tips of her toes her comfortable-looking well-worn red leather flat; her prominent, somewhat grubby heel, free and clear.

After Miss Tomkins had said nothing for what seemingly was some time, but just slowly swung her shoe-dangling foot up and down, varying the precariousness, and repeatedly flexing and angling her finely shaped ankle to facilitate ever more examples of footloose expression, I finally looked up.

Miss Tomkins quickly looked away.

"Er, yes, Miss Tomkins?"

She might have intended to say something, and maybe, she hadn't.

Perhaps, it was just some sort of psychological trick.

A cruel-minded tactic; a part of the game, that all of the Job Centre interviewers routinely played.

A ploy, that they all used, to last-minute discomfit their interviewees.

"Um, nothing, David. Just, don't be late for work tomorrow morning. And ... um, ask Mrs Harper to call me. My direct-dial number is on the card I've given you. I'll be here in the office from eight. And tell her it's important."

***

Mrs Hilary Harper came as a pleasant surprise.

I don't know what I'd imagined.

But when at eight a.m. on the following Friday morning as instructed I turned up at Mrs Harper's business premises, it wasn't the red-haired, green-eyed beauty she turned out to be.

I wasn't good with ages, but I guessed my sex-appeal oozing employer was somewhere between twenty-five and thirty.

Mrs Harper asked if my Job Centre interviewer yesterday had given me a clear understanding of what she expected of me as her employee.

And when red-faced I said yes, she produced a Harper's Conference Catering staff badge and pinned it to my shirt.

Mrs Harper then briefly introduced me to her two assistants: Amanda, who nodded, slightly reserved but agreeably enough; and Zoe, who smiled, and whose eyes lingered on me somewhat longer.

I then passed on to my new employer Miss Toya Tomkins' personalised card and related her message about the importance of giving her a call at the Job Centre.

Mrs Harper looked at her wristwatch and said that she would just nip back into the office and give Miss Tomkins a quick call before we set off.

While I waited with my two new female colleagues, I maintained a respectful unobtrusive silence as between them Amanda and Zoe discussed the workday ahead and talked about what they were going to do over the weekend.

A couple of times, from the corner of my eye I saw Zoe glance over at me.

When Mrs Harper returned five minutes later, she gave me a look that I couldn't interpret, and that caused Amanda and Zoe, who also saw their employer's cryptic expression, to look questioningly at each other, before saying, "Well, come on then, you three - let's go!"

The large white van with its blue-lettered logo that had made it a cinch for me to locate Mrs Harper's business premises quickly was parked right in front of the adjacent garage's steel roll-up door, all ready to go.

Mrs Harper got in the driver's seat, and at the passenger-side door, Zoe gestured for me to get in first.

As she drove her catering van to our destination on Brighton's promenade, my employer used the travel time to enlarge somewhat on what my Careers Adviser at the Job Centre Miss Tomkins had told me.

Mrs Harper informed me that, just over a year ago, with her entrepreneurial sights set on exploiting what she saw as an inexplicable niche in the sector, she had applied for and been granted the AFP's Female Enterprise Start-Up Disbursement.

The AFP had liked her proposed business plan and had promptly approved the provision of state funding. The start-up money had been available in her bank account the next morning.

Harper's Conference Catering was an instant success, she said.

Word had got around fast, too.

Glowing references and referrals from her delighted clientele to other interested parties ensured that business picked up quickly.

On the wave of such eulogising recommendations and enthusiastic endorsements, in no time at all her company was established and her diary always full.

She would love to be able to consider expansion, enabling her to cater at more than one conference/function/event venue at a time - year-round, there was always so much going on in Brighton.

But the drawback problem that was keeping her from expanding her company and holding her back from taking on more female assistants as she wished to, she said, was that it was so difficult to find the all-important male employee with the right qualities.

Amanda and Zoe had been with her right from the beginning when they'd both turned eighteen

Mrs Harper told me that on top of their salaries, Amanda and Zoe both earned a five percent share of her net profits, plus what - looking at me askance, the same as when saying she'd found "an inexplicable niche" in the sector - she described as "at-work fringe benefits".

And she impressed upon me that, if I came up to her expectations and realised her hopes and proved myself to be the elusive invaluable company asset she was looking for, she might just see her way to topping up my weekly wage packet a little bit, too.

Harper's Conference Catering served small- to medium-sized all-female staffed businesses, providing their clients' employees with their morning and afternoon refreshments - plus, of course, their special little 'extra' - at their conference/function/event venues.

On the bench seat of Mrs Harper's catering van, I sat next to my employer, while sitting on my left next to me and beside the passenger-side door respectively were Mrs Harper's two full-time, profit sharing, "at-work fringe benefits" receiving assistants, Zoe and Amanda.

It was a bit of a squeeze.

But Zoe - who for some reason hadn't stopped smiling since I'd arrived - didn't seem to mind as due to our employer's adventuresome driving style our thighs pressed together as she leant into me as per the dictates of centrifugal force - or so I thought.

Both of slim build, Amanda was dark-haired and brown-eyed, while Zoe was blue-eyed, and her shoulder-length slightly wavy hair was blonde with silvery highlights.

Both of Mrs Harper's junior partners were very attractive, but already I was finding there was something indefinably exciting about Zoe.

Harper’s Conference Catering, my eponymous employer, apprised me as she hurtled the catering van around another roundabout and causing Zoe to lean right into me (although perhaps, I thought, just a little more than was warranted), was today culminating a one-week contract, at the Brighton City-Break Hotel & Spa.

Mrs Harper told me how relieved she was, that her dependable trusty life saver Miss Tomkins at the Job Centre had come through for her yet again, finding so quickly a suitable replacement for my absconded predecessor.

Giving me a meaningful look, Mrs Harper told me that for leaving his employment yesterday right in the midst of her clients' thirty-minute morning coffee break, my predecessor would now be sent to Greystone Prison to undergo a female-friendly refresher course under the female prison officers' expert instruction.

Because a very dim view indeed was taken of male employees who left their female boss high and dry.

Especially when if doing so his leaving-his-female-employer-in -the-lurch actions were grievously detrimental to customer satisfaction, blemishing his former company's hard-won reputation and tarnishing his former employer's respected standing amongst her business community colleagues - as might have been the case here, but for the timely damage-limiting intervention of Mrs Harper's well-placed human resources contact.

Mrs Harper said that her clients had then had to go without their 'special little extra' during their thirty-minute afternoon tea break. And that from having had the use of her company's niche selling-point attraction all week and having grown accustomed to its reliable routine provision, they had been much put out of sorts by its sudden unavailability. Also, they had expressed their concerns that normality of service is re-established by coffee break the next morning.

My predecessor was in detention now, she said further.

Accommodated in one of the holding cells in the Community Service Liaison Centre's basement, he was awaiting Securi-Fem prison van transportation to Greystone Prison.

Escape had been impossible, his attempted evasion of capture, futile, I learned, as my let-down employer Mrs Harper relished the telling of her latest inherently unsuitable male employee's ill-fated bid for freedom.

Finding my absconded predecessor's hiding place had been easy, and apprehending him, a mere formality.

Homing in on the pinpoint location signal of his implanted microchip, cane-wielding CSOs had zeroed in on him and subdued him within a minute.

Mrs Harper paused in her discourse a moment, allowing me to imagine the ensuing scene.

Zoe nudged me in the side with her elbow, and when I turned to look at her she said, smiling, "Don't look so worried, David - you'll be fine!"

I hoped Zoe was right.

But I didn't know what I was going to do when it came down to it; when the moment of truth arrived - when it came to providing Mrs Harper's female clients with their refreshments interludes' 'special little extra'.

Amanda, sitting next to the catering van's passenger-side door, did nothing to alleviate my growing unease, when she put in, "So far they've all done a runner, haven't they? Some of them have lasted longer than others. But in the end, they all ran away - or just didn't come back the next day. What's the record so far? Ten days, isn't it? I think the average must be two or three days. And do you remember Gerald, who didn't even survive the first coffee break? But I think David's different. He's the one you've been looking for, Mrs Harper. I can tell."

This new knowledge was most perturbing: More than a year's worth of predecessors had not managed to hold down the job for more than ten days; the average tenure was only two to three days - and one of them hadn't even survived his first morning!

And I wondered what on earth Amanda was talking about; what she thought she saw in me - why I would be any different.

It was easy to imagine my immediate predecessor's dread as the CSOs - uniformed in their AFP colours themed blue blazer, green shirt, red skirt, and yellow cotton ankle socks; and shod in their standard AFP-issue black backless thick-rubber soled cloglike shoes - came for him with their canes.

But, in the same desperate circumstances, I was damned if I would give the CSOs the satisfaction of gleefully running me to earth.

Glumly though, I wondered how long it would be before I, too was bundled into the back of a Securi-Fem prison van by them to be transported to the all-female run Greystone Prison to be sorted out by the so-called Jailhouse Blue prison officers.

"David, my cousin Geraldine works at Greystone Prison - she's a Jailhouse Blue," Zoe informed me.

"Does she, Miss Zoe?" I said respectfully, in the bowed, ultra-courteous manner that as legislated in the AFP Constitution males must always accord females.

"Yes, and she loves it - Gezza says it's the best job in the world!"

I didn't know what to say to that, so I didn't say anything. I certainly didn't want to ask Zoe what her cousin "Gezza" liked most about her prison officer job at the country's most infamous AFP institution.

"And look!" Zoe told me as she lifted her bare left leg and rested her left foot on her right knee, right next to my left knee. "Geraldine sent me these last year, a present for my eighteenth birthday."

"Um ... they're very nice, Miss Zoe."

"Yes, aren't they? These are the latest design. The Blues wear them as a part of their uniform. They need to be durable, because the Blues are on their feet an awful lot, patrolling the cells on the Levels. And that's why, although they are so hard-wearing, they are so amazingly comfy, too, made from their specially composited springy foam-rubber. See - because they are quite thin, they are super-flexible," Zoe said, working her darkish-pink painted toes to cause her thin-rubber soled flip-flop to slap against the bottom of her bare heel - slap, slap, slap, slap, slap ...

"You have no idea, David, the amount of government money the AFP have poured into their design." Slap, slap, slap, slap, slap ...

"David, do you know why the female prison officers at Greystone Prison have that nickname: the 'Jailhouse Blues'?"

It took me a moment to respond - a moment, to avert my eyes, from the sight of Zoe's authentic Greystone Prison issue thin-rubber soled flip-flop slapping away against the bare heel of her pale-complexioned shapely foot.

At my second attempt to speak, because of the sudden catch in my throat, I said, with an apologetic half-smile at my weak attempt at humour, "Is it because they make all of the prisoners, um ... blue, Miss Zoe?"

"Haha! No - silly! But of course, you're quite right, they do. But no. It's because their uniforms are blue; a pale blue - including these; the latest design ..." Slap, slap, slap, slap, slap ...

When I looked up again, finally diverting my gaze from the somehow hypnotic sight and the somehow attention-grabbing sound of Zoe's pale blue flexible flip-flop slapping against the bottom of her, quite pronounced, reddish-pink heel, I saw a slight smile forming on Mrs Harper's face.

Adeptly Mrs Harper guided her catering van at speed around the next roundabout.

And when the van straightened up, and Zoe eventually sat up straight again, the toe of Zoe's left flip-flop was still touching the side of my left knee.

I looked down again at Zoe's left flip-flop, the toe of which was resting against the side of my left knee, and rubbing, as though from the motions of the van.

Rub, rub, rub, rub.

The sensations evoked within me were far more than seemed warranted from such a minimal, incidental, non-intentional contact.

My sensitivity to Zoe's albeit indirect flip-flop shod touch was such that my left knee suddenly jerked once involuntarily, uncontrollably. It was as if a low-voltage charge had passed through it to a nerve.
And then at her slightest movement, it happened again.

And then again.

We'd reached Brighton's promenade now and were nearing our destination.

But as I gazed straight ahead through the catering van's windscreen, such was my growing inner turmoil of confused thoughts and awakening feelings that none of the familiar sights around us was registering.

I returned my gaze downward and to my left, to where evidently it was wont to be drawn ...

And, to where Zoe wanted it, to be drawn?

I looked again, at Zoe's darkish-pink painted toes.

And now, finally, I wondered:

To what extent, was the toe of her left flip-flop rubbing against the side of my left knee, caused inadvertently, innocently, just from the motions of the van; and how much, was it due-

I looked up again, at Zoe.

And again she favoured me with her smile, her blue eyes twinkling now with I knew not what.

Zoe's flip-flop nudged the side of my knee again, and this time, there was no question about whether this firmer contact was unintended, incidental - accidental.

"David," rub, rub, rub, rub ...

"Do you like the colour of my nail polish?"

"Um ... I ..."

"Nice, isn't it? One of our clients gave it to me yesterday as a free sample. In fact, Amanda and I have got lots of them now. This one's called Cerise Sensation."

***

By 09:30 the final day of the SPOILT! Boutiques company’s Annual Conference, held this year at the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa, was well underway.

A leading-brand, high-end luxury goods and personal services company, SPOILT! are in a league of their own when it comes to the shopping experience.

For discerning females wishing to be stylishly fitted out, they need look no further.

SPOILT! have branches UK-wide, specialising in anything and everything to do with ladies fashion and personal grooming: clothing; footwear; lingerie and hosiery; hats, scarves, gloves; handbags; jewellery accessories; hair styling and cosmetics.

Choosing from an extensive array of big-name designer outfit creations and selecting from myriad combinations of to-go-with accoutrements and, while about it, have their face expertly made-up by in-boutique beauticians; hair professionally coiffeured by in-store stylists; hands adeptly tended by in-situ manicurists; feet pampered by Placemented male pedicurists - the place to shop, is SPOILT!

SPOILT! have boutiques in thirty UK cities, including an extensive, everything-under-one-roof showpiece store in each of the four capitals.

Ranging from Exeter in south-west England to Aberdeen in north-east Scotland, and from London in south-east England to Belfast in Northern Ireland, SPOILT!'s boutique network is far-reaching, and a store is within reasonable travelling distance of most out-of-towners.

Attending the Annual Conference were all thirty SPOILT! Boutique manageresses, including Miss Martina Morris, Brighton's boutique manageress.

As the local agent, Miss Morris was deputed to organise this year's conference facilities and to book same-hotel accommodation for herself and her twenty-nine colleagues - and also to arrange for the provision of their morning and afternoon refreshment breaks requirements.

The agent who headed this year's SPOILT! Boutiques Annual Conference, though, was the manageress of London's Oxford St's everything-under-one-roof store, Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish.

All of this I learned from my employer Mrs Hilary Harper, who continued to fill me in and bring me up to speed as we worked.

Morning coffee-break refreshments were from 10:00 - 10:30.

The thirty SPOILT! Boutique manageresses would soon be gathering in the Pavillion Lounge - one of the hotel's lounges, that hotel management had helpfully set aside for the five-day duration of their Annual Conference.

Zoe and Amanda, trained and diplomaed sandwich chefs, were in the kitchen: preparing a variety of delicious fillings with which to make the dainty crustless triangular sandwiches; attractively arranging the plates of cakes and biscuits, and making the coffee - and some tea.

Mrs Harper said you would almost always have clients who would have a preference for tea at the morning coffee break, and the same would go for coffee at the afternoon tea-break - as had been the case this week. So on the first day, it was always best to be prepared and provide plenty of both; then after that, you'd have a good idea of the lady clients' requirements.

While Amanda and Zoe exercised their expertise in the kitchen, I worked my muscles, helping Mrs Harper to prepare the four collapsible tables which, left in-situ since Monday, were placed end to end to form a makeshift but presentable serving counter.

We draped fresh white tablecloths over them; Mrs Harper, making a thing of straightening and aligning each of the overhangs to a nicety. And then I did all of the more onerous, work, putting the items of serving-ware on each of the tables as Mrs Harper directed.

Mrs Harper told me that we would be repeating this exercise for the afternoon refreshments: After each refreshment break service, the serving tables were all stripped down and the tablecloths replaced with fresh ones.

While we worked together - Mrs Harper doing all the directing and me doing all of the doing - she told me a bit more about her company.

I got the sense that she was trying to enthuse me; trying to spark an interest - planting a seed, that she hoped might ferment in me a growing feeling that I wanted to come on board, of my own, mind.

To this end, Mrs Harper said that she, too, shared Amanda's intuition about me: That I was the male employee she'd been looking for, all this time.

That, at last, she had found the missing team player.

The missing male employee, who would not disappoint her as all of the previous incumbents had.

Who would not let her down, in the damaging, reputation-harming way my absconded predecessor did - or would have, had her clients not been so understanding and forgiving.

My employer said that, yes, through the readily accommodating agency of the Job Centre, a male, preferably aged under twenty-one, could always be procured and forced to work for her.

He would have little choice - just as my Careers Adviser, Miss Tonya Tomkins at the Job Centre had given me little choice.

But, she contended: Wouldn't it be much better for everyone, if only her male employee could overcome his initial resentful sentiments, could surmount his female-friendly negativities - could set aside his differences and disgruntlements - and adapt?

Because if so - if her male worker evidenced that he was giving it a real go: displaying that he was not merely grasping the nettle but embracing it; demonstrating to her junior partners that he was applying himself not only assiduously but also with commitment - she would be prepared to exert herself to protect her male employee.

Undertake to shield him - to Expressly Exonerate and Especially Exempt him - to the extent that both her forgiving and favouring female-friendly Constitutional rights and powers as a female citizen and her standing and influence as a businesswoman and employer too would allow, from the worst downsides of male citizenship under the governance of the AFP.

Again, this got me wondering just what Mrs Harper and Amanda thought they saw in me - why I was 'different' from all of my absconded predecessors.

Did Zoe see it too?

That I was their missing "team player"?

Their "all-important" male employee?

With the "right qualities"?

"You could do a lot worse, than to work for me," Mrs Harper told me as I lifted a pile of white plates onto one of the white-tableclothed serving tables. "And to provide my two junior partners Amanda and Zoe, who spend all day on their feet, with their at-work fringe benefits: frequent foot massages. Anyway, think about it, David. Think, about what you might find yourself doing instead."

I thought about my friend Eds - Eddie Edwards.

Though he said it was a marked improvement on his Placement assignment with the Domestic Work Detail, Eddie was now stuck in a rut in Brighton City Council's recycling shed, unsuccessful so far in overcoming a variety of difficulties in his ongoing search for another improvement in his employment situation. Not least, official obstructions and interventions. Eddie said he might just as well have been chained and shackled to his designated conveyor belt.

“David, I can finish off in here now," said Mrs Harper.

Mrs Harper was putting the finishing, tasteful touches to the presentational arrangement of crockery, cutlery and glassware on the four serving tables; I'd provided the unskilled labour and now any further, fumbly fingered assistance from me could only be detrimental.

"Breakfast will be all finished with by now, so go through the restaurant, to the kitchen, and help Zoe and Amanda with the refreshments trollies. They'll be at the workstation the hotel is letting us use - or by now, they might be at the still making the tea and coffee."

"Yes, Mrs Harper."

"Our lady clients will be here shortly, and I want to be sure we are ready for them - on occasion this week, they've come into the Pavilion Lounge early. I think it's less a serious business conference the boutique manageresses are attending and more a social get-together. They are all very laid-back - and today is their last day, so I bet they'll be letting their hair down even more than usual."

“Okay, Mrs Harper,” I said, and leaving her to finish off the final preparations on the serving tables in the Pavilion Lounge I made for the hotel's kitchen to help Zoe and Amanda as bid.

While we'd prepared the tables, Mrs Harper had explained that it was as a favour to her that the hotel manageress, Miss Honeywell, had allocated a hotel lounge for her exclusive use all week - a great, time and work saver, that she didn't always enjoy the benefit of at her venues. And so, thanks to Miss Honeywell's invaluable helpfulness, she'd been able to leave in-situ most of the catering equipment that she and her team had brought in on Monday morning.

When today's afternoon refreshments were over, though, our catering contract here for the week would be concluded, and so after all of the used cutlery, crockery and glassware had been put through the hotel's dishwasher we would have to pack the items for their return to her business premises.

She said that upon our return there Zoe and Amanda would be finished for the weekend - but not me.

I would stay behind, primarily to unload the catering van.

Putting everything away as per her instructions, in such a way as would make it easier to load up again for an early start on Monday morning.

This time, for a six-day duration conference catering contract, at another Brighton seafront hotel venue.

And it was for which, that after I'd unloaded the catering van she wanted to brief me, she said. To give me a little pep talk, to prepare me.

She wouldn't tell me now what was next up; she would leave that for our tete-a-tete. But she said that if I were to endure until the end of next Saturday unscathed, then I would indeed have survived a baptism of fire.

Mrs Harper told me that for working Saturdays she would pay me not the AFP-approved male-overtime rate of time and a tenth, but time and a half. And if and when I worked Sundays she would pay not the AFP-recommended, time and a fifth, but double pay.

My employer Mrs Hilary Harper, I thought, was more generous and fairer-minded than the AFP-run Brighton City Council, where Eddie was unfortunate enough to be employed.

But as I headed to the kitchen via the hotel's award-winning Seascape Restaurant, I registered nothing of the glorious golden sandy beaches and the panoramic sea views beyond its plate-glass picture windows.

My employer, having just disclosed to me the exact nature of her two junior partners' at-work fringe benefits - and, more to the point, of which I would be the "frequent" provider - my head was a whirl with the thoughts and images this latest job-description development depicted.

Absorbing the revelation that in addition to my demeaning designated duties I was also my two female co-workers' foot servant (something my Job Centre interviewer Miss Toya Tomkins forewent to divulge), as I made my way to the swinging doors by which the waiting staff accessed the kitchen those spectacular views went unnoticed and unappreciated.

When I pushed my way through the entry doors, the scene that greeted me was about half a dozen chefs busy at their various tasks, both male and female but all dressed in the same white jackets and blue-and-white checked pants and wearing tall white hats on their heads and white clog-like shoes on their feet.

One of whom, who from her age I thought might be a trainee chef, was standing at a cutting-board and making short work of chopping onions.

I stopped for a moment, admiring her skill.

Sensing that someone was behind her, she looked up from her work and, when she saw who was standing there watching - or rather, when she saw the staff badge I was wearing - she did a classic double-take.

She turned back to her cutting-board, but not before I saw the small smile playing at the corners of her lips.

Working more slowly now, she used the blunt edge of her knife to push some of the chopped onions off the cutting board and into a white plastic container and, as she did so, my peripheral vision caught a movement below.

I looked down, to see that her right foot was now halfway out of her white clog-like shoe - and, as I watched (as she'd deliberately and purposefully attracted and focused my attention?), it came sliding the rest of the way out and to rest upon it, sole facing upward.

I stared down, at the female trainee chef's upturned thin white cotton-socked foot; to all appearances, just casually resting for a moment upon its white leather clog-like shoe.

My eyes were drawn (intentionally directed?) to each in turn of her thin white cotton sock's damp-looking grey patches: the pads of her toes; the ball of her foot; and particularly the bottom of her heel, which was an even darker shade of grey.

I don't know how long I stared - or even why.

But I sensed that what she was doing, she was doing deliberately, intentionally, purposefully - with definite, design: She wanted me to look.

I only stopped staring, when finally she slid her foot all the way back into her white clog-like shoe.

But now, it was an effort to look up again - to look at her face; to face-to-face engage, from fear of having my suspicion proved right.

As it was:

She was smiling.

Knowingly.

Knowing, what my prime purpose was, as Mrs Hilary Harper's male employee.

A more thorough, more comprehensive understanding of my predicament came home to me now as I felt my cheeks burning hot; such was the measure of my acute discomfiture and unspeakable embarrassment.

The young female chef now turned around to face me appraisingly.

I had seen how strikingly attractive she was in profile - and now I saw just how full-on beautiful she was.

Also, I sensed a mutual attraction.

Now that she was facing me I saw her name tag ID. It read: Sarah - Commis chef.

My attention was snagged and diverted downward again as I heard something hard and wooden tapping against the tiled kitchen floor; it was the heel of her left, clog-like shoe.

While she was facing me directly and knowing she had my full and undivided attention, Sarah this time withdrew her left foot from its white clog-like shoe, until her thin white cotton socked toes were resting on its worn-smooth wooden low heel.

It seemed a casual, affectation. A nonchalant, insignificant gesture.

But I was in no doubt, by now, that it wasn't.

It signified something.

A message.

Had it been yesterday, I might have plucked up the courage to ask Sarah out.

But now; now that I had reached for a male what the AFP government termed 'Serviceable Age' - I didn't dare.

For someone of my AFP-designated societal status to voice such a proposal, composed howsoever carefully and posed howsoever delicately, was just too fraught with potential slapdown and even actionable comebacks.

Thanks to my Careers Adviser Miss Toya Tomkins at the Job Centre - supplying me to my now employer Mrs Hilary Harper who in turn provided me as her company's niche selling-point attraction 'unique little extra' to her refreshments-breaking female clients - I was now in a whole new normality.

I felt my face growing yet warmer at my growing realisation and sinking-in appreciation of the underlying fundamentals of my situation; of my more complete, more categorical interpretation of my position.

And at my recognition, my reconcilement - my resignation - that from now on I would be requested to, required to, expected to - compelled - to-

“Here, David, make yourself useful - we don't have time to be standing around,” said Amanda admonishingly when she spotted me, busy over by the still with Zoe.

I'd better get to it, I thought.

I didn't want to blot my copybook with Mrs Harper's lieutenants - who after all, as Mrs Harper's junior partners were also my superiors and bosses and, I supposed, to some extent my employers too.

But then Sarah the young female commis chef waylaid me when she said, "Well, David ... you are much better-looking than your predecessor."

Unabashed and seemingly without inhibition, her eyes brazenly took me in.

These days - although until yesterday I'd had little personal experience of it - empowered by the AFP, many girls and women were decidedly on the front foot when it came to their dealings with the menfolk.

Undone by a girl's such open, uninhibited forwardness I looked down in unaccustomed bashfulness myself, to see that Sarah's white-socked toes were now exerting sufficient downward pressure on the edge of the heel of her white clog-like shoe to cause the toe end to tilt up almost vertically.

"If you like, David, later on, you can come and make yourself 'useful' to me ... When I've finished my early shift, all tired and footsore after being on my feet in this hot kitchen for hours," Sarah suggested/requested/required/compelled.

The cat had got my tongue.

Again it was rammed home to me that my exchanges with members of the fairer sex were not dealings among equals. And that what I was engaged in now was a commonplace, everyday example of a female-friendly protocoled Mistress/servant interaction between a service availing superior female and a freely available inferior male.

All I could do was stare meekly down, watching the play of the kitchen's overhead fluorescent striplights glinting on the shiny metal studs that affixed the white leather upper of Sarah's clog-like shoe as her thin white cotton-socked toes pressed down on its worn-smooth wooden low heel, causing the toe end to tilt steeply upward.

I realised now that this was a milder example of just exactly the kind of thing that my former school chum Eddie Edwards had repeatedly warned me about:

"As soon as you turn eighteen and come 'of age' - that's it. There's no holding them back - you'll be fair game. And a lad as good-looking as you had better expect and get used to the womenfolk not only exercising their female-friendly rights as accorded them by the AFP Constitution but, sometimes taking things ... further."

If my cheeks felt hot before, now they felt as if they were going to self-combust - but it had less to do with the by now noticeably growing heat in the pre-lunch kitchen and more to do with the growing realisation that I found Sara's post-work foot-pampering proposal/command to be not without some ... appeal.

What was coming over me?

Was Amanda so very perceptive, after all?

If so, Amanda knew me better than I knew myself.

Because until this morning, with Zoe - but no: it started yesterday afternoon, with my Job Centre interviewer Miss Tonya Tomkins; observing, entranced, through the kneehole of her interview desk her shoe-dangling shenanigans - for me, girls' feet had never had any particular attraction.

Were, unremarkable.

Bland.

Unstimulating.

Had never before held any interest; had any allure.

Had never evoked, these feelings of-

"David!"

More sharply this time and sounding decidedly impatient Amanda called to me again from over by the still.

Amanda was pointing at the countertop, indicating the tea urn and the three stainless-steel coffee pots that she and Zoe had just filled; apparently, these were the last things to be loaded onto the three trollies.

I had better get with the programme, I thought, or Amanda would get annoyed with me. And the last thing I needed was any adverse reports reaching Mrs Harper's ears.

But again Sarah brought me to a sudden standstill, exclaiming, "And wait until I tell the Lunch waitresses!"

I looked back at Sarah.

"Oh ... Mrs H hasn't told you yet, then: She had your predecessor Neville massage the Lunch waitresses' feet after their shift. So now you'll have to do it, David. The lunch-shift waitresses have come to look forward to it this week - and they'll love it that Mrs H's new boy is such a dreamboat. Mrs H told our hotel manageress Miss Honeywell that offering our female staff access to her male employee in between refreshments break set-ups and services, was her way of saying thank you for the uninterrupted use of one of our lounges to save her and her girls a lot of valuable time and heaps of hard work."

"David!" called Amanda again, very sharply this time in her patently growing annoyance. "Did Mrs Harper send you in here to chat up the totty ...? No - I didn't think so. Get yourself over here - and now. Or you'll have me to contend with!"

Not wanting to keep me from my duties, more hurriedly now Sarah said, "I clock-off at two o'clock, David. Come to the chefs' changing room. You can give me fifteen minutes - or longer if the Lunch waitresses are running late in finishing their shift. And then they'll want you; as I say, at about two-fifteen, after they've relaid the used tables for dinner and done all of the other usual pre-dinner prep. But, until then, David - you'll be mine. Now go!"

I was literally, lost for words.

But then, words weren't required. Merely my silent, compliant nod of respectful acquiescence was satisfactory.

Smiling, secure in the knowledge of having 'booked' (entirely in keeping with my grateful employer's "little thank you" quid pro quo blessing), my post-shift services and confident in my reporting to her in the chefs' changing room as required, Sarah returned to the cutting board and her onion-chopping.

Amanda, pointing her finger at the tea urn and the three large coffee pots, instructed, "Now hurry up and load these heavy things onto the trollies for us - we don't want our clients to be standing around, waiting for us.”

"Yes, Miss Amanda," I said respectfully, as I did as ordered and loaded the last heavy items onto the three refreshments trollies. "And I'm sorry for the delay, Miss Amanda. I was ..."

"It's all right, David," absolved Amanda. "I hadn't realised at first that the commis chef Sara was securing your services for later."

Zoe said, "It was just the same, David, with your runaway predecessor, Neville, who started on Monday and ran away yesterday. He was very in-demand: waitresses, chambermaids, receptionists - the hotel manageress Miss Honeywell herself, in the comfort and privacy of her office. They all availed themselves of his services, and some of them took frightful advantage of him. Amanda and I hardly had the use of him ourselves - and he was supposed to be our at-work fringe benefit!"

When she stopped chuckling, Amanda said, "Mrs Harper's stipulation, is that your afternoon availability to the female hotel staff is until two forty-five."

"Because we might need you ourselves," Zoe explained, "for any last-minute heavy lifting, or whatever, before afternoon refreshments begin. Which we serve from three o'clock until three-thirty."

And then, bringing back into a sharper focus the issue that was most occupying my mind, in a more businesslike, authoritative tone Amanda said, "And if and when not, David, well ... you are now mine and Zoe's at-work fringe benefit."

At my merely bowing my head in meek acknowledgement and resigned acceptance of our work relationship, Amanda then gestured for us all to get moving.

And, setting off for the set-aside Pavilion Lounge she headed the small convoy of three refreshments trollies out through the kitchen's exit batwing service doors and into the Seascape Restaurant.

Followed by Zoe.

The soles of whose shapely, pale-complexioned, flip-flop feet, I watched:

Eyes, riveted to her alternately displayed cream-coloured arches, flashing at her every step; ears, attuned as the bottoms of her pronounced reddish-pink heels slapped against her Jailhouse Blue cousin Gezza's eighteenth-birthday present authentic Greystone Prison issue "specially composited" latest design pale-blue flexible thin foam-rubber soled flip flops.

Something made me look up, from my almost mesmerised close attention and other fascinated minute observations.

I looked up, to see that Zoe was staring back at me over her shoulder ... and smiling.

*


Our refreshments carts laden with tea and coffee, cakes and biscuits, and an appetising selection of sandwiches to transfer to the four serving tables, Zoe, Amanda and I returned to the set-aside hotel lounge to see that the thirty-strong contingent of SPOILT! Boutique manageresses were indeed already gathering; had been here for some minutes, judging from the hubbub of their animated discussions.

But as I trailed in behind Amanda and Zoe with the third refreshments trolly, the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses broke off from their gossipy conversations.

As they set eyes upon me, one by one the clustered small groups' tinkly laughter-punctuated chitchat abruptly fell silent upon their becoming aware of my entrance into the Pavilion Lounge.

I felt as though I'd walked onto centre stage; that I was the star-turn, standing under the all-revealing glow of artfully trained spotlights.

All eyes were on me.

An audience of thirty, attractive young women, looking Neville's successor up and down in candid appraisal.

Inspecting their replacement refreshments breaks interludes' 'little something extra', the thirty SPOILT! Boutique manageresses finally broke the near hear-a-pin-drop silence that had descended to impart to each other their first-impression opinions - which, to judge from their nodding heads, smiling faces and suggestive gestures, their verdicts were far from unfavourable.

Apparently, I had more than met their expectations; far exceeded their hopeful anticipations.

Zoe, smiling, held the palms of her hands in front of my face as though gratefully warming them at some blazing heat source.

Because yes: my face must have been redder than ever, under the nodding, smiling scrutiny of the glamorous assemblage.

Mrs Hilary Harper was smiling, too, making no effort to disguise either her delight at her coffee-breaking clients' evident thumbs-up reception of my introduction or her proud responsibility for my provision.

Happy that I had been introduced and paraded to good effect and satisfied that my purpose of presence was now firmly established, my employer indicated that I now take my place by her side.

Under the watchful eyes of both Mrs Harper, standing on my left at one of the end tables, and Zoe to my right, I stood behind another of the four white-tableclothed serving tables from which each of us would dispense coffee from the three large coffee pots. Amanda, standing to Zoe's right, was stationed at the other end table at the tea urn.

To spare our lady clients the tiresome inconvenience of waiting at the start of service, it was all hands to the pumps; all four of us, pouring cups of tea and coffee as the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses proffered their cups to us to fill.

Once served with the hot beverage of their choice (or having opted instead for a bottle of mineral water or fruit juice), these supremos of the fashion industry took a plate from one of the tables and selected their food choices from the abundance of tempting offerings.

For the culmination of their five-day conference, the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses' dress code was relaxed - or casual/informal.

The only stipulation was that they wear the company T-shirts specially made for them for the occasion.

Their specially made T-shirts came in a variety of light pastel shades and full-on bright colours. And emblazoned on the front of the T-shirts was their company's famous and readily recognisable logo: SPOILT! - FOR CHOICE!

First at my table for a cup of coffee, her name tag informed me, was the conference heading SPOILT! Boutique manageress of London's Oxford St's everything-under-one-roof showpiece store herself, Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish.

A picture of elegance, her hair and make-up were impeccable. Even the golden-yellow T-shirt she wore seemed carefully chosen, serving to compliment her olive-complexioned skin.

Manageress of her chain's premier store, in her mid-twenties, Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish was the perfect embodiment and the ideal advertisement for SPOILT! Boutiques.

Glamorous, gorgeous, blue-eyed and blonde, the unwavering directness of her appraising gaze as she waited for me to pour and serve her cup of coffee was utterly unnerving.

"I absolutely must congratulate you, Mrs Harper, on your new acquisition. How splendid! I'm sure he will do us just nicely," opined Miss Connaught-Cavendish, voicing her approval and pleasure.

Zoe gave me a meaningful little double dig in the ribs with her elbow, and I felt my face lighting up anew.

"Thank you, Miss Connaught-Cavendish," replied my employer, beaming. "I'm so glad you approve of David! Because - though I have a most sympathetic and supportive contact at the Job Centre in Miss Tomkins, who has come through for me repeatedly - unfortunately, at such short notice one can't always rely on the suitability and much less the quality of the quick, needs-must emergency replacement Miss Tomkins can supply."

"Well, Mrs Harper, I think your Miss Tomkins has certainly done you proud this time, with David! In fact, with just the unfortunate exception of yesterday afternoon to which you allude, when sadly David's predecessor felt the need to terminate his employment with you with immediate effect and ran out on us mid-service, you have looked after us marvellously all week."

"Ah ... yes. If it's any consolation, I have seen to it that Neville will be dealt with to the full extent of the law - as we speak, he might well be on his way to enjoy the famed hospitalities of the Jailhouse Blue female prison officers of Greystone Prison. And again, I'm afraid I can only apologise, for Neville's unpardonable-"

"Oh - not to worry, Mrs Harper; these things can happen. It was just a little glitch, which my colleagues and I have already forgiven and forgotten. Because speaking on behalf of SPOILT! Boutiques, I can promise you that in addition to availing ourselves of your splendid refreshments breaks catering services in future, all of our manageresses will be sure to reference glowingly to other potentially interested colleagues your ... 'little-something-extra'."

"Oh - how kind! And ... well, speaking of which, why not be the first, Miss Connaught-Cavendish, to avail yourself of David?"

"Yes. Why not, indeed? I should be delighted, Mrs Harper. Most delighted!"

Mrs Harper then turned to me, smiling encouragement as a prompt.

"Um ... David, the initial rush seems to be calming down a bit now, so I think Amanda, Zoe and I can manage from here ... So, would you like to go along now, with Miss Connaught-Cavendish?"

I looked at Zoe, and she nodded back at me, smiling.

So this was it, then.

And once again, I was literally, lost for words.

But then, words weren't required.

Merely my silent, compliant nod of respectful acquiescence was satisfactory.


'Tea, Coffee, and Me' continues in Ch. 2 of 3.
 

stivalo

the bootlicker
Oct 8, 2006
3,465
1
38
#8
Great introduction.
Full of details and a huge background.

Can't wait for part 2 and to get into action :)
 
Apr 11, 2004
289
9
18
UK
#9
Lovely detail and writing as always in your stories. The fact you take the time to outline context, feeling and environment in the way you do gives your stories great depth.

Chapter 2 is perfectly positioned.
 
Apr 12, 2009
178
5
18
England
#11
Thanks, guys, for these latest encouraging comments.

Chapter 2 (of 3) is close to completion.

Much shorter than Ch. 1, in Ch. 2, predominantly I'm focusing on the SPOILT! Boutique high-end fashion, accessories, and personal services store manageresses' morning coffee break.

Scenes that, at first I'd intended to follow on with, will instead feature in a consequently longer than planned Ch. 3.
 
Apr 12, 2009
178
5
18
England
#12
Tea, Coffee, and Me - Ch. 2 of 3.

Ch. 2: David Manners must mind his manners.


I felt that Miss Tonya Tomkins, who yesterday had been my school-leaver's Job Centre interviewer and as such was empowered to decree the direction my career path should take, had callously thrown me in at the deep end; given me a sink or swim introduction into the world of work.

But that was not the last that I would see, was in fact only the beginning of my involvement, with the ardent Authoritarian Female Party apparatchik and fanatical 'female-friendly' idealist.

Miss Tomkins, who to all intents and purposes had supplied me as an emergency replacement to my now employer Mrs Hilary Harper of Harper's Conference Catering, was now my Case Worker, whose desk I must report to on a fortnightly basis for my Male-Worker's Conduct Revue.

And, as in due course I would come to find out, Miss Tonya Tomkins would have other ways, by which she would make me tread water to keep my head above the surface.

***


While we'd tableclothed and prepared the serving tables in the set-aside Pavilion Lounge of the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa, Mrs Hilary Harper had told me that if I could hang in there and endure in my 'specialised' role until the end of next Saturday, I will indeed have survived a baptism of fire.

Upon her mentioning that next week's catering contract duration was Monday - Saturday and would be at another Brighton promenade hotel venue, I'd asked her for a bit more info regarding our upcoming clients; asked who they were and what they were about?

But as to that, she had been decidedly unforthcoming.

Cagey, reluctant to enlarge, seemingly guarding against imparting to me any further information and risking let slip something that for the moment she'd rather keep from me, my employer said she'd tell me after work today who was next up in her diary on Monday.

But that was a long way off.

Today was only Friday; the first day of my full-time employment with Harper's Conference Catering, which served small- to medium-size all-female staffed businesses - and I was yet to face my opening skirmish.

For now, gathered for their final 10:00 - 10:30 coffee break of the week, twenty-nine SPOILT! Boutique manageresses looked on with interest and anticipation as their replacement refreshments break 'little something extra' obediently and compliantly and with eyes respectfully downcast followed at the heels of the thirtieth - their Head of Conference representative, Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish.

At least, I thought, as resignedly I followed Miss Connaught-Cavendish to where her coffee drinking colleagues were circling to create an arena, it was of some consolation to know that with the windowless privacy of the Pavilion Lounge that had been set aside by hotel management for the Monday - Friday duration of the SPOILT! Annual Conference, I wouldn't need to worry about being gawked at by hotel guests and other perambulating patrons.

Not that I didn't have other, niggling worries; discomposing concerns, other than those in the 10:00 - 10:30 coffee break immediacy.

Sarah, one of the hotel's commis chefs, had instructed me to report to the chefs' changing room later to give her a post-shift foot massage.

When they had finished work, I was then to afford the same post-shift pleasurable and relief-giving attentions to the Lunch Shift waitresses.

Also, sometime in the afternoon, I was to report to the office of the hotel manageress, Miss Honeywell.

Thus, as free time permitted between refreshments break intervals, through my foot services to female hotel staff I would satisfy my employer Mrs Hilary Harper's side of her quid pro quo understanding; her reciprocal favour agreement with the hotel manageress Miss Honeywell, for her exclusive SPOILT! Boutique Annual Conference five-day durational use of the capacious Pavilion Lounge.

Of course, then there was the other, little matter, of which above all else was getting me in a tizzy as relentlessly it played on my mind.

The first, of my upcoming "frequent" foot massages for Mrs Harper's two nineteen-year-old junior partner five-percent-of-company-net-profits-sharing assistants, Amanda and Zoe: the frequent foot massages, which were one of my job-condition duties and their at-work fringe benefit.

All of these thoughts, though, of the imminent line-up of nerve-wracking bargain-fulfilling assignations and dutiful co-worker attentiveness, were all but displaced from my mind by the even more unsettling matters in the immediacy; by what was about to ensue in the here and now.

As, I supposed that in their line of business it would be a definite plus, all of the thirty Annual Conference attending SPOILT! Boutique manageresses were above-average attractive; many of them, most appreciably so.

But, at least from these initial impressions, I thought that, with her blonde hair and blue eyes, flawless olive complexion, terrific figure and, from my leg man's perspective, her fabulous legs, Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish was perhaps the most glamorous as well as the most standout, charismatic personage.

For a moment, I regarded with awed admiration bordering on adoration the woman standing with her back to me and who, in her heels, stood way taller.

Rarely, if ever, had I set eyes upon a pair of legs so perfect as these; Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish's high-fashion high heels, setting her golden-toned calves off to breathtaking advantage.

Seeing her dressed in her final-day-of-conference skin tone complimenting golden-yellow T-shirt, and her SPOILT! Boutique fashion items of which as a store manageress she enjoyed a generous personal allowance: above-the-knee red skirt; and, of the same bright-red colour as her stylishly-cut short skirt, a pair of expensive-looking high-heeled pumps - I almost felt honoured to be her 'attendant'.

Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish did not deign to give me my cue by word of mouth but merely expected me to interpret it by dint of her now stationary stance, which, indeed, did seem to suggest a particular expectancy.

Like the proverbial light bulb flash of sudden understanding, belatedly the explanation dawned on me now in all of its glaring obviousness as to why my Job Centre interviewer Miss Tonya Tomkins had looked me over with that air of speculative appraisal, before finally permitting me to sit. The reason for her calculating look, that, other than piquing my curiosity, I had thought it nothing of portent; of ill omen.

Which just goes to show how wrong; just how naively unsuspecting a person can be, of a Job Centre interviewer's agenda.

For I understood, all too well, now, the whys and the wherefores of Miss Tomkins's apparent but, to me, inexplicable pre-interview thoughtful considerations and mental box-ticking assessments.

Looking back at it now from Miss Tomkins's viewpoint, I could see it all.

Standing at 5' 4", the short but stocky stature of the intimidated and therefore easily manipulable eighteen-year-old school leaver and Career Classification Assessment interviewee standing before her, satisfied to a rare nicety the optimum physical requirements of the just-in urgent job vacancy that she was especially keen on filling as expeditiously as possible.

It all made sense now.

So, this was it, then.

I looked back, at my employer Mrs Hilary Harper, and at her two junior partner assistants, Amanda and Zoe.

The three of them, each stationed behind one of the four white-tableclothed and pushed-together tables of our makeshift but presentable serving counter to pour cups of coffee or tea for our lady clients, smiled back at me.

Mrs Harper's smile of encouragement seemed a little strained, and I understood why. She had a lot riding on what was going to happen in the coming thirty minutes - or rather: how I reacted, to what was about to ensue.

Amanda's smile was more confident, reflecting her previously professed intuitive certainty as to my suitability for their company's key, male-worker role: provider of their niche selling-point attraction 'little something extra'.

Zoe's smile, as usual, made me thrill to it. There was something in her smile that I couldn't read; couldn't define, couldn't decipher, but seemed full of suggestion, of innuendo.
I remembered sitting next to Zoe on the bench seat of Mrs Harper's catering van on our short journey across town to the hotel.

Zoe, telling me all about her eighteenth-birthday present she'd received last year from her prison officer cousin, Geraldine ("Gezza"): her authentic AFP-funded no-expense-spared leading-technology designed and manufactured Greystone Prison issue flip-flops, as worn by the notorious institution's infamous all-female prison officer staff, the 'Jailhouse Blues'.

Zoe, her left leg crossed over her right knee, the toe of her left flip-flop resting against the side of my left knee. And my eyes, captured by her darkish-pink ('Cerise Sensation') painted toes, sending pulses of tingly sensation right through me as with an almost hypnotic resonance they caused her birthday-present thin flexible foam-rubber soled flip-flop to slap against the bottom of her bare heel - slap, slap, slap, slap, slap ...

Zoe was growing on me, and fast.

By now, more than anything I wanted to win Zoe's approval and earn her regard: not just do what was expected of me anyway, do my bit to help boost her junior partnership's entitlement five percent share of Harper's Conference Catering's net profits, but to please her for pleasings' sake.

Stirred by these motivating imperatives, thus I was galvanised; fortified with the resolve to compliantly assume my 'key-role' position - not just with the good graces of a sense-of-duty stoicism but with a readiness born of a fast-growing emotional goal aspiration that barely an hour ago pre-Zoe I would have laughed off as pie-in-the-sky preposterous.

My loins thus girded, I walked forward, closing the gap between myself and the charismatic Head of Conference; close enough, to discern and to appreciate Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish's subtle yet heady fragrance - no doubt, one of her selections from the SPOILT! Boutique perfumery range.

And now, directly behind the fragrance-exuding expectantly standing conference-heading SPOILT! Boutique manageress, I sat down on the carpet of the set-aside Pavilion Lounge of the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa and, spreading my legs wide apart in an accommodating 'V', thus made myself conveniently available and my face easily reachable - as her refreshments-break facial footrest.

Upon seeing my white-shorted bare legs and trainered feet dutifully opened accommodatingly on either side of her, London's Oxford Street's premier everything-under-one-roof SPOILT! Boutique manageress adjusted her standing position in preparing to avail herself of the niche selling-point attraction 'little something extra' creature comfort of which it was now incumbent upon me to provide for my employer Mrs Hilary Harper's female clientele.

It appeared, though, from her tottery unsteadiness of balance that Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish's ensuing extrication of her right foot from the confines of her rather tight-fitting spike-heeled shoe was not just less than easeful but positively perilous.

It struck me that merely making myself conveniently available and my face easily reachable might still leave something to be desired; that in fact there was much room for improvement. And, occurring to me also that my critically observing employer Mrs Hilary Harper and her two closely watching junior partner profits-sharing assistants Amanda and Zoe would expect me to use my initiative and not just sit there and extend every courtesy out of reverent politeness but offer every assistance to prevent disaster, I did precisely that.

I took it upon myself, to take hold of and hold down for Miss Connaught-Cavendish, not just for easefulness' sake, but for the in-the-balance safety of her off balance person too, the four-inch spike-heel of her red leather pump until safely she'd eased free her heel.

If Miss Connaught-Cavendish approved of my unprompted assistance or appreciated my thoughtful and considerate attentiveness in her interests, this was unevidenced in that she neither verbally expressed or in any way gave the slightest gestured indication.

Having extended, said thoughtful off-my-own-bat stance-stabilising facilitation, I sat still.

Sat stock-still, and watched as the freshly unshod pale-olive complexioned sole of the SPOILT! Boutique Head of Conference manageress's right foot reached behind her and upward, towards my resigned if not reconciled and compliant if not wholly amenable face, which would, nonetheless for all of my heretofore reluctance and reserve, now almost willingly, for Zoe, serve as her refreshments-break 'little something extra' facial footrest.

Unsighted and unguided, the navigational guesswork of Miss Connaught-Cavendish's approach was unconfident and clumsy but, albeit, on a decidedly wayward course, she got there in the end.

And, after minutely adjusting the sole of her resting right foot on my conveniently positioned face for surer purchase and maximum comfort upon said eventual successful completion of her blind 'docking', sighing with pleasure, Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish leant back into me in blissful relaxation.

From the other twenty-nine closely encircling and avidly observing SPOILT! Boutique manageresses, I heard their unmistakable murmurings, amused chuckling and even excited exclamations of vicarious enjoyment in anticipating their own, imminent participation.

Because unquestionably they, too, were immensely looking forward to taking their turn with their refreshments-break facial footrest. And if not now, during the 10:00 - 10:30 coffee break, then I was given to believe, from the manageresses' candidly expressed sentiments and frankly disclosed intentions towards myself, those who missed out now would be sure not to during their 3:00 - 3:30 tea break.

In my head, I quickly did the math.

With two thirty-minute refreshments breaks totalling sixty minutes, this meant that the personal facial-footrest allowance of each of the thirty SPOILT! Boutique manageresses averaged out at two minutes.

On the face of it, as it were, perhaps, not a lot of time; indeed, the clock would be ticking a lot faster for the users of said service than for its provider.

Presiding over my initiation at the suggestion of my employer Mrs Hilary Harper, Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish, the first of the Annual Conference attending SPOILT! Boutique manageresses to avail herself of their emergency replacement refreshments-break 'little something extra', settled in-situ.

Obliging me to discern, if not appreciate - and albeit not, actually deliberately and intentionally and hence meanly and maliciously, but merely incidentally and consequentially and therefore blithely and indifferently - the decidedly less subtly fragranced and even headier aroma of her under- and in-between-the-toes foot scent.

Though she occasioned me to strain my neck muscles to do so, I supported her steadily testing weight and increasingly relaxing posture as sturdily and as accommodatingly as any item of non-olfactory sensory footrest furniture.

And I might well have been just an unusual piece of footrest furniture, for all the notice that the coffee-breaking high-end fashion store manageresses and fashionistas themselves, took of me from that moment on as they resumed their chitchatting, drank their coffee and ate their fancy sandwiches.

As I sat there, listening to them talk, catching snippets and snatches of multiple conversations on a variety of girl-talk topics but mostly to do with their fashion-world work, almost all of my sight was taken up by the pale-olive complexioned sole of Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish's rather broad right foot:

The bottom of her bare heel, planted in the centre of my forehead; her arch, right in front of my eyes; the ball of her foot, pressing down on the bridge of my nose; and the undersides of her nose-clutching and nostril-encapturing toes, ensuring her a steadier if not rock-steady single-footed stance.

But I was not so entirely blinkered and my vision so completely limited by the bronzed breadth of Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish's facial-footrest availing right foot, that I could not see two of her colleagues when they took up very similar positions close to either side of her and with their backs to me. The one to her left, wearing a final-day-of-conference electric blue T-shirt, the one to her right, a crimson T-shirt. Due to my considerably compromised vision, though, further, more elaborate details of description at that time as to the SPOILT! Boutique skirt and shoe numbers the two of them wore, were somewhat obscured.

Carefully, not to risk upsetting the potentially precarious nature of their Head of Conference's single-footed stiletto-heeled stance, syncing their movements, the two high-end fashion store manageresses reached their now unshod foot behind them and upwards. The one on Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish's left, to rest the top of her right foot on my left shoulder; the one on her right, to similarly rest her left foot, sole-up, upon my right shoulder.

Because the three of them were in such close, side by side proximity, it was quite apparent that, if it came to the two shoulder-footrest availing manageresses wishing to rest their other foot, they would need to swap positions.

The lower leg of the two shoulder-availing manageresses was approximately level with the floor: the lower leg and foot of the electric blue T-shirted manageress, sloping slightly downward; the lower leg and foot of the crimson T-shirted manageress, sloping slightly upward.

Ultimately, I realised, these upward- or downward-sloping angles would be resultant of interdependent twin factors: the shoulder-footrest availing female client's height; and the amount of elevation afforded by the heels of her shoes.

One thing I noticed straight away, and with no small measure of relief, was that at least to some degree I was now able to relax my straining and already by now tiring neck muscles. For such was the anchoring/stabilising effect of the combined settled weight on my shoulders of the two manageresses' resting legs and feet, which were surprisingly heavy.

Nonetheless, moments later my head lunged forward precipitously as I was instantly relieved of all said neck muscle stress and strain entirely when with unexpected suddenness Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish removed her right foot from her facial footrest and returned it to its shoe.

But I knew my reprieve would be very shortlived: this, merely preparatory to Miss Connaught-Cavendish's switchover; standing on her right foot, and repeating the restful and relaxing refreshments-break 'little something extra' ritual, continuing with her left foot.

Taking the opportunity this brief change-over interval afforded, I looked first to my left shoulder, and then to my right shoulder. Took a moment, to look at the shoulder-perched, sole-upwards foot of each of the two foot-resting manageresses who were, albeit inadvertently, helpfully anchoring me in position and, albeit incidentally, mercifully mitigating the wearisome workload of my primary function.

The manageress to Miss Connaught-Cavendish's left, who was wearing the electric blue T-shirt, and resting her right foot sole-upwards on my left shoulder, was wearing seam-reinforced stockings of a thick, elaborately patterned navy blue material, of which the plain dark unpatterned sole almost invisibly veiled the bottom of her slightly downwards-sloping foot.

Her similarly single-footed postured colleague, wearing the crimson T-shirt, and who was resting her left foot sole-upwards on my right shoulder, wore stockings of a type I would describe as starkly contrasting. Unadorned, white, almost transparent material, so gossamer thin as to lay bare and reveal as though naked every last little detail of her scantily enshrouded slightly upwards sloping sole.

With my head thus craned to my right, I was slightly unsettled to observe that at just after ten o'clock in the morning, the crimson T-shirted manageress's ultra-thin white stocking was already showing the first signs of perspiration. The places of discolouration: the heel, the ball of the foot, and the under-the-toes area; shades of grey, varying from off-white at the arch, to a sweat moistened dove-grey under the toes.

I was occasioned further unease, at the thought that, come the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses' 3:00 - 3:30 tea break in another five hours' time, I might be pressed into her refreshments-break footrest service again - and she might not use one of my shoulders ...

From her end of their coffee-break conversation, as, seemingly oblivious to me by now as in her pleasantly lilting Welsh tones she chatted with Miss Connaught-Cavendish and the electric blue T-shirted manageress, it emerged that the name of the wearer of the crimson T-shirt and the gossamer thin, almost see-through white stockings, was Julie. Apparently, she ran Cardiff's SPOILT! Boutique.

And, similarly gleaned from eavesdropping on the threesome's fashion-world insiders' surprisingly interesting discussion, I also learned that Julie's co shoulder availing colleague, wearing the electric blue T-shirt and the expensive-looking seam-reinforced navy blue stockings, was Maxine, and she ran the Bristol store.

I was then distracted by a movement below.

Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish, having reinserted her right foot into her shoe, was apparently having the same difficulty again in easing free now the heel of her left foot from its rather tight-fitting red leather pump.

Bearing in mind the stability and therefore the safety of the two shoulder-footrest utilising manageresses Maxine and Julie, carefully, I leaned forward ... and then leaned forward a little bit more.

And, upon finding that the two shoulder-footrest availing manageresses' resting legs and feet were of a minimal impediment to my forward-leaning movement and, more importantly, said movement was not perilous to themselves, again I took it upon myself to take hold of and hold down for Miss Connaught-Cavendish her shoe's four-inch spike-heel. Repeating, said off-my-own-bat employer-pleasing, dutiful initiative-taking, solicitous assistance-extending, disaster-preventing single-footed stance facilitation.

My thoughtful, considerate, proactive attentiveness, again eliciting from her no sign of acknowledgement and still less indication of thanks, the manageress of London's Oxford Street's premier SPOILT! Boutique now reached her bare pale-olive complexioned left foot behind her and upwards, to once again avail herself of her refreshments-break facial footrest.

By now I was starting to get the hang of this aspect of my new job and, this time, I didn't constrain Miss Connaught-Cavendish to do all of the work herself, post-switchover.

Watching the uncertain, haphazard approach this time of Miss Connaught-Cavendish's unsighted and unguided left bare sole, it occurred to me that there was still much room for receptive improvement.

From a glance at their faces, I was given to believe also that my anxiously watching employer Mrs Hilary Harper and her two critically observing assistants Amanda and Zoe, having witnessed me use my initiative once, were expecting me not just to sit there but to respond proactively again and implement improvements unsupervised.

And so, in another act of employer pleasing self-initiative, I took it upon myself to lean forward and, manoeuvring my forehead to receive early and to accommodate with pinpoint exactitude the arrival of the bottom of the Head of Conference's erratically oncoming bare heel, I thus facilitated her blind 'docking'.

Just as she'd done first with her right foot, with exaggerated care Miss Connaught-Cavendish now centred the ball of her left foot on the bridge of my nose; her clutching, nostril encapturing toes, testing and retesting for optimum stability, ensuring maximum security of single-footed balance, pre-commitment.

And upon seeing, after repeated trial-testing, the minor and fussy but crucial pre-commitment adjustment performed to their Head of Conference's complete contentment (and to their own, peace of mind), considerately the two shoulder-footrest availing manageresses Maxine and Julie safely ceded their positions to two impatiently waiting colleagues.

Following the synced, risk-avoidant example of their colleagues Maxine and Julie, promptly these two acceding manageresses eagerly assumed their shoulder-footrest availing positions.

Simultaneously the lime green T-shirted manageress, on Miss Connaught-Cavendish's left, rested her right foot on my Maxine-vacated left shoulder; and the lemon T-shirted manageress, on Miss Connaught-Cavendish's right, similarly rested her left foot, sole-up, on my Julie-rescinded right shoulder.

I then felt two grasping, tugging hands, yanking the tail of my shirt right out of my community servant-style elasticated-waisted white work shorts. (These, the distinctive, demeaning workwear issued to me at the Community Service Liaison Centre, where I'd reported to upon leaving the Job Centre after my Career Classification Assessment interview and consequent career-path decree by Miss Tonya Tomkins).

I then felt two presences: the owners of those shirt-snatching hands, who were backing into me; settling into their positions right up close to me in a manner that in any other circumstances would strike one as an intimacy of unseemly nature. And, in my peripheral vision, albeit imperfectly I could see two more SPOILT! Boutique manageresses, positioning themselves just as close, on either side of me.

It occurred to me that, surely by now, if fourteen of her colleagues were to partake equally and fairly of their morning coffee-break 'little something extra', Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish was overrunning now and by a considerable margin her allotted two-minute allowance in this, their favourite and most coveted of refreshments-break footrest positions.

Either the Annual Conference attending SPOILT! Boutique manageresses hadn't done the math, or they weren't rigid timekeepers: I'd seen no stopwatch in evidence and, from what I could see, none of the other twenty-nine manageresses seemed eager to raise the equal-opportunity time allowance issue with their Head of Conference and pull her up about her selfish overrun.

Insinuating their way under the tail of my untucked shirt, I felt the invasive soles of two feet, both of them bare and both of them startlingly cold, as, gratefully warming them on their side of my spine, the two shirt-pulling manageresses took up their bare-back availing footrest/foot-warming positions.

The other two manageresses to either side of me were not barefoot but wore what felt to me like nylons or tights. As, contenting themselves with resting their foot in the natural recesses of my sides: the bottoms of their heels, taking advantage of the yielding but supportive flesh beneath my ribcage; the ball of their foot and their toes, aided by the slight foothold bumps of my hips, they partook of their coffee-time indulgence.

To my surprise - no: to my absolute, flabergastation - I now wondered if I would, after all, prove Amanda's intuitive assertion correct and realise my employer Mrs Hilary Harper's fervently stated hopes that, at last, they had found their missing team player.

Wondered, if I could, find it within myself, if unable to radically change my entrenched AFP-antipathetic attitude, then to at least put on hold my female-friendly ideological disagreements and disgruntlements.

Pondered, if, rather than follow in the ill-fated footsteps of my long string of short-serving sullen and begrudging runaway forerunners, I could put aside my resentments and reservations and learn to - to use my employer Mrs Hilary Harper's word: "adapt".

Considered, if in fact I actually could, occupy with the composure of mind on my part and an agreeable consistency of submissive attitude and satisfactory quality of performance on theirs, the position of their key, male worker. Be the compatible male employee, who unlike all of my inherently unsuited and ultimately unadaptable predecessors would not flee and let them down but remain and serve them well.

Reflected, if through both the good offices and the as yet unrevealed but naked self-interests of their sympathetic contact and my ulterior-motived now Case Worker and figure of authority liaison at the Job Centre, Miss Tonya Tomkins, it was problem solved, for my employer and her two five-percent-of-net-profits sharing junior assistants, Amanda and Zoe.

Wondered - if aided by the motivating factors of my employer's promised protective patronage which would shield me from the worst downsides for a male of AFP governance, and my fast-growing desire to please Zoe, I could, acquire the non-rebellious reconciled commitment and the willingness of temperament prerequisite to my male-worker role:

Assume the heretofore unsatisfactorily tenanted mantle of my employer Mrs Hilary Harper's catering company's niche selling-point attraction 'little something extra': Be her reverently polite, unfailingly compliant, assistance-extending facial-footrest 'docking' facilitator and general use footrest/foot-comforter to her refreshments-breaking female clientele.

For the sensations, engendered by the two manageresses standing behind me and rubbing their bare feet on 'their' side of my bare back and of the other two manageresses' nyloned feet on my sides with their heels digging in and their toes clutching my hips for enhanced surety of foothold, were far from unpleasant.

In fact, the combination of the two manageresses' cool, exploratively roaming and luxuriating bare feet rubbing on either side of my back and the other two manageresses' warm, nyloned soles on my flanks - not least, their absentminded toe-scrunching on my hips as they chitchatted - were of an undreamed-of sensual pleasure.

So much so, that it was all I could do not to laugh; not to giggle like a fool into the pale-olive complexioned bare left sole of the facial-footrest availing Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish.

The SPOILT! Boutique manageress and Head of Conference was undoubtedly by now seriously overrunning to the diminution of her twenty-nine store manageress refreshments-breaking colleagues her allotted two-minute time allowance, selfishly far exceeding her fair and equal share and thereby iniquitously reducing theirs.

But what business was that of mine? I was just their foot furniture, capable of accommodating sturdily and comfortably up to seven.

I was dismissing these disrespectful ideas and re-establishing in their stead my Zoe-inspired acceptance-of-purpose mindset, when, as though reading with utmost reproval my albeit fleeting thoughts and responsively admonishing me to keep a civil tongue in my mind, Miss Connaught-Cavendish suddenly removed her left foot from her facial footrest.

As before, when preparatory to her standing-foot switchover she'd removed her relaxing right foot with similar sudden heedlessness, despite the stabilising influences of my two shoulder-availing 'anchors' my head lunged forward as instantly my neck was relieved of the constant stress and strain of sturdily and comfortably supporting her single-footed luxuriating posture.

Albeit reluctantly, the two shoulder-footrest availing manageresses now considerately relinquished their positions, too. The left-shoulder footrest availing, lime green T-shirted manageress (who, from eavesdropping I learned was Samantha, manageress of Sheffield's SPOILT! Boutique); and the right-shoulder footrest availing, lemon T-shirted manageress (Sonia, manageress of Edinburgh's SPOILT! Boutique), making said shoulder-footrest facilities available to other coffee-breaking colleagues.

Finally relinquishing the facial footrest, Miss Connaught-Cavendish found it necessary to put her hand on top of my head and grab a good fistful of my hair to help keep her balance as now she reinserted her left foot into her four-inch heeled red leather pump.

As she did so, the Head of Conference ran her eyes over the gathering of refreshments-breaking manageresses and, spotting the one she apparently sought, said brightly, "Martina! Come over here now and take your turn, of our little something extra. I must say, there's no comparison with his absconded predecessor, Neville, who, clearly his heart wasn't in it in that he would sullenly and begrudgingly try to avoid rather than pleasingly and welcomingly receive. In wonderfully pleasing contrast you'll find David, our emergency replacement, who Mrs Harper did ever so well to procure for us at such short notice through her sympathetic Job Centre contact, Tonya, uncommonly amenable and incredibly well-behaved!"

"Hazel, I don't mind if I do!" eagerly replied the local agent deputed to organise this year's Annual Conference's facilities, same-hotel accommodation, and refreshments-breaks provision - the manageress of Brighton's SPOILT! Boutique, Miss Martina Morris.

Stepping inside the accommodating 'V' of my widely spread apart white-shorted bare legs and trainered feet, Miss Martina Morris, wearing her final-day-of-conference orange T-shirt, and her above-the-knee navy blue skirt and kitten-heeled white mules, items that, as a SPOILT! Boutique fashionwear store manageress she enjoyed a generous personal allowance, prepared to take up her facial-footrest availing position.

Unlike her prized-position availing predecessor, Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish, Miss Martina Morris had no such difficulties in extricating first her unconfined right foot from her kitten-heeled white mule and therefore was not in need of my heel-holding balance steadying assistance.

But, unsighted and unguided, as Miss Morris waywardly reached her right foot behind her and upwards in the general direction of my conveniently positioned and compliantly waiting face, the receptive inadequacy was apparent again and, it was evident that she, as well, would benefit from my proactivity.

And so, in my employer-approving and Amanda-gratifying and Zoe-pleasing demonstration of assistance-extending self-initiative, carefully I tracked the uncertain approach of Brighton's SPOILT! Boutique manageress's pale-complexioned sole and, leaning forward, I manoeuvred my forehead to facilitate with pinpoint precision the 'docking' with the bottom of her erratically oncoming bare heel, thus aiding her blind, haphazard navigation.

"Oh, my!" exclaimed Miss Martina Morris delightedly at such pleasing ease of 'docking' after I'd eased my way back to a straight-backed, sturdily supportive posture; though as yet, she was not ready to fully commit the relaxed weight of her single-footed stance.

"I see exactly, what you mean, Hazel!" Miss Morris enthused.

"Didn't I tell you, Martina!" gushed Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish. "Isn't he just a perfect sweetie?"

Well, well, well, this was a turn up for the books! I could hardly believe my ears. Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish, who up until a moment ago had neither even remotely suggested, let alone, expressed such sentiments, heaping such fulsome praise on my head!

"Steady on, Hazel, don't get carried away. He is, after all, here to do a job of work and provide a good service," said Miss Martina Morris, deflating my balloon.

Some of the gathered encircling refreshments-breaking manageresses spoke up to express their agreement with Miss Morris:

"It was this - or in all likelihood, he would have gone to Greystone Prison, enroled on a female-friendly course. And, compared to the Jailhouse Blues, we're pussycats," said one manageress, who was wearing a pink final-day-of-conference T-shirt, and who as yet I was unacquainted.

"It was this - or perhaps he would have been Placemented; possibly here, in our Brighton boutique under Martina, as an in-store pedicurist," said another manageress with whom I was yet to make acquaintance, and who was wearing an emerald green T-shirt.

"It was this - or maybe he would be put on attachment to one of the most critically undermanned female-friendly programmes, projects, or schemes," - this, suggested by one of the shoulder-footrest availing manageresses: the wearer of the crimson T-shirt and the ultra-thin, almost see-through white stockings, the Cardiff SPOILT! Boutique manageress Julie. "So, let's not go overboard with our praise, just yet," she cautioned in her pleasantly lilting Welsh tones. "He'll have to earn it!"

"Oh, absolutely right, Julie!" agreed Miss Morris. "I do have to say, though - and far be it from me too, Julie, to cheerlead our footboy - I must concur with Hazel and give credit where credit is due: his reception skills are exemplary. And the added, bonus: David must be a good four, maybe five inches shorter than his runaway predecessor, Neville. And so, in addition to the new boy's apparent self-undertaken facilitation, thanks due to the perfect combination of his short stature and, as I've been witnessing, the assuring steadfast reliability of his upper-torso strength, the difference in the level of in-situ comfort, too, is so appreciable."

"Yes, you are right, Martina. Mrs Harper's new male employee David is the ideal height and build; the perfect footrest, for refreshments-breaking businesswomen such as ourselves."

"But of course, it always helps to wear heels, for the extra elevation afforded to one's standing foot," commented Miss Morris matter-of-factly.

Miss Morris looked down at her standing left foot and regarded her kitten-heeled white mule.

"Even these kitten heels put one to advantage, compared to wearing flats," added Miss Morris sagely, to the nods and murmurs of agreement of her encircling spectating colleagues.

Miss Martina Morris then proceeded to make the minor but essential single-footed postured adjustments. Testing and retesting to her complete satisfaction that the ball of her foot was positioned correctly and supported firmly upon the bridge of my nose; the undersides of her clutching, nostril encapturing toes, ensuring her an enhanced surety of purchase and thereby her easiness of mind, pre-commitment.

Their own, peace of mind now assured, two more footrest-availing manageresses came forward from the gathered coffee-breaking SPOILT! Boutique representatives to claim my shoulders and to, albeit inadvertently, helpfully 'anchor' me in position and, albeit incidentally, mercifully ameliorate my wearisome workload with the stabilising influences of the combined weight of their resting legs and their gratefully unshod foot. The left-shoulder footrest availing manageress to Miss Morris's left, wearing a lilac T-shirt; the right-shoulder footrest availing manageress to Miss Morris's right, an amber T-shirt.

No sooner had they taken their places beside their local agent and conference organiser Miss Morris, when from the peripheral vision of my once again compromised eyesight, imperfectly I saw, taking up their positions on either side of me, two more footrest-availing manageresses. The one to my left, wearing a purple final-day-of-conference T-shirt; the one on my right, a mauve T-shirt.

And, behind me, I sensed another two presences - another two manageresses. These, insinuating the bare soles of their invasive exploratory feet under the pulled-out tail of my shirt to take advantage of the foot-comforting next-to-the-skin warmth of my back, while they chatted, ate their sandwiches and drank their coffee.

Miss Martina Morris's pre-commitment preparations, all checked and ticked off, in-situ, she opened a coffee-time conversation with her two shoulder-footrest availing colleagues.

Mostly, it was girl talk.

But again, as with Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish's conversation with the Bristol and the Cardiff SPOILT! Boutique manageresses, Maxine and Julie, a lot of what they said was to do with their fashion-world work and, as fashionistas themselves, enthusiastic interests.

I listened with interest to the three manageresses in front of me, for their conversation was indeed intriguing. And most enlightening, too, as to the sorts of things that went on in their high-end fashion and personal services stores - particularly, with regards to their Placemented male pedicurists.

Also revealed to me, was the SPOILT! Boutique representatives' conference agenda for their final afternoon's session.

Apparently, this too would revolve around issues regarding their stores' Placemented male pedicurists.

Each of the thirty SPOILT! Boutique manageresses would stand up, taking their turn to raise their points of discussion regarding and in response to the most popular of suggestions, recommendations, and requests put forward by their female customers of discernment.

Eavesdropping, I learned that the left-shoulder availing manageress, wearing the lilac T-shirt and, from who's slightly upwards sloping sole perched upon 'her' shoulder, I saw was wearing tan tights, was Dianne, and she ran the SPOILT! Boutique, in Manchester.

While it emerged that the right-shoulder footrest availing manageress, wearing the amber T-shirt and, from who's also slightly upwards sloping sole perched upon 'her' shoulder, I saw was barefoot, was Felicity, who ran Newcastle's SPOILT! Boutique.

I gleaned this tan tights/barefoot information during Miss Martina Morris's quick, unassisted standing-foot changeover.

Which was when I saw, too, that both of the shoulder-footrest availing manageresses wore flats, which, through the resultant lack of elevation as described by Miss Morris, accounted for their slightly upwards sloping soles perched upon 'their' shoulder, duly corroborating her sound reasoning and vindicating my idle speculation.

I had the decided sense that Miss Martina Morris too now was going to seriously overrun, to the diminution of her remaining twenty-eight manageress colleagues, her two-minute time allowance with their emergency replacement 'little something extra'. Selfishly far exceeding her own, fair and equal share, to the unfair and unequal reducement of theirs.

I had the decided sense, too, that none of the other coffee-breaking SPOILT! Boutique manageresses would step forward and complain; would not pull the local agent up, as to her self-centred hogging of their facial footrest.

Would not air their resentment.

Would not make a fuss.

Would keep the disappointments of their denied pleasures, their thwarted anticipations, their unrealised refreshments-break treat, to themselves.

Would not address their Head of Conference's selected replacement, Miss Martina Morris, as to her selfish excesses at this, their favourite and most coveted of footrest positions, while the luckier of them made do with availing themselves of my relatively ungratifying shoulders, back, and sides.

But, what in the blazes' business was it of mine?

I was just their refreshments-break foot furniture.

Capable of accommodating up to seven.

And anyway - what of, all of that?

When with two SPOILT! Boutique manageresses' invasive and explorative bare soles on 'their' side of my back, and two manageresses' nyloned soles foot-resting on 'their' sides; scrunching their toes absentmindedly on the convenient protuberances of my hips as they drank their coffee and chatted - it was all I could do not to giggle idiotically.

Not to giggle idiotically, in the throes of such undreamed-of sensual pleasure, into the pale-complexioned left bare sole of the facial-footrest availing conference organiser and manageress of Brighton's SPOILT! Boutique.

*


It was not 10:30, as scheduled, but almost eleven o'clock when the Head of Conference, Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish, announced that she and her twenty-nine high-end fashion store manageress colleagues would now return to their conference suite.

I returned to the side of my employer Mrs Hilary Harper, at the four white tableclothed pushed-together serving tables where she and her two assistants Amanda and Zoe were now clearing them for resetting for the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses' 15:00 - 15:30 refreshments break.

"I am extremely pleased with you, David," Mrs Harper told me. "You conducted yourself exactly how I would expect: with self-initiative. Your off-your-own-bat facilitations, in particular, were highly pleasing to watch. Keep that up, this afternoon, and Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish will be sure to pass on some truly marvellous references and recommendations throughout her circle of business colleagues and hopefully to her wider orbit of associates."

"Didn't I say he'd be fine, Mrs Harper?" questioned Amanda. "That, at last, we'd found our missing team player?"

"You did indeed, Amanda. And though of course as yet it is still very early days and I'd hate to get my hopes up for nothing, I think we've all just witnessed enough evidence to suggest that you have been proved correct."

Zoe didn't say anything; she let her smile speak for her.

All business again, Mrs Harper turned to me and said," But our busy day has just started. So now go and get our vacuum cleaner, David. And take it for a walk around the Pavilion Lounge - before you report to the office of the hotel manageress, Miss Honeywell."


Tea, Coffee, and Me continues (and concludes) in Ch. 3.
 
Likes: goldmund
Nov 29, 2006
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#13
This is one of the most amazingly written stories I've read here in a long while! You have real talent! Keep the chapters going, this is already a masterpiece!
 
Apr 12, 2009
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#19
Hey! How is the story going? I for one am eagerly awaiting a continuation ;P
It's going okay. But it's going to be a bit of a while yet.

But if you've enjoyed the first two chapters, I think you are going to enjoy following the continued adventures of David Manners in Ch. 3.

LuvsHerHeels - Thanks or the encouraging comment. I hope you enjoy Ch. 3.
 
Apr 12, 2009
178
5
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#20
Tea, Coffee, and Me Ch. 3 of 3.

Ch. 3: The Compatibles.



Running the cordless Dyson over the crumb-strewn carpet of the Pavilion Lounge, I concluded that my employer Mrs Hilary Harper had got it right when she'd said that the thirty SPOILT! Boutique manageresses attending this year's Annual Conference at the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa were liberally mixing pleasure with business; the manageresses, not just colleagues but friends with shared interests, were taking full advantage of the opportunity their five-day conference presented them for a rare girls' get-together.

The high-end fashion, accessories, cosmetics, and personal services store manageresses' laid-back attitudes said it all: as much as a working conference, it was a pleasure trip, an all-expenses-paid excursion to the East Sussex seaside and the bright lights of Brighton.

On top of that, Mrs Harper's two nineteen-year-old junior partner assistants, Amanda and Zoe, both on friendly terms with the manageresses who during the week had gifted them both a small fortune's worth of cosmetic and perfume samples, said they had seen the manageresses out on the town enjoying the famed Brighton night-scene. Their hair skillfully coiffured, make-up expertly applied, and dressed to impress in their SPOILT! Boutique evening-attire fashionwear and eye-catching high-heeled shoes, the manageresses were having a high old time, basking in the rapt attention of great-looking men who were none too shabbily dressed, themselves.

Mrs Harper's opinion was corroborated, by the lax attitude the manageresses showed towards their refreshments break schedule.

Their morning coffee break was supposed to be 10:00 - 10:30. But, just as Mrs Harper had predicted they had arrived early, and it was pushing eleven o'clock when with evident reluctance the Head of Conference, Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish, finally announced that they should return to their conference room.

Their half-hour coffee break had gone on for over an hour, just as Mrs Harper said had been the norm. And she told me to expect at least the same schedule-busting overrun this afternoon when, for the final time before their five-day conference wound down to a close, they returned to the Pavilion Lounge for their tea break.

But then I supposed it would make it more challenging to keep within reasonable bounds to a half-hour schedule, when some of the manageresses far exceeded their fair and equal time take-up to the unfair and unequal diminution of their colleagues', selfishly overindulging in their refreshments-break luxury 'little something extra'.

Running the powerful vacuum cleaner over the carpet of the Pavilion Lounge to pick up the scattering of biscuit, cake, and sandwich crumbs that the thirty-strong contingent of coffee-breaking SPOILT! Boutique manageresses had left in their wake, left to my own devices for the moment, I was at liberty to let my mind wander to reflect on the events of the last hour or so ...

Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish, Head of Conference and manageress of London's Oxford Street's premier everything-under-one-roof SPOILT! Boutique, and who at Mrs Harper's suggestion had been delighted to be the one to initiate me into my male-worker role's principal duties, in taking tenure for sixteen minutes she had been the most flagrant flouter of the refreshments-break 'little something extra' overindulgers.

Miss Martina Morris, though, manageress of Brighton's SPOILT! Boutique store and who as the local agent was deputed to organise this year's Annual Conference, in taking tenure for fourteen minutes she had run Miss Connaught-Cavendish a close second on the selfishness scale.

During the second half-hour or so of (over-schedule) coffee-break time, indulging themselves for seven or eight minutes each, only another four of the other twenty-eight manageresses had taken tenure of their refreshments-break luxury little-something-extra facial footrest.

I did the math – and in my mind's eye I envisioned the all-too-possible aftermath:

At just six out of a total of thirty, this meant that, on this, the final day of their Annual Conference, it was going to be a very long tea break this afternoon if all of the other twenty-four manageresses were going to insist upon having their rightful turn with Mrs Harper's new footboy.

Julie, manageress of the SPOILT! Boutique in Cardiff was one of the latter four.

The first, of the latter four to avail herself of their prized-position facial footrest, while other coffee-breaking colleagues made do with making use of my albeit still desirable and comfort-affording but 'lesser' back, sides, and shoulder-footrests, as ceded during the in situ manageress's mid-tenure from-foot-to-foot switchover.

While I traversed the Pavilion Lounge; the Dyson, gobbling up the carpet-strewn crumb debris left by the thirty refreshments-breaking manageresses as though voracious for such titbits, I recalled Julie's 'accession'.

No sooner had the Brighton SPOILT! Boutique manageress and conference organiser Miss Martina Morris finally, and with apparent reluctance, given way; her bare heels, slapping against her kitten-heeled white mules as dolefully she'd reintegrated herself among spectating colleagues – when suddenly I'd found the apparently fleet of foot and stealing-a-march Julie standing in front of me.

And then it was her turn: Julie's, holding forth, opinion-positing, centre-of-attention tenure of their facial footrest.

Positioned inside the accommodating 'V' of my widely spread apart legs as I sat on the carpet of the Pavilion Lounge, though Julie stood with her back to me I knew who she was from her crimson final-day-of-conference T-shirt.

And recognised her, from her thin white stockings – the left, sweat-moistened sole, I'd earlier observed with anticipatory dread should she subsequently accede prized position – as, standing with her back to me, she'd rested her left foot upon my right shoulder during Miss Connaught-Cavendish's overindulgent overrunning occupation of the facial footrest.

Unlike my breaking-in first-user, the precariously teetering Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish, Julie had not been in need of my thoughtful and considerate transferal assistance, either initially or during her from-foot-to-foot switchover, mid-tenure.

Julie had not needed me to take hold of and hold down the heel of her shoe to steady her balance, as, standing on one high heel, she eased her right foot from her other yellow leather stiletto-heeled pump and raised her foot behind her, preparatory to adopting the single-footed stance of tenure.

But as Julie, unsighted and unguided, reached the sole of her thin-white-stockinged right foot behind her and upwards towards my conveniently positioned and compliantly waiting face, she had benefited, though, from my having earlier identified and addressed the understandably irksome and tiresome inadequacy issue that had faced Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish and Miss Martina Morris, pertaining my face being merely easily reachable.

Benefited, from my off-my-own-bat facilitation, as, carefully tracking her sole's wayward approach, I leaned forward and manoeuvred my forehead to receive early and with pinpoint exactitude the bottom of Julie's erratically approaching heel, thus thoughtfully aiding and making more easeful and less haphazard her blind navigational 'docking'.

Following the efficacious examples as set first by Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish and then by Miss Martina Morris, Julie had tested and retested, making the minor but essential adjustments to maximise security and minimise the uncertainty of high-heel shod single-footed balance:

The bottom of her heel, planted in the centre of my forehead; her arch, right in front of my eyes; the ball of her foot, upon the bridge of my nose; and the undersides of her thin-white-stockinged toes encapturing my nostrils, Julie had enhanced her surety of purchase, pre-commitment.

And, as once in situ – with the succeeding two manageresses to avail themselves of my shoulder-footrests; two more at my sides; another two at my back – I'd listened to Julie's pleasantly lilting Welsh tones as during her tenure she held forth, the focus of her coffee-breaking colleagues' attention.

Listened, to Julie's pleasantly lilting Welsh tones, as, albeit merely incidentally and consequentially and so not deliberately and intentionally, Julie had obliged me to inhale the tangy aroma of her under- and in-between-the-toes scent through her gossamer thin, almost transparent white stocking.

Listened, as, relaxing her weight and leaning into me as assuredly she would any sturdy and reliable inanimate footrest, Julie made the most of her tenure.

As I stared through the gauzy white veil of her stocking; my vision, encapsulated by the ultra close-up sight of her pale-olive complexioned arch, Julie lighted upon issues of current particular interest concerning their fashion-world work and, as fashionistas themselves, close common interests.

As the manageress in-tenure, Julie had the floor.

Julie's sweet-sounding oratory was not merely obligingly listened to with indulgent politeness by her coffee-breaking colleagues. But, her in situ status, serving to imbue her every utterance, gesture, and facial expression with an added little something, focusing their minds as well as seducing their ears she commanded their undivided attention as she talked fashion.

Though some of the manageresses offered their opinions relevant to Julie's pronouncements or chipped in with other contributions to the open conversation when Julie paused for breath, they withheld their comments and refrained from making such observations while Julie held forth, hanging on to her every opinion-positing word while in-tenure.

As I'd listened in on the manageresses' fashion world insiders' coffee-break conversation – my part-of-the-furniture presence, soon seemingly taken for granted; considered normal, by the thirty refreshments-breaking manageresses – I wondered if already I was learning to adapt.

For to my surprise, I was not the least offended, let alone repulsed, by the albeit unintentional and therefore merely consequential breathing in of the tart aroma of Julie's under- and in-between-the-toes scent through her sweat-dampened semi-transparent thin white stocking.

Mulling this over, I thought back, comparing the noticeably tarter between-the-toes scent of the Cardiff SPOILT! Boutique manageress Julie with that of the manageress Julie had acceded, Miss Martina Morris, and with the discernible intra-digital differences too of the manageress who had initiated me, Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish.

In conclusion, I realised that I hadn't in the least been put out by the incidental imposition and therefore the inadvertently unavoidable inhalation of these first three refreshments-break facial-footrest availing manageresses' foot fragrances; and that further, I held similar non-negative sentiments towards the subsequent three: Emily, Ceri, and Lindsay, respectively the manageresses of the Birmingham, Swansea, and Edinburgh SPOILT! Boutiques.

It seemed apparent now that all of the presuppositions previously perturbing me were unfounded; my fretful fears and fraught forebodings, unsubstantiated.

And, to my dawning astonishment, I realised too that I hadn't minded; was not put out in the slightest, that the Cardiff SPOILT! Boutique manageress Julie:

The bottom of her heel planted centre-forehead; the ball of her foot, centred upon the bridge of my nose; the undersides of her nose-gripping, nostril-encapturing toes ensuring enhanced safety and optimum surety of high-heel shod single-footed posture – luxuriated uninhibitedly in her having-the-floor, holding forth, opinion-positing, centre-of-attention tenure of the facial footrest.

Was this was another sign, that I was starting to come to terms with the requirements, expectations, and indeed the demands of my male worker's primary role – that I was learning to adapt?

I remembered Julie's from-foot-to-foot switchover, mid-tenure:

Julie, returning her right foot to its yellow leather stiletto-heeled pump, preparatory to availing herself of the facial footrest with the sole of her left, thin-white-stockinged foot.

And I remembered Julie's six accompanying mid-tenure switchover succeeding manageresses, taking up the 'lesser' footrest positions ceded by six of their colleagues:

Two of the coffee-breaking manageresses, standing to either side of Julie and likewise with their backs to me to avail themselves of my shoulder-footrests; an unshod foot, raised behind them to rest sole-upward atop 'their' shoulder.

Two of them, taking up positions at my sides to use the convenient footholds provided by the bumps of my hips, partaking of their refreshments as they listened attentively to the oracle-like oratorical outpourings of the in-tenure manageress.

And two of them, behind me, staking their coffee-time claims to 'their' half of my back, their toes, untucking the tail of my shirt from the elasticated waistband of my community-servant style white work shorts to enjoy the next-to-the-skin warmth on their bare soles.

Julie – mid-tenure, post-switchover:

Once again, in situ.

Single-footed postured.

Holding forth, once more.

The centre of attention.

Enjoying, the continuation of her coffee-breaking colleagues' constant concentration upon her every oracle-like utterance, eloquent hand gesture, and full-of-meaning facial expression – enjoying: the incumbent, having-the-floor, opinion-positing, focus-of-attraction status of tenure.

Julie's lilting Welsh tones charming me as, albeit inadvertently and unintentionally and so not meanly and maliciously, unavoidably albeit incidentally I was compelled to inhale the tart aroma now of the under- and in-between-the-toes scents of her left, sweat-moistened thin-white-stockinged foot, and—

"David, you'll wear that carpet out!" cautioned Amanda, suddenly materialising beside me to jolt me out of my reverie. "Didn't you hear me calling you? I've been shouting myself hoarse."

"No, Miss Amanda. I'm afraid not."

"Daydreamer!" admonished Amanda as she reached down to press the vacuum cleaner's Off switch; the whining note of the powering down Dyson, for all the world sounding disappointed and deprived.

"I'm sorry, Miss Amanda. I couldn't hear you over the sound of the vacuum cleaner."

"You mean you couldn't hear me because you were miles away; lost to the world – daydreaming. Don't you?"

"Yes, Miss Amanda."

"Zoe said you looked as though you were in a world of your own, and that she would have loved to know what you were thinking about – but I think I can guess. Penny for them ...?"

I didn't take Amanda up on her figurative pecuniary inducement to divulge to her my innermost thoughts but instead, glad at times like these to seek safety and take solace in full observance and complete compliance with AFP protocols as applicable to such female-male interactions, I stared down at the carpeted floor, at the spot between Amanda's black-leather flat shod feet.

"Anyway ... what I've come to tell you is that we'll have to manage here without you for now. Mrs Harper wants you to report to the office of the hotel manageress, Miss Honeywell."

"Yes, Miss Amanda," I said respectfully. "I'll go right away."

"No – it's too soon. It's only ten past eleven, and Mrs Harper says you are to present yourself to Miss Honeywell at eleven thirty on the dot. And besides, I wanted a little chat, and this is the first chance I've had to talk to you on your own."

"Anything you say, Miss Amanda."

"Zoe and I had been looking forward to your very first foot massage for us round about now; just a quickie, to initiate you into our service so that we could compare our first-impressions when we went to our workstation in the kitchen.

"But Miss Honeywell has rescheduled her daily Heads of Department meeting from four o'clock this afternoon to eleven thirty this morning. So now Zoe and I will have to do your work for you ..." said Amanda, looking over to where Zoe and Mrs Harper were draping fresh white tablecloths over the four pushed-together serving tables "... and help Mrs Harper reset the serving tables.

"Which means that we're going to be behind with all of the baking and sandwich making and so on for the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses' afternoon refreshments break."

"I ... I'm sorry, Miss Amanda."

"It's not your fault – and don't worry, David. Zoe and I will be sure to make you make it up to us later. You can count on it."

"Yes, Miss Amanda. Of course."

"Oh – what refreshing respect! What, unaccustomed reverence. You are such an improvement, on the reluctant and begrudging, sullen and surly Neville. Not to mention, all of the other hopelessly unsuitable and inherently unadaptable male-worker employees before him who were hardly any better. Lost causes, all of them."

"Not at all, Miss Amanda."

"Zoe and I so enjoyed your premiere performance. What an impression you made! Even Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish herself called you a perfect sweetie – and I can tell you: that is praise indeed.

"And Mrs Harper is over the moon with you; she can barely believe the dramatic change in her fortunes. So much so that she is now pinning her future hopes on you.

"So many times, Mrs Harper has been sadly let down and bitterly disappointed by the severe shortcomings of your undermotivated and hence underperforming forerunner failures.

"But you, David, with your ready willingness and eager-to-please attitude, have revived her dwindling aspirations and renewed her diminishing ambitions.

"The quality of application of our niche selling-point luxury little-something-extra provision as demonstrated by you earlier is unprecedented; incomparable, with the woefully inadequate service provided by your lamentably lacklustre, lugubrious and curmudgeonly former incumbents.

"With your superlative self-initiative: your pleasing propensity for not-needing-to-be-asked-or-told, off-your-own-bat facilitations and other unprompted helpful aids and considerate off-the-cuff conveniences – you and your novel niceties were an unqualified success at the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses' morning refreshments break."

"Thank you, Miss Amanda."

"Oh – 'Anything you say, Miss Amanda'; 'Yes, Miss Amanda, of course'; 'Not at all, Miss Amanda'; 'I'm sorry, Miss Amanda'; 'Thank you, Miss Amanda' – I could get used to this!

"You may have thought that I was used to it already; that by now, I would be thoroughly accustomed to the deferential respect and solicitous consideration of male citizens – but no. We are getting there, but there is still a long way to go in the reconditioning process of male citizen mindset transition.

"But, at least in as far as we at Harper's Conference Catering are concerned, after witnessing your almost faultless debut this morning in the Pavilion Lounge, I really and truly believe now that Mrs Harper's exasperating and at times seemingly futile quest to find the elusive key-role male employee of the required calibre is finally at an end.

"I can't tell you, David, how much Zoe and I are looking forward to having you serve us.

"To have you – who in such stark contrast to all of your intractable and intransigent antipathetic antecedents, are so willing and welcoming and congenial and compliant – provide our at-work fringe benefit."

Feeling myself colouring at the compliment, again I looked down at the carpeted floor, meekly staring at the spot between Amanda's black-leather flat shod feet.

"Oh – and there it is again! What a wonderfully welcome change: An AFP protocol observing, Female-Friendly Code compliant, respectfully downcast gaze – how unutterably pleasing it is to see it!

"Your reverent attitude and humble demeanour are highly gratifying; a most welcome improvement from the brazen, insolent, authority-challenging eye-to-eye stares of Neville and his fellow truculent and defiant ne'er-do-wells before him who, thank heavens, Zoe and I are now no longer lumbered with," complimented Amanda.

"David, I'll let you into a little secret: Neville, and all the rest of your tiresome here-today-gone-tomorrow runaway predecessors ...? Most of them fled, less, because of the refreshments-break impositions placed on them by our female clientele, but more, because of the uncompromising requirements and non-negotiable demands put upon them by Zoe and me.

"Because, David, let me tell you now: Zoe and I are not prepared to compromise our expectations and see still less reason to negotiate particular requirement exemptions with our at-work fringe benefit – our shared foot servant.

"Neville, and the rest? Their hearts just weren't in it.

"Unable to forget the past; mentally unequipped, to realise that what's gone is gone for good and to accept as permanent and irreversible the changeover to the way things are now in this new era of female-rule, in their simmering resistance and smouldering resentment they'd turned their minds against us.

"In their unalterable antipathy to the ideological principles of the AFP government's Female-Friendly Code concept and their outright rejection of its fundamental values, irrationally entrenched in their pointless pigheaded stubbornness they'd steadfastly refused to adapt.

"And, because we had to win their obedience because we could win neither their hearts or their minds, I can't tell you, just how utterly tedious it was for Zoe and me to continually have to cajole and compel the irreconcilable knuckleheads to compliance.

"All we wanted, was for them to do as we told them; is that too much to ask?"

To say that I was surprised, by Amanda's candid revelation regarding her and Zoe's overenthusiastic personal use, misuse, and borderline abuse of my under-enthusiastic absconded predecessors and taken aback by her frankness as to the uncompromising and non-negotiable usage her and Zoe's latest replacement at-work fringe benefit foot servant could similarly expect, would be colossal understatements.

"But, David Manners, right away, in you I saw our missing team player: our male-worker role employee, who would not abscond; would not let us down – and, who might even learn to adapt.

"Our key-role male employee, of the required calibre.

"Right away, I intuited that you possessed the right qualifications; the prerequisite credentials, that, until now, we have sought so long in vain:

"The prerequisite credentials, of a genuine Compatible."

I stared at Amanda in incomprehension.

"Oh, we know you are out there, you Compatibles.

"As do Caroline Flynt's Authoritarian Female Party government.

"Through collaborating government agencies such as our Job Centres and with the supplementary cooperation of various Compatibility Programme-participating CCTV-equipped social hubs which, as the case may be, either summon or attract a conducive congregation, the AFP are tapping into this previously underexploited resource and extracting like diamonds this coveted commodity from virtually untouched seams.

"And what, previously underexploited resource; what, diamonds, am I talking about, David ...? Why, you foot fetishists, of course."

Amanda paused, allowing me the opportunity to reply.

Upon seeing that I was too dumbfounded by her astounding assertion to respond, Amanda then went on, to elaborate and to enlighten.

"By and large, and by degree, admirers of the female foot are known to be of a submissive nature.

"Many of you, although you may never have thought of yourselves as such, are inclined towards feminism.

"Some of you, have the propensity to be not just feminist-light but outright, full-blown feminists.

"A few of you – although you might not yet have realised, understood, acknowledged, accepted, and admitted it to yourselves – are ultra-feminist.

"And, in the case of many of these males of an ultra-feminist persuasion, devout woman-worship is embedded in their DNA.

"Already naturally inclined towards the Female-Friendly concept, they are readily receptive to the alluring overtures of its fundamental message – though as yet they may not be responding to it, they most definitely hear it.

"Therefore, already they are more than halfway towards embracing the principal tenets enshrining the female-friendly cause and are just a short step further from burning their bridge and scuttling their boat and committing themselves wholeheartedly to adopting AFP ideology as a lifestyle choice.

"All they need, this extreme-element, dyed-in-the-wool, ultra-feminist category of males, is just another little push in the right direction.

"Scoping out social settings and patrolling public places, either singly or teamed up in pairs are AFP female operatives deployed by the Department of Compatibility.

"Nicknamed the 'Diamond Hunters' because 'diamonds are a girl's best friend', these female agents' routine reconnoitres and random rovings are regularly rewarded.

"Trained to spot and recognise the guarded and disguised downward glances of their unsuspecting targets and to then, seemingly casually, provide their surreptitious spectators with the full-hit stimulus: the eye-catching, attention-grabbing, apparently absentminded shoe-playing performance-extraordinaire that within seconds will reduce their unwitting subjects to a state of helpless avid captivation ... thus these female agents perform their specialist remit and accomplish the first stage of their mission.

"After a precautionary few minutes, maintaining the ruse that she is oblivious to the apparent proclivity of her baited and now ensnared prey and preserving the impression that his little secret is safe, under the guise of a routine Stop and Question procedure the successful plainclothes honeytrap agent presents her AFP credentials to her unsuspecting victim.

"Thus, with an everyday, entirely regular show of official authority that will not alert or alarm him unduly, she has enabled herself to 'routinely' examine his Male Citizen Identity Card.

"Based upon the intelligence filed in the agent's subsequent report, a surveillance-led follow-up investigation is undertaken to ascertain the exploitative extents of her uncovered foot fetishist's compatibility.

"Predominantly, though, although the out-and-about, on-the-prowl plainclothes female Diamond Hunter agents play an important role, it is their deskbound colleagues back at base, nicknamed the 'Diamond Sifters', who most frequently hit paydirt.

"It is from information gleaned by these dedicated specialist teams of giveaway-clue searching and telltale-sign detecting operatives at the Department of Compatibility, that from their daily expert evaluation and painstaking analysis of hundreds of hours of officially submitted, sympathist-forwarded, and otherwise obtained/appropriated/confiscated CCTV footage, the AFP is extruding its main supply of Compatibles.

"Comparatively willing and submissive, the amenability and the malleability of the Compatibles is prevailed upon to mitigate the troublesome inefficiencies and minimise the irksome inadequacies of the unwilling and resentful and hence recalcitrant and unmanipulable mainstream female-friendly service provider workforce. Who, either Placemented, forcibly induced or otherwise coerced, facilitate the AFP's most demanding, demeaning, demoralising and therefore the most difficult to man and hence the most critically underprovisioned female-friendly programmes, projects and schemes.

"As a direct consequence of their Compatible husbandry, the AFP is beginning to benefit from significantly improved female-friendly service facilitator cooperation. And, as a knock-on effect, is also starting to see a reduction in the burn-out rate of Placemented males who, reassigned, to lighter duties, their in-post physical afflictions and psychological torments are hence reduced and so are less traumatic to bear.

"Better still, rising numbers, of both the female-spy-at-large Diamond Hunter uncovered and the deskbound CCTV-footage scrutinising Diamond Sifter discovered Compatibles, are responding to the AFP's national appeal to in-work males to sign up at their local Job Centre to volunteer to man a female-friendly service in their free time.

"And, to the barely credulous delight of the AFP, not just donating an occasional day-off or even sacrificing their weekend offtime, many of these formerly shy and retiring but now outed and liberated Compatibles are applying to pledge their annual holiday entitlement to free-time fill some of the most difficult to man high-burnout posts.

"Of particular high take-up, are the Air Purification Technician slots: Facilitating the incredibly popular and increasingly widely available in-flight female-friendly service, by manning one of a modified aircraft's railed under Seat-Line APTSVs – Air Purification Technician Service Vehicles.

"Which, according to sequenced demand, automatically conveys the supinely strapped-aboard air filtration specialist to the retracted footwells of the seat-number locations of the pushbutton-summonsing female air passengers of his assigned Seat-Line.

"I'm not just talking short-endurance Domestic. And not only mid-endurance European – or even long-endurance, aircrew hours limit, multiple-flight pattern.

"Having enjoyed their introductory, gentled-in, short-haul in-flight experiences so much, some of the Compatibles are putting their name down to man the Air Purification Technician Service Vehicles on the flight deck and cabin crew replacement long-haul there-and-back trans-Atlantic and other inter-continental flights.

"Some of them, even volunteering to man an SV to Seat-Line serve on one of the scheme-participant airlines' Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Belfast, and Glasgow Airports' around-the-world routes – including the particularly draining and debilitating eternal-night flight East to West 'sun-chasers'.

"The air hostesses say the Compatibles are a delight to work with: unlike their Placemented, constrained, compelled, or otherwise cajoled charges, they don't have to threaten, browbeat, and bully those guys aboard their dedicated Seat-Line serving foot-service buggies!

"And then there is the bonus benefit. The hosties say that since the introduction of the depolluting 'Techies' who, with their mouths taped over, sniff up the stinky fumes from the pushbutton-summoning female air passengers' feet – as well as the hosties' feet, too, during destination turnaround intervals and the aircrew changeover/passenger drop-off interludes of longer-range flights – the cabin's recirculated air is discernibly fresher.

"But, for us at Harper's Conference Catering, with our limited resource of just one well-placed sympathising Job Centre contact, you Compatibles are so tough to find; so frustratingly tricky to unearth – look how long it has taken us to uncover you: more than a year.

"More than a year, of relentless, spirit-sapping search.

"A search that – when yet another male employee hopeful proved hopeless; the seemingly brighter prospect's promise soon coming so disappointingly and discouragingly to nought just like all of the apparent possibles before him – has tested Mrs Harper's perseverance with her entrepreneurial niche selling-point business idea to the brink of abandonment and her resolve to the edge of disillusion.

"Either you still-in-the-closet Compatibles are too timid or self-conscious to come forward and make yourselves known to authorities as encouraged, appealed to, or otherwise propositioned on AFP TV, AFP Radio, in the AFP Times and other governmental printed media, or – and David, you are a case in point – you were oblivious of your latent compatibility.

"You – who I am convinced are an extreme-element, dyed-in-the-wool woman-worshipping ultra-feminist – were waiting for it to be triggered.

"Miss Tonya Tomkins, our sympathetic contact and your Job Centre interviewer yesterday, saw it first.

"Not only the prerequisite, perfect suitability of your short-statured and robustly structured upper-bodied physical build to ideally acquit you in your male-worker role, but like me, Tonya also intuited your unusual and, far more important, to us, compatibility.

"In fact, to her amazed delight, Tonya believes that through a cunningly clever combination of implementing her Job Centre training skills and employing the instincts of her own, wiles and guile – she was the girl to trigger it.

"Such was her astonished glee, Tonya had struggled to control her feelings; had striven to keep her euphoric emotions in check, as you unmasked yourself.

"Tonya had thought it impossible that you could not sense her jubilance; incredible, that you could not discern her exultancy; unbelievable, that you could not pick up on the sheer ecstatic thrill of her incredulous delight, as you revealed yourself to her ... as it were.

"Tonya said that at yesterday's end-of-shift staff meeting, her colleagues congratulated her and her supervisor praised her on her responding with such cool-headed professionalism – considering it was her first personal experience of the Compatibility phenomena.

"After watching your interview as recorded in full-colour HD by the Job Centre's strategically sited CCTV cameras, overlaying the laughing and the cheers and high-fiving of her exultant colleagues was the accompanying loud snappy bangs and shrill whistles cacophony as Tonya found herself covered head to toe in the multicoloured streamer-paper from a dozen party poppers.

"Tonya's supervisor told Tonya that such was the evidence they'd just watched, it was irrefutable; beyond all possible doubt or dispute that Tonya had earned her first commendation and made her first contribution in the Job Centre's collaboration with the AFP in resourcing and advancing the government's latest female-friendly project: The Compatibility Programme.

"Cause for celebration also was that Tonya's confirmed, personal duck-breaking success had earned Brighton Job Centre three points and had moved them up to joint-third place in the Southern League of the keenly contested Job Centre Cup: the kudos-according and prize-winning inter-Job Centre trophy.

"Yet another brainchild of Prime Minister Caroline Flynt, the much-coveted cup is contested by the UK's Northern, Eastern, Western, and Southern 20-team leagues.

"Brighton Job Centre was now level with Southend; just one point behind second-placed Bournemouth and only two points behind Southern League leaders Portsmouth.

"And, kept cold in the office fridge for these occasions are an AFP-supplied selection of celebratory bottles of Sauternes, Chardonnay, Mouton Cadet, and Pino Grigio. Of which, two of the latter were eagerly opened and joyously partaken of by Tonya, her five Interviewer colleagues and their supervisor.

"In their jubilation, they clinked their chilled wineglasses in twin-toasting with the tasty and refreshing white wine, Tonya's first recorded Compatible capture, and Brighton Job Centre's improved and now Title-contending position in the Southern League table.

"But Tonya said that she couldn't help but spot; could not miss, the giveaway signs of distraction and tell-tale clues of furtive, wandering eyes that, at a seminar hosted by specialist instructors from the Department of Compatibility, she and her Job Centre Interviewer colleagues had been briefed to look out for, coached to recognise, and drilled to act upon.

"And that by giving you; again, as briefed and coached, enough line with which to entangle and entrap yourself inextricably, it was a formality for her to reel you in with nary a twitch of resistance like a conquered fish into her keepnet.

"In short, David: It was our sympathetic Job Centre contact, Miss Tonya Tomkins, who gave you your little push in the right direction.

"That was why, at the end of your interview yesterday, Tonya instructed you to tell Mrs Harper upon your arrival at her business premises this morning to ring Tonya at the Job Centre before we left for the hotel.

"So that Tonya could give her the good news, which Mrs Harper then could pass on to Zoe and me: She was delighted to be able to tell us without a doubt that she was sending us someone suitable, this time, having achieved her first officially-recorded success – having triggered your latent compatibility.

"And that is what Mrs Harper, Zoe and I have just been talking about while we've had you busy vacuuming the carpet after the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses' coffee break: your now tried and tested, proven on-the-job compatibility.

"Cat got your tongue, David ...?

"Well, don't worry. Trust me: Zoe and I will train you; instruct you.

"Zoe and I spend most of our time on our feet, and so in your secondary capacity as our at-work fringe benefit, we will require your frequent attendance: as often as the constraints of your primary male-worker role duties and whatever other, reciprocity-related commitments allow.

"The soles of the feet are extremely sensitive – full of nerve centres; or, as Zoe and I think of them: sweet spots.

"You could not have conceived of the reflexological education that now awaits you – the soles-of-the-feet services that Zoe and I are going to instil in you.

"You have so much to learn; so much instruction to absorb; so many lessons to assimilate.

"But: learn, absorb, and assimilate our teachings, you will.

"Zoe and I will teach you how to use your tongue – yes, David, you did hear me correctly.

"Not only to soothe us, which as an incidental consequence is beneficial to our whole-body health; and not just to reinvigorate us – but primarily to please us.

"In short: What Zoe and I require of you, what we will expect from you and in fact demand of you, is your unstinting and indefatigable attentiveness.

"But, not only that ... From now on, David, whenever you either come into or leave our presence, you will watch for our prompts for you to demonstrate to Zoe and me your obeisance by kissing the sole of our foot."

I was utterly speechless ... Confounded beyond description, by Amanda's unquestionably authentically sourced and accurately recounted events of yesterday afternoon during my Job Centre interview with Miss Tonya Tomkins, and secondly her matter-of-factly stated requirements as to the extent of my dedicated doting indulgence to herself and Zoe as their at-work fringe benefit.

Once more, Amanda paused, offering me the opportunity to reply.

But I was incapable of reply; unable to respond to any of her profound pronouncements in any way that would be the least bit considered or coherent.

Again, I was glad to be able to take solace and fall back on the safety-net of by-the-book compliance with AFP Female-Friendly Code protocol observance.

In the AFP-stipulated manner for a male when addressed by a female, respectfully I kept my eyes trained on the floor, meekly gazing in silence at the spot between Amanda's feet – which now prompted her to slip free her right foot from its black leather flat.

Meaningfully, purposefully – intentionally – Amanda wiggled and scrunched her olive complexioned clear-varnished bare toes.

I don't know how long I stared down for; for how long I watched Amanda's for-my-eyes-only floorshow as I thought over everything she had just said in attempting to gauge the extent of her involvement, affiliation, or even her fully paid up subscription membership of the Authoritarian Female Party:

Amanda's not mere, awareness, but her au fait, seemingly in-depth knowledge of the AFP's Compatibility Department and their so-called Compatibility Programme.

Her clear conversance, with the vigilant on-the-prowl female agents-at-large Diamond Hunters and their deskbound-colleague analyst Diamond Sifters, ever on the lookout for 'diamonds'.

Her, apparently informed, understanding of the myriad interconnected workings of collaborating government agencies.

And, what could only be an insider's knowledge, of the smartphone-filmed footage donations of a countless colluding collection of AFP-sympathist watchdog whistleblowing informants, and the equally potentially valuable video offerings forwarded by the panoply of other, unofficial busybody contributors.

Added to all of that, Amanda knew all about the Job Centre Cup. The kudos-according, prize-winning inter-Job Centre trophy enthusiastically contested by the UK's North, West, East, and Southern 20-team leagues.

I could only conclude, that the in-the-know Amanda was being kept so well up to speed with such matters, by regular AFP policy updates and frequent informative bulletins from her company's sympathetic Job Centre contact, Miss Tonya Tomkins.

Amanda's chuckling penetrated my musings, and I lifted my gaze from the somehow mesmerising sight of her wiggling and scrunching olive-complexioned clear-varnished bare toes, to look up at her knowingly smiling face.

"David Manners, you are the as yet pure, raw material of the unresistant malleability and accommodating bendability that Zoe and I will be able to manipulate and mould.

"Zoe remains to be convinced; although it is obvious to me: You are going to adapt easily to being our at-work fringe benefit."

At hearing Amanda's words, a tingly shiver of understanding; of realisation, ran right through me.

The realisation, of the truth of it.

It was as if Amanda had shaken loose sufficient clingy cobwebs to expose to the bright light of day something that had been in hibernation.

As if, crystalising now, was not only understanding and realisation – but recognition, acknowledgement, and acceptance.

That I had been 'triggered'.

Amanda consulted her wristwatch and, as though startled at the quick passing of time, she exclaimed, "Now go – it's eleven twenty-eight! Report to Miss Honeywell's office. She's expecting you."

"Yes, Miss Amanda," I said respectfully, finally finding my tongue.

Finally finding the tongue, that Amanda had just put me on notice that she and Zoe would very soon be making good use.

The tongue, that, from now on, as their at-work fringe benefit, Amanda and Zoe would be making their as-and-when available demands on its soles-of-the-feet services.

The tongue, that, manipulating the nerve centres and tickling the "sweet spots" of the soles of their hardworking feet, would not just soothe, and would not only benefit holistically – but would sensually please and splendidly delight Amanda and Zoe.

The tongue, that, attending Amanda and Zoe as frequently as allowed by the constraints of my primary male-worker role duties and my other, reciprocally-related commitments, would acquit them better; would serve them more satisfyingly than could the expert learned fingers and the sensitive, knowing thumbs of the most gifted reflexologist.

Because it was the tongue, of a 'Compatible'.

The tongue of a Compatible, whose 'latent compatibility' had been 'triggered'.

Triggered, by giving it the required "little push in the right direction".

Triggered, yesterday, by none other than my employer Mrs Hilary Harper's sympathetic Job Centre contact.

My eighteen-year-old school-leaver's Career Classification Assessor and now Probational Case Worker, to whose Desk I must report on a fortnightly basis for at least a year for my Male Worker's Conduct Review interviews.

For who – at listening to Amanda's minutely detailed and vividly related account, I'd not only realised, and not only understood – but recognised, acknowledged, admitted, and accepted – the undeniable truth of it:

I had exhibited many of the tell-tale signs and evidenced numerous giveaway clues of the kind that, at an AFP-sponsored seminar, she and her Job Centre Interviewer colleagues had been briefed to look out for, coached to recognise, and drilled to act upon by specialist instructors from the Department of Compatibility.

Tell-tale signs of furtive eyes and giveaway clues of downward glances, which were of such unguarded, undisguised, glaring obviousness and unmissable openness that in her modesty she admitted she could not have failed to spot as, as recorded in full-colour HD by the Job Centre's strategically sited CCTV cameras, I had 'revealed myself' to her.

And thus for who, in affording her the opportunity to arouse my dormant predilection, I had enabled her to claim her first recorded success, to receive her first official commendation, and to chalk up three precious points for Brighton Job Centre – by providing her first personal experience of the Compatibility phenomena:

The AFP-style adopted but severely adapted concave bob sporting Job Centre Interviewer and ardent Authoritarian Female Party apparatchik – Miss Tonya Tomkins.

***


By my own, watch, I saw that I wasn't a moment too soon.

At 11:30 as required I knocked politely on the door upon which the gleaming brass nameplate announced was the office of the manageress of the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa: Miss Helen Honeywell.

I waited, assuming that presently I would be called to come in.

Only to be surprised when seconds later the door was opened wide, and standing there looking down on me was an attractive woman in her mid-twenties who wore her luxuriant tresses of wavy black hair cascading over the fronts of her shoulders: Miss Honeywell, I saw by her name tag.

Before I could recover from my surprise and announce myself, she questioned, "You'll be male citizen David – Neville's replacement? Mrs Harper's new footboy?"

"Yes, Miss Honeywell," I said respectfully.

I saw nothing to gain in splitting hairs and quibbling about her misrepresentation of my job title – and perhaps 'male-worker role refreshments-break luxury little-something-extra provider' was a bit of a mouthful and did call for some form of apt abbreviation.

Miss Honeywell ran appraising eyes over me, looking me up and down. "Hmmm ... I can very well imagine that your short but stocky physique acquits you ideally in the performance of your principal, facial-footrest duties for your employer Mrs Harper's refreshments-breaking female clientele?"

"Well, this is only my first day, Miss Honeywell. But yes, at least so far that would appear to be the case. Some comments to that effect were made this morning, by the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses at their coffee break. In particular, I heard the Head of Conference, Miss Connaught-Cavendish, telling Mrs Harper how pleased she and her manageress colleagues were with me. And Miss Amanda, who along with Miss Zoe is a junior partner of Mrs Harper, has since then kindly endorsed Miss Connaught-Cavendish's sentiments."

"Well, if that is the case, you must be a definite improvement on your absconded predecessor, the defiant and highly disagreeable Neville, who I understand will soon be on his way to be taught a few much-needed manners by the Jailhouse Blue female prison officers of Greystone Prison. And a most suitable comeuppance, in my opinion. Still, as the saying goes: The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Come in, then, male citizen David, and close the door behind you."

I closed the door and, my eyes cast respectfully downward accordant to standard protocol, I watched the tips of Miss Honeywell's high-heeled black leather office pumps disappear into the carpet's deep pile at her every step as I followed her into her spacious and well-appointed managerial office.

To her four companions within, seated at the nearest end of a rectangular twelve-place conference table, two on either side, Miss Honeywell explained the reason for the short interruption to proceedings: "It's all right, ladies – it's only my footrest."

From what Amanda had told me, I took the other four women to be members of Miss Honeywell's Heads of Department; their hotel uniforms corroborated this.

I wondered where their other senior colleagues were; but then perhaps there were no items on the agenda that warranted their attendance today.

Any further introduction unnecessary, Miss Honeywell now pointed to the floor, drawing my attention to a purple object she'd positioned under the nearest end of the conference table.

Behind a smoked-glass coffee table over in a more luxuriously furnished area of Miss Honeywell's office suite, I saw two identical ones, placed at either end of a plush tan leather three-seat settee.

"Lie down on your back, with your legs facing back this way, away from the table. Keep your arms along your sides and your legs together. Rest your head on the throw cushion I've placed under the near end of the table, male citizen David," instructed Miss Honeywell.

"Thank you, Miss Honeywell," I said gratefully, thinking she must have thoughtfully gone to the settee to get it for me upon hearing my expected knock at her door at 11:30 sharp.

"It's not for your comfort; it's for mine. It's to tilt your head at an angle more conducive to comfort – my comfort."

"Of course, Miss Honeywell."

The four lady Heads of Department laughed and chuckled. And, when they peered under the conference table to watch as obediently I complied with Miss Honeywell's instructions precisely, they clapped their hands and stamped their sensible-shod feet on the carpeted floor in a sedentary dance of amused delight.

Miss Honeywell then picked up the gold framed, pale-green padded conference chair that for the moment she'd moved back, out of the way, and repositioned it in place: over me so that my torso lay confined between the stackable seat's tightly restrictive legs; the front legs, cinching my shoulders. Seeing that things were now just as she wanted them, she sat down.

Lying supine with my head on the purple throw cushion and finding myself staring up at the near end of the conference table's un-finished underside, I was now out of sight to the hotel manageress Miss Helen Honeywell and the four other senior position women and no longer a distraction to their Departmental deliberations of the day.

"Now, ladies ... where were we?" said the manageress of the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa as, immediately upon sitting down again in her conference seat she hovered both feet above my face and, toeing free her high-heeled black leather office pumps, she allowed them to fall via my upturned face to the richly carpeted floor.

"I was asking if there was any further news yet about my request; about the possibility of bringing in a few more male workers on Placement," one of the Heads of Department reminded Miss Honeywell. "Bedmakers and bathroom cleaners, to work as two-man teams under the supervision of my chambermaids."

The hotel's Housekeeper, I realised.

She sounded as though she had forgotten my very existence; as though already it had completely gone from her mind that I was lying there under the conference table – a facial footrest for the presiding hotel manageress while she chaired their daily get-together Heads of Department meeting.

"Ah, yes, Mrs Simmonds, your Housekeeping request," said Miss Honeywell as she set about getting the soles of her dark-nyloned feet all nice and comfortable upon my purple throw cushion propped, upturned, conveniently tilted face.

"Vis-a-vis your request, I have this morning received a reply from the Community Service Liaison Officer, Miss Delia Dilmot, who on our behalf is liaising with Brighton Job Centre.

"And it's good news, Mrs Simmonds. Miss Dilmot has been assured of the roping in of the required number of Placemented male workers by the middle of next week, even if it means procuring them on secondment from the Domestic Work Detail. You can inform your girls," said Miss Honeywell as, pressing down the toes of one foot over my mouth and encapturing my nostrils in the dark nylon covered toes of her other foot, seemingly absent-mindedly she obliged me to inhale her under- and in-between-the-toes scent.

"Well, that is excellent news – and not a moment too soon," said Mrs Simmonds the Housekeeper. "I know my hard-working girls will be glad to hear it! Guiding and controlling them, like beasts of burden, the Placemented males take all of the work out of their work. Better still, the experienced two-man teams of the Domestic Work Detail can pretty much be left to get on with it unsupervised; they are surprisingly proficient, and they know that their work standards will afterwards be checked closely by my girls."

With ensuing agenda input from the hotel's Fitness Centre manageress, Miss Reeve, and from the hotel's Coffee Shop manageress, Mrs Alexander, the rescheduled Heads of Department meeting continued in this issues-of-the-day vein.

Until, while pushing my face from side to side with the ball of one foot and playing the pads of her dark-nyloned toes of her other foot over my lips in seeming absentminded pastime playfulness, Miss Honeywell said, "Well, that's all of the issues on today's agenda covered. So, is there anything else to address, ladies, before I wind up today's meeting?"

"There's the matter of some cutlery to be ordered for the Seascape Restaurant. Thanks to too many light-fingered diners, I'm getting short on dessert spoons again," said the other of the four lady Heads of Department, who I assumed now was the restaurant manageress.

"I'll phone our suppliers today. It's a perennial problem, isn't it, Mrs Waverly? Some of our patrons' unfortunate penchant for pinching our silver-service spoons and other motif-engraved cutlery?"

"Sometimes, Miss Honeywell, believing themselves safely unobserved and their acquisitory antics unnoticed, my waitresses and I will spot the culprits in the act. Most often, it is lady diner perpetrators we perceive, purloining the pricey pieces and popping them into their purses."

"And sadly, Mrs Waverly, as manageress of the hotel I can tell you they are not the only items of value to go missing on a regular basis.

"An astonishing percentage of our guests relieve us of an astounding amount of various other of our signature-embossed and embroidered hotel items. To them, just little logoed-keepsakes, fond souvenirs of their stay with us. But, to us, a never-ending logistical headache and a bothersome book-balancing battle.

"It is unfortunate and unfair indeed, ladies, that from economic necessity the vast majority of our honest and upstanding patrons are paying the price of the dishonesty and the petty pilfery of the tiny minority of their fellow guests via the compensatory mark-ups factored into our room-rates and meal tariffs."

From my supine position under the conference table, I listened to the four Heads of Departments' tut-tutting at the unbecoming behaviour of some of their light-fingered staying guests and their murmurs of disapprobation at the resident/non-resident, table-reserving/walk-in restaurant-diner cutlery pocketers.

"So, is there anything else, ladies? No ...? Well, I suppose that wraps up today's meeting, then," said Miss Honeywell as vigorously she massaged the warm dark nyloned soles of her feet, enjoying the meeting-culminating pleasures of a finishing-up facial foot-rub.

The four lady Heads of Department vacated their seats at the conference table and filed out of Miss Honeywell's office, closing the door behind them without making further comment or allusion to my presence.

Either they had forgotten all about me, lying there unobtrusively under their conference table, or I was an unnoteworthy irrelevance.

Miss Honeywell now lifted her gold-framed and pale-green padded stackable conference seat from over me and said, "While you're down there, get my shoes for me would you, David?"

Miss Honeywell's forgoing just now of her earlier rigid protocoled observance of the formal 'male citizen' address had not escaped my notice.

I could only assume that it was her satisfaction with my impeccable conduct and approbation of my passive demeanour that had earned from her this relaxing of strict female-citizen-Mistress/male-citizen-servant interactive protocol adherence.

She, but of course not we, were now on first-name terms.

As bid, I retrieved Miss Honeywell's high-heeled black leather office pumps from where, via my upturned, purple throw-cushion propped, conveniently tilted face they had come to rest under the conference table, several feet apart on her office's richly textured carpet.

"I'm afraid that was a bit of a squeeze for you, David, wasn't it? The legs on those stackable conference seats: they are, spaced rather narrowly. How are your shoulders and your arms feeling, after such rigid, restrictive confinement, albeit only for an hour or so?"

"They'll be okay, thank you, Miss Honeywell; my arms are a bit numb, and my hands are all pins-and-needly, but I'll soon be back to normal."

I then placed Miss Honeywell's shoes in front of her on the carpet at her dark-nyloned feet; and correctly, so that as I knelt before her and she rested her hand on my head for balance, she could conveniently insert her feet back into them as I took hold of and held down the heels for her.

"I must say, I'm inclined to concur and share the sentiments of the Head of Conference Miss Connaught-Cavendish and her SPOILT! Boutique manageress colleagues. Your service ethic is exemplary, and your general attitude throughout your attendance here in my office during my daily Heads of Department meeting is highly commendable. Most satisfactory, indeed."

"Thank you, Miss Honeywell."

"I am only sorry that today is your last at this hotel venue under the present catering contract; but, hopefully, you'll be back. So that, under the terms of my something-for-something reciprocal arrangement with your employer Mrs Hilary Harper, I might once again avail myself of your splendid service. Be assured that I shall be passing on these same laudatory comments to Mrs Harper."

"Thank you, Miss Honeywell."

"Well, off you go then, David."

"Yes, Miss Honeywell. And thank you."

***

In fact, by the evidence of my watch, with the 24-hour digital display showing the time at 13:02, this meant that it had been for an hour and a half, that I'd served as the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa manageress Miss Helen Honeywell's daily Heads of Department meeting under-the-conference-table facial footrest.

Funny, I thought, as now I headed back to the Pavilion Lounge ... it hadn't seemed half as long.

*


"Ah, David, you're back," said my employer Mrs Hilary Harper upon my return to the Pavilion Lounge.

"How did it go with Miss Honeywell? Was she happy with you?"

"I thought it went okay, Mrs Harper. It wasn't as if I had to do a lot; just, be there, for her, and be quiet. Miss Honeywell said she would speak to you about it later today."

"I am so pleased with you, David. You seem to be adapting so well!

"I am still getting over what Miss Connaught-Cavendish said about you: her lavish comments, her fulsome praise.

"And then, there are her promises of commercial endorsements. Not only, to her immediate circle of business colleagues, who will take what she says at face value. But referring enthusiastically and recommending persuasively our niche selling-point luxury little-something-extra refreshments-break service to her broader network of potentially interested associates.

"It's beginning to look as though Amanda's intuitive hunch about you was right: you are promising to be a real commercial asset to Harper's Conference Catering!"

I basked in the glow of my employer Mrs Hilary Harper's own, complimentary comments and effusive praise.

But, observing formal AFP protocol, I respectfully lowered my gaze to her red leather high-heeled pump shod feet ...

Perhaps, when at the end of work today at the expiration of our five-day contract with the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa we returned to her business premises in her catering van with all of our catering equipment, Mrs Harper too would avail herself of the soothing and reinvigorating pleasures of my male-worker role services.

"Unfortunately you've just missed Amanda and Zoe," Mrs Harper told me. "They've gone into town for their lunch break and won't be back until two o'clock.

"I know just how much they were both looking forward to their first foot massage from you, David. But now, because you have other, reciprocal-arrangement commitments in the interim, it's going to have to wait until after the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses' afternoon refreshments break; that's if there will be time, even then."

Instantly I was deflated.

I hadn't realised, until then, just how much I'd been looking forward to seeing Amanda and Zoe again ... especially Zoe.

"As I understand it from Amanda, this morning in the kitchen the commis chef Sarah instructed you to report to the chefs' changing room at two o'clock to perform a post-work foot massage? And that also, Sarah has informed you that subsequently the same post-shift foot-massage service will be required of you by the Lunch shift waitresses?"

"Yes, Mrs Harper. Miss Sarah explained to me the something-for-something agreement reached between yourself and the hotel manageress Miss Honeywell: your reciprocal arrangement, in which I was your bargaining chip for the use of the set-aside Pavilion Lounge. And so I assured Miss Sarah that I would comply with both her own, rightful request and also with those of the similarly entitled post-shift Lunch waitresses."

"Oh – this is almost too much! I'm still having trouble getting used to my sudden good fortune, after all of this time. What an upturn; what an incredible turnaround! I keep thinking that someone will pinch me, and I'll wake up.

"Miss Tonya Tomkins, my sympathetic Job Centre contact has excelled herself this time: She has supplied me and my junior partners Amanda and Zoe not only with a properly qualified, well-mannered, agreeable-natured male worker with a touch of common sense – but with one who is learning to adapt!"

"Thank you, Mrs Harper."

"Well ... oh, look at the time! You had better get some lunch yourself, David. You have a hectic, jam-packed afternoon ahead of you. You'll need your energy levels up to cope with demand – especially with the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses, who I very much doubt will even bother to return to their conference room after their final tea break."

"Yes, Mrs Harper."

"I'll give you some of our catering food, prepared by Amanda and Zoe and myself. You can eat it here, in the Pavilion Lounge. Or if you prefer, while the weather's nice, you can go outside in the hotel's grounds."

"Thank you, Mrs Harper. And yes, I think I'll go outside."

"All right. But if you leave the hotel premises, be sure to be back here before two o'clock; remember your reciprocal-arrangement obligations on my behalf to the commis chef Sarah and also to the Lunch waitresses."

"Yes, Mrs Harper, I will. And thank you."

*


As it happened, enjoying my lunch, prepared by the fair hands of none other than my employer Mrs Hillary Harper and her two junior partner assistants Amanda and Zoe as I sat on one of the wooden benches in the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa's beautiful ornamental gardens, suited what I had in mind.

What I had in mind, was phoning Edds – my former school chum, Eddie Edwards – who right now would still be on his 1:00 - 1:30 lunch break at his workplace: Brighton City Council's recycling and renewables plant, which also served as the hub for more than a dozen other local towns.

Edds, in his detestable and, all but inextricable, rut.

Desperate to be free of it.

But, with little chance of liberation, hopeless of salvation, Edds would be stuck in his rut unless and until he got a little outside help.

On my calls-recorded and texts-monitored AFP-issue mobile phone, allocated to me just yesterday on my eighteenth birthday upon my becoming, for a male citizen what the AFP termed Serviceable Age, I called Edds on his own, AFP-issue phone.

Because I knew of a job vacancy, in which, although he might think the downsides outweighed the upsides, given his present predicament he still might be interested.

Knew of a businesswoman, who wanted to expand her small business; wanted to branch out, appointing another two female junior partner assistants, enabling her to cater at two separate conference/convention/event venues.

But couldn't.

Because she couldn't find a second male worker, of the required equanimous composure of character.

And because it was not every male worker, who had the right physical qualities: the prerequisite short-statured but stocky and robust upper-body build, to acquit himself ideally in the performance of his primary male-worker role refreshments-break luxury 'little something extra' duties.

Edds wasn't perfect; he didn't quite fit either bill – but I thought he might be worth Mrs Harper taking a chance on.

Granted: the job-description wasn't every male's cup of tea.

And it wasn't every male, who could put aside his antipathy to the AFP; could put on hold the fundamentals of his female-friendly ideological differences, and give it a real go – try to adapt.

But, given the deep pickle Edds was in, and with his chances of self-extrication from his intolerable situation slim at best, beggars couldn't be choosers. Edds couldn't afford to be picky. He wasn't in a position, to–

Eddie's phone had stopped ringing; he'd picked up.

"Hey – Dave! What's up?" said Edds, from the sound of it chewing a mouthful of his lunchtime sandwich or pie.

I wasn't surprised that Edds knew it was me calling him:

On our male citizen's AFP-issue mobile phones, the primary purpose of which was to make Serviceable Age male citizens conveniently contactable by service-summoning females, the caller's name and number appeared on the phone's display screen by default setting.

"Dave – I hope you're not ringing to tell me you won't be coming to the Seagulls' match against Arsenal tomorrow?"

"No! Not a chance – I wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Well, good. But Dave, can you hurry up and get to the point?"

"Oh. Well, okay. But, what's up?"

"I'm just finishing off washing CSO Jasmine's Merc; she's very particular, and I'm wash-leathering it off now. But then, I've still got to wash CSO Sadie's ... oh, hell, they've seen me talking on the phone ... They're coming over here now, and CSO Jasmine is flexing her cane. As I said, she's hard to please, and if she's not happy ..."

I looked at my watch: Eddie had about ten minutes of his lunch break remaining.

Time was going to be tight – if he was going to make the call.

"Edds, listen up ... it's great news!"

"Well, can you get to it quick, Dave? I'm about to be—"

"Edds ...? Edds! That phone number I gave you – call it now! Edds ...? Edds! Did you hear—"

Edds was abruptly cut off, an authoritative female voice, interjecting, "This is CSO Jasmine. Do not disconnect this line! Keep the line open, turn the volume right up to full and listen to what follows – male citizen David Manners!"

*


When I returned to the Pavilion Lounge at ten minutes to two, Mrs Harper greeted me with: "I've just had a most interesting phone conversation with a friend of yours, who sounded in a bit of a state: Mr Edward Edwards."

"So ... Edds called, then, Mrs Harper?"

"Yes, he called. He told me he wanted to come and work for me; that he'd heard from you that I had an urgent vacancy. And that you would recommend him."

"Please forgive my presumptuousness, Mrs Harper. But Eddie's in an awful rut, working for the Male Citizen's Minimum Wage at Brighton City Council's recycling and renewables hub."

"Yes, so he said."

"And his Community Service Officer supervisors have been foiling all of his efforts to find different work, sabotaging his applications to find another job by warning off any prospective employers."

"Yes, so he told me."

"So, Edds is stuck, Mrs Harper. The CSOs have got him where they want him, and he isn't going anywhere; can't go anywhere."

"Yes, he mentioned that as well."

"It's all a game to them, keeping Edds there – but it's not just Edds; the CSOs have singled out a few other victims for special treatment. They want to keep Edds and the others under their thumbs and make their lives a misery – I know all about it.

"Edds has told me about the casual cruelties of his supervising CSOs, some of whom have applied to work at the hub permanently while other CSOs work there on rotation or as assigned. Apparently, the permanent CSOs are the worst; they are the ones doing the victimising. Edds says that inflicting their malicious mistreatments is how they get their jollies.

"In fact, over the phone just now I actually heard Eddie being Standard Sixed by two of his supervisors, CSO Jasmine and CSO Sadie, who had tasked him with washing their cars.

"I thought their names were familiar, and I remembered Edds has told me they are two of the recycling and renewable hub's permanent CSOs.

"Eddie has mentioned CSOs Jasmine and Sadie to me several times; he says they are 'two real pieces of work'. Strutting and strolling along the recycling lines, like merciless vindictive whip-wielding overseers on some slave galley of old, they cane conveyor belt workers on their bare legs for not pulling their weight.

"First, CSO Jasmine slapped Eddie's face for 'missing a bit', because she wanted her car looking 'all nice and sparkly' for the weekend.

"CSO Jasmine told Eddie to stand, facing her, and to clasp his hands behind his back and to remain standing like that no matter what. And then she slapped his face a lot of times, yelling at him that this is what he gets for gassing on the phone when he is supposed to be hard at work following her instructions and obeying her orders.

"Eddie told CSO Jasmine he was very sorry, but it didn't help; he said he would always do better in future, and that didn't help – CSO Jasmine just kept on slapping and slapping, and CSO Sadie shrieked at Edds to not even think of removing his hands from behind his back while he was being 'spoken to'.

"CSO Jasmine then told Eddie to pull his work shorts down around his ankles and to put his hands on his knees, and CSO Sadie yelled at him to keep them there no matter what or it would be all the worse for him. And then they both Standard Sixed him: first CSO Jasmine, and then CSO Sadie.

"I heard it all, Mrs Harper – during my phone conversation with Eddie, CSO Jasmine snatched the phone from Eddie's hand, and she told me to keep the line open and to turn the volume right up to listen to what happens next.

"I heard everything: CSO Jasmine and CSO Sadie's harsh yelling voices, and the awful whoosh and terrible crack of their canes as six times each they struck Eddie's bared bottom.

"Neither of them held anything back, they gave it everything – I heard their grunts of effort, like female tennis players attempting to score aces.

"I ... I heard Eddie crying.

"I heard his sobbing voice. Begging CSO Jasmine, pleading with CSO Sadie to stop, to please, please stop. But they wouldn't. And the more Eddie cried, the more CSOs Jasmine and Sadie laughed.

"Over Eddie's phone, CSO Jasmine said that is what happens when Eddie is kept from doing their chores during his lunch break.

"And then CSO Sadie came on the line. She told me that she was unhappy and that I was the cause of her unhappiness. Because Eddie wouldn't have time now to wash her car before his lunch break was over and had to return to work at his conveyor belt, and she didn't want to have to hang around after work wasting her time while Eddie washed it then. So now she would see to it that he would have a very uncomfortable afternoon.

"And as for me: I had better keep looking over my shoulder, and listening out for a knock at my door, and wondering who it was ringing me on my phone this time – because believe it: I have put myself on her radar.

"I'm still in a state of shock, still shaking. Edds, telling me about how wicked CSO Jasmine is and how malicious CSO Sadie is, that's one thing. But having them speak personally to me, and hear their malicious cruelty dripping from their malevolent voices, albeit over the phone, is another.

"And, well, Mrs Harper, this morning on our way here, you'd mentioned about how you wanted to expand your company to cater at two venues but was unable to find a second male worker of the right calibre; that you needed someone with the right qualities. So ..."

"I see. And you think, David, do you, that your friend Eddie Edwards, who apparently can't even wash a CSO's car properly and told me that his work experience to date has been as a stubborn-label remover at Brighton Council's recycling and renewables plant and, before that, Placemented as a punishment with the Domestic Work Detail, fits this description? That he satisfies my employment requirements for a male worker's primary, luxury little-something-extra role within Harper's Conference Catering?"

"In all honesty, Mrs Harper ...? I'm not a hundred per cent sure. But I've known Edds for years, through school. And, well, I think he's definitely worth giving a go."

"Well, let's hope so, David. Because based entirely on your recommendation I have been busy on the phone, setting things in motion to effect an immediate expansion of Harper's Conference Catering."

Speechless, I just stared at Mrs Hilary Harper.

I'd only rated the chances of Eddie phoning Mrs Harper as I'd urged him as maybe fifty-fifty, and even that was contingent upon him having heard my message before his phone had been snatched from his hand by CSO Jasmine. But evidently, Edds had heard. Not for a moment, though, had I thought that things might happen so fast – if even at all.

But perhaps this latest painful face-slapping episode and his excruciatingly agonising bare-bottom caning humiliations at the hands of the diabolically domineering CSO Jasmine and CSO Sadie, while I'd listened in, had done the trick.

"I have contacted my two ladies in waiting, as it were, Miranda and Sophie," Mrs Harper told me.

"Albeit at almost zero notice, they both say they are immediately available and would be delighted to take up the two newly created junior partnership positions in our newly extended scope of operations, that you have made possible.

"I phoned around a few of Brighton's bigger hotels, and I got lucky with one of them.

"Fortunately for us, the Esplanade Hotel has been last-minute looking for someone to refreshments-break cater to a suddenly rescheduled Annual Conference, which has been brought forward one month to run from Monday to Friday next week.

"And so now, a contingent of twenty-five Sally's Shoes saleswomen Annual Conference attendees will enjoy an unexpected something-little-extra luxury during their morning and afternoon refreshments breaks.

"I have spoken to the Community Service Liaison Officer, Miss Delia Dilmot, who also happens to be the Authoritarian Female Party MP for Brighton, and who also happens to be a personal friend of long standing. And believe me: you can't conceive of the strings she can pull.

"I explained to Miss Dilmot the troubled circumstances surrounding Mr Edwards. The problematic issues of which he has found himself a helpless and hopeless victim, as detailed and described by himself to me in our phone conversation and corroborated just now by yourself. Foremost of which, are his supervising CSOs' sabotaging of his attempts at employment enhancement, and their relentless bullying and baiting.

"Miss Dilmot told me that she distinctly remembered Mr Edwards's referral to her from his Job Centre interviewer. For, so egregious had been his reported ill behaviour: his unapologetic unpunctuality; his absolute absence of manners, and, in fact, not only his non-observance and noncompliance but a flagrant disregard of Female-Friendly Code protocols.

"The three-month disciplinary Domestic Work Detail assignment she'd awarded him, she said, was a most thoroughly deserved sanction and one that she would neither hesitate or have the slightest compunction in doubling or even tripling should his name come across her desk again.

"Neither could she feel an iota of sympathy for what she sees as Mr Edwards's self-imposed present predicament: all but shackled to his stultifying conveyor-belt confined job in such a dismal and depressing work environment.

"And, as for Mr Edwards's state of further, acute unhappiness as occasioned by his job application kiboshing, sadistic and subjugating CSO supervisors? Miss Dilmot says there can be no question of any accusations of improper or inappropriate behaviour or unprofessional conduct, since making their sanctioned and Placemented male charges' self-inflicted miseries worse by rubbing salt in their wounds at will is all but written in the CSO job description.

"But, upon my asking her to prevail upon her good offices to intervene on my behalf, Miss Dilmot gave me her assurances that she would engage her considerable influences in setting the necessary wheels in motion to probationally reprieve Mr Edwards as soon as we'd finished our phone conversation.

"I could, she said, consider Mr Edwards's present position with Brighton City Council's recycling and renewables depot as terminated at the end of his shift today."

Mrs Harper must have read my look of astonishment.

"It's what comes from having friends in high places, David.

"And so, on the same pay grade as yourself and with the same client feedback performance-related possibilities for weekly wage packet top-ups, on Monday at our Esplanade Hotel venue, your friend Edward Edwards will start work for Harper's Conference Catering.

"Primarily, in his priority male-worker role capacity Edward will serve as the niche selling-point luxury little-something-extra to our refreshments-breaking female clientele. Secondarily, he will provide his two supervisors Miranda and Sophie with their at-work fringe benefit, in as far as the constraints and commitments his primary duties allow.

"And, if further to our initial over the phone understanding I can negotiate the convenient and valuable time-saving use of a set-aside lounge in which to serve our female clientele's morning and afternoon refreshments breaks, Edward will be the trade-off bargaining chip in any reciprocal something-for-something arrangement arrived at by myself and the Esplanade Hotel's manageress."

I could hardly believe it – I'd gotten Edds out of that dreadful recycling and renewables shed and away from those abuse-yelling face-slapping cane-happy CSOs, Jasmine and Sadie.

I'd call Edds again later – we would have to have a pint down at the pub tonight to celebrate his new job!

On the downside, I would definitely be in CSOs Jasmine and Sadie's bad books now.

I wondered not if, but when and how, their wrath might manifest itself. ("You had better keep on looking over your shoulder, and listening out for a knock on your door, and wondering who it is ringing you up on your phone this time – because believe it: you have put yourself on my radar.").

"Thank you, Mrs Harper. Eddie, he, I mean ... you won't regret it," I said with more confidence than I felt, at shouldering this new responsibility as Eddie's sponsor.

I had absolute confidence in Eddie's good character; was thoroughly assured of his integrity. But the question was: Could he learn to adapt?

"Think of it as an early reward, David. For your superlative service to the coffee-breaking SPOILT! Boutique manageresses this morning. For starting off on the right foot, as it were."

"Yes, Mrs Harper. Thank you."

"Didn't I tell you, David, that you could do a lot worse than to work for me? Well, the same applies to your friend Edward. Because now, as my employees, you both have a friend in a high place.

"And, albeit to a slightly lesser degree, you and Edward will also have supportive and influential patrons in Amanda and Zoe, and Miranda and Sophie who, albeit primarily in their own, vested interests, will want to protect you both from the worst downsides for males of AFP governance – including warding off vengeful CSOs.

"One more thing: The nature of our business at Harper's Conference Catering being what it is; or, more particularly, your male-worker roles within it, prospects for promotional advancement for you and your friend Edward are zero – but not so, financial furtherance.

"If my four junior partners and I are still happy with you and Edward at the end of your first – in all likelihood defining, make-or-break – month, as a well-earned bonus and a lucrative incentive to maintain your early standards, I will begin awarding you a quarter of one per cent share of net profits.

"On the same basis, at the end of six months, I will increase your share of net profits to a half of one per cent. And at the completion of a full year, I will award you both a full one per cent.

"I will cap your and Edward's portion at one per cent. But, of course, if company profits continue to grow, then so will your shares in them.

"This supplementary income is not, instead of, but is additional to your periodic pay rises. And, what's more, as it falls within the guidelines of the AFP-approved Compliant Employee Subsidy Scheme, you will earn these proceeds not at the standard sixty per cent male citizen income tax rate but completely tax-free."

I couldn't believe it. Wait till Edds heard about this!

Mrs Harper then looked at her wristwatch, and exclaimed, "My goodness; it's two minutes to two! Sarah, the commis chef, will be expecting your presence in the chefs' changing room."

"Yes, Mrs Harper – I'm on my way!" I said, hurrying to the door of the Pavilion Lounge.

I felt boosted; as if Mrs Harper had just injected me with half a litre of adrenalin.

Just as I got to the door, Amanda and Zoe entered, having returned from their lunch break in town.

"David! What on earth's the panic?" demanded Amanda.

"Miss Amanda, I—"

"Yes, where's the fire, David?" chipped in Zoe, smiling.

"Miss Zoe, I—"

"And you'd better hurry, David," interjected Mrs Harper.

Evidently, my employer did not want me getting waylaid by the returning Amanda and Zoe, who were perhaps thinking of availing themselves of a secondary-function at-work fringe benefit "quickie" from me before I went about my primary function, male-worker role something-for-something reciprocal arrangement commitments.

"You wouldn't want Miss Delia Dilmot to get to hear of your unpunctuality from the commis chef Sarah!"

*


"I was beginning to think you'd forgotten all about me, David," said the commis chef Sarah in what passed for greeting when I arrived at the wedged-open door of the otherwise unoccupied chefs' changing room.

"Oh, no, Miss Sarah – I wouldn't forget!" I assured her, slightly breathless from my mad dash from the Pavilion Lounge to be here on time as arranged.

Mrs Harper had told me I would have a hectic, jam-packed afternoon ahead of me. And it started here.

I was slightly surprised but inexpressibly relieved to find the chefs' changing room free of staff but for Sarah.

The last thing I needed was to have fresh-out-of-college pre/post-shift chefs de cuisine and chefs de partie tittering in amusement, snickering in mockery, or even merely looking on indifferently at my summoned servitude to one of their colleagues while they changed into or out of their civvies.

Standing at the open doorway waiting to be called into the small utilitarian room, I wondered if Sarah had told her kitchen colleagues to make themselves scarce before I reported to do her bidding at two o'clock.

It would have been kind and considerate of Sarah, a thoughtful and generous touch. But unlikely; why would she bother? Why would she take my feelings into account; the sensitivities of a Serviceable Age male citizen?

It appeared as though Sarah had only just got here herself. She was still wearing her chef's white jacket and loose fitting blue-and-white-checked pants, putting some of her things away in her locker against the far wall.

Looking over her shoulder at me, Sarah slid back her white socked right foot on the smooth once-pale wood of her white leather chef's clog and turned her foot sole upward, resting the tops of her toes upon the heel of her backless shoe. "That's good, David," she told me, fixing me with a look. "Because I've been looking forward to this, ever since we spoke this morning."

I stared down at Sarah's upturned sole, and noticed the dark-grey creases of her thin white cotton sock, evidencing the sweaty toil of the day-shift she'd just worked in the hot steamy conditions in the kitchen of the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa.

Standing with her back turned to me, her right leg bent at the knee, Sarah maintained her insouciant stance; somehow, such an attention-grabbing pose.

I looked up, caught Sarah's eye – saw her speculative, appraising look.

But, I couldn't help but look down again, at that somehow enrapturing image.

Couldn't prevent my eyes from staring downward and homing in to refocus upon that somehow captivating sight; the seemingly affected pose, which for some reason Sarah was continuing to display.

Sarah finally slid her right foot back into her comfy kitchen-wear chef's clog, and nodded to herself, as though convinced now that she'd confirmed beyond doubt something she'd previously strongly suspected.

Sarah then walked across the austere room's dark-red tiled floor, to where two meanly padded straight-backed wooden chairs were situated.

'Situated', because it appeared that Sarah had pre-placed the two seats, positioning them opposite each other in the centre of the chefs' changing room, ready for our appointment.

Sarah sat down in the seat that faced towards the wedged-open door and slid both feet back to rest her toes upon her backless shoes' low heels. Sarah looked at me for another moment, and then said, "I honestly don't know who wants this the most."

Sarah pointed to the seat opposite her, the one facing away from the door. And now I took my cue, entering the chefs' changing room at last and sitting as instructed by Sarah in the utilitarian room's only other chair.

Sitting so close to Sarah set off in me a frisson of nervous excitement.

Sarah looked even more beautiful than I remembered her from this morning in the kitchen, where at Mrs Harper's instruction I'd gone to be of whatever help I could to Amanda and Zoe and then to trundle the heaviest of our three refreshments trollies through to our set-aside work area, the Pavilion Lounge.

Sarah had sensed someone behind her and, upon seeing me standing there admiring her culinary skills, she'd broken off from her onion-dicing at the chopping board to tell me to report to the chefs' changing room at two o'clock because she would require my services after finishing her Breakfast-through-Lunch 06:00 - 14:00 shift. And that, so would the two Lunch-shift waitresses, a bit later, when they got off work.

Sarah's chef's white jacket had been splotched, smeared, smattered and spattered with foodstuffs both recognisable and indeterminate. But she'd looked good in it.

And, now that we were all alone together in this tiny private space, Sarah's body language was discernibly different, from then.

Sitting so close that our knees almost touched, her whole demeanour was more relaxed. She was letting her hair down a bit and allowing more of her vibrant personality to shine through – allowing me, while no one else was present, to see the real Sarah.

I could almost feel the magnetism between us, the age-old, irresistible pull of attraction. Could all but hear, the crackle of electricity at our almost-touching nearness.

I wondered if it was just me, or if Sarah sensed it, too; if she was getting the same vibe.

But I told myself to park all of that to one side; I had a something-for-something agreement reciprocal arrangement service to provide.

Sarah had positioned our two chairs the optimum distance apart for the purpose at hand. For now, at the end of her chef's blue-and-white-checked pants clad outstretched right leg, it was to her comfort and convenience that she placed her ankle-socked foot into my compliantly receptive hands.

I can barely describe the thrill, at that moment; the ecstatic excitement that tingled right through me.

At the thought, of being of such service – no: it was more, of being put – to such a service.

With a pang of guilt and a stab of remorse, I realised that it was not ire and resentment but a debt of immense gratitude I should feel towards my eighteen-year-old school-leaver's Career Assessment Interviewer and now Probational Case Worker at the Job Centre, Miss Tonya Tomkin's, who I'd irreverently thought of as the She-Devil of Desk 5.

Was this another, clear and definite sign that I was learning to adapt?

Because holding Sarah's foot; her post-work foot, in my hands and administering relieving, relaxing, and reinvigorating ministrations – performing foot service – was the most incredible feeling.

Just a few hours ago in the set-aside Pavilion Lounge, notwithstanding the albeit non-deliberate and therefore not maliciously imposed but merely incidental and inadvertent olfactory intake of those single-footed postured ladies' faint and not so faint foot-scent fragrances, I had found that I had not in the least been put out at being required for the first time in my male-worker principal role capacity to serve as the luxury refreshments-break little-something-extra to six of the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses as, during their holding-forth, centre-of-attention tenure they monopolised their facial footrest.

And, shortly after that, in her office, as she'd presided at her hour-long Heads of Department meeting, I'd found that I'd been similarly far from unhappy to serve under the dark-nyloned feet of the hotel manageress, Miss Helen Honeywell, as her under-the-conference-table facial footrest.

But, holding Sarah's post-work foot in my hands, was something else.

It would be foolish to delude myself that our assignation and prearranged interaction at Sarah's instigation was anything other or anything more meaningful than thousands of other AFP protocol observant female-citizen-Mistress/male-citizen-servant liaisons taking place throughout the UK at that very moment.

But I felt the active, participant nature of this, hands-on, service – as compared to the inherently passive, facial-footrest service – to be intensely intimate and profoundly personal.

I observed the creases that had formed in the sole of the thin white cotton material of Sarah's ankle sock.

And so it was, that as with my first timid touches I ministered with exaggerated care between those creases in the soft damp material, thrilling to the feel of the pliant warm flesh of Sarah's sole yielding beneath my novice's fingers, I experienced my first hands-on foot-massage moments.

Throughout her day shift, I thought, those edges; those now, dark-grey creases, would have rubbed, would have chafed, causing increasing discomfort and irritation to Sarah, worsening as her workday wore on.

Perhaps she adjusted her socks now and again to relieve the ongoing pesky problem, only for those thin folds to reform repeatedly.

Gently, with the tips of my forefinger and thumb, one by one I took hold of the damp creases of compressed thin white cotton and carefully pulled them away, allowing her sole to breathe.

"Now, that's what I call proper female-friendly service, David: Doing something like that unprompted. Neville, your absconded predecessor, never did that."

When Sarah spoke the word 'service', coming from her lips, the elemental profundity of it was such that she caused a resonation of something within me. Rumbling right through me like shock waves, the shuddering, quaking impacts seemed to loosen and dislodge – to further, shift aside – some obstructive barrier deep within me.

Like aftershocks, Sarah had added to the tumultuous mental rockfall precipitated earlier by Amanda during our "little chat": Amanda's mind-shattering all-seeing assertions, soul-searing insights, and perspicacious predictions as to the eventual exploitable extents of my female-friendly usefulnesses – of my 'compatibility'.

As I'd neared my eighteenth birthday and drew inexorably closer to what, for a male citizen, Prime Minister Caroline Flynt's Authoritarian Female Party government termed Serviceable Age, it had been with the inherent anxiety of a pessimistic glass-half-empty outlook and the trepidation of an overactive imagination that I'd speculated upon the female-friendly fortunes awaiting me.

But nothing – no imagined scenarios, no envisioned encounters, no dreamed-up female-citizen-Mistress/male-citizen-servant situations – had prepared me for this, tumultuous turn of events.

As I sat there, entirely focused upon the task in hand, as it were; firmly rotating the pad of one thumb into the bottom of Sarah's right white socked heel while my other thumb circled deep into the ball of her foot, something occurred to me.

"Miss Sarah ... I was wondering: Would you like me to take off your sock? I mean ... well, I was thinking, you might like it better, and—"

"There you go again, David! That's what I mean: Using your initiative; offering what is required, without needing to be told. Never once, did Neville offer to take off my sock – I always had to tell him."

I was starting to get a bit fed up of hearing about my latest runaway predecessor, Neville.

And anyway, what was wrong with the man? What was wrong, too, with all of my other absconded previous incumbents?

Sitting here, now, providing a post-work foot massage for the commis chef Sarah – performing not just a passive but a participant, hands-on, personal service – I felt not only the first stirrings of a sense of purpose but something yet more profound: an intuition of place.

"Miss Sarah, I am most happy to do this for you," I told her as I peeled off her thin white cotton ankle sock.

I can only describe as awe, the power of the emotions that flooded through me as I held the relaxing physical weight and beheld the heart-stirring vision of the sole of Sarah's freshly unsocked after-work right foot.

I saw now that the bottom of Sarah's heel and the ball of her foot were workaday-rubbed a reddish pink. And I could see where she'd been walking on the repeatedly forming folds of her sock: three on the ball of her foot and two on her heel were the five standouts, while some less vivid red lines traversed her arch.

Though I had been careful to massage between the folds and creases, concernedly I wondered now if I had been working my thumbs too firmly through the thin material of her white ankle sock and doing more harm than good; though I thought it highly unlikely that Sarah would have suffered such pain-occasioning maladroitness in silence.

Nonetheless, although I knew that it went directly against protocol and risked censure to speak unless spoken to first, I thought it best to address the issue by voicing my concern.

"Miss Sarah, I'm sorry if I've been rubbing my thumbs too hard; if I've caused you any discomfort through my clumsiness. But this is the first time I've done a foot massage."

"Thank you, David, for your consideration. Thoughtfulness is a most pleasing trait, particularly in that it is such an unusual one in a summoned male citizen. But no – keep on doing what you've been doing; this is so relaxing. It feels so much nicer, on my bare foot."

"Yes, Miss Sarah. And thank you."

"And David, by no means are you clumsy. You say you have never performed a foot massage before, but you do seem to have a natural, intuitive sense of just exactly what to do."

"Thank you, Miss Sarah."

It had not escaped my notice that in addressing me, Sarah had dropped the impersonal, protocoled rigidity of the formal 'male citizen' usage. Apparently she, but of course not we, were on first-name terms.

"Equally pleasing is your positive attitude – at least as important as ability, is adaptability."

"Yes, Miss Sarah. And thank you."

"I can see that you will have very few if any of the usual male-mindset transitioning problems and that with perhaps just one or two little tweaks you will become an excellent foot servant for your employer Mrs Hilary Harper's junior partner assistants Amanda and Zoe who, as I understand, from today you have replaced Neville as their at-work fringe benefit."

"Yes, Miss Sarah, you are correct. Miss Amanda has outlined what she and Miss Zoe expect of me. And I am committed to doing my very best for them both."

"Good; I'm sure you will. So, I think I'll leave you to it, then, unsupervised; just let you do your own thing."

"Yes, Miss Sarah. And thank you."

"I only wish you'd been here from the beginning of the week, David. Instead of that disinterested and disobliging deadbeat, Neville Norcott."

"That's very kind of you to say, Miss Sarah."

Sarah reached forward to pluck from my shirt's breast pocket my male citizen's AFP-issue mobile phone.

A female citizen was AFP-empowered to demand the immediate handover or to gain instant unfettered access to a male citizen's AFP-issue mobile phone should she wish to communicate an issue to AFP authorities by text message or, should she deem it necessary, to dial 01 to speak directly to his Controller.

"I think you deserve a special mention, David ... Okay, so I see your Probational Case Worker at the Job Centre is Miss Tonya Tomkins," said Sarah, upon apparently having searched for and quickly found Miss Tomkins in either my phone's On-System Directory or, and more likely, from my direct-dial Contacts list.

"Hmmn ... Miss Tonya Tomkins. Her name rings a bell. Ah, yes, I remember Mrs H telling me: Miss Tomkins is her sympathetic contact at the Job Centre, who has supplied most of her male workers previously and has now supplied you."

"Yes, Miss Sarah. That's right."

"Well, I'm going to send this Miss Tonya Tomkins of yours a text message."

While my untrained but, apparently, naturally adept and quick-learning fingers and thumbs ministered to the bare sole of Sarah's right foot, easing away the aches, pains and tirednesses of her on-her-feet kitchen workday, on my AFP-issue phone's keypad Sarah's own, expert fingers and thumbs composed a text message to Miss Tomkins.

I wondered what Miss Tomkins would say regarding Sarah's text message when just over two weeks from now I reported to her Desk for the first of our fortnightly Male Worker Conduct Revue interviews.

Probably, nothing; after all, my good behaviour was not to be pat-on-the-back congratulated or lauded, but standard and expected – or else.

As my Probational Case Worker, I knew that should I in any way incur her displeasure Miss Tonya Tomkins had the power to sanction me, up to and including throwing me in jail. Most probably, she would have me admitted to the nearby and notorious Greystone Prison, where she could rest assured that the infamous Jailhouse Blue female prison officers at that iniquitous institution would make my indefinite, behavioural-progress dependent stay with them a most memorable one.

Sarah had such a pretty foot, I thought, and the incredible sensations, as firmly but carefully I worked the pads of my fingers and thumbs into the bare flesh of her needful post-work sole, was proving to be the most sensually exquisite experience: more incredible, than serving the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses as their refreshments-break facial footrest; and more exquisitely sensual, than under-the-conference-table facial-footrest serving the dark-nylons wearing hotel manageress Miss Honeywell at her Heads of Department meeting.

"There, I've sent it. A good word, as it were," said Sarah as she reached forward again to return my phone to my shirt's breast pocket so that there be no need of an interruption to my hands-on service.

"Miss Tomkins will receive my formal Female Citizen's Communication with my name and AFP-membership number attached. She'll enter it into the AFP DataBase, print off the usual requisite official copies and put one of them in your file for future reference."

"Thank you, Miss Sarah, that was very kind of you. But really, there's no need. I—"

"No, you deserve it, David. And I like to reward compliant conduct and service of an acceptable standard with a kind word. Officially recorded On-System and copied into your Male Citizen File, it certainly won't do you any harm, should you find yourself brought to book for a Female-Friendly Code infringement, and—"

"Hey – I see you've got him well under control, Sarah!" interjected a female whose accent I recognised as local. "And, what an improvement on Neville!"

"Hi, Cindy – but no: David's as good as gold! And, yes, he's a massive improvement on Neville – incomparable!"

"He seems very docile," came a second new female voice, sounding foreign. "Easily controlled."

"Hi, Marisa – and yes: He is!"

The two female voices had come from the wedged-open door of the chefs' changing room directly behind me. Sarah, looking over my head, smiled with familiarity at the newcomers. "I was expecting you two so soon. Have you finished early?"

So, I thought: the two Lunch waitresses have arrived, post-shift. But, remaining protocol observant I didn't turn around to look at them; I stayed focused on what the commis chef Sarah had tasked me.

"No, we're not early– we've finished late, actually," replied the first speaker; the local accented waitress, who had awarded me the compliment of being an "improvement" on Neville – Cindy. "It was the usual thing: window-table diners, lingering over coffee while they enjoy the lovely views."

"Yes – and now, after working back to back Breakfast and Lunch shifts with virtually no time off in between, my feet are killing me!" said the second, foreign-sounding speaker. "And Cindy says that being Friday, it's going to be a long hard foot-slog of a shift tonight – oh, my poor feet!"

I'd thought I'd picked up on it the first time she spoke. But upon hearing Marisa talk again, though she had a comfortable command of English and spoke with commendable fluency, I was almost sure of it: Marisa had an Italian accent.

"Well, come on then, Sarah – all good things come to an end. Stop hogging the footboy – it's our turn!" said Cindy, good-naturedly enough but with an edge of firmness; she knew the clock was a-ticking on my reciprocal-arrangement availability.

I had perhaps a little over half an hour before I would have to report back to the Pavilion Lounge, to help out with the final preparations for the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses' 3:00 - 3:30 refreshments break.

I remembered Mrs Harper's warning: It was the thirty-strong contingent of SPOILT! Boutique manageresses' final refreshments break of their five-day Annual Conference, and so the laid-back ladies were sure to be letting their hair down more than usual and may not even return to their conference room.

With a sense of amazed disbelief in myself, I realised that I was not in the least disconcerted; not in the slightest, perturbed, at the prospect of being called upon again presently to serve as the high-end fashion store manageresses' luxury little-something-extra refreshments-break facial footrest.

And, I wondered: How many, and which, of all of those attractive women; not just fashion store manageresses but trendy, with-it fashionistas themselves, would prevail upon my principal-role services this time? Would, perhaps, the fleet of foot and stealing a march Cardiff SPOILT! Boutique manageress Julie, to the unfair and inequitable diminution of her colleagues, again attempt to avail herself of more than her fair and rightful share of holding-forth centre-of-attention facial-footrest tenure?

"Oh, all right, all right ..." said Sarah with a resigned sigh, picking up the turned-inside-out thin white cotton ankle sock that, after peeling it from her right foot I'd left draped over my knee for her easy retrieval "... and just when I was getting settled. That old saying must be right; the one about time flying when you are enjoying yourself."

Yes, I thought sympathetically – and I hadn't yet got around to massaging your left foot. And, not lost on me either, was Sarah's implied compliment.

The commis chef Sarah's "turn" with me now at an end, I said, "May I do that for you, Miss Sarah?"

"Oh ... all right," said Sarah in some surprise, handing her turned-inside-out ankle sock back to me.

To save her from doing it, I pulled Sarah's thin white cotton ankle sock through the right way again. And then I surprised Sarah again, by holding it open, showing that I intended to facilitate the easeful reinsertion of her right foot.

"Well, well, well! Isn't he a gentleman?" observed Cindy. "Neville would never have done anything so considerate as that, either out of common courtesy or even resentfully from a reluctant observance of Female-Friendly Code obligation."

"Mama mia!" exclaimed Marisa. "Now I have seen everything."

"Oh, you haven't seen anything yet, Marisa, believe me," replied Cindy, chuckling. "Just wait until we have him to ourselves."

"I can't wait!" enthused Marisa.

Still holding Sarah's right foot in my hands, I gazed at her white-socked sole. Fascinated by the grey-tinged areas at the ball of her foot, her heel, and around the undersides of her toes, I found it impossible to decide if it was more thrilling to look at than her bare sole.

I could have imagined it.

But at Cindy's 'Just wait until we have him to ourselves' and Marisa's 'I can't wait!' comments, I thought I'd seen a shadow fall across Sarah's expression.

"Where do you want David, then?" Sarah asked the two waitresses, her tone cooler, her voice flat.

Yes, Sara's demeanour seemed to have changed. Her manner now had become abrupt; almost blunt, with the two waitresses.

"You can stay here if you want. At this time of the afternoon, apart from the occasional trainee chef clocking on or off shift or maybe just popping in for something from their locker, you'll have the place to yourselves."

The last thing I needed, while I serviced the post-work feet of the two waitresses Cindy and Marisa, was the sniggering asides of coming-on/going-off shift fresh-out-of-catering-college apprentices and the snide observances of 'forgetful' 'popping-in for something' learner cooks.

"Thanks, Sarah. But there's no one in the Seascape Restaurant now, and so Marisa wants to have him in there while we enjoy the views. I think Marisa and I will find it altogether more conducive."

"Good idea, Cindy," said Sarah approvingly, clearly pleased with the alternative post-shift foot-service location.

Making no move to remove her right foot from my hands as my thumbs continued their work on her arch, Sarah gestured around the cramped conditions of the chefs' changing room, pointing with emphasis at the room's two meanly padded straight-backed seats she and I were sitting on and that the two of them would have had to use.

As three into two didn't go, Cindy and Marisa would have had me sitting or kneeling on the cold hard bare-tiled floor at their feet. So I was cool with their "altogether more conducive" choice, too.

I had the strangest feeling that Sarah was saying and doing all of this for my benefit; that Sarah sensed, and didn't like, the idea, that the two post-work footsore waitresses' intended uses for me were going to be a little ... pushing-the-envelope.

But, why should that bother Sarah?

Why should Sarah care, about the probable inflictions of borderline abuses and even possible over-the-top treatments by female citizens upon a Serviceable Age male citizen; even one who she had just rewarded with a text-messaged 'good word' to his Probational Case Worker for "acceptable" service?

"Marisa missed out on Neville after our Lunch shift yesterday; by then he'd done a runner," Cindy told Sarah conversationally. "It was a first-day disappointment for Marisa – not that she missed much; she would have been disappointed anyway!"

"Absolutely, she would, Cindy," agreed Sarah, nodding encouragingly.

"I'm just glad I'd already texted a strongly worded complaint about him on his AFP-issue mobile phone and sent it to his Probational Case Worker at the Job Centre," said Cindy.

"I was having problems with Neville, too; hopeless, wasn't he?" replied Sarah, seemingly in a bid to keep the conversation going.

I could have imagined it.

But it was almost as if Sarah was thinking: 'The longer I can keep Cindy and Marisa here, talking to me, the less time the catty pair will have left to have their pushing-the-envelope way with David once they've dragged him off to their little lair in the Seascape Restaurant'.

The two post-shift Lunch waitresses now stepped forward into my range of view, standing to either side of me. I now saw that the local girl, Cindy, was an attractive blonde and that Marisa was a classic Italian beauty.

Cindy and Marisa looked down on me, and their body language was easy to read: We'll soon have you to ourselves.

Sarah took the two waitress's unsubtle hint at last and withdrew her white-socked right foot from my hands and slipped it into her clog-like shoe.

Cindy took my right wrist, Marisa grabbed my left wrist – and both squeezed firmly. Their unspoken message, nonetheless clear: Get up, out of your seat.

I got up, out of my seat.

In and of itself, sharing the goss and passing the time of day with Sarah was cool.

But letting their limited foot-service time slide by, yakking about my absconded no account predecessor whose services were of no service at all and whose unlamented loss was a definite plus received not with mournful regret but with grateful relief, wasn't.

Cindy and Marisa squeezed my wrists again; Marisa's squeeze, discernibly firmer. Their silent signal, nonetheless clear: You are coming with us.

"I'm as easy-going as the next girl. But my leniency is not unlimited, and my patience is not infinite; I'll only allow so many second chances," Sarah rattled on, apparently sensing that the two waitresses were on the brink of escorting me away. "I'd told Neville I expected to see a big improvement by today: both in his attitude, and in his foot massage performance – or else."

I could have imagined it.

But I thought I saw a glint of satisfaction in Sarah's eyes at her words waylaying Cindy and engendering from the local blonde waitress a further service-time wasting response.

"In my text message to his Probational Case Worker, I'd recommended – no, requested – that before he's transferred to do his well-deserved stint in Greystone Prison, Neville be Standard Sixed. But, now that I think about it, I think I'll apply to the Community Service Liaison Officer for her permission to administer his caning personally."

"Oh? And why would you want to do that, Cindy?" enquired the seemingly stalling-for-time Sarah.

"Well ... I mean, why should I let him off lightly? Why should I allow that disrespectful, useless little whippersnapper Neville to receive the Standard Six behind closed doors in the Punishments and Corrections Room in the Town Hall at the hand of a random CSO just doing her job and witnessed formally by just one other, complacently gum-chewing, seen-it-all-before CSO? Why should I spare him the humiliation of a public bare-bottom caning in the Town Centre stocks that he so richly deserves – and, that he'll never be allowed to live down – as the official filmed recording of my administering his punishment before a witnessing crowd will be publicly accessible online and in the AFP's Video Library Archives?"

"Well, if you put it like that ... I can't think of a reason, Cindy," agreed Sarah.

"No – and besides, it will give the little toerag something to remember me by, and by extension, all of us girls at the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa, who through his non-compliance with Female-Friendly Code protocols and non-cooperation with our wishes, he so insulted. Oh, the anticipation; I can almost feel the Public Punishment presiding CSO's flexible bamboo cane in my hand!" exulted the self-appointed executor, Cindy, warming to the prospect of personally swinging the cane with maximum effort and minimum mercy at Neville's bared buttocks in public at the Town Centre stocks sometime soon.

"Well, let us know the day and the time, Cindy," said Sarah. "I'm sure that those of us who are not working will all come and watch."

My attention was then attracted by the sound of tapping, coming from down on the floor to my left.

I looked down, to see that Marisa was easing free her right heel from her three-inch heeled black leather waitress's work pump.

I looked up to Marisa.

And again Marisa tap-tap-tapped the metal-tipped heel of her waitress's work pump against the bare tiled floor of the chefs' changing room, as though deliberately redirecting my gaze downward, where AFP Female-Friendly Code protocol dictated it belonged.

Slowly, Marisa withdrew her right foot the rest of the way out of her shoe.

Mesmerised, I watched as Marisa scrunched her toes, which through the gauzy material of her dark pantyhose I could see she had painted a bright red. Marisa then splayed her long slender toes and, stretching their dark nylon confines, the vibrant red colour of her nail polish stood out even more; seemed to shine, like five little warning lights.

Enraptured, I watched as Marisa went on, scrunching her toes, splaying her toes; flexing her tired out toes uninhibitedly in the unfettered freedom of post-work liberation.

"Tired tootsies, Marisa?" inquired Cindy sympathetically. "Me, too. But don't worry; we've got something for that – male citizen David."

I looked up to Marisa.

And now there was something new, in Marisa's dark eyes, something that I couldn't read.

Again Cindy and Marisa squeezed my wrists, their extra firmness expressing their growing impatience; Marisa's squeeze much the firmer, and conveying something ... more.

Their unvocalised directive, nonetheless clear: It's time to go.

Cindy and Marisa turned me around and began steering me toward the wedged-open door of the chefs' changing room, intent upon repairing to the Seascape Restaurant and getting me to themselves without any further needless loss of foot-service time, and—

"Um ... male citizen David Manners!" blurted Sarah.

Cindy's split-second tightening of her hold on my wrist betrayed her irritation with Sarah, as did Marisa's own, reflexive squeeze. With audible sighs of frustration, Cindy and Marisa reluctantly released my wrists, allowing me to face Sarah.

"Yes, Miss Sarah?" I said respectfully. "Was there something ... else?"

Sarah reached down and peeled her white ankle socks from her feet.

"Male citizen David Manners, I have a chore for you: Wash and iron these dirty socks for me," Sarah told me, imbuing her voice with a crisp commanding tone of authority that I hadn't heard from her before.

"And, when I say 'wash', I mean I want you to wash them by hand – not just throw them into the washing machine with your weekly wash. And, when I say 'iron', I mean I want you to press my socks properly, using a steam iron. And I warn you: Do not be tempted to circumvent my instructions by cutting corners – I will know if you have in any way flouted my specified requirements.

"You will return my washed and pressed socks to me here at your earliest opportunity ... tomorrow, when I clock off at two o'clock would be convenient; and it should be within the wit of man to manage that.

"These are AFP-empowered female-citizen-Mistress/male-citizen-servant commands that I am formally issuing to you, male citizen David Manners," Sarah snapped harshly.

"Failure to comply, or to produce for me imperfect results, will at a minimum result in you receiving the Standard Six bare-bottom caning penalty. And, understand me: I will not permit you to receive your punishment in relative behind-closed-doors privacy at the hands of a CSO. I will obtain the necessary permission to chastise you myself, in public at the Town Centre stocks. And then, just as with your absconded predecessor Neville, recorded on film, your ignominious disgrace will be documented and preserved for posterity. Understood ...?"

It was with a feeling akin to awed reverence that I accepted into my care the items entrusted to me, putting Sarah's pulled-inside-out sweat-dampened thin white cotton ankle socks into either side pocket of my community-servant style white work shorts.

"Understood, Miss Sarah. My employer Mrs Hilary Harper has already told me I won't be working tomorrow. So tonight I will perform the chore you have set for me, following exactly your explicit instructions and specifications. And at your stated time of convenience, tomorrow at two o'clock, I will return here to the chefs' changing room and deliver your socks, hand-washed and steam-ironed."

"Um ... good," replied Sarah.

It seemed to me as though Sarah wanted to say something more to me, but that she was reluctant, put off perhaps by the presence of the two waitresses.

I could have imagined it.

But the final, lingering look Sarah gave me seemed to convey an apologetic, helpless shrug. As if Sarah was saying: 'I can only protect you so far; my delaying tactics are all used up'.

Protect me from what; delay what, I was about to find out.

For now, Cindy and Marisa retook their hold of my wrists, and squeezed; Marisa's grip, even firmer than before and surprising me with its possessive strength.

The two footsore waitress's unvoiced signal, nonetheless crystal clear: Come on, you – let's go.

"And, make sure you do, male citizen David Manners!" snapped Sarah as the two post-shift Lunch waitresses ushered me ahead of them through the wedged-open door of the chefs' changing room. "Hand-washed and steam-ironed!"

But now, Cindy and Marisa weren't stopping for anything.

*


The beach, marina, and sea views as seen from the Seascape Restaurant were indeed magnificent, and availing themselves of my services as per the agreed reciprocities of my employer Mrs Hilary Harper and the hotel manageress Miss Helen Honeywell's something-for-something arrangement, the two post-shift Lunch waitresses Cindy and Marisa enjoyed them.

But I saw none of it.

As, positioned sitting on the floor with my back against a floor-to-ceiling plate-glass picture window, Cindy and Marisa, sitting in front of me on the two dining chairs they'd placed over each of my outstretched legs, stretched out their legs too in using my shoulders as their after-work footrest.

The weight of the two waitresses' relaxing legs and feet on 'their' shoulders was surprisingly heavy, their combined downward pressures, anchoring me in place as immovably as a wharfside capstan set in concrete.

Cindy had made herself comfortable first, sitting facing me in the chair slightly to my right which she'd placed over my outstretched right leg.

Her right ankle crossed over her left upon 'her' shoulder, Cindy popped free her heel from her uppermost work pump and, swinging her dangling shoe from her dark-nyloned toes she wafted her pungent post-work foot fragrance into my inches-away face.

Clearly, Cindy was showing Marisa the ropes.

As a foreign visitor, although Marisa would surely have some idea as to what went on in the UK these days, she might not be aware of what some people considered the remarkable extent to which the AFP exerted control over the male citizenry.

Marisa's face was a picture of amazed disbelief – but no, I realised: her astounded expression was of incredulous delight.

Marisa had witnessed in the chefs' changing room examples of my compliant demeanour and impeccable behaviour at the feet of the easygoing and easy-to-please Sarah, the commis chef, and had conveyed her surprise as to the level of what she had termed as my docility.

But now Cindy was pushing the envelope.

Marisa took Cindy's lead and promptly followed suit, and then I was inhaling not just Cindy's but also Marisa's pungent post-work dark-nyloned scents as, their ankles crossed comfortably upon 'their' shoulder, languorously they dangled their topmost black leather three-inch heeled waitress's work pump right in front of my face.

Of the two waitresses' ensuing shoulder-perched shoe-playing shenanigans, it was Marisa, who with seemingly natural inventive flair spiced with her lively Latin intensity of expression, outperformed the pump-dangling playful repertoire of the sedate by comparison local girl Cindy.

Cindy, flexing her uppermost ankle and dangling her pump at an angle that revealed to me most of her work shoe's well-worn interior, said, "I know you've only been here in the UK a few days, Marisa, but how are you enjoying Brighton so far?"

Flexing her topmost shoulder-perched ankle this way and that way as she dangled her waitress's work pump from her big toe, Marisa enthused, "Oh, I love it, Cindy! The friendly hotel staff, the beautiful Brighton beaches – the attention of the boys! And my Student Exchange junior managerial course lasts for six months!"

Letting her right shoe fall from her foot to the carpet between the 'V' of my outstretched legs, Cindy hovered her dark-pantyhosed sole in front of my face. "Begin massaging my right foot now, male citizen David," she instructed, scrunching and wiggling and splaying her toes, as though to make clear which foot she was talking about.

"Yes, Miss Cindy, as you wish," I said respectfully, drinking in the dark-nyloned details of Cindy's now fully unshod right sole before reverently taking it into my hands.

"I'll tell you when to begin on my left foot."

"Yes, Miss Cindy."

The two post-work waitresses then gazed out through the floor-to-ceiling plate-glass picture window in front of them, enjoying the relaxing vistas beyond.

Just as I had done with Sarah, the commis chef, I began by rotating both thumbs firmly into the bottom of Cindy's heel. And again, unless instructed otherwise by Cindy, I would gradually work my way upward, ministering to her arch, the ball of her foot, and finally the undersides and the pads of her toes.

And within moments, just as had been the case with Sarah, while still manipulating the centre of the bottom of her heel, Cindy too was sighing blissfully in post-work relief.

In the absence of any countermanding or issuing of new instructions from Cindy, I continued doing my own thing.

Marisa, distracted from enjoying the relaxing panoramic views beyond the plate-glass picture window, looked down several times to see what I was doing that was repeatedly and consistently hitting the spot for Cindy as methodically I worked my way from heel to toes.

The two waitresses then lapsed into a companionable silence as again they stared out through the window; the only sounds, Cindy's pleasureful post-shift sighs.

"Yes, Marisa, Brighton is a great place," said Cindy, resuming their conversation. "I was born here, and I wouldn't dream of – more firmly there, on the ball of my foot, male citizen David – moving anywhere else."

"Yes, Miss Cindy," I said compliantly.

Marisa looked down on me, and for a moment she observed my ministrations as I followed Cindy's instruction, working both thumbs more firmly; some clockwise rotations, and then counterclockwise.

"Cindy, from back home in Milan I have watched in fascination the extraordinary rise to power of your AFP and observed with deep satisfaction your female government's continued consolidation of societal dominion over your male citizens. But, blurred by distance, a view from afar is an imperfect view, and I would love to hear a first-hand account of the altered living conditions here from the viewpoint of a female citizen."

"Oh, Marisa! Where should I start? Well, our now Prime Minister Caroline Flynt's concept of the Female-Friendly Code is now constitutional law.

"Right from Day One of Caroline Flynt's Authoritarian Female Party's rule, there were changes for the better.

"But over the longer term, as envisioned by AFP think-tanks and with invited supplementary input from female citizens via the AFP's quarterly-edition Female Citizen-Male Citizen Satisfaction Questionnaire, the establishment of manned infrastructures as will promote all of the imaginable comforts and facilitate every possible convenience of female citizens has been the priority and indeed the single-minded ambition of our new all-female government.

"Everything is so different now; it seems that every week, the AFP announces yet another Grand Opening of one of their fantastic female-friendly services, projects, or schemes. It's a whole new normal."

"And so ... how does this new normal work, Cindy, in everyday reality?"

"Well, for instance, if they so choose, females no longer need to work for their living. And believe me, Marisa: sometimes the AFP government's open offer of a life of absolute leisure on their very generous Ladies' Living Allowance is very tempting!

"I love my work, though. And, of course, my wages are paid tax-free now. The male workforce has been made to take on that burden; just as their tax-pounds finance all of our many other female-friendly services and schemes – such as the Ladies' Living Allowance.

"The new benefits are too numerous to mention, Marisa: Free travel on public transport; free health and fitness club membership; a whole panoply of male-facilitated female-friendly services ... the list goes on and on.

"But, one of the main and, for me, the most truly satisfying development, is that any female citizen of adult age is AFP-empowered to summon the service of any Of-Serviceable-Age male citizen. And, in fact, Marisa, as an AFP courtesy the same empowerments are extended to female visitors from overseas."

"How marvellous! I haven't heard about that, Cindy."

"Oh, yes – and really, it's as easy as could be! The contact number and character synopsis of every Of-Serviceable-Age male citizen in the UK are readily available – published online in the AFP's On-System DataBase, in the Female-Friendly Service Directory, as well as of course in local telephone directories.

"Summonable by a call direct to his AFP-issue mobile phone, or just a text message – or even a mere click of the fingers in a public place – either method of summons, he cannot, must not – dare not – ignore."

"So, just as an example, Cindy. I could ... look up the contact number, for ... male citizen David here. And I could summon him to come and do for me ... whatever I want?"

"Yes, Marisa – that's it exactly! You've got the idea."

"Cindy, what happens to a male citizen who says 'No'?"

"Marisa, believe me: Any male citizen with two working brain cells between his ears won't say 'No' to a female citizen."

"But, a lot of men don't have any functioning brain cells in their heads, Cindy. So, what happens to a male citizen who does refuse his summons from a female citizen direct to his AFP-issue mobile phone, or ignores her text message, or does not respond obediently and compliantly and come to heel at an authoritative click of her fingers in a public place? Or who says he's sorry but he can't, for whatever reason?"

"Well, with power comes responsibility. And, although feedback from the AFP's latest Female Citizen-Male Citizen Satisfaction Questionnaire has revealed another sharp rise on previous polls and that in a growing trend, more than sixteen per cent of females now thinks it entirely fit and proper to over-enforce their empowerments, I like to consider myself a benign taskmistress who exerts her authority fairly and reasonably over our menfolk.

"But, woe betide any Serviceable Age male citizen who shirks the Constitution-bound obligations of his societal duty without what the female or females in question consider a valid excuse for exemption or at least adequate grounds for granting a discretional exception.

"Any such egregiously wronged female is entitled to demand that the offender in question be Standard Sixed: a short, sharp, bare-bottom caning lesson that in many cases is sufficient to bring an errant male citizen quickly to his senses.

"And, should the disobliged and by implication disrespected female be also inclined to insist that the Standard Six be administered not at the hands of an AFP-employed CSO and witnessed formally by just one other, she can apply to the Community Service Liaison Officer for permission to perform the bare-bottom caning penalty personally at the Town Centre stocks.

"Furthermore, should she be of a mind, upon due enactment of her offender's public humiliation at her hands, she can request his removal to an AFP Correction and Rehabilitation Facility. Where, with an intent focus upon female-friendly ideological instruction and daily doctrinal inculcation, he will undergo further, more sophisticated mindset-adjustment therapies under the guidance of his female overseers."

"And that is how it should be!" said Marisa fervently.

"Back home in Italy, based on your AFP and led by a beautiful, charismatic and visionary woman very much like your Prime Minister, Caroline Flynt, is a women's movement of which I was proud to become an active member earlier this year on my eighteenth birthday.

"Everything is progressing nicely, and the future augurs well. Our movement's core, subscription membership is rising, and our latest voter-pledge canvassing by myself and my female activist colleagues shows that support is soaring for our fledgeling political party."

"And that is how it all started here, too, Marisa. Perhaps it won't be long, now before women's movements such as ours gain a foothold all over Europe. And then, who knows ...?"

From their dreamy expressions as they looked out through the floor-to-ceiling plate-glass picture window, Cindy and Marisa didn't see the beautiful beach, marina, and sea views of Brighton, but the infrastructural foundations and consolidations of a worldwide Female-Friendly utopia.

Rousing herself from her rose-tinted reverie, Cindy removed her right foot from my hands and rested it once more on my right shoulder. She then allowed her left work pump to fall from her foot, where it landed beside her other pump inside the wide 'V' of my spread apart outstretched legs.

Hovering now the dark-nyloned sole of her left foot in front of my face and again scrunching and wiggling and splaying her toes as though for the purpose of clarity, Cindy instructed: "Begin massaging my left foot now, male citizen David."

"Yes, Miss Cindy," I said in respectful compliance.

"Are you going to repeat your heel-to-toes, method, David?"

"That was my intention, Miss Cindy, yes."

"Well, when you get to the ball of my foot this time, David, do that twin-thumb rotation thing of yours extra-firmly again, just as you did with my right foot."

"Yes, Miss Cindy," I said obediently.

It had not escaped my notice just now, that, presumably as a concession for my respectful, compliant, unfailingly obedient behaviour, Cindy had dropped the stiltedly proper, rigidly protocoled 'male citizen' usage.

It seemed now that she, but of course not we, were on first-name terms.

"Male citizen David is extraordinarily well-behaved, Cindy," observed Marisa, working her ankle to waft from her precariously dangling work pump further warm winds and lingering scented eddies of her post-work dark-nyloned foot aroma into my inches-away face. "I can't help but notice, that he has followed your specific foot-massage instructions to the letter and that in accommodating your occasional positional adjustments when recrossing your ankles on his shoulder, he has prioritised your comfort to the direct detriment of his own."

"Marisa, that has not gone unnoticed by me, either: his unfailingly respectful, compliant, obedient – in fact, almost awed, solemnly reverential – demeanour towards me, and towards Sarah, before me. My suspicion has been growing, Marisa, that David is one of the Of-Serviceable-Age male citizens of which the AFP refers to as the Compatibles."

"The 'Compatibles', Cindy?"

"Yes, Marisa, the Compatibles. The AFP has created a special, dedicated set-up, called the Department of Compatibility. Whose crack, expert workforce's remit, is to investigate and follow up the possibilities for procurement of these uncommonly placid and pliable people."

"Cindy, please tell me more, about these Compatibles!" urged Marisa.

"Well, the Compatibles are the inherently willing and obliging, malleable and manipulable, predominantly in-work male citizens, whose considerate character and noble nature can most easily be prevailed upon to facilitate the perennially undermanned female-friendly services which, without whose recruitment, would go seriously under-provisioned – or, worse, might sometimes go unmanned altogether."

"They sound indispensable, Cindy."

"Oh – they are, Marisa!"

"I mean, they must be worth their weight in gold, these Compatibles."

"The AFP believes that ranging through feminist-light, to the extreme-element dyed-in-the-wool ultra-feminist woman-worshipping foot fetishists – therein, lie the reasons behind their respective unusual amenability, uncommon cooperation, willing bendability, and extreme tractability.

"But at the Department of Compatibility, because of their tremendous value, the Compatibles are known as 'Diamonds'.

"The office-based investigators – who on their monitors scrutinise not just the live AFP feeds from strategically sited cameras, but follow up thousands of hours of 'promising' CCTV leads forwarded by collaborating government agencies, and trawl the smart-phone video footage segments sent in by AFP affiliate or just ordinary sympathetic watchful members of the public – are known as the 'Diamond Sifters'.

"And the specially trained in-the-field plainclothes honeytrap agents who are then sent to dig them up – and, while out on patrol, often root out and bag others by chance – are known as the 'Diamond Hunters'."

"Really? How apt!"

"Of course, the AFP could easily use forced labour to facilitate our female-friendly services – and there is no shortage of female overseers to ensure that the manpower we do have available to us is fully utilised. And, as an incentive to look for work with keener enthusiasm and greater determination, Job Centre staff do, put longer-term unemployed males on Placement. But that is all very well; when all is said and done, there is nothing like a willing worker."

"You mean, Cindy ... like male citizen David, here?"

"Well, Marisa, why don't you find out? I'm relinquishing our post-work prize: it's your turn now, with the footboy."

At Cindy's words, Marisa recrossed her ankles on 'her' shoulder and wafted from her other dangling, swinging work pump fresh warm draughts and lingering scented eddies of her dark-nyloned foot's post-shift fragrances.

"My turn, with the footboy?"

"Your turn, with the footboy."

Marisa presented her right foot to me, as though hinting I should remove her black leather three-inch heeled waitress's work pump for her.

In something akin to a full, awed awakening it struck me now that, this, here, was what it was all about: Service.

Surely, shoe removal should be the precursor. The prerequisite service, of foot massage.

A preliminary ceremony, performed with due gravitas.

A solemn, devotional undertaking.

A matter of etiquette.

But, just as I reached my hands forward to do her implied bidding, Marisa eschewed my homage and thwarted my reverent shoe-removal intentions as with an adroit flex of her ankle and a deft flick of her toes she sent her waitress's work pump sailing high over her head and behind her.

I waited for Cindy and Marisa to recover themselves from laughing at the resultant sounds of devastation as Marisa's black leather three-inch heeled waitress's work pump landed on one of the set-for-dinner tables, displacing cutlery and condiments and smashing glassware.

At last, placing her dark-nyloned right foot into my waiting hands, Marisa said, "So, male citizen David ... how long have you been a footboy?"

"Just since this morning, Miss Marisa. When I started work for my employer Mrs Hilary Harper: I'm her male-worker role luxury refreshments-break little-something-extra for her female clientele."

"Oh? And, how are you settling into your new job?"

"Quite well, Miss Marisa. I think I am learning to adapt."

"Well, I am ... um, more firmly there, on the bottom of my heel, male citizen David, if you don't mind, thank you – very pleased for you."

"Yes, Miss Marisa, as you wish. And thank you."

"I mean, after all, it can't be every young man's cup of tea, can it? And not many, are of your diminutive size yet stocky and robust upper-bodied structure. And ... Um, male citizen David, I wonder if I can ask a special favour of you?"

"A special favour, Miss Marisa?"

"The thing is, I can feel my calf cramping, and the only effective relief is to stretch out my leg fully. I ... I wonder, if ..."

"Miss Marisa, you only have to ask."

"Well ..."

"Miss Marisa? Is there ... something I can do?"

"Well, I do so hate to ask, but ... may I rest the sole of my foot on your face?"

"Um ..."

"It's a lot to ask, I know. But you'll be comfortable, I think, with your head resting against the window, if that's your concern. Or, is it ... the smell?"

"Miss Marisa, since serving as the facial footrest to the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses this morning during their coffee break, the fears I had on that score are all put to rest."

"Oh ... really?"

"Yes, Miss Marisa."

"So ... you don't mind?"

"No, Miss Marisa."

"But, how can you not mind? I mean, what an imposition: I am an eighteen-year-old part-work/part-study junior managerial course Exchange Student from Italy, asking you to let me rest the sole of my post-work stinky nyloned foot on your face!"

"Miss Marisa, it is just as Miss Cindy said earlier: as an AFP courtesy, the Rights of Summons empowerments pertaining to Serviceable Age male citizens are extended in full to foreign female visitors. You have every entitlement, and you are merely exercising your rights – in no way is it an imposition."

"But, inevitably and unavoidably, submitting to my – well, it has to be said: outrageous, pushing-the-envelope request – is going to entail prolonged and inescapable inhalation of my under- and in-between-the-toes scent."

"That's fine, Miss Marisa."

"It's fine?"

"Yes, Miss Marisa. And, you are not making an outrageous request; it is perfectly reasonable."

"You see what I've been saying, Marisa, about male citizen David? He must be a Compatible."

The next thing I knew, Marisa had planted the length of her dark-nyloned right sole on my face and, pressing my head back against the plate-glass picture window, she tilted my head so that my gaze was directed upward at the gap between the top of the window and the pelmet and not at the two of them.

And I found out now that what I had assured Marisa of was correct: I was not the least put out at being subjected to, at Marisa's "outrageous, pushing-the-envelope request", the "inevitable and unavoidable" "inescapable prolonged inhalation" of her post-work under- and in-between-the-toes scents.

I couldn't see Cindy now, but I could hear her tittering in amusement.

Already today, I had undergone the albeit inadvertent and consequential and so not deliberately and maliciously imposed inhalation of six successive SPOILT! Boutique manageresses' freshly released foot fragrances, as, single-legged postured, they'd enjoyed the holding-forth, opinion-positing, centre of attention status of refreshments-break facial-footrest tenure.

To my great surprise, the harrowing ordeal that in my acute anxiety I'd imagined and braced myself for had in reality turned out to be anything but; had been far from the unpleasant and stressful experience that in my preconceived fears I'd dreaded.

The six manageresses' foot scents were, of course, all different. As subtle and perhaps not quite so subtle as might be the randomly sampled fragrances from a similar number of perfume bottles found on the cosmetics counter of a reputable department store – each one of them, heady, intoxicating, and with a unique signature.

It occurred to me now that, in my capacity of Mrs Hilary Harper's male-worker role luxury little-something-extra provider to her refreshments-breaking female clientele, ahead of me awaited a limitless olfactory bonanza.

I was sure I could detect a smile now in Marisa's voice too, when she said, "Your hands are free now, male citizen David. So you might as well begin massaging my left foot – here."

"Yes, Miss Marisa, as you wish," I said compliantly into the bottom of Marisa's dark-nyloned heel, at which Cindy laughed at my muffled voice.

"And, if you don't mind, male citizen David, if it's not too much to ask, can you work your thumbs into the bottom of my heel and the ball of my foot more firmly this time? And with more consistency of pressure? Is that all right? Because you seem to be losing concentration, I'm afraid. And, if it's not too much trouble, with a more equal ratio of clockwise and counterclockwise rotations? You are doing very well indeed, apart from those few little faults."

"Yes, Miss Marisa, of course," I said obediently into her dark-nyloned right sole as in a self-pleasing up-and-down motion Marisa massaged her foot on my face, occasioning another mirthful giggle from Cindy.

The two waitresses then lapsed into a companionable quietude again for a minute or two as they enjoyed the relaxing views.

Cindy finally broke their comfortable silence, saying, "Marisa ... on Friday nights after work, some of us waitresses usually go for a well-earned drink at Antonia's Wine Bar, where they have Placemented footboys – would you like to come along? Believe me: it's just the thing after a long, hard, tiring Dinner shift on your feet."

"Oh! I would love to, Cindy. Thank you – I will look forward to it!"

After another little period of quiet, this time it was Marisa who broke the silence, when she said, "Um ... male citizen David?"

"Yes, Miss Marisa?" I said indistinctly into the warm sole of her surprisingly agreeably aromatic dark-nyloned right foot – and now, without removing her foot, Marisa lifted the bottom of her heel from its resting place between my lips to allow communication.

"I ... well, I do so hate to be a bother, and I do so hate to ask, but ..."

"Miss Marisa?"

"You'll say 'No', this time, male citizen David. And that's all right; I won't take it any further."

"Miss Marisa – I certainly won't! I wouldn't dream of it!"

"But you haven't heard what I'm going to ask of you yet!"

"It doesn't matter, Miss Marisa. You can ask of me anything you like – I won't say 'No'."

"Can I? Won't you?"

"Miss Marisa – of course. And besides, it would be as Miss Cindy said earlier: if I did say 'No', you could demand to have me Standard Sixed by a Community Service Officer – the CSOs are the AFP's female army of foot soldiers, their disciplinarians and enforcers.

"Or if you preferred, permission would be a formality, if you wanted the satisfaction as many ladies do of administering the bare-bottom caning penalty to their offender personally and publicly at the Town Centre stocks instead of letting him off lightly with the minimum of humiliation behind closed doors in the Punishments and Corrections Room in the Town Hall.

"It's very common, Miss Marisa; and as you'll soon see for yourself: there is always some wrongdoer or other; some Female-Friendly Code violator receiving public punishment at the hands of his lady prosecutor."

"You see, Marisa? It's like I've been saying," said Cindy, recrossing her ankles for the umpteenth time on 'her' shoulder and luxuriating in scrunching and wiggling and splaying the dark-nyloned toes of her post-work feet. "Male citizen David isn't the sort to say 'No'. The strong likelihood of painful repercussions for defiance doesn't enter into it."

"Well, in that case ... male citizen David?"

"Yes, Miss Marisa?"

"I'm afraid to say, that now I can feel my left calf starting to cramp."

"Oh – I'm sorry to hear that, Miss Marisa. Is there something ... I can do?"

"Well, since you are considerate enough to ask ... As you know, the only thing that will prevent my calf from seizing up is to extend my leg fully. So, I was wondering ..."

"Yes, Miss Marisa?"

"Well ... would it be all right, male citizen David, if ... if I rested the sole of my left foot on your face, too? I mean, both feet at the same time?"

"Of course, Miss Marisa. Please go ahead."

That got another giggle from Cindy, and yet another luxuriating recrossing of her ankles upon 'her' shoulder as she enjoyed the antics of her new fun-loving, rope-learning, quickly settling in Italian colleague.

"You haven't forgotten, have you, male citizen David, I have told you that you can say 'No'? I will give you dispensation – my discretional exception. You have my word, my solemn promise, that I will neither have a CSO Standard-Six you in the Town Hall and nor will I cane your bare buttocks myself in the Town Centre stocks, if you say 'No' to me."

"Thank you, Miss Marisa. But I really don't mind."

"You don't mind? You don't mind, male citizen David, if while you sit there uncomfortable on the floor, I sit here in comfort in front of you enjoying the beach and sea views, resting both soles of my stinky nyloned feet on your face after finishing my back-to-back run-off-my-feet Breakfast and Lunch waitressing shifts?"

"Not at all, Miss Marisa."

"Not at all?"

"Not at all. And after all, Miss Marisa, what you suggest is extremely logical and highly practical: my hands will then be free again, so at the same time I will be able to resume massaging Miss Cindy's feet as well as facilitating your requested further comfort."

The next thing I knew, Marisa's dark-nyloned left sole was accompanying her right, and now both post-work feet were pressing the back of my head against the plate-glass picture window and tilting my gaze unobtrusively upward at the gap between the top of the window and the pelmet and so not at the two of them.

I then felt but did not see Cindy once again place one of her dark-pantyhosed feet into my now freed up hands.

I waited a moment. And then, in the absence of any general instruction or a particular foot-service requirement from Cindy, I proceeded to do my own thing.

"I am now convinced beyond doubt, David ..." said Marisa, settling the undersides of the dark-nyloned toes of her left foot over my nostrils and double-sealing my nose with the toes of her right foot "... that Cindy is right about you: You truly are a Compatible."

"Yes, Miss Marisa," I said respectfully into the arch of her surprisingly pleasantly aromatic dark-nyloned foot. "And thank you."

It had not escaped my notice just now that, presumably as a small concession for my unfailing obedience and ready compliance, or perhaps as a reward for declining her discretional-exception offer to say 'No' without fear of repercussive comeback, in addressing me Marisa had relaxed the usual rigid formal protocoled female-citizen-Mistress/male-citizen-servant interaction and eschewed the customary 'male citizen' usage.

Apparently, she, but of course not we, were now on first-name terms.

***


"So, David ... how did it go, then, with Sarah the commis chef and the Lunch shift waitresses?" enquired my employer Mrs Hilary Harper upon my return to the Pavilion Lounge, with about ten minutes to spare before the scheduled commencement of the SPOILT! Boutique manageresses' 3:00 - 3:30 refreshments break.

The final touches, I saw, were now being made to the serving tables by Mrs Harper and her two junior partner assistants Amanda and Zoe.

"I thought it went OK, Mrs Harper."

"Amanda and Zoe and I are so pleased with you, David – all the signs are that you are learning to adapt.

"And in fact, I've just had a phone call from Miss Tomkins, your Probational Case Worker at the Job Centre, who says she has received a highly complimentary Female Citizen Communication regarding you. And, why should she trouble herself to call me about that? Because it is a first, for one of my male-worker role employees.

"And, not only that, but the hotel manageress Miss Helen Honeywell was here a minute ago. She spoke very highly of you too and congratulated me on your recruitment. She expressed her hopes that we would do business again soon, and renew our special something-for-something reciprocal arrangement. Miss Honeywell told me that she has already text-messaged a good word to Miss Tomkins and that she is going to send her a follow-up, handwritten report elaborating upon your unfailing respect, compliant conduct and impeccable behaviour. Congratulations, David!"

"Thank you, Mrs Harper. But really, I was only doing my—"

"We're not early, are we, Mrs H?" said Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish, the manageress of London's Oxford St's showpiece everything-under-one-roof SPOILT! Boutique and the Head of Conference, leading her twenty-nine high-end fashion, accessories, cosmetics, and personal services store manageress colleagues into the set-aside Pavilion Lounge.

"Not at all, Miss Connaught-Cavendish," said Mrs Harper as she and her three staff members hurriedly took up positions behind our respective service tables. "Everything is all ready and prepared for you."

Mrs Harper gave me a look, that said: See, I told you they would turn up early again.

"And, is male citizen David, all ready and prepared for us?" said the manageress in the crimson final-day-of-Conference T-shirt.

I'd know that dulcet voice and those mellifluous lilting Welsh tones anywhere: She was manageress of the SPOILT! Boutique in Cardiff – Julie.

"Now, now, Julie," admonished Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish. "We must let other colleagues partake. You had your turn with male citizen David this morning, during our coffee break."

That was true:

Along with five others, including Miss Connaught-Cavendish herself and Miss Martina Morris, Julie – while other coffee-breaking colleagues were left to make do with my 'lesser' back, sides, and shoulder-footrests – Julie had been one of the six manageresses to take up the prized-position holding forth, opinion-positing, centre-of-attention status of facial-footrest tenure.

"Of course, Miss Connaught-Cavendish," said Julie contritely.

The Head of Conference went on, "Unfortunately for us, Mrs Harper's excellent new footboy only came into her employ today. And so, if only for five minutes each, during our afternoon refreshments break on this, the final day of our Annual Conference, other colleagues must, and shall, have their turn with our little-something-extra."

I did the math:

If twenty-four tea-breaking manageresses were each going to have a five-minute in-tenure 'turn' of their facial footrest, this would not be a thirty-minute, but an overrunning, schedule-busting two-hour refreshments break ... but no.

Taken into account, must be all of the extra time taken up by the in situ facial-footresters' single-legged postured foot-to-foot switchovers, mid-tenure; their successors' minor but necessary single-legged stance adjustments, pre-commitment; and the repeated settling in of six replacement manageresses as, upon each new accession to tenure, they availed themselves of my 'lesser' back, sides, and shoulder-footrests.

Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish said, "Amanda and Zoe. When we're all done here, would you like to come with me to the conference room, and help yourselves to whatever you'd like from the SPOILT! Boutique fashionwear, shoes, lingerie, and cosmetic items that we've had on display this week?"

"Thank you, Miss Connaught-Cavendish!" said Amanda and Zoe simultaneously.

"Good. You've been so pleasant to us all week, I might be able to find you both a nice SPOILT! Boutique wristwatch too."

From what I'd gathered, Amanda and Zoe had already done well this week with gifts like part-used perfumes from the manageresses – but now a final-day-of-conference bonanza awaited them.

"I'll have a cup of coffee, please, male citizen David, if that's all right; I'm not much of a tea drinker," said the manageress in the orange final-day-of-Conference T-shirt: Miss Martina Morris.

"Of course, Miss Morris. My pleasure."

Miss Morris was manageress of the SPOILT! Boutique, here in Brighton. As the local agent, she had been deputed to help organise this year's Annual Conference, including booking same-hotel accommodation for herself and her twenty-nine manageress colleagues and arranging their refreshments-breaks provisions.

"Oh, let's not stand so much on formalities, David – call me Miss Martina."

It seemed now that she, but of course not we, were on first-name terms.

"Yes, Miss Martina," I said, picking up a saucer and one of the thick white mugs we used for coffee. Reaching for the coffee pot, with the split-second eye contact that was protocol permissible in these cases, I added, "And thank you."

Raising her voice above the tea-break chatter of her colleagues to make herself heard to my employer, Miss Martina Morris said, "Mrs Harper, any chance of you turning male citizen David over to me, for my boutique?"

A quarter-full, I had to put Miss Morris's cup and saucer down again on the table to still its rattle.

"I'm sorry, Martina, I'm afraid not," replied my employer.

I picked up the cup and saucer again and resumed pouring.

"Are you sure, Mrs H?" tried Miss Morris again. "I would love to instal him in the Brighton SPOILT! Boutique, in Personal Services. I know male citizen David would be a big hit with the ladies of Brighton."

Half-full, again I had to put the cup and saucer back down on the serving table.

"No, Martina, I'm sorry but no," replied my employer more firmly. "I've waited too long, for David to come along."

I picked up the cup and saucer again and carried on pouring from the coffee pot, but my hands weren't as steady as they had been.

"Can't I persuade you, Hilary?" persisted Miss Martina Morris, undeterred. "I mean, just like here, it would be a proper, respectable job of gainful employment for male citizen David, not a Placement. And when he's fully trained-up by myself and my staff, who he can practise on, I will appoint him Head Male Pedicurist."

Three-quarters full, once again I had to put down Miss Morris's cup and saucer.

The thought, of being whisked away now from my kindly employer Mrs Hilary Harper and her junior partner assistants Amanda and Zoe – headhunted, by Miss Martina Morris, manageress of Brighton's SPOILT! Boutique, to be trained up to serve in Personal Services as her Head Male Pedicurist ...

"It is out of the question, Martina," my employer replied, this time with a touch of asperity. "Amanda and Zoe would mutiny if I was to let David go."

I wondered if there was a scintilla of truth to that.

I looked at Amanda and Zoe ... from behind their serving tables, they were both staring daggers at Miss Martina Morris.

From the Brighton SPOILT! Boutique manageress Miss Martina Morris's apparent familiarity with my employer Mrs Hilary Harper, I could only assume that Mrs Harper was a frequenter of the high-end fashion, accessories, cosmetics, and ... personal services, store. And, I had to wonder: were Amanda and Zoe?

"All right, then, Hilary," Miss Morris conceded reluctantly. "As long as you remember, should you change your mind, to let me have first dibs on David? I mean, it's not every day, is it, that we come across a male worker with such unusual character qualities and rare abilities as his."

Once again, I picked up the coffee pot and Miss Morris's three-quarters-full cup and prepared to pour, but Miss Morris said, "Thank you, David, that'll be fine."

"My pleasure, Miss Martina."

"Um ... David," said Mrs Harper. "I think some of the ladies are waiting for you to come and perform your special duties."

"Yes, Mrs Harper."

Just as I walked behind her serving table, Amanda slipped out her right foot and rested it sole upward in her black leather flat. "Er, David ... are you forgetting something?"

Yes – in my eagerness to put myself at the service of my employer Mrs Hilary Harper's refreshments-breaking female clientele – I was, forgetting something ... ('From now on, David, upon each and every occasion of your either coming into or leaving our presence, you will watch for our prompts for you to demonstrate to Zoe and me your obeisance by kissing the sole of our foot').

I didn't have the slightest hesitation, not a moment's deliberation; it was just the way it was – my new normal.

With evident approval my fair-minded employer Mrs Hilary Harper looked on as I got to my knees at the proffered olive-complexioned sole of Amanda's upturned right foot, to cement this, the next stage of my adaption.

"Forgive me, Miss Amanda, I won't forget again," I said, looking up to her. I then lowered my lips and, in reverence, I kissed first the ball of her foot, and then her arch, and finally, I pressed my lips against the bottom of her bare heel, in a more lingering demonstration of devotional obeisance.

And now, for Zoe.

Upon going to my knees behind Zoe, at first, she did not proffer the sole of her foot for me to kiss reverently in a leaving-her-presence demonstration of obeisance, but looked over her shoulder and down on me, smiling.

As seemed usual with Zoe, her smile was full of enigma.

But this time I read something in it that, like a bucket of water thrown over a sputtering candle, doused completely the fluttering flame of my earlier hopes that something of a romantic nature might blossom between us.

Read something in it, that laid to rest my wrongful romantic notions.

Laid to rest, my hopeful affairs-of-the-heart speculations, as the groundless deluded fantasies they were.

Because now, laid to rest now also, apparently, was Zoe's last lingering doubt as to Amanda's convicted assertion to me that: 'You are going to adapt easily to being our at-work fringe benefit'.

Seeing that I now understood this; reading from my face that I was disabused of my flight of fancy and reconciled that our relationship was not one of an equal footing, Zoe did not slip her foot from her eighteenth-birthday present, authentic Greystone Prison 'Jailhouse Blue' female prison officers' flip-flop. But instead, still wearing it, she raised her foot behind her until her lower leg was level with the floor.

My whole body shook with jittery, nervous tension; with unnerving, awed reverence – this was another of those moments.

My fingers, trembling in anticipation of performing now, the service the waitresses Cindy and Marisa had not required of me: the preliminary devotional requirement now intimated by Zoe – solemnly, I slid free Zoe's thin-rubber soled flip-flop.

And ... had I ever beheld, such a pretty foot? Perhaps the commis chef, Sarah, ran Zoe a close second.

Gripped in the enraptured throes of some form of magical madness, my adoring lips planted kiss after worshipful kiss upon Zoe's shapely pale-complexioned sole, thus cementing myself into my proper place in Zoe's regard.

I couldn't stop, couldn't get enough; Zoe's sole was just so kissable, and—

"Um ... I think that will suffice, David," said Mrs Harper. "Please contain yourself. After all, I'm sure that as Zoe's at-work fringe benefit you will have every opportunity to express your ... feelings. Now go and present yourself to Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish and the other SPOILT! Boutique manageresses – they are waiting for you."

I felt my face going redder than Julie the Cardiff SPOILT! Boutique manageress's crimson final-day-of-Conference T-shirt.

But I needn't have worried. From her look, I knew that Mrs Harper's seemingly stern tone with me had been one of mock reproval; that she was not admonishing me but that she was amused – because she was smiling. As was Zoe; but like the cat that got the cream: our relationship was on the proper footing.

I headed at last toward the centre of the Pavilion Lounge where engaged in tea-break chitchat, the group of now congregated and expectant SPOILT! Boutique manageresses were waiting for me to perform for them my male-worker role refreshments-break little-something-extra.

The manageress in overall charge: the Head of Conference, Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish, whose golden-yellow final-day-of-Conference T-shirt accentuated her bronzed skin tone like a well-chosen accessory – aided me, directing me with her expertly manicured forefinger to the required spot.

I sat down on the carpet as directed and, just as I'd done this morning at the thirty manageresses' coffee-break, I widened my outstretched legs out into an accommodating 'V'.

Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish then said, "So, girls; those of you who missed out at coffee-break this morning – which one of you wants to take your turn with male citizen David first?"

The words were barely out of Miss Connaught-Cavendish's expertly lip-glossed mouth, when in her distinct Northern Irish tones the manageress in the cream-coloured final-day-of-Conference T-shirt piped up, "I'd like to go first – unless anyone has any objections ...?"

I knew who she was, and I remembered her well. She was Shannon, one of the manageresses to avail herself of one of my shoulder-footrests at this morning's refreshments break. The sole of Shannon's right foot upon my left shoulder-footrest had been bare, and I'd noted that her arch and the undersides of her toes were a stark creamy contrast to the reddish-pink colourations on her heel, the ball of her foot, and the pads of her toes.

Judging by the looks on the missing-a-trick faces of the other twenty-three eligible manageresses, they also would all have liked to have gone first. But, since they wished they'd done the same but had done it first, raising no objection they went along with Shannon's quick-off-the-mark claim to tenure.

One of the more vivacious and colourful manageresses, and not least in that she was so distinguished by her Northern Irish accent, Shannon: red-haired, green-eyed, and pale-skinned – was the stunningly attractive, sex-appeal oozing manageress of the SPOILT! Boutique, in Belfast.

"Prepare yourself, please, David," said Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish.

"Yes, Miss Connaught-Cavendish," I said respectfully.

It did not escape my notice that in addressing me just now, presumably as a small, protocol-relaxing concession to reward my unfailingly obedient and uncomplainingly compliant demeanour, the Head of Conference and manageress of London's Oxford Street's showpiece everything-under-one-roof SPOILT! Boutique, Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish, had dropped the usual rigidly formal 'male citizen' usage.

It appeared now that she, but of course not we, were on first-name terms.

Shannon now approached me, the covetous eyes of her twenty-nine manageress colleagues, enviously following her first-to-the-prize progress towards their refreshments-break luxury little-something-extra facial footrest.

Shannon stood right in front of me and, with her appraising green eyes, looked down on me. "Footboy."

Just that one word – not just the word itself, but the way Shannon pronounced the two syllables, evidencing her Emerald Isle origins – sent a strange tingly shiver of ecstasy shuddering through me.

"Miss Shannon," I said succinctly in respectful acknowledgement and making the split-second direct eye contact that on such occasions was not only protocol permissible but appropriate.

Awaiting further address or instruction, respectfully I directed my gaze downward, at the spot between Shannon's feet.

Shod in a pair of expensive-looking three-inch heeled sandals with three silver-grey straps across the front half of the shoe, Shannon's feet were very pale-skinned, and her toes painted a bright red.

I did not have to wait long for Shannon's opening instruction, short and to the point: "Keep still for me, footboy."

There it was again: the strangely thrilling way, that Shannon said 'footboy'.

"Yes, Miss Shannon," I said respectfully. "I will. Go ahead – and please: be confident in the stability of my supportive sturdiness and assured of my unwavering steadfastness in maintaining your comfort."

"Just a second, Shannon, before you get settled ..." said Miss Hazel Connaught-Cavendish, reaching down to pluck my AFP-issue mobile phone from my shirt's breast pocket "... there, I've got it. I'll pass this around the ladies, just as soon as I've text-messaged a good word to male citizen David's Probational Case Worker. Later, depending on how things go now, I may follow it up with a handwritten letter of commendation; I'd like to think it might help male citizen David out a little should he find himself in hot water for falling foul of the Female-Friendly Code."

Shannon then stood up close, turned her back on me, and stood with her feet slightly apart.

I stared down at the backs of her bare heels, raised on her three-inch heeled backless sandals.

The slacks Shannon wore were two-tone; the back sections a lighter, perfect colour match for the silver-grey cross straps on her sandals.

Nothing seemed to go overlooked by these SPOILT! Boutique manageresses. Even the emerald-green silk ribbon in Shannon's red hair complemented her green eyes.

Shannon's slacks, like her shoes, were expensive-looking.

But, from eavesdropping this morning on the manageresses' coffee-break conversations, I knew that Shannon, as manageress of the SPOILT! Boutique in Belfast, did more than okay, with discounts on store merchandise. And that also, with the Placemented males in her store's Personal Services Department, who she herself selects from line-ups of long-term unemployed at the Job Centre, she had free reign, with—

It was time to concentrate – a little tottery when standing on just one foot, testing her balance experimentally Shannon was sliding her right foot in and out of her three-inch heeled mule-like shoe: the sign that she was going with her right foot first.

"Would I be in order, Miss Shannon, to hold down the heel of your left shoe now to steady you, and then hold down the heel of your right shoe during your switchover?"

"Yes; please do so."

Taking their cue, six of the tea-breaking manageresses now stepped forward to avail themselves of my albeit desirable and comfort giving but 'lesser' back, sides, and shoulder-footrests.

Twenty-three of Shannon's refreshments-breaking SPOILT! Boutique manageress colleagues were now left to look on and await their respective 'lesser' or in-tenure occupancies.

As now, in the sudden hear-a-pin-drop silence that had descended, there was not a cup-against-saucer chink to be heard as Shannon began raising her right foot behind her, having completed the minor but necessary single-legged postured adjustments, pre-commitment.

The approach of Shannon's bare right sole was uncertain, errant, erratic.

But, carefully monitoring the waywardness of her unsighted alignment, I leaned forward and manoeuvred my forehead to receive early and with pinpoint exactitude the bottom of her haphazardly approaching bare heel as, in my thoughtful and helpful, not-needing-to-be-asked-or-told, off-my-own-bat facilitation, I aided her blind navigational 'docking'.

As was the case with all six other previous facial-footrest availing manageresses, such was her quick confidence in my stability and assuredness of my reliability that within moments Shannon too seemed oblivious that with the sole of her foot planted mid-face, heel to forehead, she was obliging me to support the steadily increasing weight of her gradually relaxing single-legged posture.

"So ... now that Miss Connaught-Cavendish has managed to wangle for us all a Friday-night freebee extension to our stay here at the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa: What do you all say to another night at Antonia's Wine Bar?" said the having-the-floor, holding forth, opinion-positing, centre-of-attention Shannon in her broad Northern Irish accent.

"Because let me tell you, I had one helluva night last night, giving those footboys a bit of what for. I have never enjoyed myself so much. And I know that I, for one, would love another evening, of ..."

Shannon, manageress of the SPOILT! Boutique, in Belfast, was now in-tenure.


***


Two weeks later.


To salvage a couple of minutes of my one-hour lunch break I hadn't changed out of my community-servant style workwear, and hastening to the entrance in my keenness to be punctual I barely glanced at the line-up of posters displayed in the Job Centre's window.

Even so, I noticed that some of the posters were different from those I'd seen just over two weeks ago when I'd reported for my eighteen-year-old school-leaver Career Assessment Interview with Miss Tonya Tomkins.

The posters were full-colour, life-size, and very eye-catching.

Produced by top-of-the-tree artistic designers on an AFP-commissioned money-no-object budget, clearly, the money was not wasted.

Depicting actual, in situ scenes, the posters glamourised in-work free-time sacrificing male citizens performing their freely chosen or consensually agreed on female-friendly facilitatory function.

Every poster was enthusiastically endorsed by at least one and sometimes several AFP Cabinet Minister patrons. Their speech-bubble messages, extolling the noble selflessness of the volunteers' free-time sacrificial provision of the featured female-friendly service and exhorting other time-on-their-hands working male citizens to follow their excellent example.

The real attention grabber, though, was the full-colour life-size poster of AFP Prime Minister, Caroline Flynt.

Her left forefinger pointing at the poster viewer and her right forefinger indicating downward beneath her black leather office pumps at a thumbnail-style photo selection of her favoured female-friendly services which happened to be her own, brainchild projects, Ms Flynt rally cried: 'SPARE TIME IS WASTED TIME – MAN A FEMALE-FRIENDLY SERVICE TODAY!'

Signs beneath each of the posters indicated that a one-minute video segment of the featured scene could be viewed inside on the Job Search screens, upon insertion of your Male Citizen Identity Card.

Before I had to return to the Brighton Pier View Hotel – this week's, Monday-Friday venue – just out of interest, if I had time later after Miss Tomkins had done with me, I might have a closer look at the posters in the Job Centre window. Peruse the latest appeals and more earnest adjurations, to the in-work male citizenry, to sign up today to pledge some of their free time in the female-friendly cause.

I pushed through the Job Centre's thick-glass double door entrance, and there she was: the 'She-Devil of Desk 5' – giving some out of work and now out of luck interviewee some typical 'You will accept this job opportunity, or I will assign you to a Placement', ultimatum grief.

Miss Tomkins happened to notice me coming in and, in addition to her look of instant recognition, in her expression, I saw something ... else.

Something about Miss Tomkins' reaction upon my entrance held me in check, and I hesitated to sit down on one of the few remaining vacant seats among the sixteen or seventeen other waiting interviewees.

Miss Tomkins looked down at her desk, as though in perplexed thought. Knitting her brows, she moved some things around, as though looking for something she'd mislaid – and, lo and behold, there it was, hiding under a green Job Seeker file: a sheet of white office paper.

Miss Tomkins snatched up the sheet of paper, told her interviewee to stay put, and on her castor-wheeled office swivel chair, she scooted over to her colleague adjacent at Desk 4.

Just as I'd noticed at my school-leaver's interview two weeks ago when Miss Tomkins had similarly scooted over to the file cabinets at the back of the room to get my Male Citizen File, again now her heels popped out of what appeared to be the same pair of well-worn red leather flats, at her every propellant push-off.

The Job Centre Interviewer at Desk 4 was an attractive brunette whose looks, I thought, would be splendidly softened and as even dramatically improved did she not sport the same AFP-adopted but severely adapted concave bob hoodoo-hairdo style as her AFP apparatchik colleague at Desk 5.

Pointing to apparent items of note on the sheet of white office paper, Miss Tomkins spoke quietly to her colleague at Desk 4, upon whose face a smile began to form as with apparent intent scrutiny they lowered their concave-bobbed heads over the document.

Thinking that I was mistaken; that I must have imagined Miss Tomkins' transient expression, I was just about to take a seat when a sudden movement in the open kneehole under Desk 4 attracted my attention.

Her right leg crossed over her left knee, the attractive brunette Job Centre interviewer at Desk 4 was dangling and swinging her black leather office pump from her bare toes.

I could only stand, and stare, and watch, her seated semi-revelation.

For, since starting work two weeks ago in my male-worker role luxury little-something-extra provider for my employer Mrs Hilary Harper's female clientele, the not infrequent occurrence of absent-minded revelation was a phenomenon that by now unfailingly attracted my avid attention and engaged my keen observation to the extent that its power and influence over me bordered on obsession.

The by no means guaranteed but at least the promising possibility of ensuing activity upon a refreshments-breaking lady's revelation, whether while standing or sitting – sitting, being more conducive to more elaborate and adventuresome and, occasionally, the glory-of-glories: under-the-seat, cross-ankled, double-sole full revelation – would entrance me in something akin to enchantment.

For how long, I stood and stared, enjoying the semi-revelatory treat taking place in the open kneehole of Desk 4; the attractive brunette interviewer, angling her foot steeply upward so as to expose to tantalising view her bare sole from the bottom of her heel to the ball of her foot, I don't know.

Belatedly I remembered what Amanda had told me on my first day during our "little chat", before I had reported to the office of the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa manageress Miss Helen Honeywell, to serve as her Heads of Department meeting under-the-conference-table facial footrest.

About the clandestine activities of the AFP's plainclothes honeytrap agents:

Their periodic patrolling of propitious public places; their recurrent reconnoitring of results-rewarding commercial properties; their potluck, random roaming of other likely locations; and their prioritised pursuance of the steady stream of substantive leads as supplied to them by their office-based screen scrutinising colleagues at the Department of Compatibility – shoe-playing: to attract the betraying attention of Compatibles.

I thought I knew what I would see when finally I looked up ... and I was right.

The attractive brunette Job Centre interviewer at Desk 4 and Miss Tonya Tomkins were grinning broadly.

It had not been a 'revelation' in the natural, absent-minded sense of the term.

It had not been a lucky, in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time, fortuitously happened upon – serendipitous – delight.

It was staged.

The sheet of white office paper was a sham.

A deception, deployed to drop my guard and lower my gaze.

A decoy that had worked; that had done the trick.

Miss Tomkins and her complicit colluding colleague at Desk 4 laughed as they high-fived.

And then, smiling – no doubt, in the happy remembrance of her commendation earning Compatible-capture achievement over me two weeks ago – on her castor-wheeled swivel chair Miss Tomkins scooted back to her bemused-looking interviewee at Desk 5, her bare heels again popping free of her red leather flats at her every propellant push-off.

When sheepishly I turned to take a seat, it was to see the sixteen or seventeen waiting interviewees giving me strange looks.

The six Job Centre interviewers' desks were set apart equidistantly by about seven feet, and directly facing them was the row of twenty interconnected hard plastic orange seats provided for job seeker/school-leaver career assessment/male worker conduct review interviewees.

One of the few remaining seats faced Desk 5; I sat down in it.

The hard plastic orange seat was uncomfortable, and listening to the dismal despairing interviewees telling their variations of the same sorry stories while they waited to be seen made for a dull and depressing interlude.

But I didn't have to endure it, or them, for long.

For, just a few minutes later, Miss Tomkins dismissed her interviewee with his tail between his legs and a flea in his ear.

I watched the luckless lad trudge despondently to the bank of Job Search screens and insert into one of them what I assumed was his Male Citizen Identity Card.

From where I was sitting, I could see that the familiar format of the Job Search screen was then replaced by something else ... and that the guy looking at what now was there in its stead didn't seem overly encouraged by what he saw.

I heard the split-second buzz of static that I'd heard twice before, upon one of the Desk Doyennes calling forward a new interviewee.

This time, I saw that it must have been Miss Tomkins who had just flicked the switch on her desk microphone, because hers was the only free desk, and because she was eyeballing me.

In accustomed authority, Miss Tomkins intoned over the PA system: "David Manners! David Manners, report immediately to Desk Five."

Miss Tomkins could, I thought, simply have merely crooked her finger at me in beckoning. But no, that wouldn't do, would it? It wasn't the same.

I got up from my hard plastic orange seat and stepped forward. But upon reporting as summoned, respectfully I stood back from Miss Tomkins' workstation and held my silence, adhering to the dictates of AFP Female-Friendly Code protocols.

But instead of telling me to sit down, Miss Tonya Tomkins, sitting with her bare olive-complexioned right leg crossed over her left knee and, now confirmed from this close range as wearing the same comfortable and flexible footwear I'd seen on my last visit, allowed her right heel to pop free from her well-worn red leather flat, in partial- to semi-revelation.

I'd soon come to learn that the thing about initial, pop-out, partial- to semi-revelation, was that not always but surprisingly often it was the promising prelude to more elaborate and expansive examples of absent-minded shoe-playing expression.

Not that this, I knew, was the unconscious behavioural 'revelation' phenomena, in the fortuitously happened upon, serendipitous sense.

But still: I stood, and stared, and watched, helpless in the thrall of this by now all too familiar bewitchment.

In a manner of disturbing, replicated exactitude: in that it suggested something carefully considered, deliberate, purposeful – cunningly organised – was afoot, just as her colleague at Desk 4 had done, Miss Tomkins angled her foot steeply upward and dangled her shoe from her toes, exposing to tantalising view her bare sole from the bottom of her heel to the ball of her foot.

For how long, I stood, and stared, and watched: stared, at the bottom of Miss Tomkins' grubby, work-begrimed bare heel; observed, the hypnotic play of her swinging, precariously dangling well-worn red leather flat – I don't know.

But, I thought I knew what I would see when finally I looked up again ... and I was right.

The triumphant, jubilant expression on Miss Tonya Tomkins' face was more eloquent than had she voiced to me her thoughts in words:

This (dangle, swing, dangle) male citizen David Manners (swing, dangle, swing) was how I exposed you.

How I brought to light (swing, dangle, swing) your compatibility.

How I made available (dangle, swing, dangle) your many female-friendly usefulnesses: not, just to your employer Mrs Hilary Harper, her junior partner assistants Amanda and Zoe, their female clientele, and to all of the other females as entitled via the terms of Mrs Harper's reciprocal arrangements – but (swing, dangle, swing) especially ... to me.

"Good afternoon, male citizen David. You may sit down."

"Good afternoon, Miss Tomkins. Thank you."

"First, I am pleased to say that since I last saw you two weeks ago, a lot of attitude-changing water appears to have flowed under your bridge.

"During the two weeks that you have been working for Mrs Hilary Harper of Harper's Conference Catering, I have received an impressive number of meritorious reports about you – both, from your employer's female clientele, and from reciprocal-arrangement recipients of your services.

"In the form Female Citizen Communication text messages mostly, but a not inconsiderable number of direct phone calls to me here, too.

"But then, there are these ..." Miss Tomkins showed me some stapled-together sheets of white paper "... as you can see: a sizeable handful of hand-written testimonials. All the more impressive, because they are all the more unusual: these female citizens have gone to the trouble of putting pen to paper for you – in some cases, as well as text-messaging or phoning.

"Good words, so to speak, from female citizens. For who, such has been their satisfaction not only with the uncommon quality of your service but also your impeccable behavioural conduct, felt compelled to relay through the proper channel not only their highly favourable endorsements but also to convey to me their firm insistence that their comments and commendations be officially noted in your Male Citizen File.

"But of course, all communications – text message, phone call, handwritten, or in-person – sent to or received by us here at the Job Centre, are entered into the AFP National Database System as a matter of routine. And I can tell you, just as I have informed all of my correspondents in this matter, I have placed photocopies or transcripts of all such Female Citizen Communications in your Male Citizen File."

I wasn't sure if what Miss Tomkins had said to me warranted a reply, but I judged it best to offer the standby play-it-safe response anyway: "Thank you, Miss Tomkins."

"I am pleased with you, male citizen David. Up to now, there is not the slightest of blots on your copybook. You have got yourself off to a bright start, and I am optimistic about your prospects.

"But I am not one to be carried away by sunny starts. I have seen many bright beginnings fade, and fade fast.

"You have shown a lot of positivity, but will your star continue to rise and shine? Will this steady stream of Female Citizen Communication attesting so glowingly to your remarkable adaption continue to flow to me here at my Desk? Will your praiseworthiness last, or will it fizzle out? Will commendations be replaced by condemnations? We will have to see how you go on, won't we?"

"Yes, Miss Tomkins."

"So ... male citizen David, this is your first Male Worker's Conduct Review interview with me, your Probational Case Officer."

"Yes, Miss Tomkins."

"Just to recap: These one-to-one meetings will take place on alternate Mondays, during your lunch break when it is least inconvenient to your employer Mrs Harper."

"Yes, Miss Tomkins."

"Although, you should also prepare yourself – keep your calendar free and ensure your availability – to report to me here for any supplementary lunchtime meetings between us, that at my discretion I might summon you to my Desk impromptu."

"Supplementary ... impromptu, meetings, Miss Tomkins?"

"Yes, male citizen David – impromptu: Extra, unscheduled meetings, that at short notice or even with no advance notice at all, I might summon you here to my Desk. Be sure to check your phone regularly for my text message – believe me: you wouldn't want to miss it ... male citizen David?"

"Yes, Miss Tomkins. I'll be sure to check."

"Good. Now, on your way in, did you see those posters displayed in the window? Male citizen David ...?"

"Um ..."

"Now, don't tell me you didn't notice that wonderful life-size full-colour poster of Caroline Flynt, and her stirring message to fine young men such as yourself: 'Spare Time is Wasted Time – Man a Female-Friendly Service Today!' You saw that, didn't you?"

"Yes, Miss Tomkins. I saw it."

"Well, there is another way that you can please me – and at the same time, respond to your Prime Minister's appeal to you: Volunteer to donate some of your free time to facilitate a female-friendly service this weekend."

"But, Miss Tomkins, I'm so tired, after a week of—"

"I know from speaking to your employer Mrs Harper this morning that you've got the full weekend off this week."

"Yes, but on Saturday I'll be going with my work colleague Edds to watch Brighton – we're at home to Liverpool in the Premier League."

"Yes, I know. I'll be going with Dolores – my colleague at Desk 4, the Interviewer you were so obviously ... appreciative. We've got complimentary all-competition season tickets to watch the Seagulls' matches both at home and away, complete with refreshments vouchers for half-time. But, to get back to you: that still leaves your Sunday free."

"But my Sunday isn't free either, Miss Tomkins. I've made arrangements: Sunday afternoon, I'll be going for a pizza, with—"

"There you go – Sunday it is. You can go for a pizza anytime."

"But, Miss Tomkins! I can't just drop plans, to ..."

I realised that the soft, muted sound I'd heard a second ago must have been Miss Tomkins' right well-worn red leather flat falling to the carpeted floor beneath Desk 5. For, in the next instant, the ball of her warm and slightly clammy foot was pressing into my bare left knee; the undersides and the pads of her bare toes, securing a firm purchase.

The tingly sensation was so pleasurable, it was almost unbearable.

Over the last two weeks, I had experienced many pleasurable sensations:

Foot-to-face passive servitude at the feet of refreshments-breaking, single-legged postured, opinion-positing centre-of-attention in-tenure ladies.

And active participant, self-initiated/instruction-led hands-on foot massage services.

But this was something different again.

"And, here was me, thinking your future was full of promise, male citizen David. But already, just like so many others before you, your bright start is fading – and fading fast. Is your sunny start, then, just a false dawn?"

With the pads of her toes over my bare left knee, Miss Tomkins emphasised the words: 'me', 'promise', 'David', 'already', 'fast', 'false' and 'dawn'.

To look anywhere, but at her penetrating blue eyes, looking down at her desk my eyes fell upon the sham sheet of white paper – it was, of all things, an intra-AFP/Job-Centre circulation, r.e. The Compatibility Department.

"I am not unreasonable: I'll excuse you for Saturday – you can go to the football match with your work colleague Edward Edwards; you are both doing so exceptionally well in your new employment situations with Mrs Harper, I would hate to engender any feelings of resentment.

"So ... am I, being unreasonable, in asking you to donate just a little of your free time on Sunday, either before or after you go for your afternoon pizza? Am I being over-demanding, in asking you to man – not an eight-hour, not a four-hour, not even a two-hour – but, to gentle you into it, just a one-hour Female-Friendly Service Facilitation slot?"

I kept quiet.

"Believe me, male citizen David: I am not always so accommodating – you are very much a special exception. But trust me: you wouldn't want to disappoint me."

Again I said nothing in reply, hoping that Miss Tomkins would drop all of this voluntary free-time sacrificing female-friendly service facilitation business and move on.

But, no ...

"All right ... let me set out some of the many good reasons for you doing so, male citizen David:

"One – you will earn your way into my good books; the benefits of which you should not dismiss lightly.

"Two – I might be able to see my way to reduce from a possible maximum of five the number of times per week that I summon you to my Desk impromptu; I might – if you do not try my patience any further – even go so far as to cast-iron guarantee your choice of one regular meeting-free day of the week.

"Three – when I record your voluntary Female-Friendly Service Facilitation accreditations in the AFP National Database System, I will add an endorsement of my own; this will stand you in still further good stead in the event that you are brought before an AFP Disciplinary Panel, when in considering your record the panel may see some basis for mitigation.

"Four – it's a tight race, at the top of the Southern League of the UK Intra-Job-Centre Compatible Capture Cup, with Brighton Job Centre currently in third place behind Portsmouth and the League-leaders Southampton. In the event of a tie on points, the determining criteria to decide the outright winners will be the highest number of in-work male citizen Female-Friendly Service Facilitation recruitments – you would not go unrewarded, should I recruit you as a free-time sacrificing volunteer and your sign-up proved to be the prize-winning difference."

This time, with the pads of her toes on my bare knee, Miss Tomkins laid emphasis on the words: 'good books'; 'regular'; 'good stead'; 'unrewarded', and 'your sign-up', sending further shivers of ecstasy through me.

There was a lot of 'might', 'could', and 'mays' in there ... nonetheless, it seemed there were some tangible benefits to be earned, just for volunteering to man a one-hour Female-Friendly Service Facilitation slot.

Miss Tomkins must have sensed her opening; intuited that I was thinking about it.

"You needn't sign up as a Regular, male citizen David."

"I wouldn't have to be a Regular, Miss Tomkins? For definite?"

"No – because in your present line of work you won't know from one week to the next whether you will be working a five-day, six-day, or even a seven-day week, you will be unreliable; Regulars need to be dependable. So, what you will need to do is to register your willingness to man a female-friendly service voluntarily as an in-work male citizen."

"Um ... I'm still not sure, Miss Tomkins. It's a big commitment, and—"

"Won't you do it, David, to please me?"

"Um ..."

"I know: How about ... an instant bonus reward? Sign up now, and I will allow you to sit under Desk 5 at my feet for five minutes."

The effect of Miss Tomkins' words eclipsed all that she had said previously; their impact upon me, description-defying.

And neither had it escaped my notice that in addressing me just now, Miss Tomkins had dispensed with the normal formal protocoled 'male citizen' usage – she, but of course not we, were on first-name terms.

"And ... I needn't become a Regular, Miss Tomkins?"

"No! I've told you: although your employment circumstances may change in future, for now, your irregular hours of work rule you out from applying to become a Regular. But you can still register your interest in manning a female-friendly service as an in-work male citizen on a one-off, as-and-when basis."

"Well, if you put it like that ... All right, then, Miss Tomkins."

"Good!" Miss Tomkins drew the pad of her forefinger across her forehead, as though I had been hard work. "Well, we got there in the end, didn't we?"

"Yes, Miss Tomkins."

"And, now that you are in such a positive frame of mind ... what about in future?"

"In future, Miss Tomkins?"

"Yes – in the future! What do you say, to Mrs Harper informing me as to your future availability in advance: on a weekly basis and as a matter of course? And then, to save you the time and trouble, I'll put your name down to man a vacant female-friendly service slot that upcoming weekend?"

"Um ... I—"

"I'm not unreasonable: I won't overcommit you; the last thing I want is to burn you out too soon. And, as another special concession for your continuing cooperation, we can keep the football arrangement going with your work colleague and friend Edward Edwards. Leave it to me; I'll square it all up with Edward's Probational Case Officer, Vanessa at Desk Three."

"That's a big escalation, Miss Tomkins. A one-off, as-and-when basis, is one thing. But ... I mean, thank you for letting me and Edds go on watching the football, but I'm not sure I want to commit, to such—"

"That was contingent upon your continuing cooperation ... Do you want me to allow you to go on watching the football?"

"Well ..."

"Excellent! That's all settled, then. You are doing the right thing, David. And, don't forget: when you have completed the necessary formalities at Reception, come back here to me for your instant-reward bonus. You haven't forgotten what it is, have you; the little treat I promised?"

"Um ..."

"I didn't think so. Now, go over to one of the Job Search screens, and insert your Male Citizen Identity Card to override the default format and gain advanced access to the System.

"From the menu, select: 'A-Z Listing of Female-Friendly Service Facilitation Vacancies'. Scroll down the list of available choices for the day in question, and then select the as yet unfilled slot that you wish to man. Your request will then be processed. Wait for your printout, run your eyes over it to see that all is correct and proper, and then take it to Reception.

"If you haven't been able to choose, don't worry; we get that a lot. The receptionist will run a range of still-available options past you and, if you are still undecided, she will be happy to make what she considers an appropriate selection on your behalf. Well ... off you go then."

"Yes, Miss Tomkins," I said, vacating my seat. "And thank you."

*


Inserting my Male Citizen Identity Card into the Job Search monitor to gain advanced access to the System, the first thing I noticed upon selecting 'A-Z Listing of Female-Friendly Service Facilitation Vacancies' was that it was possible to apply to man a particular facility for anything up to three months in advance through 'Slot Securement' and 'Block-Booking'.

But, keeping my focus more to the immediacy, I opened the Friday window – I thought I might be able to keep my weekend free and intact, after all, by serving Miss Tomkins' suggested gentling-in, getting-me-off-the-mark, one-hour female-friendly service slot on Friday evening after work.

As it happened, scrolling down the 'A's, I spotted the very thing that I felt was guaranteed to get me into Miss Tomkins' good books.

I could forget all about donating just one free-time hour, though. The minimum time-frame commitment for this female-friendly service was a four-hour time slot; and even then, it was strongly caveated with "a high possibility of long overruns due to circumstances beyond our control".

I positioned my finger over the touch-screen where it said 'APPLY', and the word lit up, prompting me to 'COMMIT' ... I withdrew my finger to a safe distance.

It wouldn't do to be hasty.

If I acted in haste, I wouldn't be repenting at leisure – and, why, for no good reason, subject myself to a needless minimum quadrupling of Miss Tomkins' stated one-hour introductory, 'gentling-in' requirement?

Because there was, a good reason?

Mulling this over, I remembered the message I'd seen beneath the posters displayed in the Job Centre's window. About the video recordings viewable inside featuring the scenes depicted: In-work, free-time sacrificing male citizens, in situ and performing their freely chosen or consensually assigned female-friendly service facilitation.

On the touch-screen, I repositioned my finger over where it said 'Watch Video', and the words lit up.

There was nothing to worry about: the viewing of the video was for informational purposes and, at this stage, non-committal.

I touched where it said 'Watch Video' ...

The ensuing video footage was of a one-minute duration, but that was enough.

The question now was: Just how important to me, was it, to get into Miss Tomkins' good books? ("the benefits of which you should not dismiss lightly".)

Had the shock of hearing Miss Tomkins' five-minute under-the-desk "instant-bonus reward" proposal unhinged me?

Just the very thought ...

On the touch-screen, once again my finger poised over where it said 'APPLY', and again the word lit up, prompting me to 'COMMIT'.

Maybe I wasn't thinking straight.

Maybe it was the mind-shattering notion of earning the heretofore unimagined privilege of sitting on the floor in the open kneehole of Desk 5 at Miss Tonya Tomkins' feet.

Or maybe it was the scintillating idea of feeling again in the Probational Year future and perhaps longer at her discretion on alternate Mondays, the incredibly sensual thrill of the warm and slightly clammy ball of her foot and the undersides and pads of her toes gaining purchase on my hypersensitive bare kneecap as she asserted her authority and 'persuaded' me to "cooperate".

Or, maybe it was the thought of Miss Tomkins text-message summoning me at her discretion up to a possible maximum five days a week to her Desk impromptu, for extra Probational (or extra-Probational) lunchtime meetings ("believe me: you wouldn't want to miss it").

It was make-your-mind-up time.

On the touch-screen, I touched my finger to where it said 'APPLY' ...

In the housing beneath the Job Search touch-screen a printer started up and now, replacing the thumbnail video icon and the appended descriptive text, was a bold-lettered formal statement:

Thank You, Male Citizen David Manners, For Registering Your Interest In Voluntary Female-Friendly Service Facilitation And For Pledging To Donate Some Of Your Free Time This Weekend – Retrieve Your Printout And Report To Reception For Verification And Validation.

I retrieved the sheet of flimsy white printout paper, read through it, and was satisfied that all was correct and proper.

I experienced another twinge of doubt; this was a big decision.

But the time for hesitation and indecision was behind me; I had made my decision, and it was too late for second thoughts.

I had made my freely chosen in-work male citizen's free-time sacrificing female-friendly service facilitation selection.

No one had made me press 'Watch Video'; no one had forced me to press 'APPLY', and no one had coerced me to 'COMMIT'.

And now I was committed.

If I was to renege now, on my albeit as yet unverified and unvalidated application but now, On-System registered pre-ratified pledge ... well, I'd read the warning.

Probably, it was just a case of nerves, which was understandable, I thought as I headed to Reception with the thin sheet of white paper which, although I hadn't actually signed it, because I had pressed 'COMMIT' on the Job Search touch-screen my request was now registered On-System on the AFP DataBase and the printout flimsy was a legally binding document.

Sitting behind the Reception counter was an attractive brunette in her early- to mid-twenties who watched me approach. From her name tag, I saw she was Sandra.

"Good afternoon, Miss Sandra."

"Good afternoon, male citizen."

"My name is David Manners, and my Probational Case Worker, Miss Tonya Tomkins at Desk 5, suggested to me that I donate some of my free time this weekend to facilitate a female-friendly service. Here is my Male Citizen Identity Card, and this is my printout."

Sandra slid my Male Citizen Identity Card into a slot to get my details up on her computer screen, and then she ran her eyes over my printout.

"Um ... male citizen David, have you read the on-screen description of the service you have chosen to facilitate?"

"Yes, Miss Sandra."

"And you weren't dissuaded, by what you read?"

"No, Miss Sandra."

"Did you watch the one-minute video?"

"Yes, Miss Sandra."

"And you weren't put off, by what you saw?"

"No, Miss Sandra."

"It's just that, well ... what you have chosen to do is very ... full-on, for a first-time volunteer. Our experience has been that it is better to gentle in volunteers, so as not to frighten them away or burn them out too soon.

"Under the Female-Friendly Code: Article Two, your printout flimsy is a legally binding document, whether signed or unsigned. Upon pain of punitive chastisement of up to and including imprisonment, it compels you to carry out your freely chosen voluntary female-friendly service facilitation to an adequate, supervisorily signed-off standard.

"But, since I can see you are clearly a noble young man intent upon doing the right thing, I have it in my power to revoke the document and rescind your, um ... rash commitment. To protect you from yourself, as it were.

"So, shall I run some of the ... more suitable, options by you, and you can make another choice? Believe me: you'll be glad you did!"

"No thank you, Miss Sandra."

"Excuse me?"

"I mean, thank you, Miss Sandra, but I think it best to honour my commitment."

"Has Tonya put you up to this, by any chance? I wouldn't put it past her."

"No, Miss Sandra. Miss Tonya didn't make any actual service suggestions, only that she would be happy with me for now if I signed up to man a one-hour slot sometime over the upcoming weekend. My choice of female-friendly service facilitation, and of its duration too, is my own."

"So be it, then, male citizen David, if I can't change your mind ...?"

"No, Miss Sandra."

"Then I'll need you to sign a disclaimer."

"Of course, Miss Sandra."

"Absolving me from any blame whatsoever, for any temporary or permanent physical problems you may incur and/or any short-term or long-term mental health issues that may arise as a result of your insistence upon your facilitation choice despite my best efforts to dissuade you."

"Naturally, Miss Sandra."

"Sign here, then."

"Yes, Miss Sandra; and while I'm at it, I'll sign my printout flimsy too."

"Good ... Now, as to your volunteer status: Are you signing up as a Regular?"

"No – Miss Tomkins says I'm unreliable. Undependable. She says I'll have to sign up as an in-work male citizen and volunteer and to sacrifice my free time on a one-off, as-and-when basis."

"One, last chance: Do you still want to do this?"

"Yes, Miss Sandra."

"Okay ... there you go then, male citizen David. You've already signed my disclaimer; you've just signed your printout flimsy at the bottom – all that remains now is to rubber-stamp your printout flimsy to verify and validate your service selection."

"Yes, Miss Sandra. And thank you."

*


"And, you are doing this ... to please me, David?" said my school leaver's Career Assessment Interviewer and now Probational Case Worker, Miss Tonya Tomkins, when upon my return to Desk 5 she read through my verified and validated printout flimsy as rubber-stamped by Sandra at Reception.

Miss Tomkins had again let her left red leather flat fall to the carpeted floor beneath her desk and, with the ball of her warm and slightly clammy bare right foot pressing into my seemingly supersensitive bare right kneecap, with the pads of her toes she put emphasis on the words 'And', 'this', and 'please me', sending pulses of pure pleasure rippling right through me.

"Yes, Miss Tomkins. I'm doing it for you."

"Are you serious? You'll really, do it? You won't let me down?" demanded Miss Tomkins, literally pressing home her advantage as with the pads of her toes she emphasised the words 'serious', 'do it', 'won't' and 'down'.

Somehow, through the semi-delirium of my all but incapacitating sensual overload, I managed a reply. "Yes, Miss Tomkins, I ... I'm serious. I'll ... do it. I won't ... let you down."

*


Miss Tomkins did have a very shapely foot, I thought as upon claiming my instant-bonus reward and sitting on the carpeted floor beneath Desk 5, from extreme close-range, I admired it.

And, as she sat with her olive-complexioned right leg crossed over her left knee, the aroma emanating from her red leather flat was dreamy as she let her well-worn flexible shoe dangle from her bare right foot in semi-revelation.

The last thing I wanted was to risk Miss Tomkins abruptly curtailing my five-minute reward for taking liberties. But I could not help myself, but to press my lips into the bottom of Miss Tomkins' work-begrimed bare heel in a respectful, reverent – worshipful – kiss.

But to my relief, my Probational Case Worker merely let her comfy office-wear shoe fall to the floor, granting me free reign.

And, how I laid bare my soul at Miss Tonya Tomkins' bare sole!

At that moment, my ecstatic devotions conveying to her my complete submission, she knew as did I that with obedient compliance I would in future accept any and all of Miss Tomkins' in-work male citizen's free-time sacrificing female-friendly service facilitation voluntary assignments.

Miss Tomkins splayed her toes, and I savoured the olfactory nirvana of her intra-digital delights.

But my five-minute instant-reward bonus passed like five seconds.

For, all too soon, with the ball of her foot, Miss Tomkins pushed my worshipful face away, signalling that my time was up.

How I longed to stay there, in the open kneehole of Desk 5 – but it wouldn't do to take liberties.

I got out from beneath Desk 5.

Standing before Miss Tomkins, I bowed from the waist in reverence and, in departing salutation, I said succinctly: "Miss Tomkins."

Miss Tomkins smiled, and I heard her attractive brunette colleague Dolores at Desk 4 laugh.

When I turned to head for the exit, it was to see that the waiting dozen-plus job seeker/school leaver Career Assessment/Male Worker Conduct Review interviewees were all giving me strange looks.

But I didn't care: They were all out of work and now out of luck losers. Whereas I was employed, and in luck.

"It's still not too late to change your mind, male citizen David!" said Sandra from behind the counter at Reception.

But she was laughing.

*



So, I needn't peruse the line-up of posters displayed in the Job Centre's window or read the AFP Cabinet Ministers' latest appeals and more earnest adjurations to in-work male citizens to sacrifice some of their free time to facilitate a female-friendly service, I thought as I hit the street.

Which was just as well; only five minutes now remained of my one-hour lunch break.

The first of my Male Worker Conduct Review alternate-Monday meetings with my eighteen-year-old school-leaver's Career Assessment Interviewer and now Probational Case Worker, Miss Tonya Tomkins, had panned out far better than I could have imagined – I was definitely in her good books.

Propelling me back to my workplace to carry on the good work was a pick-me-up, life-is-good spring to my step that hadn't been there before; our lunchtime meeting had left me feeling invigorated, energised – galvanised.

I would certainly abide by Miss Tomkins' admonitory instruction to check regularly in future for her text messages summoning me to her Desk for lunchtime meetings impromptu.

On the whole, things were shaping up pretty well.

Even Edds – who, although perhaps could not be described as taking like a duck to water to his primary male-worker role little-something-extra provider to our employer Mrs Hilary Harper's refreshments-breaking female clientele and secondarily as the at-work fringe benefit of his supervisors Miranda and Sophie – was learning to adapt.

The only fly in the ointment was how I was going to face my now girlfriend Sarah with the news that I was cancelling our date; how I was going to explain that I would not be taking her for a pizza on Sunday afternoon, after all.

I remembered the look on Sarah's face, just over two weeks ago.

When on that Saturday upon finishing work in the Brighton City-Break Hotel and Spa at two o'clock, she'd found me waiting for her in the chefs' changing room – holding the neatly folded pair of thin white cotton ankle socks that for the benefit of the two waitresses Cindy and Marisa, Sarah had 'ordered' me to hand-wash and steam-iron.

But I doubted very much that Sarah would be smiling in amusement, later, when I called to tell her I was standing her up for our Sunday afternoon pizza date – and why.

In my head, I could already hear what Sarah was going to say: 'David, I can understand that you want to get into Miss Tomkins' good books; that you need to keep her sweet – but did you have to go over-egging the pudding like that?'

As a kitchen worker, I supposed Sarah could speak with some authority on the subject of overegging the pudding in the literal sense.

But maybe by Sunday evening, as a result of my in-work male citizen's free-time sacrificing Female-Friendly Service Facilitation choice, albeit, in a figurative sense, I would know a little about over-egging the pudding too ...

At Gatwick Airport, on Friday evening at 18:45 I was to present my Job Centre-issued printout flimsy to the receptionist at the information desk of Cosmopolitan Airways.

To the astonished delight of Miss Tomkins, and despite the best efforts of Sandra the Job Centre receptionist to 'protect me from myself' and dissuade me from opting for something so "full-on" as a first-time volunteer, I had applied to man Air Purification Technician Service Vehicle J, on the 19:30-departing Cosmopolitan Airways Flight CA 01-04.

With flight crew changeovers/passenger transfers during each of the respective destinations' one-hour stop offs on the four-leg, east to west, around-the-world journey: Flight CA 01-04 Gatwick-Los Angeles (11h 20m); Flight CA 02-04 Los Angeles-Tokyo (12h 00m); Flight CA 03-04 Tokyo-Dubai (11h 55m) – Flight CA 04-04 Dubai-London Gatwick (8h 00m) culminated on Sunday evening, forty-eight hours later, one of Cosmopolitan Airways' Friday-evening-departure sun-chasing Double Redeyes.

Traversing its under-seat rail track in the aircraft's modified fuselage, responding automatically to in-sequence demand Service Vehicle J would report to the retractable footwells of the pushbutton-summoning female air passengers seated in the Seat-Line J (starboard window) seats.

This innovative female-friendly service was one of the brainchildren schemes of the Authoritarian Female Party Prime Minister, Caroline Flynt.

Purportedly, the purpose of this highly popular in-flight service was that the Air Purification Technicians, strapped supine aboard their Seat-Line dedicated Service Vehicles and their mouths sealed with tape, would sniff up the fumes from the feet of the pushbutton-summoning female passengers so that via the cabin's air recirculation system the other passengers wouldn't have to.

I quickened my pace a beat.

In my employer Mrs Hilary Harper's something-for-something reciprocal arrangement with the Pier View Hotel manageress Miss Carolyn Cassidy, the fifty-strong contingent of Monday-Friday duration Annual Convention attendees from Feminist Magazine would again congregate in the set-aside Pier View Lounge for their 3:00 - 3:30 refreshments break.

This morning, those schedule-busting ladies had overrun their 10:00 - 10:30 coffee break by more than an hour.

How many this afternoon, I wondered, of those assertive, bossy, haughty women of wide-ranging ages, would stake their claim to assume their prized position, having-the-floor, holding forth, opinion-positing, centre-of-attention, single-legged postured tenure of their facial-footrest?

I broke into a trot; I wouldn't want to be late getting back.

And besides – Amanda and Zoe would be awaiting the return of their at-work fringe benefit.


The End.