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The Verecund

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The Verecund

Thinking back, it struck Rebecca as silly that she once worshipped the Barnes & Noble in her little hometown in Connecticut. How it seemed a sanctuary from the mall and all the over-branded family dining experiences that ran up and down Main Street and not just another corporate entity.

Of course in New York City there was a universal disdain for such things. Authenticity was the lifeblood of the city. Still, when she first moved to Manhattan for college, she thought she found a home in the huge three-story Barnes & Noble in Union Square. It only took a few months for her to fall madly in love with the far more interesting, if dustier and more lived-in, Strand a few blocks away.

There was a nonchalance to the Strand, as if as an institution it didn’t really care if you bought a book or not. The beat-up wooden carts outside the store were vaguely labeled. She wondered if people stole books and then realized it wouldn’t make much sense to risk stealing something that only cost $1. Plus the overlap of shoplifters and people who enjoyed weird, random used books seemed small.

Rebecca spent hours looking through the books in those carts and even more time pretending to look at the books and studying the people around her. The Strand was always filled of and surrounded by intelligent and worldly-looking people. Old and young, native and foreign. Just being there made her feel like she was part of the bohemian heart of the city.

As time went on she found even more beautiful and interesting bookstores around the city. The Corner Bookstore and Albertine Books in the Upper East Side, Rizzoli Books in the Flatiron, McNally Jackson in the Lower East Side. Each had its own charms and special details. Each fit a different mood or need.

Rebecca became a bit of a connoisseur, searching far and wide for unique and interesting bookstores wherever she went. Of all the bookstores, though, there was one that she found the most intriguing: Burke & Belmonte, booksellers. 

It was in the middle of nowhere. Buried in a labyrinthine part of Downtown Brooklyn, a place she only theoretically knew of, and it didn’t seem to be on any maps. She found it through vague instructions from someone in her master’s program who had a similar obsession.

The shop was cavernous in a way that seemed impossible for one of the Manhattan stores to be. It was on a somewhat industrial block, with large anonymous gray buildings all around it. Burke & Belmonte stood on a corner, a brick edifice with huge picture windows. On the glass were thick perfect letters in gold foil outlined in black paint. “Burke & Belmonte, booksellers. Since 1972. Appraisals by appointment only.”

Inside there was a large open space in the center of the store with rows of shelves on each side like a library. The walls were made completely out of shelves and there was a brass caged elevator in the back of the place with a sign that simply read: “Staff Only.”

Near the front was a tall dark wood counter, where the only employee Rebecca had ever seen sat. She had a large, ancient-looking computer with a monitor that only showed green alphanumerics. She was always reading huge books, usually in German or French. Her name tag was ornate, brass, and artfully read “Ms. Burke” in careful calligraphy. Obviously one of the store’s namesakes.

As aesthetically pleasing as the place was, it was their collection that charmed her and kept her making pilgrimages to the rather difficult to get to area. Philosophy, religion, all sorts of academic papers, and wild occult works. While these all grabbed Rebecca’s attention, it was the more illicit books that hooked her.

The Strand, by comparison, had a small Erotica section. It was under a table that held the “Staff Picks” and while that might have made it easy to camouflage ones browsing, the shelves were so low to the ground one had to crouch to get a good look.

Initially, Rebecca attempted to look at the sordid spines of the Erotica books at the Strand by just bending over slightly, she eventually gave up on modesty and got down on her knees, which seemed like the proper thing to do for dirty books.

No one ever seemed to notice or even catch her eye when she knelt before the little rows of De Sade and Nin and Réage and all those anonymous saucy pens. Rebecca always felt a flush of shame and then a slight disappointment, and wondered if she wanted to be noticed.

At Burke & Belmonte, the Erotica section was something wholly different. There was a huge collection with none of the glossy anthologies or modern reprints. There were worn blue and gold spines of Fanny Hill and Story of the Eye. Tall, delicate volumes of the Kamasutra, illustrated in vivid and sometimes baffling detail. Original Italian copies of the Satyricon and the Decameron. Original French versions of Les liaisons dangereuses and Justine. There were the same dark red covered versions of Delta of Venus and Little Birds that she had at home. The ones with the little gold bird engravings on the front.

Under that exquisite collection were two more shelves full of small pulp paperbacks. That’s were where Rebecca found things she had never imagined. Lurid illustrated covers that offered Daddy’s Favorite, and a cover showing two men wrestling in the nude that read, The Pleasure of the Gladiators, and even a barnyard scene with a buxom milkmaid titled, Puppy’s Paradise.

The Erotica section filled one tall bookshelf, all on their own, nestled between Anthologies and Literary Theory. Each shelf was full of vintage pieces, all in very good condition, and the stock seems to change and get updated daily. Rebecca found new and interesting volumes every time she stopped by.

More than the inventory and beautiful ambiance, there was a certain mystery to the place, far greater than that of any of the Manhattan shops she had frequented. From the elevator in the back, to the laconic clerk, to the huge platform that held the largest dictionary Rebecca had ever seen.

Rebecca went to the dictionary every trip to see what page it was open to. It was a different page every day. There was a huge ivory-handled magnifying glass next to the dictionary, though Rebecca wasn’t sure it was to be touched. 

The patrons were equally mysterious and beautiful. She seemed to run into the same few people every time. The tall dark-skinned gentleman with the neatly tied back bunch of braids and the crisp suit. The couple, an older and younger man, bald and curly, who walked around with their arms entwined, unable to stop touching each other.

One patron she always hoped to see was a timid woman Rebecca had nicknamed “the Verecund.” She was perhaps a year or two younger than Rebecca, and she seemed to gravitate to the same genre.

The Verecund was tiny. Short with a thin frame. Not the kind of woman that would usually catch Rebecca’s eye. She wore very elegant, but staid clothes. Dark wool pantsuits, floor-length long-sleeved dresses, or layers of dress shirts, vests, and tweed. All heavy fabrics, never showing a bit of skin. She wore her dirty blonde hair in a bun and always wore rather large round brass framed glasses. There was something in the woman’s shy and dowdy demeanor that intrigued Rebecca.

Perhaps it was that the woman always seemed to be in the Erotica section. Rebecca marveled as she watched the Verecund page through the dirtiest of books. She never said anything, but occasionally Rebecca would notice red in the younger woman’s cheeks and it would make her heart race and her body tingle with desire.

Rebecca was also a bit obsessed with the woman’s eyes. Her eyes were very large and a steely gray. Though she hardly wore any makeup, she always had sharp and perfectly winged eyeliner. There was a palpable longing in the woman’s eyes that made Rebecca imagine her in all sorts of shocking situations. 

Rebecca thought a lot about the mousy girl. She pictured her reading the dirtiest little pulp novels. She wondered what fantasies she had. The girl was a mystery like the store, like the store’s elevator. 

Still, the biggest mystery was how every Wednesday, the store closed at five for some kind of “special event.”

Rebecca didn’t get out to that part of Brooklyn very often, but numerous times she had arrived on a Wednesday when the place had already closed. The broad windows on either side of the brass fitted door were blocked by thick black curtains when the bookseller was closed, leaving the imagination to wonder what exactly was going on.

One Wednesday, Rebecca happened to have a day off and found herself in Brooklyn, so she thought she would get to the bookstore early and see if she could find out what exactly happened when it closed. 

She got there at half-past four and busied herself perusing her usual shelves. Poetry, literary theory, then finally her main genre of interest, Erotica. The place was far more crowded than she had ever seen it, with perhaps thirty people browsing and chatting.

She eyed the big clock that hung on one wall, above the shelves that held philosophy and the occult. As the hand edged towards five, she braced herself. When it was five minutes to the hour, the tall woman behind the counter left her seat and started drawing the curtains. She came face to face with Rebecca as she did.

“It’s almost five, miss,” the woman said with an expectant edge to her voice.

“Oh? Are you closing early?” She asked, feigning ignorance, but not sounding particularly convincing. The woman eyed her for a moment before responding. “Yes,” she said simply.

“I see. A private event, right? Should I leave?” Again the woman eyed her, seeming to appraise her. “If you like,” the woman said, the tiniest curve at the corner of her mouth.

“May I stay?” The question hung there for a moment, then another moment. Rebecca’s heart seemed to stop, waiting for the answer.

“If you like. Though, if you stay, you will have to wear this,” the woman said carefully. She then reached into the pocket of her blazer and took out a small silver pin. It was a one-inch oval with an ornate frame and in the center it read “invitée.”

Rebecca took the pin. “Does this mean I am your guest?” She asked, swallowing her fear and anxiety.

“That’s exactly what it means,” the woman said, the curve at the corner of her lip growing into a crooked smile. The woman then turned and closed the rest of the curtains.

Once the curtains were drawn, the bookstore became much darker. The scant ceiling fixtures only made for dim spotlights over specific shelves. As Rebecca watched, various desk lamps around the main room were turned on, though it still left the place in soft, low illumination.

The crowd milled about, chatting, exchanging books and conversation. The buzzing of the crowd was stopped by a simple clearing of the throat of the woman who had given Rebecca the guest pin. With that simple sound, the patrons stopped talking and organized themselves in the center of the store. Rebecca rushed to follow their lead.

A few people left the main group and walked to the bookshelves. One person stood in front of each row of shelves so that the large group was flanked by four people on each side. From their pockets or bags, the eight people took out small cards numbered one through eight.

Rebecca looked around the crowd as everyone waited for something to happen. It was diverse, with different ages and ethnicities, and genders. The unifying factor seemed to be an overt intellectual aesthetic. Tweed and glasses and studious-looking faces. Hair in buns, leather patches on blazers, pencil skirts, that sort of thing.

Everyone including “the Verecund.” Rebecca hadn’t noticed her before, because she seemed to blend into the crowd. She wore a very dark gray herringbone tweed three-piece suit. Her usual bun and glasses. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were wide and wild.

Rebecca was hypnotized by the woman. She seemed so shy and at the same time somehow adventurous. As she held her number just under her chin, Rebecca wondered if it was some sort of auction. She wondered if the numbered patrons were to be sold off as sex slaves. All sorts of sordid scenarios went through her mind.

“The votes have been tallied,” Ms. Burke said. “And the final selection is number five, with thirty-five votes by members or their proxies.”

There were murmurs, all eyes were on the Verecund, who held a card that read “five.”

Ms. Burke walked up to the woman and looked her over. The store clerk towered over the pretty blonde and the younger woman seemed to enjoy being appraised.

“Ms. Lorelai, you’ve been selected as tonight’s Subject once more. A rare thing to have two viewings in a month. I suppose we will really have to get a good look this time, so that our fruitful discussion can be continued. Please go to the elevator in the back and my assistant will tend to you downstairs.”

Then there was a flurry of movement. The blonde woman, Ms. Lorelai, walked to the back of the store, just as the elevator opened and two men with large trays exited.

Small glasses of cloudy green liquid were handed out. There were some small hors d’oeuvre passed around. A cheese puff and something with caviar on it. Rebecca smelled the drink and guessed it was absinthe, which she had never tried.

She sipped the little cordial glass and her eyebrows furled. She didn’t know if she liked the licorice-tasting drink, but it was certainly new and interesting. She took another sip. It was strong and sweet and aggressively alien tasting. She felt adventurous drinking something new and strange. When someone passed by, she switched her empty glass for another full one.

After a few minutes, the elevator door’s bell rang out again and the doors opened. A hush came over the crowd. A long rolling table was pushed out of the elevator with a white sheet draped over the top. Under the sheet was, very obviously, Ms. Lorelai, the Verecund.

The sheet clung to her form, showing the shape of her small pert breasts and now hard nipples and even the split triangle between her legs. Rebecca held her breath instinctively. 

The crowd buzzed with whispers. People formed a circle around the center of the store, where the table was eventually positioned. As everyone closed in, Rebecca attempted to find a place in the front row. This put her in direct contact with others, who brushed against her casually, though all eyes seemed to be on the table.

A tall dark-skinned bald man stood at the head of the table. He smiled broadly as he took hold of the sheet and looked around at the eager faces. His nametag showed he was Mr. Belmonte, the other co-namesake of the store.

“I remind you, no touching the model this evening. No vulgar displays in the audience, though we will dim the lights a bit and I’m sure most of our attention will be engaged. If you are discreet, then you are welcome to perform whatever secrets the shadows will hold. Now, I present: our entertainment!”

With a flourish, he pulled the sheet completely off the woman. She was, as Rebecca imagined, completely nude. She looked younger naked. Her body thin and coltish. Her skin was a soft light copper that demanded attention. As the crowd closed in, the lights of the store dimmed dramatically and a spotlight shone down on the model, exposing every inch of her.

Ms. Lorelai’s ankles were bound to the table by thick, exquisitely made, leather shackles. A matching shackle was around her pretty neck, which seemed to amplify her nudity. Only one of her wrists was bound similarly. Her legs were open wide and Rebecca bit her lip when she saw that her sex was shaved or waxed perfectly hairless. It seemed to deepen the vulnerability of her position.

Mr. Belmonte passed the sheet to someone, who began folding it and signaled to someone in the distance. Music started, a little crackly from old speakers in the corners of the store. It was an old song, some French jazz tune, with guitar and accordion and horns. 

“Today’s examination will be of the girl and her pleasure. Ms. Lorelai was gracious enough to hand over her phone and it was simple enough to find some of the somewhat shocking things she browsed and apparently used as fodder for her masturbatory jaunts. We will display some of the scenes on the ceiling, while she shows us how she attends to herself,” he said and clapped his hands once. The sound echoed through the store.

On the ceiling above the table, a rectangle of light appeared. The projector seemed to be attached to the table she was on. Familiar rows of smartphone icons appeared for a moment, then a browser window. The woman on the table gasped.

The browser’s history came up and the woman let out a pained little whine. Searches for “glory holes” and “gang bangs” as well as many variations of “Japanese train molestation videos,” and “tied up and used/bondage.”

One of the links was selected and a video started. It was a large warehouse-type room. Two men in leather pants circled a naked woman who was bound by rope to a bench. One of the men slapped her ass hard as the other moved to her head and pulled out his cock. As he pushed his big cock into her mouth, the other man continued to hit her with a belt.

Red welts formed on the woman’s ass. The other man soon took his cock out as well and started fucking her. They both hit her and called her a variety of names as they fucked her from both sides. She writhed helplessly in her bonds. 

The woman on the table watched the video, her eyes huge, and whimpered. She raised her hips off the table slightly, the crowd nodded approvingly. Her one free hand went to the leather around her neck. She bit her lip as she pulled at it. All eyes were on her hand as it moved to her chest, her middle fingers slipping across freckled skin, moving down, down to her breast. She seemed to be teasing herself, her finger making large lazy circles around her small breasts.

Her nipples were large, with puffy areolas that were a soft brown. Rebecca bit her lip. They were so different from her own larger breasts and small pebbles of nipples. She imagined what they felt like. She imagined what it would be like to lay there in front of a crowd of strangers and friends. 

“Her eyes are already glazed with lust from the delicious humiliation of her predicament,” said a portly gray-haired British man in a neat tweed suit. His smile was wide and his cheeks were red.

“Her hips are lifting up, like a rutting animal. It’s perfect, simply perfect,” said a curvy woman Rebecca’s age who was leaning against a bookshelf. Her large breasts heaved and she bit her bottom lip.

All around the erudite crowd was becoming red-faced and wanton. People shifted and backed up into each other. People paired or congregated in threes. In the dim light Rebecca saw a man stand behind another man, his arms around the other from behind, his hands slipping into the other’s trousers at the waist.

Ms. Burke stood closer to Rebecca, marveling with the others. “See how her blush is migrating slowly down her neck? The flush is a lovely sign of arousal. Not everyone has such obvious signals. It’s one of the reasons she is such a lovely model for us.”

The video changed to a train of some kind. The quality of the video and the angles made it apparent that it was staged, some kind of porn and not any real footage. A Japanese woman stood still as three men got on the train with her. They ogled her large breasts and leered. She looked down and pulled at the hem of her short dress.

Soon the men were pressing against her, one man pawing at her breasts as the other stood in front of him, hiding his actions from the other riders.

“Oh, this is a real fetish video isn’t it. I haven’t seen this particular kink. I imagine being exposed to everyone plays right into her sick desires,” said the tall man with braided hair Rebecca had seen before.

“The spotlight shows the wetness between her legs perfectly. God, she is soaked. Even her thighs are wet,” the curvy woman to their right said. “Come, you can see it better from here,” she whispered, motioning to Rebecca. 

Rebecca’s eyes went to Ms. Burke instinctively. She was her guest after all. Ms. Burke smiled hungrily, she seemed to enjoy the look Rebecca gave her, the subtle asking for permission. Ms. Burke nodded once.

The woman looked in her mid-thirties, perhaps Indian, with dark skin and black hair in a short neat bob. She wore a full-length, black wrap dress with an elaborate silver belt and a large artful silver necklace made of many moons in various phases.

She was short and buxom, and with her necklace reminded Rebecca of a fertility goddess. When she pulled Rebecca to stand behind her, Rebecca rested her chin on the woman’s head, in a small act that felt strangely intimate.

“I am Ms. Katkar,” she purred, pulling Rebecca’s arms around her. Rebecca was struck by the formality of how everyone only used their surnames. Rebecca considered how to respond. “I’m Ms. Emerson,” she lied.

“She’s a bit thin for my liking, but her hips are wide and her bottom is round and her thighs are deliciously thick,” Ms. Katkar said dreamily. Rebecca looked over at the woman on the table, watched as her hips continued to slowly buck up and down. How her fingers had gotten to her slight bump of a belly.

“Oh, I imagine her little belly is a treasure. So soft, how it would fit in the palm of your hand,” Ms. Katkar whispered. She took Rebecca’s hand and slipped it into the billowy folds of her wrap dress.

The video changed again. A woman in a dingy white box of a room. A glory hole. There was a cock poking through the hole in the wall and the woman sucked it greedily. Her eyes were drugged. Ms. Lorelei let out another whimper of embarrassment.

“Oh, I bet she’d love that. We should really have one of those built here,” said a tall cruel-eyed woman who had a man behind her, grinding against her ass slowly.

“I watch these sometimes,” Ms. Katkur said. “I like it when they fuck. I know it’s supposed to be for sucking men off, but I like when they break the rules, they press their cunts against those little holes and let strangers fuck them. Come inside of them. It’s electric in the wrongness.”

Rebecca nodded, though she wasn’t watching the videos. Her eyes were on the naked girl. She had finally gotten her fingers onto her wet cunt. She rubbed her clit fast. So fast her fingers seemed to blur. There was something intensely erotic about her only having one limb free, one hand, and that she was using it to try desperately to get herself off.

Someone bumped Rebecca from behind. “Do you mind, dear? If I get a bit closer?” The older British man in tweed she had seen before said. Rebecca considered what it would be like to be sandwiched between strangers. She felt her heart racing to match the model’s fingers. “I don’t mind,” she whispered to the man.

He was on her in a second. Ms. Katkur looked back at him and cut her eyes a little. He gave her a smile that seemed to say “we can share.” Katkur shrugged her shoulders and pulled Rebecca’s arm, letting her find the woman’s hard nipples. She gasped when Rebecca’s fingers toyed with the erect flesh.

The old Brit rubbed his erection against Rebecca’s ass and she instinctively pushed back against him. It wasn’t him she was attracted to exactly, but the whole situation. He leaned in and kissed her neck, which really set her off. She was defenseless when someone kissed her neck well and he was obviously very skilled.

He reached around her and cupped her breast. He groaned as he touched her through her dress. He whispered into her ear as he felt her up and she in turn fondled the woman in front of her.

“I fucked her once, that slut of a model. It was years ago. She was still in college, I think. Young and bashful and innocent. I had her in the basement of this very store. Sunk my cock right into her, raw. She was wet as a fountain. She begged me to give her permission to come on my cock. Imagine that? How could I say no? She squeezed me so tight it hurt when she came. God, what a fuck. I don’t think I’ve had another like it since.”

There was something about the old man, his eager hands, the feel of his cock straining against his tweed trousers and her dress. She could imagine him fucking the woman on the table. Rebecca imagined his cock was short but very thick. How it would stretch her cunt.

The movie on the ceiling changed again. Something wicked played that made the crowd gasp. Rebecca’s eyes were on the Verecund, though she vaguely heard a metal chain rattle. Ms. Lorelai’s fingers went faster. Her eyes wide and her mouth open. She looked completely possessed.

“Well, that’s a new one,” the Brit said with a chuckle. Someone else spat the word “disgusting!”

Rebecca wanted something, but she wasn’t sure she should ask. An itch had started inside of her. She couldn’t just watch anymore. She needed to be touched. She bit her bottom lip and reached down, pulling her skirt up. Ms. Katkur pouted as Rebecca extracted her hand.

“Can you, um-” she tried to find the words. “I need fingers inside of me. I want to feel filled up. I want to feel stretched,” she said, though she wasn’t sure who she was asking.

“We don’t have long. The bitch is going to come soon and they’ll turn on the lights,” the Brit said.

Katkur and the British man worked in tandem. They pulled and pushed Rebecca around, pulling down her panties and pantyhose as they held her skirt up. The old man’s thick finger brushed Rebecca’s soft pubic hair and he groaned approvingly. Then his middle finger pushed into her.

Rebecca gasped, but as she did, Ms. Katkur kissed her, grabbing her hair hard and quieting her. Rebecca vaguely remembered a rule about discretion. The Brit pushed a second finger into her as she moaned into the soft lips of the woman in front of her.

The moans of the video grew louder. Someone getting fucked hard and fast, screaming as she got fucked. Rebecca held onto the man’s rough tweed blazer. He was fucking her hard and fast with his fingers, and the orgasm seemed to be coming like a freight train.

When the girl on the table came, it echoed through the store. Rebecca came with her. Strangely Ms. Katkur’s perfume was all she could smell at that moment, heady and spiced and overwhelmingly sweet. That smell and the sounds of all the people around them, the video, and the girl on the table, and those thick fingers in her cunt, it all swelled and exploded in her head.

Ms. Katkur and the Brit held Rebecca up as she shook and her knees gave out. Then there was a round of applause. 

Rebecca was dimly aware of her panties and hose being pulled back up. She was turned around and straightened. She was shocked as the lights came back on. She was dizzy as she saw red-faced people smiling and laughing and clapping. She jumped as champagne was popped.

Rebecca backed up, away from the crowd. She found a bookshelf and leaned against the cool of it, catching her breath. She saw Ms. Katkur and the old British man. Katkur was holding his hand to her mouth and sucking his fingers. Rebecca realized they were the fingers that had been inside of her.

She saw Ms. Burke, smiling knowingly at her. She saw the girl on the table being wheeled back to the elevator. Ms. Burke walked towards Rebecca.

“Well, I see that you’ve enjoyed our little diversion,” she said and Rebecca could do nothing but nod.

“I’m afraid the rest of the evening isn’t open to guests, no matter how pretty they are,” she said, leaning forward and removing Rebecca’s pin.

“But perhaps we can talk about getting you a more permanent place here. Give us a call sometime,” she said, putting a red business card in Rebecca’s hand. 

Rebecca tried to process everything that had happened as Ms. Burke and a tall, menacing man in a black suit guided her to the front door.

Then, unceremoniously, she was outside. The cold night air stung her. Her heart was racing and her throat was dry. She turned around and saw that a yellow cab was parked in front of the store.

“Need a ride?” The driver asked.

She took a deep breath. She steadied herself. She nodded and walked over, getting in. As the taxi drove off, she looked down at the card. Thick red paper with gold foil lettering. A little illustration of a bunch of grapes, a phone number, and the enigmatic words, “The Order of Dionysus.”