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This story wasn’t written by me, but I wish it was. It remains one of my all-time favorites.
I recently attended a male slave auction. I’m not at liberty to say where this occurred. Suffice it to say it’s in a country formerly part of the Soviet Union. They hold these invitation-only sales three to four times a year during the warm months. Everyone in the nearby town knows what goes on, though few have witnessed the events personally. The police don’t interfere because they help run the show!
There are usually 30 to 40 men auctioned off at each gathering. Talk about a global economy, I saw men from just about every race and ethnicity. They are generally late 20s to early 40s, from lean and wiry to packed with muscle. All are attractive in startlingly different ways. There’s something for everyone, as the saying goes, with merchandise ranging from blond Adonises to rough-hewn pit bulls covered with tattoos.
How each man arrived in this predicament is a good question, but questions such as this are discouraged. Some of the males have been abducted, no doubt. I remember one terrified young American–all lanky sinew, bushy beard, and cold sweat–whom I surmised was a collegian on an ill-advised backpacking trip. Word is, though, that most of the men are volunteers, and half of their sale price goes to a person they designate. For them, it’s the ultimate expression of “selling your body” to provide for your family.
And prices can get quite high. The starting bid is generally US $20,000. Most winning bids are considerably higher, and all sales are strictly cash. A particularly prime specimen can ignite a buying war between a handful of high rollers who fling about numbers that would make Sotheby’s jealous.
The venue is a small mill, now long abandoned. It’s about 10 kilometers outside of the town. Each auction-ready male wears only trousers, typically jeans or canvas working pants, and a pair of briefs. He’s manacled to the brick wall so that his arms and legs are safely immobilized. An auction number is pinned to the wall on one side so that it’s easily visible.
Prospective buyers stroll through the building, evaluating the merchandise. Most buyers, as you can imagine, are extremely well-heeled, traveling with an entourage of assistants and bodyguards. For a $1,000 fee, the management will erect a screen and allow a buyer to lower a man’s trousers and undershorts in order to perform a thorough, private inspection.
Silent bids are reported to a central management station by independent agents. In cases of multiple bids, agents inform low bidders of the high bid so that they can increase their offer. No one knows which parties they’re bidding against, and all business is conducted with the utmost discretion.
The real fun begins after the winning buyers hand over their cash. Most buyers have a signature brand, and even before the bidding stops, assistants begin stoking a charcoal fire in a huge brazier. As the irons begin to glow red, bottle after bottle of champagne is uncorked. Caviar and other delectables circulate. The crowd, with the exception of the restrained men, becomes happy and loud.
The well-muscled captive in the picture is an AWOL soldier. I was able to take the photo (photography is generally prohibited) because I was doing some work for the man’s buyer, a wealthy Taiwanese businessman who invited me along on this excursion. Amiable and funny, this captain of Asian industry is never seen without his three muscular, silent, and extremely scary bodyguards. (Trust me, I don’t pad my expenses with this client!) He paid over six figures in U.S. currency for the grunt, who was by murmured agreement the prime stud of this sale. Near the end, my employer engaged in a frenzied bidding war, presumably against a notoriously cruel Russian oligarch who had been eying the soldier intently.
Once the irons are hot, the owners brand their chattel one-by-one, the liquored-up crowd roaring in approval each time. Screams of pain are met with howls of delight, followed by toasts and songs. My employer was quite the comedian. He poked and prodded the chained victim’s pectoral muscle. “It’s as big as a Texas steak!” he exclaimed. “Grill it!” someone in the crowd shouted.
Throughout, the soldier remained impassive. I suspect that he knew what was coming all along. When the businessman finally pressed his large and glowing brand into the young man’s flesh, the solider merely closed his eyes, tensed his jaw, and gazed downward. The crowd fell silent for a moment, as if out of admiration for the young man’s strength, before roaring to life again and clinking their glasses with toasts.
So went the branding and revelling on into the evening until the drunken masters carted off their prizes. I don’t know what my Taiwanese employer did with his newly-purchased young soldier, but I know that he has purchased nearly a dozen prime men over the last few years. A couple times, after a few too many drinks, he has referred to his “ranch.” Perhaps someday he’ll invite me there, too.