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‘See, I know of this place in New York City…’ he trailed off, suddenly shy or maybe nervous. ‘Yeah?’ I prompted, interested more in his odd tone than in the prosaic remark. ‘I’ve been there a few times- big, noisy, expensive…but worth a visit, I guess.’ Brent cleared his throat, glanced over at his girl friend in rapt conversation with my buddy, and continued, ‘I doubt if you’ve been to the place I’m thinking of, Ric…I mean, no offense, but you couldn’t afford it and, if that was the case, you wouldn’t even know of its existence.’ Now clearly intrigued, I nodded, signalling my acceptance of his observation and willingness to hear whatever tale he chose to tell. The banker poured himself another drink and took a long swallow. ‘Yeah, I know of this place in New York City…even been there a few times (was he blushing???!) where, if you have more cash than can reasonably be counted, you can rent or even buy…ah…party animals.’ ‘What?’ I smiled, ‘You mean party favours…like, maybe, diamond encrusted napkin rings, a handful of throw away Rolex watches, or a mink covered toilet seat…right?’ He shook his head, not even cracking a smile. ‘No, you heard me correctly- party animals; a euphemism for guys you rent or purchase…for amusement, for entertainment at certain kinds of events, gatherings, or just for the hell of it and in private.’ ‘Oh sure, I get it- like an…escort?’ Now slightly nervous myself, I wondered what kind of person Brent thought I was to start in on a load of sleazy shit like that! ‘They rent out some good looking babes as well?’ It was meant to be a light hearted remark, but he just stared at me intently and whispered, ‘This place only caters…ummm…males, and no, they aren’t escorts.’ ‘Caters? You make it sound like upscale fast food…’ He finally nodded an affirmative, ‘Yeah, I guess you could look at it that way.’
I waited, suddenly serious and oddly sober, for his story to continue. ‘See, Ric, I was invited by a friend…wouldn’t have gone there otherwise, wouldn’t have fucking found out about the place…’ Was it my imagination, or did Brent’s eyes subtly shift as if caught in a half-truth? ‘Strange thing was, considering everything, the joint was in one of the busiest parts of town, fronted as a night club; hell, it WAS a night club…partly. My friend and a couple of other guys were all pretty smashed, hard partiers but bored- been there done that- and looking for some different kind of action…like I’ve been telling you, right?’ I nodded. ‘We were taken down some stairs, around some corners, rang a few buzzers, ID’s flashed, and a big door finally swung open. Inside was like a different world; understated, gently illuminated, obsequious people in thousand dollar suits…you know?’ I didn’t, but made a decent pretence. ‘They took us into a large, well appointed room where we sat on armchairs that, I swear, were sensuous in their own right- sleek green leather that you literally melted into- and looked up at a wall peppered with ten or twelve sixty inch, high res, fully digitized television screens. Each was turned on, of course, and, at first, each seemed to be broadcasting an aspect of the same scenario. Our host enigmatically referred to the whole tableau as the ‘lobster tank’. I arched an eyebrow, nonplussed. ‘Yeah, the lobster tank.’ Brent was now sweating profusely and I was mesmerized by a clear bead of perspiration delicately traversing his chiselled jaw. ‘Each camera- must have been state of the art CCTV- was trained on a large cell, and each of these was packed with…young guys. Yeah. Nothing else…well, ok, toilets, like some kind of Fed prison outfit or something, but the guys were just doing their thing; sitting on benches or the floor, maybe prone on one of the bunks…and they were all…ah…good looking, somewhere I’d say, between the ages of 19 and 30 at the outside.’ He paused and took another hit of whisky. ‘Each cell held maybe eight or ten men and they were all stripped to the waist- yeah, not a single one had his shirt on- most wore what you’d expect; khakis, canvas, sweats, or levis…but some were stripped down to their briefs or boxers and, oh, almost forgot; they were all barefoot; padding around the cells looking scared, or pissed off, or bored, but mainly just confused.’ ‘Why’d they call it the lobster tank?’ I asked. Finally, Brent cracked a slow smile, ‘See, it was kind of like those fish tanks in a swank restaurant, you know, where you size up your sea food- all fat and happy minding his own business- before making your choice and then, hey! Outta the aquarium and into the hot tub!’
Totally hooked on the harrowing tale I urged my strange friend to continue. ‘We sat and watched the guys on the big screens for a while, commenting on this one or that one as the prisoners unknowingly paced and posed…but I wasn’t really sure of the point of it all. When drinks were served I collared one of the waiters and asked who the guys in the cells were and why they were locked up. He excused himself for a moment and soon returned with a portly gentleman who must have been one of the proprietors of the place. It was then that I learned to my amazement that each of the men pacing their cells had been picked up- ok, abducted- basically from all over the country after careful observation and evaluation of…ah…certain qualities. There were several young military guys, identifiable by their haircuts and, if they were wearing any, their trousers and dog tags. Others, I was assured, may have been just about any kind of guy you’d meet on the street; college students and back packers, a cute young doctor just out of med school who looked like he could already afford a personal trainer, young fathers, tanned construction workers or landscapers or whatever, buzz cut skater punks, maybe a surfer or two, pizza boys and office workers, a few cops and firemen…shit, the place was a regular human menagerie! One thing though, like I already said; every one of these dudes was clean cut, with ripped physiques, and handsome features, yeah, you guessed it- all part of the selection process.’
My mouth agape in stunned amazement, I simply willed him to go on. Brent uncapped another bottle of whisky and continued, ‘My friends had already been there a few times but they let the proprietor know that I was a …virgin. The dapper old prick sort of smirked, looked at me in a patronising way and remarked that maybe I would benefit from a demo. What the hell was that? All confused, but I have to admit also intrigued, I muttered something and we all left the room but not before my friend pointed toward the screens and, making sure that a few of the imprisoned men were properly noted by the staff, remarked that we might consider a three day rental.