Getting off the phone with Belinda, Sergei was a very happy man. So pleased with himself that he almost forgot to get off at the next exit on the turnpike. He was on his way to another conquest. The sure sign: she’d invited him to her fiftieth birthday party. Belinda would die when she saw him in his new suit. Anthony, his tailor, had that Italian sense of style and fit. And at fifty-one, Sergei still had that soccer star build. Even though women always told him he looked better naked, he knew he  “cleaned up” well.

If he could, Sergei would have given himself a high five. He hadn’t felt this good, this potent, since he made the Soviet Olympics soccer team in ’76. This gambit, giving house call massages had been a brilliant professional move.  For someone like him, a product of rigorous Russian sports training, it was a breeze. Good money. Great money, honestly. Easy work, nice surroundings, and very appreciative clients. Especially the women.  Oh these American women. Seemingly demure, but willing temptresses after a session or two.  The morning sessions were luckiest for him. He’d give their husbands a massage before they left work, and then take care of the women.  Many were just at that cusp, where they were starting feel a little shopworn, and were susceptible when he told them what good shape they were in, what good shapes they had overall.

He’d used the golf club’s membership roster as a start. A year into his mobile massage business, he’d developed a very busy practice. So far, he’d never lost a client. And, as far as he knew, they were all satisfied customers. When the men were on the table, he cranked up his former jock persona, talking sports and listening to their professional dilemmas. As a side benefit, Sergei was learning a lot about the American art of the deal. His friends in the Russian Mafia found many of his tidbits very useful. With the women, he listened carefully too. They told him everything. About their husbands, their wayward kids, spats with the girl friends, and their fears about their looks, their health, their careers, and whether or not their husbands were cheating. He became the best listener in Boston, a safe and sympathetic ear, and the women loved him for it.

Belinda was different, though. Sure, he’d like to sleep with her. But he also liked her. Liked talking to her. In fact, when he gave her a massage he found himself telling her more about his life than she did about hers. Like, Sergei, Belinda was a good listener. He told her about his problems with his daughter who he hadn’t seen in two years, his girlfriend and her stepson — how her ex-husband was stalking their new house. He’d even talked about his sister, Anya, living now in Washington D.C. with her American husband and teenage daughters, who was so disappointed that Sergei hadn’t been able to save money and buy a house, “like a real American”. Belinda always made him coffee after her massage, and he tried to sip it as slowly as possible to draw out the conversation. To Sergei, Belinda was pure honey. It was hard to give her a massage without letting it tilt to the erotic. Did she have any idea how hard he got?  He’d miss her when she was in Nepal. Three weeks. Her appointments were the highlight of his week.

Sergei had offered to come to her house at noon, and give her a massage before her party, but Belinda was too busy, didn’t have the piece of mind for it today. Maybe he’d call David? David seemed very stressed, and a late afternoon massage with Sergei might do him good.

David’s cell phone was ringing – Belinda had warned he might not be picking up yet. David sounded breathless when he answered the phone. As if he’d been running.  No. He didn’t have time for a massage this afternoon, although it sounded good. Tomorrow maybe? If Sergei had an evening opening? Sergei clicked off. Had that been a woman’s laugh in the background? A full, throaty woman’s laugh?

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