Nell Gwyn, The Lady Upstairs, short story by C H Elton at
Gemma Evans

Nell Gwyn, The Lady Upstairs

Nell Gwyn, The Lady Upstairs

written by: C H Elton



I’ve missed the postman again, damn. Why can’t he keep to a routine and deliver my post at least around the same time each day? I know it’s probably not his fault and depends on the volume of letters and parcels he’s given each day, and which route they take him on but really, it’s so inconvenient when I miss him. Bill, the man in the flat downstairs, gets to it before I do and I know he snoops at my mail, I’ve seen him studying the post marks and branding on the envelopes and on the few occasions we speak he often makes reference to my bank, or solicitors or my friends from London or abroad. It really is infuriating. When I get there first, I sort the letters into his and mine and leave his in the pigeonhole on the wall, for him to find when he ventures out. He’s a bit strange, a bit of a recluse, lives on his own after his wife died from cancer. I mean it must be difficult having been in a relationship for as long as he and his wife were but he doesn’t seem to make any effort to get out into the community and interact with the neighbours. It wouldn’t do for me; I know that much. I need social intercourse, contact with people, to speak with, have a laugh, take a drink or a snack or a meal out, or in. I love being with other people and listening to their wins and woes, hearing about the things that go on in their lives, big and small, children, grand-children, relationships, work, retirement. The whole of life is happening, and I don’t want to be like Bill downstairs, hidden away, oblivious to it all, I need to be in the middle of it. It’s crucial for my work anyway, or used to be, in the good old days when I worked the big city and its hotels. They were good for my business back in the day, well paid businessmen staying over for their important meetings during the week and then more reliable, regulars on Fridays and the weekends. I made good money and built up a loyal band of customers, some of which still keep me ‘in the manner to which I have become accustomed’ today. I only work with people I know these days, it’s safer and when you get to my age it gets harder and harder (so to speak) to get new clients. Not that I want or need any new ones, my appointments diary is sufficiently populated and new clients are just hassle; building an understanding, creating trust, being unsure about them and their background and their motives for wanting to use my services…no, I’m happy with the Twenty or so I’ve been seeing for the last five to fifteen years. They are reliable, safe, comfortable, and generally stick to a routine that I can manage. Occasionally I get a call giving me an hours’ notice but that’s few and far between these days, most book their next visit before we part, which is convenient for both of us and means I can forecast my months income in advance and plan accordingly. I own this first floor flat, paid it off years ago and so I’m now saving for the day when I decide to give it all up and move away, somewhere sunny. I fancy Greece, Santorini is lovely, I stayed there a few times over the years, just outside the old town in a lovely hotel. I don’t work when I’m on holiday, it’s too risky on a few fronts; my health, my welfare, and above all, the hotels don’t appreciate it. I did one year and made enough to pay for the holiday, and more, but I got roughed up a bit by a ‘gentleman’ who was at first all la-di-da, well to do, well spoken and softly mannered but when it came to him leaving, to go back to his wife, he got all tough guy and wanted his money back. He threatened to tell the hotel what I was up to and then go to the police. I refused of course and he quickly lost his temper and smacked me right across my face, catching the bridge of my nose and under my eye. He watched as I fell to the ground and then left fairly quickly. I decided then that I wasn’t taking anymore busman’s holidays. I had a nasty bruise which took me ages to cover up, but I lived…and I kept his money. Funnily, I didn’t see him again over the remaining week which was a bit strange as he wouldn’t leave me alone beforehand. You live and learn I suppose.

Anyway, I’m seeing one of my older regulars this afternoon. We meet twice a month, which isn’t unusual with my clients. This one is every other Thursday at the Marriot up near Heathrow. He stays a few days each week on business and I go for dinner and drinks with him, before we go to his room. He’s exceptionally good to me and always gets me a taxi home afterwards, he is such a proper gentleman and calls me Nell, after Nell Gwyn, which is a bit cheeky and says a lot about his ego, but there are some similarities between me and her I suppose. He’s very tidy too, and caring, he likes to take his time and makes sure I am comfortable, which is nice. He has a business that supplies concierge services to the wealthy and some well-known VIP’s; everything from providing a Bentley for a day to organising 5-star breaks in far off exotic places and lots of things in-between. He’s very well connected, and I’ve known him for about 10 years now. 10 years twice a week at £450 a visit, not a bad source of income I’d say!

I’ll get dressed up and put my face on and Bill will wave as I go down the path, from his mouldy old chair in the bay window. I’ll smile my sweetest smile, flashing my bright white teeth against my darkest red lipstick and wave back; he’ll be in bed when I return. I bet he wouldn’t wave if he had any idea where I was going or why. I once told him, in one of our brief garden encounters, that I had regular business in London and I could see him putting that together with the bank and solicitors branding he’d seen when snooping on my mail and deciding I was some well to do, business woman. It suits me I suppose.

I’ve got Martin tomorrow morning, another twice a month regular. He is my youngest customer and he’s been a client for almost seven years now. I know his mother; we were old friends from school, and we’ve stayed connected over the years. She is a nurse and had Martin when she was in her early 20’s and then her husband left them both about a year after the birth. Obviously, she struggled to live for a while but she’s tough and somehow managed to bring the child up and create a good career. I’ve got a load of respect for women like her, strong women who succeed in the face of harsh adversities. She’s a real inspiration, down to earth, determined and takes no shit from anyone. Martin is deeply shy and reserved and has always struggled with social situations and making friends. When Marie, his mother became ill, she was besides herself with worry, not just because she had what was a debilitating illness that made her immobile for a long while but because she had no idea how Martin would cope on his own. So, from her hospital bed, she organised a group of professional people to look after his various needs and a trusted friend to act as a paid carer, looking after the house and Martin’s finances. The house was paid for, so it was a case of acting as a trustee, paying Martin an allowance, seeing that the bills are paid, making sure he had food, that sort of thing. She had it all organised and everything went smoothly, allowing her to recover and get better.

Marie called me one day after she’d got home for a chat. The call was a long one and we spoke about the old days, at school, when we played together and sat in class together, then when school was finished how we went out together to pubs and clubs and how our respective careers started and developed. She was one of the few who knew how I’ve made my money, and she’s never judged. Anyway, the conversation came around to Martin and how as he was getting older, his moods were getting more difficult to manage and his urges were making him angry and frustrated. He’d never had a girlfriend; he couldn’t even speak with someone of the opposite sex without getting all tied up and stumbling over his words. She asked for my help in the hope that I could in some way ease some of his anxieties, especially as he got older. I agreed to do what I could and so, she came round to the flat with him and we chatted for ages about all sorts of things, and then they left. Then they came around again and after a while Marie left him alone with me for an hour and I spoke to him, gently, in a friendly way, trying to put him at ease and gain his trust. After a few weeks he was relaxing and started to interact with me, so one day Marie sent him in a taxi on his own, and he managed it. Here and back home again. And during that time, I made him feel happy and eased his tension, twice. So that was it, twice a month since then he visits as part of his routine and we spend some special time in my bedroom, with me in my silky black underwear and him leaving with a smile. It works well for all concerned and Marie created a standing order for me for as long as the arrangement continues; I don’t take a full rate though, no, a lady must have some morals!

Marie still works at the hospital; she’s got a senior position on the NHS Trust and earns a good salary. She still suffers from her illness though and often has to take time out to recover, I don’t know what the condition is but it’s erratic and manifests without much notice. She goes into hospital or sometimes just goes away for a few weeks, and everyone just steps in and gets on with looking after Martin, who seems used to it all now. I don’t know what will happen when she dies though, that’s at the back of my mind every time she has a turn, and I’m sure it bothers her as well. My other worry with this arrangement is what I do when I retire. I’ve got a few ideas and a particular lady in mind to take over but it’s not for now, I’ll make sure that he’s cared for properly.
One of my clients is the senior partner at a well-known solicitor’s office up in the city. He sends me payment by cheque from the office account which is why I get regular letters with the firm’s postmark on it. Bill must think I’m in trouble a lot or have shares in the business, which of course I do in a way. We meet in his local wine bar where we share a cold bottle of Sancerre and then go to his apartment around the corner. He’s friendly and polite but not heavy on conversation to be truthful which is strange for a lawyer! He is straight to the point though and not into anything weird or fancy which is good, and I usually spend an hour, maybe two with him. No cash changes hands as he doesn’t like to carry any but he’s regular as clockwork with the cheques and he always puts a nice note in the envelope thanking me for my time, which I always think is terribly formal. I do wonder what he puts this regular cost down to on the expense account; entertaining maybe or consultancy fees perhaps?

This dress fits nice, I’ve had for a couple of years and it still looks like new. That’s a benefit of buying the best I suppose, the quality never goes out of fashion and the fit stays true. I’m lucky really as I’ve kept my figure over the years, a comfortable size 12 with all the important bits keeping firm and perky. I suit this deep scarlet colour too, even if I do say so myself, it goes really well with the dark stockings and patent leather shoes. Yes, very sexy in a stylish sort of way and perfect for my King Charles II!

I have a few customers who visit me here at the flat. I don’t really like them to and charge extra but the half dozen or so who do are all courteous, quiet, and respectful. One of them, Patrick, who is now in his sixties always forgets which is my doorbell (or so he says) and every time he visits, he presses Bill’s for the flat downstairs. It must annoy him as it’s every time but Patrick says he just apologises and they both laugh about it and then I hear him climbing the stairs so I can open the door before he gets to it. Bill looks up from the foot of the stairs and waves, like he’s looking out for me and I say, ‘thanks Bill’ and let Patrick into my lounge. Patrick is really quite sweet, and he uses most of his time to just chat these days. He’s another lonely old man, no family to speak of, his wife passed away a decade ago and he’s never created an alternative social life other than coming to see me or popping round to his local pub a few days a week where he sits and drinks alone whilst watching the sport on TV. It’s such a shame as he’s a nice gentle man with such an interesting background. He tells me about his life selling sports cars to the rich and famous and all the exotic holidays he enjoyed with his wife. I hear about his family who all live abroad and what his neighbours have been up to since we last talked. I say ‘talked’ as I just listen most of the time, acknowledging the important bits and making appropriate noises to approve or disapprove depending on the story. He likes me in ivory white lingerie under a red silk robe which I slip off over my shoulders, letting it fall to the floor when he gives me his wink of the eye ‘I’m ready’ sign. I also wear long elbow length lace gloves that help him get properly ready and then after a short caress it’s over in a few minutes. Then he gets his trousers back on, whilst I make him a cup of tea with a splash of brandy in it and we chat for another half hour. Sometimes we put the tele on and watch the news together and then he goes home. We don’t discuss money, ever. He just leaves an envelope on the side before he goes, and I pick it up as the door closes, and read the lovely thankyou note he had written and confirmation of his next appointment time, before wrapping the cash in it. Like I said, he’s such a nice, sweet man and it’s a shame that he has no-one to share his days with.
Another who visits me here at the flat is Oliver. He’s been a client for over 15 years actually and I met him at a race day corporate function organised by a mutual friend. He was quite drunk on the day and had been flirting with me the whole time since I arrived. Towards the end, during the second last race he cornered me in a corridor near the rest rooms whilst everyone else was watching the horses. I wasn’t about to entertain him in that environment, but I told him what I did and if he wanted to pursue ‘a relationship’ he would have to visit me and pay the going rate. To my surprise he took my card, stole a kiss, and disappeared back into the melee of the group of other businesspeople. The following morning, I got a call from him to book some time and we met a few days later at what was to be the start of a long-standing and very enjoyable arrangement. We, at that time, moved in similar business and social circles and often bumped into each other at various events. I’ve broken one of my golden rules with him on more than one occasion; the one that goes, never have a ‘relationship’ with a client but, I have a few times with Oliver as I find him attractive, exciting and if the mood is right, well, I trust him! I try not to think about the home lives of my clients, specifically their marital or relationship status. I take the view that it’s not my business to interfere and these men are all grown ups with a grown up conscience but one day, only a few years ago I was at a champagne reception hosted by a finance company (I ‘know’ one of the directors!) and I was approached by a lady I didn’t know but had seen once or twice at these events. She introduced herself as Denise and said, ‘you’re Shirley Riley, aren’t you?’ which took me by surprise. We chatted about the evening and seemed to get on well. After about half an hour she said that she knew me and who I was and before I had time react, she told me to relax and that she was Oliver’s wife and wasn’t judging or about to cause a scene, in fact she thanked me for saving her marriage as without my services, her and Oliver would have separated a long time ago. They hadn’t been intimate since after the birth of their son as she just couldn’t face it and as she put it, he still has his needs. They had checked me out after the race day all those years ago and she had approved. So she knew about us from the very first day. I was astonished, and as she slowly walked away, I was left watching as she and Oliver, holding hands, waved, and then left.

I’m sure not all my clients are as open about me as that.

I’m nearly ready now, just trying to find my Channel. It’s No.5 of course, bought for me by a lovely man called Jasper. He got it for my birthday last year, knowing it’s my favourite. Jasper is a bit of a strange character as he is married and makes no secret about it to me, although we both must keep our council about the relationship we keep. His spouse is called Keith and they both live in flat near Croydon which they bought just before they were married, four years ago. I’ve known Jasper for about six years, he is an electrician and did some work for me when this flat of mine needed some re-wiring work. It took him a few days to do the work and we got on really well so when he asked me what I did for a living, I felt confident enough to tell him. At the end of the job, he asked me more about the work I did and what my charging rate was and then, the following day turned up with the cash! He was lucky that I didn’t have an appointment that morning, so I was able to accommodate him, but he books properly these days. Him and Keith are both active with the pride movement and are well known through their work in the fight to bring about diversity and inclusivity. Keith often appears in the press, sometimes with Jasper in the background, speaking about the events that have been organised to promote their LGBT+ cause. He’s a lovely, caring, softly spoken man and is clearly passionate about the struggle and his love for his husband. I don’t think he knows that Jasper exercises his passions in a slightly different way, but I suppose Jasper takes the view that being diverse and inclusive is all important to everyone no matter which part of society they represent. When Jasper first told me about his public personae and his gay relationship, I found it hard to believe that this burly, unshaven, muscle man could be anything other than straight. Especially after witnessing first-hand how well he can conduct himself when the curtains are closed, but there you go. It’s absolutely true that you never know properly, who you might be standing next to in a bus queue or speaking with but that’s all part of life’s rich tapestry and it’s kept me living comfortably for most of my adult life.

Right, that’s me ready, I’ve just enough time to get the tube up into Heathrow.

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