I tried one of the websites that offer unwanted furniture and personal services – where you are. Using Boolean magic I excluded the furniture and refined ‘personal services’ by entering the word ‘domination’. The results were graphic. Photographs of scenes were provided at which, if they were encountered in real life, I felt that Bella would take fright. I didn’t feel brave enough to telephone the women offering these services. Maria was well-connected. I’d ask her if she knew anyone; a personal recommendation often eases things.
“The fact that I am Romanian,” said Maria, “does not mean that I am a prostitute and a thief.”
“Of course not. But I thought that you might know someone. It’s complicated, you see. It’s not for me personally…”
“Pft,” said Maria. “I know no such one.”
“No worries,” I said, and made for the door.
“Just a moment. I speak to my friend Lavinia.”
She called on her mobile, and talked for a minute in Romanian.
“Lavinia is upstairs. She is busy. She says call this number. They are understanding. Say to them her name.”
I was no further forward, but it was the best I could do. I went home, rang the number, made an appointment and set out with Bella to the address that I was given.
A man answered the door. He put a finger to his lips.
“Neighbours,” he whispered. “Come in, sir, come in.”
He led me downstairs.
“Well, sir,” he said. “Is it to be the bedroom or the dungeon? Is it to the left or to the right?”
“The dungeon, please,” I said. “It’s not me. It’s my dog. She needs acclimatising. Whips etc.”
“No need to explain, sir. Tell it to Mistress Mary. She’ll be along soon. She’s understanding.”
He named a price, which I paid him.
“I should ask,” he said, “Do you need the dog: Rex the dog? You have yours, so I suspect not. Rex is extra.”
The walls of the dungeon were deep red and shiny. There was a bed with rings to which handcuffs would presumably be attached. There was a frame to which a man could be strapped, legs and arms apart in an X shape. The rooms smelt not of bodily secretions but as if an effective household detergent had recently been used to remove bodily secretions. Mistress Mary came in. She was dressed entirely in black leather. She wore no mask but a jaunty peaked cap, also of black leather. She was neither young nor slim and had a friendly face. Bella took to her at once.
“I have a request that you’ll probably find strange,” I said.
“Oh, no, dear, there’s very little that I haven’t been asked. Nothing shocks me.”
“That’s not what I meant. It’s my dog. I need to make sure that she isn’t frightened by, ah, people of your sort. I need to acclimatise her.”
“That is quite strange. Shall I try to frighten her and see what happens?”
“Go on then.”
“Grr,” said Mistress Mary.
Bella wagged her tail.
“Try it with a mask on.”
She donned a mask and said ‘Grr’ again. Bella jumped up and licked Mistress Mary’s gauntlets.
“She isn’t very frightened. Why did you think she might be, dear?”
“Well, I didn’t, but AERSIP did. You know, Action for the Elimination of Racism and Sexism in Pets…”
Mistress Mary became animated for the first time. “I know them. Wankers! They had a go at Rex.”
“Rex who is extra?”
“It was so unfair. I had a client. He asked for Rex too. He wanted me to beat him – the client, not Rex. That was all right. Then he said, ‘Abuse me!’
“’Worm!’ I said and give him a whack.
“’No,’ he said. ‘Abuse me with discrimination!’
“I didn’t like the sound of that. Me, as black as…”
“…the ace of spades,” I said.
“That’s the one. “‘I’ll do no such thing,’ I said.
“But he insisted. I shouted, ‘Worm from the Indian sub-continent!’ and caught him a good one across his arse.
“’No,’ he shouted. ‘Give me the red meat! Give me the real bad words!’
“So I did. I shouted them all, dear. I won’t repeat them. Rex, he howled along. And I beat him till the blood ran. He left a happy man.
“But he had regrets: as so often. Two days later I got a complaint from AERSIP.”
I nodded sympathetically.
“And the rest. Well, dear, I don’t think doggy needs more acclimatising, do you? Is there anything I can help you with? I do the regular as well, you know, and you have twenty minutes left.”
“That’s very nice of you, and you’ve been enormously helpful. But no, thank you. Pas devant la chienne, you know.”
“Oh well. Might have been nice. Tea, then?”
She returned a minute or so later.
“Should I have tried doggy with the whip?” she said.
I looked round. “I’m not sure that you have the whip you did.”
Bella was in the corner chewing it.
“I’m so sorry.”
She inspected it.
“Don’t worry dear. Doggy’s raised the surface in a few places. They like that.”
I left sure that Bella would not let me down; now I needed to find out when the rally was to be, so that she and I could lend our moral support. I rang the Corporation of London.
They laughed at me.
Newham Council likewise.
I told the story to Ijaz a few days later.
‘All acclimatised and nowhere to go,’ I said. “A practical joke, I suppose.”
“No joke. Is Thoughtcrime Audit. Thoughtcrime. Your Mr Orwell. Your 1984. They are testing to see if you are having discrimination thoughts. I was audited. I said, ‘I am permitted because of my religion.’”
“Newham Council,” I said. “Who’d have thought? With the cuts.”
“Not Newham Council. Much more serious.”
But he wouldn’t be drawn, and when he’d finished his cigarette he went inside and slammed the door.