Christopher Herter guessed it was a typical early December lunchtime crowd at the Bryant Park ice skating rink, mostly tourists, shoppers and the occasional nearby office escapee. He waited with the others behind the rail for the Zamboni to complete its last circuit and for the next session to begin. He cursed under his breath in disgust, still fuming at recently being banned from the Rockefeller Center Rink, for what they called offensive behavior. In a scene of mortifying humiliation, the manager had announced over the public address system that the ushers were to alert him immediately if Chris ever reappeared. The manager also blared that he would have Chris banned from the Wollman rink in Central Park and other rinks in the city. All the regulars watched avidly as the police escorted him out, which insured that they wouldn’t be inviting him to their parties anymore. This was particularly galling, since it meant the end of free meals and cut off a social setting where he sometimes collected an unwary woman, a newcomer to skating circles, unused to encountering an extremely cunning sexual predator, who could be deceptively charming.
With his constant attitude of never being in the wrong, Chris refused to admit to himself that he was to blame for the incident that had resulted in his banishment. After all, how was he supposed to know the girl was only thirteen? She looked like she was at least eighteen or nineteen. When she told him she was a college student he had no reason to doubt her. It had started as it always did. He was displaying himself in the center of the rink, doing jumps and spins, attracting attention to his verve and skill. He was in his early thirties, a bit over six feet, with dark curly hair and dark eyes, set off by his pale skin. His taut, muscular body was outlined in a tight, form-fitting white turtleneck and snug black pants. He peripherally observed the girl admiring him and after briefly assessing the other skaters, he selected her as the optimum choice of the day.
He prepared her with his usual thoroughness. First he verified that she was definitely interested, then he made sure she was watching when he executed a particularly dynamic move. After several brief eye exchanges, he flashed a low-medium wattage smile that caught her attention and provoked a smile in response. He skated to her and the rest was a matter of technique. “My name’s Chris. What’s yours?” “Lottie.” “That’s a nice name. I never heard of it before.” “I was named for a German opera singer,” she replied nervously. He was used to that. She was young, lush and ripe for the picking. He confidently put his arm around her waist and said: “Let’s skate.” As they glided around the oval he was just beginning to explore her body when someone abruptly yanked his arm, pulling him off balance. He started to turn and swing at the intruder, but confronted a big, red faced, angry older man, who yelled loudly: “Take your filthy hands off my daughter.” The rest was inevitable.
So here he was, exiled from the land of milk and honey, reduced to scavenging in a lesser arena that in the three days he had been going there had been completely unproductive, adding to his feelings of disgrace and frustration. He doubted that the manager at the Rockefeller Center rink could actually get him banned from other rinks, but that didn’t make him feel any better. His appetites, normally kept under rigid control until he could exercise them, were becoming increasingly urgent. It wasn’t that he wanted to hurt women, he just needed the thrill of their fear and pain for his own arousal and fulfillment. So he indulged in rough sex. So he gave them a few scrapes and bruises. So what? He didn’t do any real damage and he provided a unique learning experience. He only used them once and never bothered them again, so no lasting harm was done. He even took perverse pride in thinking they would never forget him.
Aah. He rolled the bitter pill of scorn under his tongue and half-heartedly scanned the skaters as they made their way onto the ice. Whoa. His eyes clicked like a raptor on a young woman who stumbled out of the gate and desperately clung to the railing, as she tried to make her feet do what they were reluctant to do. He looked her over closely. She was short, slightly plump, but curved in the right places, with blonde hair and a roseate complexion. She looked corn fed, straight out of the farm and susceptible to the nice guy trying to be helpful act. He watched her hobble around the rink twice before he concluded that she was alone, then begrudgingly decided that there were no other candidates and selected a reassuring, non-threatening approach.
He timed his arrival just as she stumbled, easily accomplished since that was all she was doing. “Hold on there, miss. I’ve got you,” and he carefully took her arm, steadying her. He used a low-wattage, sincere smile, meant to generate trust. “With just a little help you’ll be zipping around the ice easily.” She blushed and said with a laugh: “I’m afraid not. My feet slip rather than zip on ice,” and she giggled at her attempt at wit. “I wasn’t doing much better than you a few weeks ago,” he offered. “Then this nice older lady helped me around the rink and gave me some pointers. Now I’m really enjoying the ice.” He gave her his most sincere, I am a trustworthy fellow look and urged gently: “Why don’t you give it a try?” “I don’t want to bother you.” “It’s no bother. It’s my way of repaying a kindness.” He extended his arm and she slowly took it. “Now stop whenever I become a burden,” she insisted. “Don’t worry about it. Just enjoy yourself and learn to skate.”
Chris assisted her courteously, making sure that he didn’t reveal any appearance other than the skating Samaritan. They made their way around the rink slowly and she gradually relaxed and actually began to skate. “I don’t believe it,” she gushed. “I’m really skating.” He gave her another low-wattage, manly forthright smile. “You’re not quite ready to do a figure eight yet, but with a few small adjustments you could skate by yourself and decide if you like it. Would you like me to help you?” “Oh, yes. If it’s not too much trouble. I don’t want you to give up your skating time.” “There’s plenty of time for me to skate and in just a few minutes you’ll be off on your own.” “You’re very nice. Thank you.”
He showed her how to control her balance and movements, handling her very respectfully and after a few minutes she stopped worrying abut falling or looking foolish. He quickly caught and supported her when she stumbled, making sure he didn’t touch her in any way that might be considered intrusive. And lo and behold, in just a short time she was skating on her own. Her eyes shone and her face was flushed with excitement. “This is wonderful. You’re a great teacher.” “Not really,” he replied, projecting modesty. “You’re a good athlete. I just helped a little.” “Yeah. Right. You don’t know how clumsy I am.” This time he offered a medium-wattage smile, designed to make her realize how attractive he was. “I think with a bit more self-confidence and some practice you could do a lot of things that you were afraid to try.” He injected a small hint of suggestiveness. “You look like a very capable young woman.” She flushed and didn’t respond, but he knew she got the message.
A pang of annoyance stabbed through him, part from wanting to possess her, part from resentment that she was just an ordinary country mouse, not scoring very high on the desirable scale, and bitterest thought of all; right now she was the best he could do. He masked all signs of violent emotion that if perceived would send her scurrying for safety. He watchfully escorted her several times around the oval, noting the rapid improvement in her ability to skate freely. She gave him frequent looks of ‘how am I doing?’, seeking approval from the handsome stranger who had unexpectedly befriended her. She was really beginning to have fun, when a p.a. announcement said: “In a salute to the past, the next session will be for couples only. The regular session will resume in ten minutes. Thank you.”
Skaters began to make their way off the ice and the girl turned to Chris with a pouty look. “Darn. I was just starting to do well. I’ll probably forget everything by the time I get on the ice again.” Chris shook his head and smiled at her sympathetically. “You won’t forget. You’re doing fine. A lot of guys would be glad to skate couples with you.” He coldly watched her gather her courage, then she asked shyly: “Would you?” She was so pathetically easy that he almost said no, but a quick survey of the rink convinced him that there were no better prospects. The tension he was so scrupulously concealing reminded him that he needed to vent his built-up frustrations, and at the moment she was probably the best that an exile from Rockefeller Center could find.
Chris flashed a medium-high wattage smile and showed her the position they would skate in. Once he had his arm around her he leaned closer, adding another level to her awareness of him. “Since we’re suddenly so close, it’s time for introductions. I’m Chris.” He could feel the heat emanating from her body wherever he was touching her; arm, back, hip, leg, and he made sure she felt his heat, all the while presenting a courteous façade that was disarming. She was blushing non-stop and he could see that she was already beginning to fantasize about a romantic encounter. “I’m Maryann. It’s nice to meet you.” “It’s my pleasure, Miss Maryann,” he addressed her on an impulse, and smirked to himself as she devoured what seemed like good manners. He figuratively patted himself on the back for being clever enough not to have shown off his skating skill at the Bryant Park rink, which might have drawn the wrong kind of attention. After all, he hadn’t decided whether to come back here, or go somewhere else..
He took masterful control of her and she let herself be swept away in his arms, completely oblivious to his voracious appetite lurking just beneath the surface. The feeling of his body moving against her produced tingles of excitement in her that were alien to her sensibilities. Her last titillation had been in anticipating her first open-mouthed kiss, which didn’t live up to expectations. After that, sex had been more of a peer-group obligation, rather that the burning passions of chick-lit books, or the steamy joinings of R-rated movies. It wasn’t that she didn’t have desires. It was more like the boys she met just didn’t turn her on. The three boyfriends she had experimented with had ranged from limp, to sweaty, to clumsy, and in their different ways had left her sexually tense and remote. She was a little afraid of the stirrings she was feeling for Chris, but so far he was a perfect gentlemen.
By the time the couples session ended, Chris knew that Maryann was ripe for the plucking. This made him despise her for being so trusting and he became angrier, although he camouflaged it even more thoroughly with surface charm. He saw that she was slightly fatigued from the unaccustomed exercise and had been sufficiently exposed to stimulating physical contact. He politely took her arm and guided her off the ice. “I don’t think you should overdo it the first time out. Why don’t you sit down for a few and I’ll get you a hot chocolate.” He led her to a nearby table, held her chair as she sat, then said: “I’ll only be a minute. Then I’ll say goodbye and you can decide whether or not you want to skate anymore.” He walked away before she could respond, but he was certain that she was hooked and wouldn’t let him go.
The hot chocolate affected her almost as much as if it had been an aphrodisiac. She showed all the symptoms of infatuation; doting glances, flushed cheeks, rapid breathing and she babbled away like mad. All he had to do was nod encouragingly as she gushed about her home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the family tradition of working in a furniture factory, and playing in the local symphony orchestra. Music was apparently the only way for her family to express individuality, because she described how each one played a different instrument. He listened attentively as she described her studies at the state agricultural school where she was a junior, preparing for a career as a veterinarian. He silently nicknamed her ‘Doctor Bovina’, and had to catch himself before he snickered derisively. She finally wound down a bit and said: “Here I’ve been running on about myself and you’ve just sat there like the strong, silent type. Tell me about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do? Who is this prince charming who rescued me?”
He instantly decided to tell her as intriguing a tale as possible and smiled modestly. “I’m no prince charming. I’m just a struggling artist. My father was a diplomat and I was born in Paris. We moved every few years, mostly to African countries, but sometimes Japan, or China. My mom died when I was two, so I don’t remember her. I went to American schools wherever we were stationed, but they were different from the schools back in the states, more sheltered from the harsh realities of life. Dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps, but diplomacy wasn’t for me. When I decided to go to art school in California he disowned me and we haven’t spoken since. A gallery in L.A. started showing my work a few years ago and actually sold a few paintings, so I took a chance and came to New York. I’m getting some paintings ready so I can try to find a gallery to represent me here. Until then, I’m just another starving artist. That’s it. That’s my story.” He didn’t even have to look at her to know she believed every word.
“What an exciting life,” she enthused. “Not like my drab existence.” “It’s not as interesting as all that. It’s been a real struggle to survive on my own and paint, hoping that someday I’ll be a known artist, with my work in museums.” He stared wistfully across the park, as if gazing into the future at his paintings hanging on a wall in the Whitney Museum, looking past the leafless, sickly sycamore trees and not seeing the graceless Grace building across 42nd street. “How can you say that?” she demanded mock indignantly. “You’ve been everywhere, seen everything and you’re making it on your own. This is my first time out of Iowa and except for meeting you, it’s been like I had my nose pressed against a restaurant window, watching people eat while I was starving. The only person I talked to in the last two days was the desk clerk at the hotel. I actually stopped someone on the street and asked directions, just to hear another voice.”
He knew, as he always did, that the moment had come. He stood up slowly. “I didn’t mean to monopolize your time. I’ll just say goodbye and leave you to your skating.” “You can’t go,” she blurted, then tried to cover up her growing fascination with him. “You launched my career as a skater and now you want to abandon me? How about you skate with me for a little while longer, then I’ll buy you dinner as a way of repaying you for what’s become a real fun trip.” He gave her the medium-low wattage, too proud to accept charity smile. “I’ll be glad to skate with you for a while, but I couldn’t accept dinner.” “Why not?” “I wouldn’t want to take advantage of your generous nature.” “That’s silly,” she said. “I’ve been taking advantage of you. It’s the least I can do.” He emitted the medium wattage sweet smile. “I’ll skate with you and we’ll see about dinner later.” “No. It’s settled.” He shrugged helplessly, then led her to the ice.
Maryann was having the time of her life. She was still feeling the aftereffects of being alone in the fabled city, and she transferred all her emotions to the good-looking guy who came out of nowhere and had transformed her vacation from empty to full. She kept glancing at him as they skated, fervently hoping he wouldn’t disappear as suddenly as he had arrived. “Could we skate as a couple again?” she asked shyly. “It really helped me before.” “Sure.” His arm slipped around her and she immediately felt a wave of pleasure engulf her, followed by unaccustomed surges of desire for the hard, masculine body that held her so securely. She lost track of time as they went round and round and noticed nothing else but the man beside her, wishing that these delicious moments would never end.
When the p.a. system announced the end of the session and requested the skaters to leave the ice so it could be cleaned, Chris was disgusted with himself for wasting so much energy on a dumb rube. Without the challenge of winning someone over and enforcing his will on the victim, there was no thrill of conquest. His greatest satisfaction had come when he humbled a haughty ice princess, reducing her formerly unobtainable body to a quivering mass, as she pleaded with him not to hurt her anymore. It wasn’t the infliction of pain that aroused him. It was the burning sensation of power, while he compelled a woman who was used to being in charge to obey him. He looked Maryann over once more and concluded she wasn’t worth the effort. He decided to return the rental skates that cost $8.75, grumbling to himself mentally for not bringing his own skates, then dump this dreary girl before she really angered him.
He headed for the exit, not even bothering to say goodbye, then he heard her calling him: “Chris. Chris. Wait for me.” He didn’t want to be remembered by anyone, so he suppressed his impulse to strike her and turned with an abashed smile. “I didn’t want to obligate you,” he said softly. “You’re not getting away from me that easily,” she asserted. “I insist on taking you to dinner.” He felt a surge of rage, but he masked it, not wanting to attract attention. “That’s very nice of you, but I don’t want to impose. Besides, I need a shower. I’ll get one at my studio and call you later.” “I can go with you. I’d love to see your paintings.” He thought quickly. “My studio is way out in Brooklyn and I share it with another artist. We’re not allowed to bring anyone there.” Then she had the most daring impulse of her life. “You can shower at my hotel.” He mentally gritted his teeth, beginning to regret that he had tried to spare her. “Let’s go,” he said and offered her his arm.
They walked north on the Avenue of the Americas, both lost in their own thoughts, hers much gentler than his, until they passed Radio City Music Hall. “I always wanted to see the Rockettes,” she said. “Did you ever see them?” “No,” he muttered, aggravated further by her sweet simplicity. A few minutes later they reached her hotel, a non-descript pile of brick and concrete without any redeeming architectural value. The doorman nodded politely and opened the door for them. As they passed through the lobby, the desk clerk called: “Good afternoon, Ms. Jensen,” and Maryann cheerfully replied: “Hi, there.” Chris knew that if he did anything to her he might be identified later, so when they got to the elevator he said coldly: “I can’t do this. I’ve got to go.” He turned and walked away, and behind him he heard her start to cry. His last thought about her as he obliterated her from his mind was that she’d never know how lucky she was that she had only shed tears, rather than blood.
Gary Beck has spent his adult life as a theater director. He has 14 published chapbooks. His poetry collections include Days of Destruction (Skive Press), Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press), Dawn in Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways, Displays, Perceptions, Fault Lines, Tremors, Perturbations, Rude Awakenings, The Remission of Order, and Contusions (Winter Goose Publishing). Conditioned Response (Nazar Look), Virtual Living (Thurston Howl Publications), Blossoms of Decay, Expectations, Blunt Force, and Transitions (Wordcatcher Publishing). His novels include Flawed Connections (Black Rose Writing), Call to Valor and Crumbling Ramparts (Gnome on Pig Productions), Sudden Conflicts (Lillicat Publishers). Acts of Defiance and Flare Up (Wordcatcher Publishing). His short story collections include A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications), Now I Accuse and other stories (Winter Goose Publishing) and Dogs Don’t Send Flowers and other stories (Wordcatcher Publishing). The Republic of Dreams and other essays (Gnome on Pig Productions). Feast or Famine and other one act-plays will be published by Wordcatcher Publishing. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of magazines. He lives in New York City.