Chapter 1: First Impressions
It was late June in the Midwestern college town. Three weeks before, Dan had received his degree in Information Technology, but instead of celebrating, he was concerned for his future. The recent economic downturn had ruined his hopes for landing a job in his field, and for the first three weeks after graduation, Dan moped around his rented house checking the mail every afternoon for responses to job applications only to find nothing but bills.
With his grant money dwindling and no immediate job prospects, he took the advice of a classmate. He decided that he would accept the first job he was offered, no matter how menial, just to get some money coming in. To start his expanded job search, he answered an ad for a job in a clothing store on the edge of the city near the warehouse district. Using a map from the Internet, he found the location, but before he even reached the door, he knew that this was not an ordinary clothing store. It was called “Leather or Knot,” and it seemed to be a kinky sex shop. The ad for the job neglected to mention that little detail, but having come all the way to the shop, Dan decided to check it out.
As he stepped into the shop, a tiny bell above the door announced his arrival. The shop was empty except for a petite 20-something clerk and two customers who were laughing and checking out the bondage gear hanging along the wall. The clerk had long brown hair and teardrop shaped brown eyes. She was about 5 and a half feet tall, athletic, well proportioned, and she wore a leather outfit that was somewhat revealing, but still left room for your imagination. Dan took in the woman’s stiletto heels, fishnet stockings, leather bustiere and leather collar as she approached him. Dan thought she was stunning in spite of the dark make-up and heavy red lipstick – or maybe because of it.
“Hi, I’m Amanda. Can I help you?” the young woman asked in a pleasant voice.
“I’m Dan. I’m answering the ad in yesterday’s issue of The Metro Scene,” Dan replied, “but now that I’m here, I’m not sure that this is the right place for me.”
“I understand. That was my first reaction as well, but why don’t you take a look around. We can talk after I help the couple in the corner.”
Dan agreed and began to wander around the shop as Amanda tended to her customers. He could hear Amanda give the same introduction to the couple that she had just given to him. She must have practiced her greeting to put people at ease. The couple introduced themselves as Brian and Shelly, and they began asking Amanda about various items. Dan could tell that this was a bit of an adventure for them. He guessed that they were newlyweds looking for an exciting change of pace.
Unlike that couple, Dan wasn’t born yesterday. He had seen most of the items in the shop at one time or another. Movies like Pulp Fiction, Saw and Hostel were slowly giving cuffs, collars, ballgags and blindfolds a place in mainstream pop culture. He just couldn’t envision actually wearing such things. He thought back to an old girlfriend of his who once asked him if she could tie him to his bed frame. He had always wondered what would have happened if he had agreed.
Shaking himself free of his reminiscence, he looked over to Amanda and the couple. They were in front of a three-way mirror in a far corner of the store. Brian was trying on a leather jacket and laughing. Amanda stood behind him holding up the jacket so that he could slip his arms into the sleeves, and Shelly giggled as she fastened first four sets of buckles running down the front.
“So with this on, he’ll be helpless to resist me?” Shelly asked as Amanda smiled and nodded.
With a closer look, Dan could tell that it was no ordinary jacket. There was only a single sleeve; a tube which ran from one shoulder to the other, trapping the man’s arms across his back. Brian looked down and laughed as Shelly reached between his legs and fastened a crotch strap to the lowermost buckle in the front. He twisted from side to side as he looked in the mirrors. Shelly smiled at him and said to Amanda “We’ll take it.”
“Whoa, hold on a minute.” Brian said with a concerned smile.
“What’s wrong? Doesn’t it fit?” his partner asked.
“Well, sure it fits, but it costs little more than we agreed to spend.”
“Oh, that again.” said Shelly as she turned away from him rolling her eyes. “Just indulge me for a bit. If you really don’t want to buy it, just say so. In the meantime, let’s look at the other things that we picked out.”
He smiled back at her. “Fair enough.”
Shelly then fastened a posture collar around Brian’s neck and attached a long leather leash to a ring on the front of it. Next, she removed a ball gag from a hook on the nearby wall and placed it in front of Brian’s mouth.
“You trust me, right?” said Shelly, nodding and smiling.
“With all my heart,” replied Brian as he opened his mouth and wrapped his lips around the oversized ball.
Shelly tightened the leather strap, as Brian made a series of muffled grunts that sounded like “Hey, that’s pretty tight.” As Brian shifted in his single-sleeved jacket, Amanda surreptitiously handed Shelly a small padlock which she applied to the gag strap without Brian’s knowledge.
Shelly came around in front of Brian and held his face in her hands. She looked him straight in the eyes and said “Kneel” in such a commanding voice that it startled Dan. Brian wasn’t startled, though. He merely complied.
Shelly reached into her purse and removed a pair of small items. As she inserted one into each of Brian’s ears, Dan realized that they were some sort of ear plugs. Finally, Shelly put a heavily padded blindfold over Brian’s eyes; helped Brian to his feet; and lead him around by the leash. She watched herself in the mirrors as she walked Brian from one end of the mirrors to the other.
“Like I said,” Shelly announced to Amanda, “we’ll take it. All of it.”
Shelly led Brian to the checkout counter. She tugged the leash twice, and he stopped.
Dan couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He wandered over to Shelly, Brian and Amanda as they stood near the checkout. Amanda and Shelly were talking pleasantly as Shelly paid for the items using a credit card that she slipped from Brian’s back pocket.
“Excuse me.” Dan said to Shelly as he approached, “It really isn’t any of my business, but are you sure that he wants you to buy all of that stuff?”
As Shelly turned away from Amanda and toward Dan, he could see Amanda’s face turn stark white. Shelly glared at him for a second, and replied “You’re damned right it isn’t any of your business.”
Dan was dumbfounded, but after a short pause, Shelly regained her congenial demeanor and said “Look, you may not realize this, but we have an understanding. If my boyfriend didn’t want me to buy this stuff, he could just say so.”
As Dan still tried to find his voice, Shelly turned to Brian and said in a sugary sweet voice “Brian, honey, just let me know if you want to put any of this stuff back.”
They all looked at Brian in silence for a moment. He stood in front of them all without moving.
“There. It’s settled.” Shelly said smiling and turning back to Amanda.
Amanda handed Shelly a receipt and deferentially said “You’re all set. Sorry about the inconvenience, Mistress Shelly.”
“No problem, dear. Boys will be boys.” Shelly replied as she turned, smiling and winking at Dan. She gave the leash two quick tugs and Brian soundlessly, slowly followed Shelly out of the shop and into their car which was parked at a meter directly across from the door.
As the shop door closed and the small bell tinkled, Amanda, now red as a firecracker, turned to Dan and scowled “What was THAT about? Do you want to get me fired; or worse yet, punished?”
Dan felt bad about interfering with Amanda’s sale, but he still didn’t understand how she could let that woman deceive the man who said he trusted her with all of his heart.
“Look, I didn’t want to mess anything up for you, but that guy didn’t want to spend that much money. She just totally took advantage of him, and he didn’t even realize it.” Dan explained with an increasing crescendo in his voice.
Amanda just shook her head.
“You should stay out of things you don’t understand.” Amanda started. “That man and his Mistress are regular customers in here. They come in here twice a month and drop between five hundred and a thousand dollars in here every time.”
Dan was confused. “But that doesn’t make sense. I heard you introduce yourself as though you had never met them before,” He said with a question in his voice, “and they told you their names, as well, like they were strangers meeting you for the first time.”
“Yes, that’s part of their game.” Amanda explained. “Every time they come in here, I am supposed to pretend that it’s their first time in. She picks out a set of bondage gear, and he tries it on. If they like it, they buy it, and he wears it out of the shop. If they don’t like it, he takes it off, and there goes my commission.”
“But Amanda,” Dan said pleadingly, “it was pretty clear that the guy hadn’t made up his mind. It was also clear that he was leaning against the purchase.”
“Again, you are speaking of things that you don’t understand.” Amanda said slowly shaking her head in pitiful disgust. “Don’t you remember when she looked him in the eyes and asked if he trusted her?”
“Sure. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.” he replied. “He trusted her, and she deceived ---”
“No!” Amanda cut in. “He trusted her, and she accepted that trust.” She paused to let it sink in. “Don’t you see? He wanted her to make the decision.” She paused again. “If he really objected to the purchase, he would have let her know when they stopped at the checkout counter. The two tugs on the leash were his cue that she was buying the gear. Similarly, the two tugs on the leash before they left was her cue to him that the purchase was complete and that they were leaving.”
Dan stood there feeling stupid.
“I didn’t know.” he said feebly.
“Of course you didn’t.” Amanda said understandingly. “How could you have? That’s probably why Mistress Shelly lightened up before she left.”
Amanda smiled a smile that melted Dan’s heart.
“If you’re still interested in hearing about the position, I can tell you about it and the shop.” Amanda said, changing the subject. “Of course, after your missteps of the past few minutes, I would understand if you wanted to find a job that was more… vanilla.”
Now Dan smiled. “No, I’m still interested. Actually, more so than when I came in.”
“Alright then, let’s start the tour at the front of the store.” Amanda said, and Dan knew that he was about to get quite an interesting post-graduate education.
* * * *
Unless you were paying attention, you might not immediately realize that the shop sold restraints and the like. The shop window was mostly filled with trendy leather clothing. One had to look a bit closer to see the cuffs, harnesses and other accessories displayed near the feet of the well dressed mannequins.
From the front door, Amanda showed Dan how the store was laid out. Toward the front of the store, the owner kept the more respectable merchandise: coats, skirts, pants and shoes. The center of the store held most of the leather restraints. They were displayed on along the walls and on free-standing racks arranged to form small aisle ways. At the rear of the store, the owner kept the more severe restraints and accessories. Looking around, Dan noticed a full-length cage hanging from the ceiling and a set of iron manacles chained to a 50 lb iron ball. Several glass display cases along the back wall housed a complete array of torture implements: pinwheels, cock cages, nipple clips, and the like.
In the back corner farthest from the front door, there were three full-length mirrors, each at a slight angle to the others. An inconspicuous doorway behind the mirrors separated the shop from a private back area. The back area provided access to a loading dock, a storage room, a spacious private dressing area and a small back office.
After making a fairly quick circuit around the shop, Amanda completed the tour at the checkout counter located toward the front of the store.
“Now, that wasn’t so scary, was it?” Amanda said with a smile. Dan smiled back. “Still interested in the position?” she said with raised eyebrows.
“So far, so good.” said Dan.
“Great, but this job isn’t quite as easy as it looks.” cautioned Amanda. “From an outsider’s perspective, it probably looks like all we have to do is humor our kinky clientele and operate a cash register. In fact, there is a lot more to it.”
“Well, I’m sure there’s inventory and a bit of office management, but how hard can it be?” said Dan.
With that, Amanda began to slowly peel the onion that was “Leather or Knot.”
“To begin with, the owner is anonymous. Although I couldn’t actually identify him… or her, I’m fairly certain that we’ve met. I was told by the person who hired me that the owner comes into the shop on a regular basis as a customer or delivery person in order to keep tabs on how the shop is running.”
“Great!” said Dan. “So that dominatrix or the guy who just left here trussed up like a Christmas goose could have been the owner?”
“Theoretically, but not likely,” replied Amanda as though she had already thoroughly considered this possibility. “They have only been coming into the shop for the past nine months, and I’ve been working here over a year.”
“Okay, well at least I haven’t embarrassed myself in front of the owner, yet. That’s a plus.”
“So, how does the owner provide any direction without direct contact?” Dan asked.
“Well, there is a store manager, Lisa. She communicates with the owner via e-mail, and she implements any changes the owner requires.” Amanda explained. “Actually, any of us can communicate with the owner via e-mail, or text message, in case of an emergency. The e-mail address and texting number are posted on the bulletin board in the office.”
Amanda then began to tell Dan about the compensation and the clientele. Dan was disappointed to discover that the sales associates only made minimum wage, but he perked up when Amanda mentioned that they also received a 20% commission on all sales. That meant that Amanda just pocketed over $100 on her last sale. No wonder she didn’t want him screwing things up!
“Our customer base is split among three general groups: newbie thrill-seekers, goth-types and the regulars, or as I like to refer to them – the irregulars.” Even though she joked about them, Amanda respected them. “I’m quite certain that they are all educated, well-paid business people based on the amount they spend on this stuff.”
Amanda paused to think. “What else would you like to know?”
“Why do you need another sales associate? It seems to me that between you and Lisa, you can handle the shop. It isn’t like there’s a line of people waiting to checkout.”
“Well, actually, we are very short-handed right now. We’re actually hoping to find two sales associates through the ad. Shop rules require two sales associates to be on duty at all times. As you can see, right now, I’m the only one minding the store. So, the owner wants to find at least one new associate ASAP.”
“What’s the big deal about having two sales associates on the floor at the same time?”
“Security,” Amanda answered flatly.
She explained that some customers like the sales associates to model the bondage gear. Hence, the rule requiring two sales associates. You can’t operate a store with a bit-gag in your mouth and your hands cuffed behind your back.
“Currently, with only one sales associate on duty at a time, the store has temporarily suspended that customer service practice.” Amanda explained.
“Whoa, hold on a second. You mean that I have to let the customers tie me up to make a sale?”
“Not every time.” Amanda said to calm him down. “Besides, we do get a pretty hefty commission. With that reward comes a commensurate amount of risk.” Amanda paused to let it sink in.
“Besides, the owner doesn’t condone the customers binding the staff.” she continued. “For safety reasons, when a sales associate is asked to model the gear, the gear is applied by the other associate – again, you see the need for two associates. Sales associates are advised to use extreme caution if a customer wishes to apply the gear to either another customer or to the sales associate. While it is not prohibited, each sales associate should use his or her best judgment on such occasions. The shop only takes responsibility if the gear is applied by another associate.”
“That’s understandable. It must be a huge insurance issue.”
“I guess. I never really thought about it. All sales associates who model the gear have a safe word or gesture that the other associates know. When the safe word is used, the other associate must immediately remove all of the gear that they applied until the bound associate can remove the rest themselves.”
“Wow. That’s a lot to take in.” Dan said shaking his head.
“Well, do you have any other questions?
Dan thought for a moment. “Yeah, do I have to wear the leather outfits? They really aren’t my style.”
“No. Clothing is optional.”
Seeing Dan’s look of disbelief, she quickly added “What I meant to say was that the style of clothing is optional. I started out wearing street clothes, but I switched over to wearing leather after my first week. You see, if you wear the merchandise, you get it at cost because the owner considers it good advertising. But if you buy bondage gear, you don’t get any employee discount.”
“That stinks. Why not give the staff some incentive to learn about the equipment firsthand?”
“Well, there’s always the on-the-job training that I just told you about, but actually, there is another incentive. The other sales associate on duty is credited with the sale, and gets a 40% commission. Apparently, the owner believes that peer pressure to buy merchandise is a stronger incentive than an employee discount for the purchaser.”
“Have you ever bought any bondage gear?” Dan asked.
Amanda laughed. “No. Nobody’s made a dime in commission off me. I just don’t see the appeal.”
“Well, I’ve never bought anything like this stuff either – though I’ve been curious once or twice.”
“Your curiosity could be satisfied if you decide to take the position,” Amanda said hopefully.
“Oh. So, you’re offering it to me?” Dan said in surprise.
“It’s yours if you want it. You’re in the right place at the right time.”
“When would I start?”
“Tomorrow at 10:00 am.”
“I’ll be here,” said Dan with a decisive nod.
“Great!” Amanda said beaming. “To start with, you’ll be working mostly with me. Let’s consider tomorrow a training day.”
story continues in Leather or Knot 2: Dan's First Modeling Session