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You can tell a lot about a guy from where he shops. Take my friends, who have specialized tastes. Some of them spend their time at the hardware store, while others take an interest in our town's fabric shop, which has needles and pins that make them drool. Still others hang out at the department store, eyeing the cutlery collection. Somehow, all of us end up rubbing shoulders at the town's jacket shop, with its discounted leather section.

Me, I spend most of my time at the Lawnville 5&10, in the shelves devoted to laundry supplies.

I was there last Wednesday when Gerth shows up, shopping basket in hand, and heads straight for the clotheslines. At least, that was where he was headed, but when he saw me he veered toward the shelf holding motor oil.

Which store sections a guy avoids can be revealing too. I cast a glance at Gerth's shopping basket. All that it held was a package of looped clear line. "Going fishing?" I asked.

He jumped as though I'd just caught him browsing through Playboy. Yeah, Lawnville folk jump when you catch them reading mainstream skin mags. It's that type of place.

He stared at me, and then at his basket, before his expression cleared. "Yes, I need some new fishing line."

"Sounds fun." I turned my attention back to my choices. They didn't look good. "You know anything about clothesline?" I asked.

"What?" You'd think I'd just caught him in a closet with the mayor's daughter.

"For hanging clothes. My dryer is bust, and I can't tell which of these lines I should buy."

"Oh." Suddenly Gerth was all business-like. "Neither of them are very good, actually. They're weak – they break easily. You need something stronger. That is, if it's your own clothes you're hanging." He glanced me over. I was wearing one of the standard Lawnville outfits: flannel shirt, jeans, and boots. He was wearing the other standard Lawnville outfit: a dress shirt, slacks, and oxfords.

"Damn." I stepped back from the shelf. "I don't want to drive all the way to the mall."

Gerth hesitated, then said, "We could check my house. I think Jessie left some behind when she moved out."

"You sure? I don't want to put you to any trouble."

"It's no trouble. Besides, I owe you."

I should explain about Gerth: he's a borrower. The first day I moved onto his street, he showed up at my door and asked to borrow – I kid you not – a cup of sugar. Then it was my hose. Then it was the lawnmower.

It took me a while to figure out that this was Gerth's way of paying social calls. It was a no-risk situation: if the neighbor didn't want to talk, Gerth could pretend that he had only come around for his original errand. I guess breaking up with Jessie made him kind of skittish about taking chances with people.

Thing is, he always pays back for the original loan, in double. If you loan him your hose, the next thing you know, he's watering your flowerbed. If you loan him your lawnmower, you'll wake to the sound of your own lawn being mowed. It's sort of a thank-you note from Gerth for you talking to him. Which quickly endeared the guy to me, I'll admit.

Not that I let myself think too much about it. Wonder Bread must have been invented in Lawnville – this is the most white-bread suburb you can imagine. Though I'd always wondered about Gerth, even before the rumors started that he was receiving shipments of Viagra. Jessie moved out soon afterwards, which must have left Gerth feeling even more like a fish on dry land. So I bided my time, waiting for the right moment.

"Here we are," said Gerth a half hour later, his sleeves rolled up to his armpits as he rummaged through a dresser drawer. "I thought she might have left something down here. She always collected lots of useless odds and ends."

"Uh-huh." I didn't bother to look toward the drawer; I figured I already knew what was there. Instead, I took in my surroundings. Gerth lives in a split-level, same as me, and his laundry room is partitioned off from the rest of the basement. One thin pole helps to hold up the ceiling – I was leaning against it, and I could feel the vibration from the washer that was humming nearby. The washer beeped.

"Want me to toss your clothes in the dryer?" I asked.

"Oh, no, I'll do that," said Gerth, and he shoved the drawer closed before turning away with a clothesline in hand. He didn't quite shut the drawer all the way. As far as I could tell, he was well-equipped to go mountaineering if he wanted.

"Try this," he said, thrusting the clothesline into my hand. "I think it's strong enough."

I tested it briefly with my hands, then ran my fingers along it. "Feels soft," I commented.

"Yes, I like the soft type," said Gerth, who was transferring dark-colored clothes to the dryer now. "I mean, that's the type Jessie always had me buy." He stooped to pick up a long dress-sock that had fallen from his arms.

"Wise woman." I glanced around the room again. Other than the dresser, there were shelves sticking out from the wall. But really, the pole was the most convenient object at hand.

I began unwrapping the clothesline, saying, "I'm not sure whether it's strong enough, though. Looks like it would break if you put it under pressure."

"It won't," Gerth said firmly as he poured laundry liquid into the washer. Nearby, the dryer was beginning to hum its way around. It made a nice vibration on the pole too. I took a stretch of line in my hands, held the two parts of the rope together, then suddenly snapped the line taut. Gerth nearly poured the laundry liquid into the floor drain.

"Maybe," I said in a non-committal manner. "Hey, Gerth, if you're putting a load through, would you mind washing this?" I reached into my left back pocket and fished around before tossing the relevant object to Gerth. I used to leave it hanging out, but that was before Lawnville got cable TV. You never know what odd bits of information your neighbors will pick up from the media.

Judging from Gerth's blank expression, he didn't watch the right TV programs. All he said was, "I'm doing whites."

"It's light grey," I assured him. Actually, it's dark grey, so dark that it can sometimes be mistaken for black. But for Gerth it would be very, very light. I didn't want to scare him.

Too much.

The hanky went into the washer, which made a nice vibration indeed when combined with that of the dryer. I held the clothesline taut again. Gerth was still watching me out of the corner of his eye. "I think I'll have to test this," I said.

It's amazing how, even under a sixty-watt bulb in a dark basement, you can tell when a guy goes pale. "Oh?" Gerth said in his Wonder Bread voice that had no doubt fooled Jessie for the first three years of their marriage. "How so?"

"I need your help. Come here." I let my voice grow peremptory, just to check. I wasn't surprised to see Gerth brighten. I took him firmly by the arm and pulled him over so that his back was against the pole. "Hold onto this," I said, handing him the end of the line. "No, wait – let's make this a proper test." I took back the line and began looping it around Gerth's wrist.

He forgot to breathe. He also forgot to ask me why a "proper test" required that his wrist be bound. He simply stared, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, like a guy who has just won the million-dollar lottery.

The test consisted of me tying his hands behind the pole and seeing if he could break the line. Since the line was long, I tied his feet to the pole for good measure. He gave the line a token tug and said, "I'm not sure."

"Wait." I walked over to the drawer and rummaged around for a moment. Then I returned to where Gerth stood, tied to the pole.

He stared at the bike chain in my hand. "What are you going to do with that?"

"Stuff it in your mouth," I suggested with a smile. Then I regretted my remark as Gerth paled again. It was too early for him to panic. I said soothingly, "Just joking. Here, hold this." I reached around and placed the chain in his hand, wondering whether he would drop it. He clung to it like he was a small boy holding his father's hand. I placed the second clothesline in my empty pocket to have it out of the way, then began unbuttoning Gerth's shirt.

"What are you doing?" It was nearly a scream. If I touched his belt, he'd start howling louder than the Lawnville fire siren. Fortunately, I wasn't planning to go that far.

"You look hot," I said. "I just want to make sure you don't get overheated." I pulled back the shirt, letting my hands brush over Gerth's chest. Nothing special there: a bit of hair, some tits that were puckered from the cold. But the stomach was nice and flat, and would look even nicer once I was through.

He didn't say anything as I looped the second line around the back of the pole, tight across his forearms, and then tighter across his stomach. I tugged hard, and his chest began to struggle for breath. I glanced quickly at his face to make sure I wasn't taking him too far. His expression looked dazed, not doubtful. As for his crotch, I'd already figured out that that part of him was having the time of its life.

"Have you done this with anyone before?" I asked conversationally as I finished the knot.

He hesitated, then asked, "Done what?"

I slapped him. It wasn't one of those slaps you see in the movies, where the villain hits the heroine to the ground, then goes off-camera to have his hand X-rayed for fractures. It was just a nice, easy, open-palmed slap that left Gerth's head turned ninety degrees from where it had been before. He gave a yelp that left my own crotch warm.

"Don't fuck with me," I growled, clamping his jaw with my hand and pulling his face around toward me. "When I ask a question, I expect to be answered. Tell the truth, or I'll—"

I stopped, not to be dramatic, but because alarm bells were going off in my head. I don't know what trick other tops use to tell the difference between play fear and real terror. All I know is that I can always tell when I've gone too far.

"Or you'll what?" he whispered. Sweat trickled down his forehead, and he was beginning to shiver. Probably it was the shivering that had clued me in.

"Or I'll let you go," I said simply and released his jaw. I waited.

His gaze dropped. He swallowed. I spent the next minute looking at his nice flat stomach and the nice indentation the rope made in it. Then he looked up and asked softly, "What was the question?"


He didn't get it. I had to spell it out for him. He swallowed again, then whispered, "What was the question, sir?"

I asked him again, and this time I got his life story. I could have written it up beforehand, from my own memories. The childhood secret of self-bondage that was carefully hidden from his parents, the teen years of wondering why making out with gorgeous dates didn't get him hard . .. Hell, he even matched me with his night-before-the-wedding agony over whether to go through with it.

At least I'd had enough sense not to show up at the altar. Even Carl admitted that within a few years, though our MCC pastor still isn't speaking to me.

I cut Gerth off when he began to explain painstakingly that the divorce had been his idea, in order to save Jessie from the consequences of living with a pervert. "So you never asked her to tie you up?" I said.

He stared at me as though he had just discovered that I was My Favorite Martian. Then he said faintly, "No, sir. I wouldn't make her do anything like that."

"And it didn't occur to you to look for someone to do this with, once she was gone?"

Again he stared. "I didn't— Sir, I thought I was the only one like this."

Not a TV watcher at all, then. I gave him a slow smile as a reward for his honesty. "Well," I said, "then it's lucky for you that I live just down the street."

He looked uneasy rather than pleased. I guessed it was because of the close connection between my question about Jessie and my statement about myself. I decided I really didn't want to start him thinking; he might spell out the letters BI in his head and get in a panic again. Instead, I took the bike chain back and proceeded to bind the upper part of his arms. I let the chain dig into his chest just below his nipples. It would make a beautiful pattern-work afterwards for him to admire.

The dryer beeped. About time. I pulled open the door, and after a short search I found the dress-sock. It was long enough for my purposes. I held it up for his inspection.

He got it right away this time, and I saw the fear re-enter his eyes. I sighed, then leaned forward to murmur in his ear. "Look," I said, "we've lived near each other for more than a year now, and I've had you over to my house loads of times. Have I ever screwed you over? I mean, really screwed you over?"

He didn't say anything at first. Perhaps it was due to the fact that my hard cock was now pressing against his, leaving no doubt that this was a game of mutual enjoyment. On reflection, I decided that "screwed" was a poor choice of words. But after a minute he said, "It's okay. It's just. . . I'm new to this, sir."

"I'm taking that into account," I assured him, and proceeded to blindfold him. Then I stepped back to admire the sight.

Something about that sixty-watt bulb made Gerth look better than if we'd been doing this upstairs. The light threw shadows onto his body, highlighting the way the clothesline dug into his skin at the stomach, at the ankles, twice around the arms, and, I knew, around the wrists. The line would be biting into him in all these spots, surpassed only by the cold chain grinding into his chest. Gerth stood upright, sweat still pouring down from his forehead and soaking the blindfold that he stared blankly into.

Nearly perfect. I still had some clothesline left over.

He yipped when I passed the clothesline under his crotch, carefully positioning the line to dig between his balls. "What—"

"Shut up," I said in a warning voice. Actually, I like a little feedback when I work, but I didn't want this to get out of hand. He needed to remember what this was about. Just to make sure he did, I finished off the knot at his waist and then tweaked his left tit.

He gave a screech. "What the hell are you—?"

I slapped him again, this time with the back of my hand. Fortunately, I always keep my nails trimmed. "You don't say no to me," I told him, letting my voice go very deep. "You say, 'Yes, sir,' or you answer my questions. Or you say, 'Let me go,' and I do, and this is over. But as long as you're mine, you don't question what I do."

He didn't make any immediate response to this. His chest was heaving twice as fast now, like I'd tightened the rope around his stomach. I tweaked his right nipple, and he made a gurgling noise but didn't speak. "Shall I test the clothespins?" I asked softly, twisting harder.

He opened his mouth, then quickly closed it. I could see him trying to sort through the options I'd left him with. Then he said faintly, "If. . . if you want to, sir."

The right answer. I released his tit and gave him a light pat on the cheek in reward. Then I stepped back. I was beginning to feel tight in my jeans. I don't use blindfolds without good reason.

I tried to be discreet, but the washer chose that moment to reach the end of its cycle, so the scratch of my zipper rasped through the room. Gerth bit his lip; I could just imagine what horrors he was envisioning now. But he didn't say anything. He was learning fast.

As for myself, I just wanted to relieve the pressure. I stood still a moment, stroking myself – thank God I don't need lube for such matters, because there wasn't anything of that sort in this room. Then I went over to the washer and pulled out my wet handkerchief. I turned the washer back to the beginning of its cycle; I liked the vibration against the pole, and I could guess that Gerth did too.

"Tell me," I said, "did you ever get snapped with a wet towel when you were young?"

He swallowed, loud. I sort of figured that he had and that he was the type who had cherished the memory. He thought of himself, like I had, as just a ropes-and-blindfold sort of guy; I wanted to expand his vision. So I played with him for a while, snapping the handkerchief against his chest and his arms and even his face – I have good aim. He never knew where the next sting would fall; I could see the excitement building up in him. I waited till it reached its peak, then I sent the handkerchief flicking onto his left tit. He screeched to high heaven, and I blessed the fact that Lawnville citizens don't investigate suspicious sounds. I was sure that a fair bit of gossip would be making the rounds tomorrow about the noises that had emerged from Gerth's basement. I made a note to myself to exit by way of the back entrance; then I stung Gerth's right nipple. He howled this time.

I smiled, stroked myself a bit till he had caught his breath, then said in an amused voice, "I wonder what I should aim for next."

Even with the blindfold on, the mixture of fear and hope was clear on his face. "No," he whispered.

"What was that?" I asked sharply.

"I . . . " The fear overtook the hope. "I'm sorry, sir! I didn't mean to—"

"You'll have to be punished for that," I said, and let the handkerchief fly.

Now, here's the proof that ninety percent of sex takes place in the mind. I was sending a piddling handkerchief tip his way, and he was wearing slacks and underwear. He couldn't have felt more than a touch of my blow. Yet he screamed like a bride being ripped of her maidenhood. Even before the wet spot appeared on Gerth's slacks, I knew what had happened.

In the porn stories, the players always come together. Uh-huh. All I can say is that the washer completed its full cycle before I made use of Gerth's floor drain. In the meantime, Gerth got a dose of tit-twisting and a few gentle punches to the stomach. He didn't say a word. Like I said before, Gerth always pays his debts.

Afterwards, when we'd put the toys away and carried the clean laundry upstairs to the living room, Gerth said hesitantly, "Your handkerchief is still wet."

"Don't worry about it." I stuffed the hanky in my left pocket. Sometimes I park it in my right pocket, but that wasn't something Gerth needed to know. I stepped over to the patio door.

"Um . . . I really should pay you back. For the wet handkerchief, I mean." Gerth's voice was uncertain. I could see him calculating in his mind how many years of mowed lawns would equal what he'd been given.

"Sure," I said. "I could use some new clothes. And the 5&10 is having a sale in the men's section next week."

"Yes!" Gerth seized on this idea eagerly. "Whatever you want, just tell me. I'll deliver it to your door."

"Oh, I think it would be better if we shopped together. So that we can pick out the right one." I slipped through the patio door, and then slid it shut till only a foot remained open. I smiled at Gerth.

"Fact is," I said, "I'm in need of a new belt."