“You want us to go where and do what?” I stared at my Captain in disbelief.
He gave a long suffering sigh and ran a hand through his thinning hair.
“It’s called “the Institute,” Sugarbaker. It’s supposed to be a resort for wealthy businessmen and their mistresses but we have reason to believe there’s more going on there—a lot more.”
“I know what it is—everybody in Vice has heard of it,” I said, crossing my arms. “I just don’t understand why you want Salt and me to go there.”
“This Institute is a place of perversion—yes?” Viktor Saltanov, my partner for the last three years, frowned down at me.
He was able to look down because, even though he was sitting in the chair we were sharing and I was sitting much higher on the arm of it, he was still considerably taller. It was a disparity I was used to. I’m pretty small—5’1 in my socks. My partner, on the other hand, is—putting it mildly—huge. Salt is 6’6 with a weightlifter’s physique. They didn’t call him the Russian bull around the department for nothing. Now he raised one eyebrow at me, his ice blue eyes filled with questions.
I snorted. “Perverted is putting it mildly if even half of what I’ve heard is true.”
“It may be,” Captain Douglas said. “But we’re pretty sure it’s where this new supply of Please is coming from.”
“Please?” Salt frowned again.
“You know…” I elbowed him in one muscular shoulder. “That new designer drug that’s suddenly all over the place—‘Please, Daddy.’ Please for short.”
Please Daddy’ also known as ‘Touch me, Daddy,’ in some circles was that rarest of drugs—an aphrodisiac that actually worked. It was supposed to give the user unquenchable sexual appetites. Unfortunately, it also had some nasty side effects—putting it bluntly, the user often felt they had to have sex or die after consuming it. And in some cases, they actually did die. Please had some weird side effects that weren’t completely understood yet—which didn’t stop anyone from taking it.
The inevitable begging for sex after taking the drug had helped name it. There were videos on the internet of girls who were absolutely shameless after having a single hit—one especially had gone viral. I hadn’t seen it myself but supposedly it was a blonde girl in her twenties begging to get fucked after taking a hit of Please.
“Daddy, please! Oh God, please, Daddy,” she kept saying over and over to the man in the video with her. From what I had heard, the man wasn’t really her father but the name has stuck. “Please Daddy” was the hottest new drug around—and the most deadly.
Knowing that Please was spreading all over the place was enough to make you sick—it made me sick, anyway. And as a detective first class, I would be more than happy to go shut down the supply from its source in any way I could.
Well…almost any way.
“Explain it again,” I said to Captain Douglas. “What do you want us to do at the Institute?”
He sighed again, looking harassed and I knew he must be thinking what a difficult bitch I was—not that I cared.
I have a reputation as a ball-breaker around the department. But that’s pretty much inevitable when you’re a female detective who’s determined not to let her lack of a penis stand in the way of professional advancement. I don’t back down from anyone and the Captain knows it. I really think that’s why he paired me with Salt to start with—to take me down a peg.
Born and bred in Mother Russia, Viktor Saltanov is pretty much as macho as they come. But not how we Westerners think of the concept—it’s more of an ingrained personality trait with Russian men. They are just simply more there—more male if you will. At least, that was how Salt seemed to me.
Right from the start, I thought my new partner was going to be trouble. He was always doing things like opening doors, pulling out chairs, helping me into my coat, giving me a hand in and out of cars…all those little things that Western men used to do but mostly don’t anymore. At least none of the ones I had ever gone out with did them.
I don’t know why that kind of thing stopped—maybe because society has shifted or maybe because feminists like me have trained it out of men. But for whatever reason, Salt hadn’t gotten the memo that treating a woman like a precious creature unable to do things for herself wasn’t done anymore.
At the beginning of our partnership, I fumed silently for about a week of this overly deferential and—to my mind—sexist treatment. But things finally came to a head when we stopped for lunch at my favorite restaurant and my partner ordered for me—telling the waitress exactly what to bring me and exactly how to make it—before I could even open my mouth or look at the menu.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” I demanded, after he gave the waitress our order and she left to go whisper with her friend.
I was sure they were talking about Salt. With his black hair, pale blue eyes, and his immense size, he was well worth looking at. He also has an air of quiet authority that acts like catnip on a certain type of woman—a kind of gravity that almost never lifts. I think it’s because he smiles very rarely, which is not because he’s unhappy as I initially thought—it’s just not done where he comes from. He once told me there is a Russian proverb—‘a man who smiles constantly is one step from being a fool.’ And you can call Salt what you want but he’s no fool—he actually has a brain in that big, muscular body. You ought to see him play chess—I’ve never beaten him, not once, and I was on the chess team briefly in high school.
But back to the disastrous lunch.
“Why did you order for me?” I asked him, well and truly pissed.
He shrugged, looking mildly surprised.
“Is what you always order.”
“Yes, but what if I wanted something different?”
“Then you should have told me. I would order it for you,” he replied calmly.
“You don’t get it,” I sputtered, getting angrier than ever. “I like to order for myself! And I like getting my own door and pulling out my own chair and putting on my own coat…all this weird ‘I’m such a gentleman’ bullshit you’ve got going on is wasted on me! I’m your partner—not some date you’re trying to impress so you can get laid. So stop it.”
Salt had looked more than mildly surprised at my outburst.
“But as you have pointed out, you are my partner,” he said reasonably. “So I must take care of you.”
“Would you hold open the door for another guy? Would you order his lunch for him?” I demanded.
“Of course not.” Salt gave a rare laugh, as though it was a ridiculous idea. “But you are female, Andi. So I take care of you.”
Salt’s face darkened.
“I may still have too much Russian accent but my English comprehension is quite good. I know the meaning of these words, Andi—I am not these things.”
“How are you not?” I demanded. “You just admitted that you treat me differently because I’m female. That’s the very definition of a chauvinist.”
“You don’t understand…” He leaned forward and put a hand on mine though I don’t know how he dared touch me when I was so obviously pissed off. “Yes, I treat you differently,” he said in a soft, low voice. “You are female. And women are to be cherished…protected. Not because they are weak or stupid—because they are precious. You are a woman and my partner, Andi—this makes you doubly precious to me. Therefore, I take care of you. Yes? It is the Russian way.”
I was still pretty angry but the look in his ice blue eyes was so sincere it actually made me reconsider. Still… “the Russian way?” Was he serious with that bullshit?
Apparently, he was. That night, after swallowing both the sandwich he had ordered me (and insisted on paying for) and my pride, I did what I should have in the first place—I did my research.
I’m ashamed to admit I had to get most of my information off dating sites. Not that I had any interest in my partner that way but still—those were the places where they had the most information about Russian men and the way they interact with their women.
I learned that your typical Russian man was generous, helpful, courteous and extremely protective of his chosen woman. According to the sites I read, they also tend to get serious quickly about a woman they consider to be theirs. Now that I was Salt’s partner, he apparently considered it his job to protect me and shield me from harm. Not a bad quality in a partner, if I could get over my feminist prickliness and adjust to being treated like more than one of the guys for once.
It took some effort on my part and constantly reminding myself that the way Salt was acting toward me was cultural, not in any way sexist or demeaning. But finally we fell into a routine. Salt still opened doors for me, helped me in and out of my coat and insisted on buying my lunch when we ate out together. (In Russia, the man always pays—it’s an insult to ask to split the bill.) And in return, I had him over to my place for a home cooked meal at least twice a week—I know I don’t seem very domestic but I’m actually a pretty good cook. I even learned to make borscht for him which is more complicated than you might think.
The only place I really had to draw the line was when Salt wanted to defend my honor. I don’t know what the Russian police force is like, but I don’t think they get the concept of police brutality. In the beginning, any perp we brought in who mouthed off to me was likely to be picking his teeth up off the floor the next minute. I finally made Salt understand he was going to get us both suspended if he didn’t stop, so now he contented himself with simply threatening anyone who disrespected me. It was a distinct improvement, especially from the Captain’s point of view.
And speaking of Captain Douglas, I hoped he was finally going to explain why he needed Salt and me to go to the infamous Institute.
“We need you to go undercover,” he was saying. “Get in good with the other…ah participants at the resort, and see if you can identify the source of the Please. This new batch is the most dangerous yet so if we can catch the manufacturer and dry up the supply, we can save a lot of lives.”
“Go undercover in what capacity?” I asked, frowning. “I mean, what exactly do they do there, anyway?”
“I thought you knew all about it, Sugarbaker.” Captain Douglas folded his arms over his narrow chest.
“I know it’s some kind of kinky resort,” I said. “Is it a BDSM thing? Are Salt and I going to have to dress up in leather and use whips and chains on each other?”
Salt’s face darkened. “I will not whip Andi. She is too delicate for such treatment.”
In the beginning of our partnership, that kind of statement would have pissed me off. Now I knew it was just Salt protecting me. Still, I nudged his muscular shoulder and made a face at him.
“Who said you would be doing the whipping, huh? You think I can’t be the one wielding the paddle? I’m plenty dominant enough to be a dominatrix.”
Salt gave me a coolly appraising stare. After a moment, it got hard to hold his ice-blue gaze but I refused to drop my eyes and lose the little staring contest we found ourselves in.
“No,” he said at last. “You are dominant to many men but not to me, Andi. This I will not allow.”
Captain Douglas cleared his throat which broke my concentration. I looked back at our superior, losing the staring contest.
“A-hem. Unfortunately, though the Institute does practice a form of BDSM, it’s not the kind you traditionally think of when you’re talking about the kink community.”
“Well, what is it then?” I demanded. “If it’s not whips and chains, I mean.”
He sat back in his chair and frowned at both of us.
“Have either one of you ever heard of ‘Age Play’?”
“What’s that?” I asked blankly. Tampa has a pretty large kink community but since Salt and I are Homicide and their problems usually fall under Vice, we don’t have much to do with them. Consequently, most of my kink education consisted of what I could glean from watching the 50 Shades of Gray movie which I’d thought was pretty stupid, to be honest.
Although there was that one scene where the guy puts the girl over his knee and spanks her…but I pushed the thought away. That kind of thing never did anything for me—I had no idea why that particular scene lingered in my mind when the rest of the insipid movie was thankfully forgotten.
“Age Play is where one partner acts much younger than they actually are and the other partner assumes an older role.”
“Huh?” I said and Salt said, “I do not understand.”
Captain Douglas sighed. “Look, it’s not my area of expertise either. But basically one of you will have to dress up as a little girl and the other one is the Daddy.”
“What?” I demanded. “Captain, you can’t be serious! That’s sick.”
“I’m afraid I am serious, Sugarbaker,” he said, frowning. “Look—it’s not what you think. It’s not about incest or pedophilia—it’s…ah, hell…” He sighed. “I’m making a mess of this. Let me get someone in here who can explain it better than I can.” He picked up his phone and spoke into it while I sat fuming. I knew exactly who was going to be the little girl and who was going to be the Daddy. It wasn’t like Salt would look good in a sailor dress and knee socks!
There was a subtle rap at the Captain’s door and then a middle aged man with thinning gray hair and spectacles poked his head in.
“Hi, excuse me. I’m Professor Stevens and I was told to come back?”
“Come on in, Professor.” The Captain made a welcoming gesture and I thought I saw relief on his face. He was passing the buck—bringing in the expert so he could sit on the sidelines and not have to take the fall for whatever harebrained scheme had been cooked up for me and my partner. I crossed my arms and tapped my fingers impatiently as the man came to sit in a chair beside the Captain, across from Salt and me.
“Hello.” He smiled at both of us but he didn’t seem encouraged by our response. I was scowling at him and Salt was giving him that patented blank Russian stare that most people find so unnerving.
“Dr. Stevens holds a PhD in Psychology with an emphasis in Alternate Sexuality,” the captain said, making the introductions. “He’ll be consulting with us on this case. And Dr. Stevens, this is Detective Salt and Detective Sugarbaker.”
Professor Stevens looked surprised. “Are those your names? Really? ‘Salt’ and ‘Sugar?’”
“Antoinette Josephine Sugarbaker, Detective First Class,” I said, emphasizing the last part of my name. With a mouthful like that, is it any wonder I go by Andi? My mom read way too many romance novels when she was pregnant with me.
“And I am Viktor Petrovich Saltanov, also detective,” Salt growled. “If you are here to explain our assignment, please get on with it.”
“Uh—okay.” The professor cleared his throat.
“Explain to them about Age Play,” the Captain said encouragingly. “Go on—just like you did for me, if you would, please Professor.”
“Of course.” The little man straightened his tie and assumed a lecturing air. I could almost see him standing in front of an auditorium full of bored students with a pointer in one hand and a sheaf of notes in the other. “Age Play,” he began, “Particularly Age Play involving a person assuming the role of a younger child is often widely misunderstood. Contrary to what some people believe, Age Players are not pedophiles.”
“How can they not be?” I objected, breaking into his lecture. “I mean, one of them is pretending to be a kid and the other one is having sex with that one. It’s disgusting.”
“Age Play is not always sexual,” the Professor answered smoothly. “Age Players assume the roles of children because they find comfort in it. When they go into Little-space, they get to express their most deeply buried feelings from childhood and relinquish responsibilities and indeed, control of their entire life to another person.”
“Number one,” I said, “What is ‘Little-space’? And number two, why would anyone want to give control of their entire life to someone else?”
Professor Stevens laughed politely. “Surely you’re joking my dear. Just imagine not having to worry about paying the bills, doing the laundry, cooking the meals—imagine someone else doing all that for you. Just like when you were a child—wouldn’t that be worth the loss of control?”
“I wouldn’t know,” I said bluntly. “My mom was an alcoholic so I pretty much did all those things for myself when I was a kid.”
“Andi is a very controlled person,” Salt put in, surprising me. “She is not anxious to allow anyone to help her—even when she needs the help.”
“Hey!” I frowned at my partner but he just gave me his best blank look as if to say, You know it’s true. After a minute, I dropped my eyes.
“I see,” the professor said. “Well, on to your second question, then. Little-space is the headspace or mind set an Age Player gets into when they regress. It’s almost an altered state of consciousness when they go into it deeply enough.”
“So—like some kind of drug?” I asked, frowning.
He nodded. “It can be, in a way. It changes your perception and your judgment. For Littles, or the players who become ‘younger,’ it’s often a more open, simple place for them to be in. Again, many find it soothing to become a child again and not have to think about adult problems.”
“This sounds like a load of bullshit to me,” I said, frowning. “But what about the other ones—the ones who play the adults? What do they get out of it, if it’s not sexual?”
“The ‘Bigs’ or ‘Daddies’ as they are sometimes called, get the satisfaction of teaching, caring for, and comforting their ‘younger’ partner.” Professor Stevens smiled. “Overall, Age Play relationships are very warm and fulfilling for all parties involved.”
“Ooookay,” I said, not bothering to try and hide my skepticism. “So the Institute is full of people who like to do this? This Age Play?”
“Exactly. And make no mistake about it, Detective, Age Play is a form of BDSM.” Stevens raised a finger. “In fact, it closely mirrors the master/slave relationship of more traditional practices. But there are subtle differences in the Daddy/Babygirl relationship…”
“Okay, before we get into all that…” I looked at Captain Douglass again. “You seriously want us to do this? You want me to dress up like a little girl and Salt will be my Daddy? Because I’m assuming it couldn’t go the other way around.”
“No,” Professor Stevens said, answering for him. “No, there are other scenes where a male ‘Little girl’ or ‘Babygirl’ would be welcomed but not at the Institute. They are very traditional there.”
“You sound like you know the place,” I said, raising an eyebrow at him.
Stevens cleared his throat, a bit uncomfortably I thought.
“I am active in the Tampa scene. I have been to one of their very rare open houses but it was some time ago.”
“Okay, whatever,” I said, turning back to the Captain. “The point is, you want Salt and me to go in undercover to what is probably the weirdest, kinkiest place I’ve ever heard of. Why us?”
He frowned. “You’ve done sting operations before, Sugarbaker. Weren’t you undercover as a pro once?”
“Yeah, but at least I was still acting as an adult, even if I was pretending to be a prostitute,” I pointed out.
Salt looked surprised. “You went undercover as a prostitute?”
“It was before your time—when I was in Vice for a while,” I assured him. “Don’t worry—nobody touched me.”
He frowned protectively. “They had better not.”
“And speaking of Vice,” I said to the Captain. “Why aren’t they in on this? It’s definitely more their wheelhouse than ours. Why not pick two of them to do this crazy thing?”
“Because none of the other detectives in your police department fit the very exacting criteria set by the Institute,” Professor Stevens said quietly. “I told you, they are very traditional—they only admit male Bigs and female Littles. And they prefer it when the Little in question is extremely petite—it makes her seem more childlike.”
“Ugh…” I shivered. “So Salt and I are getting this honor because I’m height challenged? Gotta tell you Captain, that hardly seems fair.”
“Sugarbaker…” He sighed and looked at me directly. “Have you seen what Please does to its users? Do you know how it got its name?”
I shrugged. “Sure, I heard about that viral video.”
“But have you watched it? Look…” The Captain turned his large, flat computer monitor around and nodded at the professor. “Could you hit the lights? These overhead fluorescents make it hard to see.”
The office was plunged into semi-gloom and then the Captain punched a button. The monitor flickered to life, showing a blonde girl who looked to be in her early to mid twenties. She was down on the floor, on her hands and knees, crawling towards a man wearing a dark gray suit and expensive looking shoes. I didn’t know what his face looked like because the shot didn’t go that high.
“See that?” the Captain asked. “We believe that man is the original creator of Please. If we could catch him, we could shut down a hell of a lot of production.”
“Who is he?” Salt asked but the Captain shook his head.
“Nobody knows. As you can see, they’re very careful not to show his face. But even if they did, I don’t think most people would be looking at it. She’s the interesting one.”
He nodded at the girl on the screen who was looking more and more distressed.
“Please, Daddy,” she moaned, rubbing against the man’s legs. “Please, I feel so empty inside—it hurts—it hurts. Please fill me up with your big, hard cock!”
I glanced at Salt to see how he was taking this. I didn’t know if he watched American porn or, indeed, if Russian porn was any different. His face was impassive, however—it’s impossible to read him sometimes.
“Daddy, please!” The girl in the video flipped up her skirt, showing pink and white Hello Kitty panties. Her blonde hair was done in two curly pigtails and she was wearing lacy white ankle socks and Mary Jane saddle shoes. I wondered uneasily if her outfit was an Age Play thing. Was I going to have to dress like this and beg Salt to…
But I pushed the thought away. Professor Stevens had said that it didn’t have to be sexual. So it wouldn’t be—and that was that. Not that I didn’t find Salt attractive—I’d have to be blind not to. But sleeping with your partner was bad news—a one way ticket to complications and messy emotions. I preferred to keep my work life and my sex life separate.
Right, your nonexistent sex life, whispered a little voice in my head. I hadn’t really dated anyone seriously since Salt and I had been partnered up. I didn’t really know why that was—probably it was intimidating for prospective dates to meet my partner, which they somehow, always invariably did. Possibly Salt was giving them a ‘don’t hurt my partner’ speech or maybe they were just scared of him.
For whatever reason, no guy I tried ever lasted more than a couple of dates. And for the past few years, I had sort of stopped trying. Maybe I was getting too comfortable just being on my own, or maybe I felt like I already had all the male companionship I needed. After all, I spent something like seventy-five percent of my time with Salt…
“Daddy…Daddy, I’m going to die if you don’t fuck me!” the blonde girl in the video brayed. I had sort of tuned it out for a minute but now I realized she was pulling down the Hello Kitty panties to show her bare ass. She started rubbing herself between her legs frantically, crying and panting and moaning. Her pupils were dilated so wide I couldn’t even tell what color her eyes were and her breathing was ragged.
For the first time, the man on the screen spoke.
“Fuck or die, Babygirl,” he said, his voice coming out in a lustful growl. I still couldn’t see his face, clearly he was taking pains to keep his identity secret. “You told me you’d rather die than let me fuck you before. Is that still how you feel?”
“No, Daddy, no—I swear!” the blonde girl sobbed. “I’ll be your good little girl! So good—just give it to me, please.”
Finally, mercifully, the Captain stopped the video.
“I think you can see why we need to get a handle on this,” he said quietly. “Please is not only dangerous, it’s shaping up to be the most effective date rape drug ever created. Can you imagine how damaging a video like this is to the victim when it gets out? The girl is literally begging for it. And even though she’s under the influence of the drug, a lot of people are going to blame her because…well, because people are assholes. We all know that.”
“Isn’t there any way to get someone down once they take the Please other than to have sex?” I asked.
The captain frowned. “There was one case where a girl was given a hit of Please at a party and her older brother took her home before she could fall into the wrong hands. It wasn’t until after he got her back to the house that the symptoms hit.”
“Oh no…” I put a hand to my mouth. “Please tell me he didn’t—”
“No, he didn’t have sex with his own sister, Sugarbaker,” the Captain said. “But people who take Please are in desperate need of intense physical sensation. So instead of having sex with her, he beat the hell out of her.”
“He what?” I asked, raising my eyebrows at him.
“You heard me—he beat her black and blue.” The Captain shrugged. “It worked. She didn’t die but when she came down off the Please high she was a mess.”
“Did she press charges?” I asked.
The Captain shook his head. “No. She gave a statement to the effect that she’d rather have a few bruises than have been raped by some stranger. She was grateful to her brother, if you can believe that.”
“Well, he did save her from being date raped,” I said, shrugging. “And then he gave her what her body needed, even if it probably wasn’t exactly what she wanted at the time.”
“This must be stopped.”
I was surprised to hear the vehemence in Salt’s voice. Turning, I saw that there was a grim expression on his normally blank face, a murderous anger I rarely saw.
“So you’re up for this?” I asked him. “You want to go in undercover as my “Daddy” so we can bust these guys?”
He looked at me seriously. “I know this will be hard for you, Andi. Much harder for you than for me. For that, I am sorry. But yes—I think we must stop this at any cost.”
Well, that was something to consider. I’d been prepared to put up more of a fight on this one but Salt seemed to feel really strongly about it.
“All right,” I said, nodding at last. “I still don’t like it but we’ll do it.”
“Great.” Captain Douglas looked very relieved. Clearly, he’d expected more of an argument from me. “We’ll make the arrangements and in the meantime, I’d like Professor Stevens here to coach the two of you on what to expect and how to act.”
I looked at my watch. “Sounds good but it’s almost quitting time, Captain. Can we pick this back up tomorrow?”
“Actually, we were hoping to get you into the Institute sooner rather than later,” the Captain said.
“Okay.” I sighed. “Maybe the three of us can all go out to dinner together? Talk some more now?”
Stevens shifted uncomfortably. “We do need to talk but I think it’s better we do it in private.”
“Plus you’ll need to try on your costumes,” the Captain put in. “I don’t think you’ll want to be seen out in public wearing those. Sorry, Sugarbaker.”
I frowned. “Okay, and what is Salt going to wear?”
“Just wear a suit,” the Captain said to Salt. “The more expensive, the better. You’re going to be a wealthy Russian investor who’s new to the whole Daddy-Dom experience. You’re going to the institute with your Little, hoping to get tips to train her better.”
“Wait—why does Salt have to ‘train’ me?” I demanded.
“Everything is always a fight with you, isn’t it, Sugarbaker?” the Captain growled. “Dr. Stevens and I thought it would be better for the two of you to present yourselves as new to the Age Play scene to explain any mistakes you might make.”
“All right,” I said reluctantly. “I just don’t like the idea of fetching a stick or begging for treats.”
“No, no, my dear.” Stevens laughed. “That would be puppy play. The Institute isn’t about that at all.”
“I was just kidding about that,” I said. “But you’re serious—that’s a thing? Puppy play?”
“There are all kinds of kinks,” the professor said. “But as of now, you need only be concerned about one. So maybe the two of you would like to come to my house for supper and I can explain your roles in more detail?”
“No.” Salt spoke up, surprising me. “No, we will meet at my house,” he said, looking at Stevens. “Less trouble this way.”
“Well, okay, sure.” I shrugged. “Professor Stevens?”
“Just tell me the address,” he said nodding. “I’ll be there with bells on.”
Knowing that he was deep in the fetish community made me wonder if he meant that literally. I had a feeling Salt and I were going to find out.