When Jo and I had stopped laughing, I said to Ann-Marie,
“I’m sorry for our reaction. It was most uncalled for. I hope we haven’t offended you in any way?”
To my relief, Ann-Marie was smiling.
“No offence. Some people who have seen that document have even thrown it back in my face not literally but physically.”
“Well, I can understand why and both of us know a good deal of our former countrymen and women who’d do that and possibly even more. Thankfully, burning at the stake is illegal in most of the USA at the moment,” I replied trying to make light of the issue.
“Ann-Marie, thank you for sharing this with us. Even if we decline to help, I can assure you that we won’t go broadcasting the document and its contents to the world,” said Jo
“Thanks Jo. I appreciate that.”
Then she got a bit serious,
“Laughing aside, what are your first impressions of what we are proposing?”
I looked at Jo who returned a tiny nod of her head.
“From our experience with these things quality is probably the last thing that the producers worry about. Again, from a limited experience, the only people who come close to making half decent equipment in this area are the Germans. Some companies make really top quality items but others promise a lot but deliver little.”
Ann-Marie looked at us a little harder
“Why do I get the impression you know more about this than you are letting on?”
“For the simple reason Ann-Marie, my old company supplied some pieces of equipment to two of the shall we say more reputable makers of Sex Equipment in Germany. Naturally, I can’t tell you who but we did it.”
“Thanks for being so candid with me.”
“You said the others?” asked Jo changing the subject.
“Yes. You have already met Julie and Samantha. They’ll be here tomorrow along with Sylvia Edwards and Karema Patel. We have all suffered at the hands of the men in our past. Therefore, we decided to do something for ourselves. A sort of Spurned Wives Club so to speak.”
She took a deep breath before continuing.
“How we arrived at this I don’t know but we all have experience using them and know from first-hand how utter shit some of the even the more expensive stuff is. A lot of it works once and then needs to be junked. Anyway, we were bouncing around ideas when Sylvia’s phone rang. It was in her handbag and in the act of getting it, she spilled the content onto the floor. There on the floor was two of the largest dildo’s you have ever seen. So, to cut a long story short, we ended up sharing them that night only for both of them to conk out in mid operation. It was Karema who said, ‘why don’t we make stuff for ourselves, stuff that works?’. No one objected so we each put up a couple of hundred quid and got the business plan drawn up. That’s where the good news ends.”
Ann-Marie took another drink of the wine which wasn’t half bad actually.
“Everywhere we went to try to raise funds we got laughed out of the room. In the end, we all agreed to put up as much as we can afford. With me, it is somewhere to run the business. Samantha has sold or is selling, the Ferrari that her ex gave her for her Birthday. As she does not have a driving license, it wasn’t much use to her anyway.”
She took a breath before continuing,
“The others are doing the same sort of thing. But we have lots of ideas and we are willing to learn but have zero experience in running a business, sourcing equipment and everything. Then Samantha remembered something you said in the bar that night and… well here we are.”
There was a pregnant silence before Jo spoke.
“Why don’t we peruse the plan overnight and we can talk again when the others arrive tomorrow?”
“Good show. I can give you the grand tour after breakfast. I’ll show you where we plan to setup shop so to speak. The others should be here around eleven.” suggested Ann-Marie.
In our bedroom, later that evening, I sat on the bed and read the Business Plan. Jo followed suit a little later after she’d had a shower.
When I finished, I sat back and began to think. Something about this intrigued me but I wasn’t sure about Jo. She was for once proving very hard to read.
When she finished reading it, she put it down on the bed and said,
“Well darling, that’s a turn up for the books, isn’t it? Talk about coincidences.”
“I know. Do you think they got the idea from us back in Malvern? I’ve been racking my brains trying to think back.”
“The date on this proposal is a week after we met so I don’t think so. There is nowhere near enough time to put something like this together. This was done by a third party but I really don’t think that they have done a good job.”
I opened the proposal and saw the date.
“Thanks, I missed that.”
“What about their proposed products? I think they are not niche enough,” said Jo as she started to get into her stride.
“I agree. Plus, the kit needed to make some of this stuff does not come cheap. Plastic Moulding tooling isn’t cheap either. Do you remember that tooling for that widget we made for Amtrak?”
“What? Oh, yes, it went somewhere in the toilets if I remember rightly.”
“Yes, that’s it. It managed the separation of solids and liquids. The tooling for that cost close on fifty grand. The other bids for that contract were almost double that. We won it because we had some tooling that could be adapted. Putting that aside, some of these devices will need expensive tooling however they make them. There is no getting away from that unless they use 3d Printing but that is very expensive to do in production given the current technology and the expected sale price for these ‘items’. Prototyping yes but anything more than low volume? Not a chance. They’d need a plastics expert as well.”
“I’d better write all this down,” suggested Jo.
“That’s a good idea.”
Jo dug a small notepad from her voluminous handbag and began to write things down.
“Tooling costs and plastic moulding machinery costs,” she said as she wrote them down.
“I think the range they are going for is too crowded,” suggested Jo.
“Not Niche enough then?”
Jo wrote it all down with a smile on her face.
“How are they going to get sold? Are they going for something like an Amazon or EBay store? There are costs and skills involved there? What about the Sex shop trade? I don’t see anything in here about how they plan to distribute and sell them.”
Jo carried on writing.
“What skills are the other players on the team going to bring to the party?” she asked when she’d finished writing.
“That my darling is the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question and will have to wait until tomorrow.”
“I think you are right darling.”
A little later we were lying in bed. I could sense that Jo wasn’t sleeping.
“A penny for them?”
“Oh… I was wondering what the hell we are doing here? If you get involved does it mean the end of Daniella? After all that was our agreement right back at the start of all this?”
“Jo, I’ll say this again, Daniel is not coming back ever. Don’t we have a better relationship now that we’ve ever had? I’m more in love with you now, than ever before. I think you feel the same with me. I’m not going to let anything get in the way of that and I don’t think you will either. I propose that we go softly, softly and make no commitments this weekend. That way if we turn the job down we can do it with honour. Agreed?”
Jo didn’t answer me with her voice but her lips.
“I love you Daniella. I don’t want the old Daniel back either.”
“Then no more talk of going backwards eh?”
Jo responded with a long goodnight kiss.
After breakfast, Ann-Marie gave us the tour of the place.
“As I said, my stupid ex, Tony wanted to make this a three hundred quid a night retreat like Champneys and other Celebrity Retreats. It was doomed from the start only I was far too interested in my horses to notice what was going on. Even when I asked, he fobbed me off with some excuse. I know that I should have realised but I was blind to what was going on until it was far too late.”
“I will give Tony due credit, a lot of what he did here was good quality but it cost the earth. He even pandered for my love of Horses. That’s where we are going now.”
Ann-Marie led us out the back of the main building and through a couple of gates in brick walls until we came to a large structure. She opened the door and showed us inside.
“This is what was supposed to be the indoor riding school. His idea was that being with horses is good therapy. It is but he had no idea about how to implement it. He should have used any of the ten to fifteen liveries that are within five miles of here instead of spending so much on this white elephant. Still it is here and we should use it.”
The place was empty but I could see why Ann-Marie had brought us here right at the start.
“This would be the centre of operations of our business. There is plenty of space to do pretty well anything we want. There is three phase power at the box outside and a loading dock plus 10 stable bays beyond the roller shutter doors. The stable bays can be used for storage.”
I got the impression that the ‘dizzy’ female that Ann-Marie projected was a bit of an act. It was either that or she’d had a big say in the design of the former riding school.
We headed back into the house where Ann-Marie showed us the bits that would not be of much use to the business such as the treatment rooms, the sauna and spa.
“Finally, we come to the straw that broke the Camel’s back,” said Ann-Marie.
She pushed open a pair of double doors. There beyond, was a 25m Swimming Pool.
“Fitting this place out took almost 60% of the budget. This is the golden elephant that sunk the ship,” she said with great sadness in her voice.
The pool was empty of water.
“It will cost around nine hundred to fill and at least a hundred a day to run. Tony was quoted a Solar Heating system that would have saved almost all the running costs by he preferred to spend the money on gold plated taps and showers. Sadly, it will probably never be used.”
Before we could say anything, we heard the sound of a car horn.
“Ah, that will be the others. Come on, they will be eager to meet you both.”
We arrived at the front door of the house to witness the four women getting out of a Bentley.
With the introductions made we all headed for the kitchen where Coffee was served.
“Girls, Jo and Daniella have had time overnight to digest the business plan so I’m sure that we’d like to hear what they think of it.”
I sat back and let Jo do the talking.
“Right ladies, as Ann-Marie said, Daniella and I took a good look at the plan last night and to be honest with you, if you follow this as it stands then you will fail.”
Jo let those words sink in at least a bit before carrying on.
“The plan is on the surface a good one but the market you are going after is all wrong. Most of the things you seem to want to make and sell you can already buy from pretty well any branch of shops like Anne Summers. Then there are the online merchants who are selling mostly the cheap crap from China and Taiwan. To sum it up, the idea of making or having made quality sex toys is a good one but the choice of toys is all wrong.”
The room was silent as Jo took a sip of coffee.
“Let me go through one item to illustrate the costs involved in just starting to make something. This does not include any budget for selling, marketing or distribution.”
“For a simple vibrator that is made of plastic, you are going to need tooling. Two grand minimum even for a small egg sized vibrator. Then unless you contract out the manufacture, you are looking at twenty to thirty grand minimum for a low volume injection moulding machine. Then there is the vibrating mechanism. Someone needs to design it as I assume you would not be willing to compromise on a cheap off the shelf mechanism. Then there are the costs and skills needed to make it. A hundred grand to set up the kit. Once you have a device, do you think that it can be sold just like that? Because it is electrical it needs safety testing. Then there is the ‘CE’ mark. You can’t sell it in Europe without one. Then there is the patent lawyer you will need because there are probably patents for vibrators that the patent owners will sue you over. And so, it goes on.”
Jo took another sip of coffee.
“As I said, mass producing stuff for general use is a non-starter unless you have several million lying around waiting to be burnt with little or no hope of a return of your capital let alone some profits. Even contracting out most of the work will still take at least half a million with marketing and advertising. There are a lot of established vendors out there who will fight you tooth and nail for market share. Finally, and the killer is in our opinion, little or no money to be made with the sort of items you list in the plan.”
Jo sat down and let the bad news sink in.
I squeezed Jo’s hand to say ‘well done darling’.
“How… how did you come up with all this in such a short time?” asked Sylvia who had been very quiet up to now.
I looked at Jo who smiled back at me. She took the hint and answered
“We read the document last night and made some notes. Then we slept on it. As usual we woke up around five and the two of us spent three hours on the internet doing some research. It wasn’t hard if you know what you are looking for and have run a multi-million-dollar business like Daniella.”
“But, it seems that you know more about this business than us?” asked Donna.
“Why don’t you all have a talk about what Jo just said while Jo and I have a little walk around the grounds. When you have had time to digest what we have said Ann-Marie can give me a call and we’ll come back,” I ventured hoping to deflect any more questioning for the moment.
There was no argument so Jo and I left the room as quickly as we could without seeming to do a hasty exit.
Out in the garden, neither of us wanted to aske ‘that’ question. In the end, it was Jo who dived in.
“Do we expose what we do or do we do a run for the hills?”
“I think the locals refer to it as ‘doing a runner’ but darling you are right. We have a choice to make,” I replied.
We came up to a bench so we sat down. I looked into Jo’s eyes.
“We have a very private and very unconventional sex life. As consenting adults, we are doing stuff that Pastor Franks, back home would find totally abhorrent and condemn us to Hell and Damnation in a second. If we take the next step here today, then we may well have to expose our very private stuff to all of those in that room. The question is, would it stay in that room or would it find its way onto social media within an hour. Does that sum it up?” I asked Jo.
She answered me with a quick kiss on the cheek.
“We have to lay down some ground rules now and for the future if we are going to work together with those women,” I added.
“I was thinking just that very thing,” agreed Jo.
“What sort of rules were you thinking of?”
“They will have to basically drop off the face of the planet for a period. Remember that start-up… Astral Bio Tech, they were based just off Highway 2 on the edge of town?”
“Oh yes. Brendan O’Reilly worked there at the start.”
“That’s right. They existed as a company but no one knew what they were up to for almost three years. They were in what they call ‘stealth’ mode. They were able to develop their product in virtual secrecy and only went public when they had something to show.”
The lights came on in Jo’s eyes.
“You want that sort of thing to happen here then?”
“Exactly and it is for the benefit of all seven of us in that room. The last thing a project like this needs is a horde of press camped outside. Did you recognise Karema? She was the mistress of a former government minister. Her face was plastered on the front cover of the low-end daily papers for days at the back end of last year,” I added.
“So no phones, Facebook and all the rest?”
“Almost. Using phones needs to be controlled. During World War 2, there were posters up saying ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’. Here it is ‘Careless Talk Attracts the Press’. So just normal activities but restricted to say between five and seven in the evening. At all other times, the phones are switched off and even locked away. Thankfully, none of them seem to be Social Media Addicts well from what we have seen so far. It might well be that Social Media has played a bit part in their problems in recent times and being off it is very good advice for those in ‘rehab’.”
Then a smile appeared on my face as an idea took hold. Jo noticed it.
“Something is cooking inside that mind of yours my darling. Something devious no doubt?”
“Yes. I wonder if they will go for it?”
“Out with it or no nooky for you for the next month!”
I grinned back at her and gave her a quick kiss.
“We don’t want it to get out that we are wearing belts and the rest. So why don’t they all do the same. Then they all have an interest in keeping things quiet. It will also prove that they are in it for the long run and not just a two-week flash in the pan?”
Jo cuddled me with a huge smile on her face.
“I think it is a great idea. I’d love to be able to take a picture of their faces when you tell them,” said Jo hardly able to keep a straight face.
“Not me darling, you. You are going to tell them and show them your belt.”
“Because mine is a bit different, isn’t it? I’m not sure who knows the truth about me and who does not know.”
“Ok, I’ll do it.” replied Jo somewhat reluctantly.
We carried on walking and talking about various options for almost twenty minutes before my phone rang.
“Hi Anne-Marie. We’ll be there in a few minutes,” I said and hung up without waiting for a reply.
“Shall we go?” I asked as I gave my arm to Jo.
“Once more unto the Breach my Friends, once more,” Replied Jo quoting a line from ‘Henry V’. We’d seen it at the RSC theatre in Stratford the previous year.
“Yes my darling, once more.”
We entered the room and all eyes were upon us.
I put a smile on my face and said,
“Well ladies what conclusions have you come to since we left?”
It was Ann-Marie who spoke up.
“What you said made perfect sense. That is probably why we got nowhere with the business plan but that really does not matter now.”
She swallowed hard and after looking at the others, she continued.
“We think you are right. Many of us have shopped at very niche and upmarket shops over the years. I first met Samantha in the Restaurant at Harvey Nicks so our market was right there in front of us all the time and either we couldn’t see it or didn’t want to admit that it was there through embarrassment. I don’t know but as I said at the moment, it does not matter. We are willing to take your advice and look at other products.”
I nodded to Jo who stood up.
“Ladies, before we go any further, there are some ground rules. These are for the benefit of everyone in this room. Any questions? If not, I’ll outline them.”
Everyone looked at everyone else. No one objected so she carried on.
“Firstly what goes on in this room and here stays here. No blabbing to friends, relatives or anyone. You all know from first-hand experience what the media can do you even innocent people. Agreed?”
There was a general nodding of heads.
“Next, phones. No phones ever in this room. If we go forward with this project not one word must get out onto social media. I’d even go so far as to lock them up apart from two hours a day. That is more than enough time to keep in touch with those who really matter to you. Not the Facebook ‘friends’ and the like but people who really matter to you. Daniella and I knew of a start-up company where we used to live in the States. They were in what is called ‘stealth’ mode for three years before what they were doing became public. If we do this, then we are in ‘stealth’ mode until we have products ready for sale. As far as your friends are concerned, you are going under the radar for a while. If they are real friends, they will understand given the mauling that some of you have had in the press in recent times. Does everyone understand this?”
“Am I to give up my life?” asked Samantha.
“Sam, what is your life like now as compared to when you were with HIM?” asked Sylvia.
“It is nothing like it was before. The same goes for the rest of us. Going under the radar for a while won’t harm our reputations as most of us don’t have a very good one at the moment. Remember that it was HIS publicist who made out that it was you that were two timing him and not the other way around. No one believed you side of the story because of his squeaky-clean reputation with the public. I’m all for this.”
No one raised any further arguments.
Sylvia collected their phones and took them outside the room.
“Right. We will all test out the products. I mean test them by wearing them. No playing. We go with the lifestyle and live and breathe and wear what we are going to sell. That way we can ensure the quality and durability of what we are going to put our name to. Agreed?”
“What do you mean wear?”
I smiled as I nodded to Jo.
Jo lifted up her skirt to reveal her belt
There were general gasps from the ladies.
“Is that… a chastity belt?” asked Karema, her eyes bulging from the sockets.
“It is indeed a chastity belt. I generally wear thigh bands and a chastity bra as well.”
“You say you wear? Just for playing and sex, right?” asked Julie.
“No. I mean all day, every day. Daniella wears them as well. That’s how we do things, as a couple.”
“But… how do you have… you know sex?” asked Samantha.
Jo grinned at me. I returned a slight nod of my head.
“I won’t go into specific details but we have an arrangement that works for us. When I am to be released that night, I go to work with a spring in my step.”
“What are you proposing for us then?” asked Donna.
“You all get some of the equipment you are going to make and like us wear them, live in them and get to know their features and importantly their limitations. Only then can you know what is important to get right for your products.”
“Who will keep the keys?” asked Samantha
“Always assuming that I agree to wear one of those things!”
“Ann-Marie, do you have a safe here?”
“Yes. Ah. I get it. I get to be the key holder for everyone then?”
“But you can release yourself?” argued Karema.
“Why don’t you keep my keys then?” suggested Ann-Marie.
No one disagreed with that.
“There is one thing though. And that is that all of you will have to lose all your pubic hair, for good. Believe me, wearing one of these for more than a few hours with hair down there is just torture, pure torture.”
It was Karema who was first to twig what Jo had just said,
“What? You have gotta be kidding me!”
Whereupon everyone fell about laughing.
[Continued in part 7]
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