Special delivery

A mysterious letter smolders in the lingerie drawer.

Published October 11, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Oct. 11, 1999

Tuesday night, August 24

Just got back from helping Allison move the rest of her things out of Janelle's railroad apartment -- into Liane's duplex. Janelle's walls are decorated with flat lifeless paintings that look like somebody's idea of refinement -- while Janelle herself was heavily made-up in way too much eyeliner. My eyes almost popped out of my head at the sight of her short dress. This is the Messiah of Prostitutes Anonymous? Not exactly what I expected.

Eschewing make-up, hiding in jeans and a loose shirt, I had hoped to avoid being pegged as an incorrigible harlot but my ruse was useless. When Allison went to the kitchen to collect her 20 different bottles of vitamins, Janelle confided, "You're still acting out your addiction so you don't realize how much your behavior hurts me. What you did yesterday was very damaging to my recovery -- not just Allison's."

"I thought you had recovered," I said, wondering why Allie had told her about the trick we turned together. Is Allie nuts?

"Recovery from prostitution and sex addiction is a life-long process," Janelle intoned.

"Apparently so," I replied, giving her overexposed thighs a pointed look. Allie tells me she's a counselor at a rehab center in Queens -- do they let her dress like that there? Amazing.

In the cab, after Allie had packed her sundry belongings into the trunk, I completely lost it. "I have never seen a girl with such awful teeth! How dare she lecture me about my life -- that self-righteous hag! It's a good thing she's got a straight job -- she certainly couldn't expect to make any money with her looks!" I was powerless over my own ascending shrillness.

"Just because she's had a harder life than you," Allie said quietly, "doesn't make her less of a person. In PA, we're all equal."

"Please. She's jealous because you're pretty," I groused. "She never had what it takes to be a call girl like you -- so getting control of your mind was her revenge. Janelle's just a puffed up bridge-and-tunnel floozy who thinks she knows something about human psychology because she has a CSW."

"You look down on her because she was a streetwalker -- and for not being pretty," said Allie. "But she wanted to make something of her life and she succeeded. What do you have against that?" She gave me a quizzical look and I was immediately ashamed of my bitchy outburst but -- refusing to admit it -- I shot her a disgusted glare. The cab was turning onto East 69th Street, approaching Liane's building.

"At least you'll be staying in a properly decorated apartment," I muttered. "That awful drek on her walls! What appalling taste."

Now I'm secretly horrified by my viciousness. What came over me? I guess I'm angry at Allie for letting her 12-step "sponsor" supersede me. How dare she tell that girl about our private business dealings? What am I -- chopped liver?

Thursday night

An envelope in my mailbox this morning: ominous and hand-addressed, with a U.S. Treasury Department return address. I stuffed it into my underwear drawer -- rushing to dress for my noon appointment.

Etienne arrived bearing gifts: a bottle of Allure -- "for you, mignon" -- and a pair of white lace panties with an intricate triangular flap that unties -- "for us." Modelling the panties in my bedroom, I invited him to "open sesame." He fiddled with the ribbons, and murmured, "What a sight," as I stroked my clitoris. Inspired by my example, he approached the opening of my pussy with one finger. Twisting away, I sat up, guiding his hand to my breast. I sighed sweetly and enticed him onto the sheet, urging him to use his tongue. It was the only way to distract him -- I never let a client put his finger inside.

Later, as Etienne dressed, I listened to his latest litany and cooed sympathetically. "My wife forbids me to communicate with the man who is making our new curtains -- ever since I told her that I hate the fabric," he sighed. "It's a terrible thing to live with a fabric you have expressly rejected -- but you wouldn't know about these boring problems. The charming lead charmed lives," he added in a purring tone.

"And then" -- the exasperation returned -- "my brother-in-law! Never work for relatives if you can help it." Etienne's cozy position at the auction house is dependent upon his wife's step-brother. "I cannot wait for this silly season to end. My brother-in-law is an idle, impatient brat. He wants me to cook up a 'manageable scandal' -- so-called. I am not a short order cook, I told him -- he says a censorship embroglio involving the museum must appear on the fall menu. But we're a respected auction house, not some East Village performance basement! I keep telling him, it's important to please your major clients but don't become a slave to their whims."

I was dying to ask who the big art client was -- but too many questions spoil the truth. Etienne chatters away about his life -- and sometimes his business -- because I don't probe.

Caught up in being the petite mignonne for an hour, I put my own worries aside. But, the unopened envelope began to nag at me as I watched Etienne fixing his bow tie.

"I have darkened your day with my bad habit of complaining," he said, playfully. "You look troubled."

"Not at all," I replied, laughing nervously. "I'm just -- I received a strange letter today in the mail."

"How so?" he said, cocking his head to examine his handiwork. "Did you win the sweepstakes? Worried about how to spend the money?"

"If only," I replied, realizing that I had said too much. Etienne is not a client one confides in -- he sees me as a light-hearted diversion. "Nothing serious," I reassured him.

Friday morning,

I still can't bring myself to open that damn envelope -- but last night I told Matt about it while we had dinner at Trois Jean.

"The U.S. Treasury?" he said. "Don't let those bastards scare you. Let's open the letter and find out what they want. It's nothing my accountant can't handle."

I warmed to the fiery look in his eye but recoiled at the word "let's." After sharing some lovely strawberries, I suggested we head for his apartment -- hoping to avoid the dread envelope. For some reason, I was afraid to open it in his presence.

"What's wrong with your place?" he said, warily. "You hate hanging out at my apartment -- what's up?"

By Tracy Quan

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