The Hookergram

A sordid tale grows in Manhattan.

Published October 28, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Oct. 28, 1999

Thursday, September 9

Is it safe to do business with Eileen Wong these days? That's the
question on every girl's lips. After Eileen told Jasmine about
being interrogated by Tom Winters, it took less than a week for the
story to mushroom ... This morning, Liane -- who rarely has any
reason to call me -- rang up around 11.

"Suzy, this is just between us ladies," she began in her delicate
but matronly voice. Like most madams of a certain age, Liane is
always cautioning younger women about the perils of gossip --
but I doubt she ever follows her own advice. "Is it true about your
friend, Eileen?"

"Is what true?" I ventured.

"About her illness. I've heard that the FBI questioned her -- well,
you don't have to reveal anything if it's too personal ... but I
understand that she gave them a list of
girls' names!"

Liane was under the impression that Eileen was dying and -- to
prevent some feds from telling the entire Wong family about her
sordid past (before she entered the hereafter) -- she had turned
into a world-class tattler.

"How on earth did Eileen manage to get into so much trouble?" Liane
was saying. "Was she using a lot of drugs? This is highly

"It was the IRS, not the FBI," I replied, "and that's not how it
happened." But I felt ridiculous recounting a story I'd heard
secondhand, even if I am infinitely closer to the source than Liane
will ever be. "Eileen was in the pink of health last time I saw her --
but you should ask her if you want all the facts."

"You're quite right, dear. I'm sure it's all a huge
misunderstanding. One should never listen to gossip."

I've been avoiding Eileen ever since I heard about the
interrogation -- from Jasmine -- but now I feel like a craven fool.
Eileen sits by her phone in her apartment, seeing her clients,
shunned by half the girls she knows -- unaware of the gossip that
grows wilder by the hour.


Finally decided to take Eileen to lunch. "I don't do lunch,"
she said abruptly, and hung up on me. So much for my efforts --
too little too late?

Friday morning, September 10

Today, Eileen relented -- and called back. "I'm sorry I was such a
bitch yesterday -- you don't know what I've been through this
week!" she said. "My last customer leaves around 9 tonight -- and
I'll need a drink by then. Meet me at the Mark? But don't bring
that nosy friend of yours. I wish I'd never said anything to her!"
Jasmine didn't endear herself to Eileen by asking
if she had squealed on the entire Upper East Side to Tom
Winters, the IRS agent.

When I told Matt I would have to cancel dinner tonight, he was
terse. "Look," I pleaded into the phone. "This is something I have
to do. I have a friend who's in trouble and I have to talk to her."

Normally, I'd be pleased and playful about increasing Matt's
appetite for me but the paranoia was more than I could bear.
"Please don't make this any harder for me!" I said, my voice
rising. He backed down: "So, um, how about dessert?" he countered,
sounding like a nervous guy on a first date. "I'll pick up some
strawberry tarts" -- my favorite -- "at Payard and you can, um,
chill the champagne glasses." My heart melted.

Saturday morning, September 11

Last night began on a sober note. In a quiet corner of the bar at the Mark, I waited patiently for
Eileen while sipping a Pellegrino. She arrived, looking drawn and
somewhat pinched, then ordered a Campari, which loosened her up --

"Dying!" she laughed, when I told her Liane's story. "Of what? A
mosquito bite? God, if only I were dying, I wouldn't care what my family

I pushed some folded $100 bills in Eileen's direction -- "for the
dates you sent me this summer," I explained.

"What's that?" she said. "We never exchange cuts -- you know I'd
rather have the return business. Have I ever hassled you about what
you owe me?"

"Well, I don't know if I can send you -- if I'll have ..."

She cut me off with a bitter smile.

"Oh -- you don't want to work with me anymore and you're afraid
I'll tell on you to Tom Winters? You think I'm tainted?"

"No!" I said, pulling back. "It's nothing like that!"

Well, it was something like that, of course. Eileen had a sour,
insulted look on her face.

"So what do you think I'll tell him? You're already on his list. He
told me about your new art deco bedroom set!"

"Who told him about my -- it's not art deco," I corrected her. "It's art
moderne." Has he been in my bedroom? Could Winters be a john
I saw briefly? Or did he hear about it from someone I worked with?
Eileen herself, perhaps -- bluffing? And why does he care about
my new furniture, anyway?

"You know, the only girl he doesn't ask about is Jasmine. Why is
she being so self-righteous?"

"Doesn't ask about?" I echoed. Like this is a routine thing?

"I'm not the first girl he questioned," Eileen said. "He's called
about five other girls I know, including Valerie, that Chinese
gal in L.A. The one who introduced me to April."

"Jasmine didn't tell me that," I said, putting the money back in my
jacket. I couldn't bring myself to ask Eileen directly whether she had given
Winters any compromising answers. I had to show her that someone still trusts her.

Eileen acknowledged the gesture, adding, "Jasmine didn't tell you
because she doesn't know. That girl is such a know-it-all. She
called me up out of the blue, nosing around --"

"She means well," I said helpfully.

"Yeah right. Then, she spreads a rumor around town that I told
on everyone to the IRS and the FBI! And that I'm dying of
encephalitis." Eileen nibbled vigorously on a toasted walnut.
"Jasmine's a troublemaker. Next she'll be bad-mouthing me to my
own customers!"

"She didn't do anything of the sort -- you know how stories
spread," I protested -- and the mosquito bite was Eileen's
fanciful embellishment, but I didn't bother to point this out. "So
what did this guy ask you? Is it about April?"

"He wants to know how close you are to Allison. And he asked me --
get this -- how many girls work for Liane. She sent me two dates
six years ago! How would I know?"

Liane doesn't like to work with girls who are too enterprising --
she's afraid of losing her business. Half her clients must have
died in the last five years.

"I have to leave soon," I told Eileen. "My boyfriend's bringing me
dessert and champagne -- I don't want to be late."

"That's so romantic," Eileen murmured -- then, sounding a lot less
romantic, she added: "This is the yuppie?"

"The -- uh -- yes, I guess you could call him that." I cringed at
her crude description of my dessert-bearing swain. "I
don't like to call him a yuppie! He just happens to have a very
straight job."

"Why not?" Eileen replied. "I wonder what he would call you if he
knew about your job. Something a lot worse than a yuppie,
I'll bet."

"You don't know that," I protested, quietly. "Well -- I hope I don't have
to find out."

By Tracy Quan

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