Every girl has a favorite customer. Plus, a john whom she barely tolerates in order to meet her weekly quota. In between the two extremes are bread-and-butter guys -- the mainstay of a call girl's business. You plan for bread-and-butter guys, cultivate them, seek them out. But you never plan to have a favorite john.
Allison's favorite was Jack.
Last summer, he practically went into mourning when she decided (for the umpteenth time) to quit the business. Jack didn't want Allison to know he was seeing other girls, and he mostly saw her friends so he could mope about how much he missed her. To have a regular who's so easy -- a quick blow-job-with-a-condom -- and so devoted! We all sort of envied her. Who wouldn't? Jack seemed like the perfect client.
Until he got a call from Tom Winters, a twisted IRS agent who was auditing Allison and calling everyone she knew. Winters wanted to prove that she had vast reserves of hidden wealth; he couldn't believe that she simply had no savings or real assets after more than five years in the Life. Winters was curious about Allison's lifestyle -- her apartment, her prices, even her body. (He asked one girl if Allison had had a lot of expensive plastic surgery. Yes, paying cash for major cosmetic work leaves a major trail, if you're being audited for undeclared income.)
Jack told the IRS how much he paid Allie and how often. He described the furniture in her living room. Never mind that these antiques came from her grandmother. Winters was convinced he could "prove" that Allie spent gobs of undeclared income at big-ticket antique shops. Auditing call girls was more than a job for Tom Winters: It was a hobby, an obsession, a calling.
And Jack didn't just tell him about Allison. He told the IRS how they had been introduced -- about the other girls she worked with, like me and Eileen, and he ended up providing Tom Winters with a list of private call girls on the East Side. Allison lost many of her best clients -- along with the best part of her mind -- all because of Jack, the weak link.
One night last fall, Allison woke me with a drunken hysterical call: "You're the only person who had this information! I should have known!"
I sat up fast and moved away from Matt, hoping he couldn't hear her.
"I'm not as stupid as you think!" she cried. "You won't get away with this. I've got stuff on you, too!"
The weeks that followed were harrowing. I did not speak to Allison and barely spoke to my boyfriend, for fear of saying something incriminating. Matt started quizzing me. When I tried to brush the whole thing off as girlish hysteria, he refused to believe me. "You were trying to hide your conversation the other night! Why?"
For the first time, I was forced to consider just what Allison, in fact, had on me. We've been trading customers for five, maybe six, years. She knows my boyfriend. We've had dinner with each other's families. She's the only working girl I've ever introduced to my mom or my cousin, and yet she's the most unstable. What was I thinking when I allowed her into my personal life? Allison even knows where I hide my cash -- whatever I don't spend, that is. I hired a lawyer, the notorious Barry Horowitz, who normally defends rich sociopaths -- like those Dalton kids who hacked off that homeless man's hand in Central Park. I hired him to defend myself against my best friend! And against Tom Winters, the IRS agent, who was also asking people about my furniture and my clients and looking for a weak link in my life.
Tom Winters was neutralized before he could get to my boyfriend. By mid-November he was a front-page story in the Post, a public embarrassment for the U.S. Treasury Department. Winters had used his government job to extort cash from terrified shopaholic hookers who were caught spending far more than the income they declared on their tax returns. A small Barneys shopping bag filled with hundreds did him in. (It's amazing how much cash you can fit into a bag that was designed to carry a bottle of foundation.)
When Allison came to her senses, I felt like I was waking from a bad dream. You know, that moment when you're not sure it was a dream and you're not sure you're awake yet?
Jasmine had cautioned me last fall about making up with Allie. "If a girl ever threatened me like that -- you don't get to do that in this business! Not without consequences. And if it wasn't for that silly bitch, your boyfriend wouldn't have been asking you all those questions."
Yes, Allie got me into trouble with my boyfriend, but I managed to get myself out of it. I've kept his mind off "all those questions" by keeping Allie at arm's length. I never converse with her when he's around, always turn my cell off when I'm with him, and, to date, he's none the wiser. Yes, I am always looking over my shoulder and sometimes I need to be alone just to decompress from my own shadow, but that's the cost of making friends with the girls you work with. (Some hookers refuse to socialize with the other girls -- and who can blame them?)
I persuaded Jasmine not to tell anyone about Allison's insane threats. Allison needed to get back on her feet and replace the business she had lost. If the other girls knew she had threatened to turn someone in, they'd be shocked -- and she would never get any business from them again. Eileen, for example, is angry enough at Jack; I can just imagine how she'd take it if she knew about Allie's recent conversations with him.
Allie has never been the sharpest eyebrow pencil at the makeup counter. Her reputation as the natural blonde with the wonderful voice -- too-dim-to-hurt-a-flea -- has been her meal ticket. And not just with men! Allie's the kind of girl madams adore because she's too disorganized to steal their customers. During the last seven years, she has decided to quit the business at least four times. Professional call girls regard her as harmless competition. Fortunately for Allie, nobody knows about her angry threats. Well, nobody but me. And Jasmine.
Today, Jasmine remarked, "That girl owes you big-time. You protected her reputation." We were walking back from the nail salon, after an emergency pedicure (for Jasmine, due to a stubbed toe) and a routine manicure (for me). I still haven't said anything to Jasmine about Allison and Jack.
"If I were a bitch," she continued. "I'd blackmail Allison and she'd be paying me to keep your secret. How much do you think it's worth? Three hundred a week? If it's any more than that, it's not worth it, she might as well quit the business. But I think she could come up with a couple of hundred. The logic of blackmail --"
"Don't even think that way!" I said in horror.
"Please, Allison's so kinky she'd fucking love it, having to turn tricks to pay off some evil blackmailer. Wasn't she claiming to be a sex addict last summer? This is right up her alley!"
"Stop it," I moaned.
"Oh, come on. She's lucky I'm not a bitch. Therefore I won't do all those things -- which, by the way, I know she would love to have done to her. That girl loves attention, and if there's one thing a blackmailer gives you, it's attention."
I suppressed a spiteful giggle. "Blackmail is not something to joke about," I said primly.
Jasmine became eerily calm. "No," she agreed. "It's not." We were standing at the corner of York and 79th, waiting for the light to change.
"And not being a bitch is not some sort of unique accomplishment that you get a great big medal for," I added.
"Maybe not," Jasmine allowed, heading into the crosswalk, "but it should be."
Uh-oh. Five o'clock. Time to rinse off my camphor mask, rewind the video, change the sheets. Milton's due to arrive any minute now!
This morning, an emergency rendezvous with Allie at the health club. I was climbing backward on the StairMaster when she appeared, flushed and damp, in flower-print running shorts and a cropped T-shirt.
"I have to talk to you," she panted. "I need your advice. You're the only person I can talk to ... Why -- uh -- are you doing it like that?"
"It's supposed to work the glutes," I said through clenched teeth. "Can you just broadcast our problems a little louder?"
When I got to the women's locker room, Allie had already showered. She was standing in front of a full-length mirror, sprinkling talc-free powder on her breasts. The nine-to-fivers had cleared out and the moms had gone off to Power Yoga, leaving the room empty.
"It's about Jack," Allie began. Then, frowning at her image in the mirror, she added, "Does my tummy look sort of ... huge today? I feel so puffy."
"Your abs look fine," I reassured her. "What's going on with Jack?"
She patted the thin strip of blond hair between her legs with a powder puff, then stood on the scale -- carefully setting the powder puff aside before she dared look at the number settings. She stepped off the scale, began pulling her panties on, then confessed, "I -- um -- ran into him last night."
"Ran into him?" I squinted at her furiously. "You saw him, didn't you."
"No! I mean, yes, but not the way you mean. I ran into him because -- " She blushed. "He surprised me. I was coming home from a call, and Jack was standing outside my building holding a huge bouquet of lilies! You know I love lilies."
"Allie. A john who shows up without an appointment is a stalker. Even if -- especially if -- he's carrying your favorite flowers. You could have been walking home with a straight friend -- with a boyfriend or something -- and then what? Sneaking up on a hooker is pathological and disrespectful," I told her. "Not to mention ungentlemanly."
"Well, I was nervous when I saw him standing there," she admitted. "But he was very polite and he just gave me the flowers, said good night, and walked away."
"God, how creepy."
But at least he didn't make a scene in front of her doorman.
"And when I got upstairs there was a note. Do you want to see it?" She pulled a small envelope out of her gym bag.
I know why you're holding back from seeing me. I'm truly sorry about what happened, and you'll always be special to me. I think about you constantly. I miss everything about you. Please give me a chance. All my love, J.
"Then he called this morning! I think I should see him. He's being very generous. He's offering me a lot of money, and you've always said I should treat this more like a business. Well, this is a business decision for me."
"You should set some sort of weekly quota for yourself. But that doesn't mean you can't have standards. Some things are not for sale," I pointed out. "While he's thinking about you constantly, he's making breather calls to Eileen. He's a loose cannon."
"She doesn't know it's him. Eileen doesn't even have Caller ID! How can she say that?" A towel attendant entered the changing room, and we both clammed up. "Welllll," Allie mumbled. "Don't tell Jasmine. Or any of the other girls. Promise me you won't say a word. But I asked him for two thousand. And he agreed." Despite wanting to elude everyone's disdain, she looked rather pleased with herself. "Soooo," she said, with a hint of smugness. "What would you do?"
Every girl has a favorite john, and who this guy is tells you a lot about the girl. Jasmine's favorite is Harry from Darien, who keeps a black Town Car waiting while he's getting a blow job upstairs in his socks and wing tips. Because he's her steadiest customer and a quickie, she hasn't raised his price in two years. In my case, there's Milton. Unlike Harry, Milt is no quickie. Sometimes, he's a lot of work. But he spends far more than my other regulars, and he's willing to help if I get myself into a financial pickle. How could I not like him? He's financially faithful. And the bottom line with a favorite john is that deep down you like it when he's faithful. Allison's favorite? A spineless weasel who married into a real estate family, who ratted on us all to the IRS because he was afraid his rich wife would find out about his midday excursions to call girls. Though he likes a bit of variety, he's really obsessed with Allie. And who else would be flattered to hear that a john "thinks about her constantly"? Most professionals would run for the hills if a client said that.
"When you have a business," I told Allie, "you have to set your own standards. Weed out the undesirables. Being a call girl is like being responsible for a really hot restaurant. Some people get a little dessert on the house, and some don't even get in the door. Jack shouldn't be able to get a reservation. He's been tainted by this IRS mess, and we can't afford to have him around."
"You're blaming the victim. That IRS agent threatened to ruin his life! You're not being fair to him."
"That IRS guy threatened to ruin my life, too. But I didn't become an informant, did I?"
"But you don't have children! Jack has a family, a marriage, people who depend on him."
"Jack's 'children' are grown! It's not as if Jack's wife was going to get custody of two people in their late 20s!"
"No," she agreed. "But he didn't want to hurt her. He was trying to protect his family. You shouldn't condemn him for that."
"He blabbed to the IRS about us -- and now they have every reason to think they can come back for more. What kind of man 'protects his family' by turning himself into a sitting duck?" I asked. "Even if what he did was justifiable, we can't afford to deal with him. What if he gets subpoenaed? Every conversation, every transaction you have increases the risk."
Allison appeared to be listening, so I pressed on.
"Look," I said very patiently. "Your girlfriends have been sticking together and we're not seeing this guy --"
"That's why he keeps calling me!" she said brightly. "And offering me so much money! None of the other girls will see him. Maybe I should ask for three thousand."
I shrank back in horror.
Friday morning, 2/4/00
Last night, after our appointment with Harry, Jasmine dragged me to the Mark for a martini. Not wanting to show up blotto for dinner with my fiancé, I opted for a ladylike Kir Royale -- "just one." Jasmine ordered her usual: Absolut, straight up, with an olive.
"I'm worried about Allison," I confided.
"Stop the fucking presses!" Jasmine sputtered. "When have you not worried about Allison? What sort of problem might Her Blondness be causing -- I mean, having -- this week?" I told her about Jack's showing up at her building without an appointment and Allison's latest bright idea, the $3,000 question. "Don't discuss this with Allie," I added. "Promise you won't say a word about what I've told you!"
Jasmine gave me a searing look that unnerved me.
"Allie might say something about us to Jack," I explained. "Do you want him as an enemy? Who knows when he might get interviewed again by the IRS? Or if she might tell him that we turned her against him ... not that we did exactly ..."
My sheepish voice trailed off into a maze of denial. I tried not to think about the sin I was committing. Spilling one best friend's secret (against her specific wishes) to another best friend! Is there a special place in hell? I hope there's a waiting list.
"That girl ..." Jasmine was muttering darkly. "That girl's soul is composed of cotton candy." (I see what Allie means about Jasmine being judgmental.) "She's a moral idiot!"
And if Jasmine knew that Allison had asked me to keep a secret? Would she trust me not to blab her business around? But I would never tell Jasmine's secrets to Allie. That's the difference. I swallowed the rest of my apéritif. The sweet alcoholic potion was doing its job, morphing into a weird elixir of self-justification, smoothing out my wrinkled conscience.
"And Eileen's been getting creepy phone calls from him," I went on. "She slammed the phone down. He retaliated by calling her back. And now Eileen's telling everyone who will listen how she stood up to this jerk! What should we do?" Jasmine frowned into her empty glass. "We should get another drink. And keep Jack in perpetual limbo -- if we can. Eileen's too confrontational for her own good." As she signaled to the waiter, her wrist glittered winningly. (That guy on 47th Street who does those Bulgari knockoffs. I must remember to ask for his number.)
Jasmine sighed and shook her head. "Eileen reminds me of those big dumb guys from my old neighborhood who were always getting into bar fights!" she said. Eileen's about 5 feet tall, but Jasmine has a point. "They never went anywhere in life, and they're probably still getting into brawls and getting kicked out of bars. But Eileen should know better! How long has she been around? Eight years? What is her problem? Why is she provoking a phone fight?"
Suddenly, Jasmine's attention shifted. "Did you pay retail for that?" She was eyeing my pony-skin Baguette with harsh curiosity.
"Of course not!" I lied.
"It really works with the sweater," she acknowledged, "but you spend money as fast as you make it. That's gotta stop!"
Who does she think she is? My mother?
"Hey, look." She pulled an envelope out of her black crocodile tote (a sleek find at 70 percent off, last summer) and waved an invitation in my face. A benefit for the S Foundation. "Two Benefactor-level tickets courtesy of Harry. He's got a conflict that night. This is a great way to find new guys. Maybe we can pick up some Super-Benefactors. Their tickets are in the megadigits."
"They're not spending that kind of money to sit with mere Benefactors," I pointed out. "They'll be at their own tables -- miles from ours."
Jasmine doesn't usually venture beyond our private circle for new customers. The girls we work with operate strictly from their books. There are very few acceptable methods for getting new business: You can trade dates with another girl or pay a cut for each new client. Work for a reputable madam and risk her extreme displeasure if she catches you "stealing." When a girl is leaving town or retiring, you might buy her book. But how often does a good book become available? It's rare. Sometimes an established customer refers a new client, but that's also rare. Most of my regulars would be a little turned off if I had sex with their pals.
Of course, other kinds of girls -- through advertising on Web sites or working for escort services -- can afford to eschew these niceties. They have an endless supply of new guys (obtained at great risk), but private girls and reputable madams don't work with them. Very few "escorts" have the patience to cross over. A small number will try to make a go of working privately, but the minute things get slow, a hardcore escort goes right back to the escort agency, or to advertising. And if she gets arrested? All the private girls in her address book are at risk.
A private girl braves the slow months to preserve the quality of her book, her contacts -- her way of life. I should know. I crossed over a long time ago. And stayed here. I'll never go back. No matter how slow it gets.
"Look," Jasmine was saying, "this isn't like advertising. It's a totally cool way to enhance your client book."
"Soliciting at a social event?" I was appalled.
"Noooo," she said disdainfully. "We'll work these guys as sugar daddies, do a little research on them, make sure they're legit -- and find out how rich they are. And then ... say you have a monthly expense. Like, you're taking some lessons at the French Institute. That's $500 a month right there! So you hit the guy up for your French lessons. Or a summer share in Sag Harbor. You get the idea."
"Or your ailing mother's hospital bills?" I suggested, rolling my eyes. "I'm a professional. And so are you. That stuff's for litehooks." (Girls who kind of sort of sometimes maybe in a way get paid for sex. More often than they admit, but not often enough to make a living at it.)
"You're missing the point! If you're pretending to litehook, then it's different -- you're not really a litehook! You're the ultimate pro. Passing for a litehook."
"Surely you're not that desperate for new business."
"Desperate? Please. You should always be building your book. Never take your existing customers for granted. Cultivate your john book as if it were a vegetable garden." Jasmine was twisting the stem of her martini glass between her fingertips. "Water it, plant new seeds. Grow potatoes in the fall, tomatoes in summer. Learn about new farming technologies." Her eyes shone as she warmed to her theme: the hooker in the dell.
"Potatoes?" I said. "How glamorous." I studied the invitation. "I can't," I said, sipping my second Kir Royale carefully. "I promised Allison I would go to a meeting with her that night."
"A meeting? With Allison? You're not going to join that crazy hookers' union!" Jasmine exploded. "Do you know what will happen to the price of pussy if those airheads succeed in changing the fucking laws?"
"For god's sake, lower your voice!" I warned her. "Do you want everyone to hear? You'd better order some carbs before you get too drunk. Anyway, I'm not joining," I explained. "I'm just being supportive. Of Allison."
Narrowing her green eyes, Jasmine interrupted, in a half-slurred half whisper: "Do you know why they want to make it legal?"
I shook my head and moved closer. A middle-aged guy in a pin-striped suit with a graying ponytail was eyeing Jasmine from a love seat near the entrance.
Her voice turned steely. "If those girls ever get their way, girls like us will be doing it for $99.99 -- just like them! Have you seen those ads for tantric hand jobs? They're all over the Village Voice! That's the element you're going to encounter at whatchamacallit -- the trollops' council or whatever they call themselves."
The ponytailed fellow stood up to greet a tall angular blond; she was wearing Harry Potter eyeglasses, dark red lipstick, and a bright blue boa around her neck. She was also lugging an incongruously boxy red North Face backpack. He offered her the love seat and perched on one of the muffin-shaped stools, which gave him a great view of her long legs, her massive Mary Jane wedgies, and her tiny miniskirt.
Jasmine, by comparison, was a picture of sanity, in low-heeled ankle boots, well-cut trousers, light brown lip gloss, her face a more angular version of Gayfryd Steinberg's circa 1986. A reasonable voyeur might see a streamlined brunet debating hairdressers or nursery schools with her school chum. But Jasmine was off on a tangent. And we're not school chums -- in any traditional sense of the term.
"It's sexual socialism," she was saying. "A redistribution of resources. Terrible. Like the minimum wage." She took another sip. "Ayn Rand had a name for these types. Secondhanders!"
"What's in it for Allison?" I asked, rolling my eyes. "Professionally speaking, she's not one of those girls. She's one of us."
"In my opinion? It all comes down to those pink handbags!" Jasmine said. "Her taste in handbags is so juvenile, it's excruciating. Last year, she was calling herself a sex addict and carrying around that Kate Spade number -- in pink, remember? This year it's pink Louis Vuitton! And now she's calling herself a sex worker. It's too predictable for words. Infantile! A hooker's accessories should radiate discretion. Power. Sexual maturity." She reached into the grande-dame-ish alligator tote sitting at her knee and took out a black nylon wallet. "Now, this," she said, opening it, "I got on the street from one of those African guys. You have to invest in an expensive bag, but a wallet's something else entirely. Everybody sees your bag, but almost no one sees your wallet."
A waiter arrived with our bill. I opened my own wallet -- speckled pony skin accented with a matte plastic trim. Only Jasmine could succeed in making me feel uneasy about this chic new addition to my extended family of mostly Italian accessories.
"Let's split it," I said.
"Christ. Having all hundreds is almost as devastating as having no cash at all!" she muttered crossly. "Get the next one. I have to break a bill."
- - - - - - - - - - - -
At Demarchelier, Matt was waiting impatiently, fiddling with his cell phone. "Where were you?" he demanded. "You're 20 minutes late!"
"I had a drink with Jasmine, and I tried to call you," I riffed in a snippy voice. "Is your ringer off again? Your voice mail's not working, you know!" My irritation was so authentic that my white lie felt completely real. Besides, Matt just upgraded his phone and hasn't had time to learn the new features. His compulsive upgrading is a godsend, providing endless new excuses for any failure to communicate. I wonder how many other relationships rely on technology for this very reason.
"Well, you should have invited her to dinner," he said.
"Jasmine," I began. Jasmine was too exercised over the hypothetical price of pussy to pass for a normal person tonight? I don't think so!
"She had other plans," I told him. "Take us out for dinner next week, if you like."
Matt was absentmindedly stroking the underside of my wrist: a mini-truce in the war on lateness. "I've never had a date with two girls," he replied, clearly enticed.
I looked vaguely past his shoulder and acted as if I hadn't really caught the innuendo. For a second, I wondered if Matt could guess that Jasmine and I, just hours before, were ... doing another kind of date together. He couldn't possibly. Could he?
Compared to some of the men I routinely bed, Matt seems so young and healthy. Sure, he's turned on by the idea of two girls, like any other guy. But he doesn't require two girls just to get a hard-on; some of my clients are so jaded that nothing normal turns them on anymore. And, though I hardly qualify as being Into Girls, I've probably been in bed with more women than he has. It boggles the mind. Even my mind.
But that's one thing I treasure about Matt. A relationship with a guy who hasn't turned into a raving decadent. I smiled softly across the table and gazed into his eyes. Never change! I wanted to say out loud. We looked at each other for a while, and I wondered what he was thinking.
Over dessert -- virtuous strawberries for me, sinful crème brûlée for Matt -- I contemplated my session with Dr. Wendy: Maybe he knows one side of you. It's not the complete you, but that's not the same thing as being a fraud.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
From the forthcoming book "Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl" by Tracy Quan. Copyright (©) 2001 by Tracy Quan. To be published in August by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.