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I called Jackie from the street corner, and she gave me the exact address of their location. When I got to the building, again, there was a fake name. The label for the fourth floor bell said “L & C Moving, Inc.” 

I hesitated, not quite sure what to do.  I assumed they were L&C Moving, but what if I was in the wrong place? While I stood there, deliberating, the door magically buzzed open, so I went in, anyway.  Jackie had said they’d be the only door on the fourth floor, so I took the elevator and knocked on the first door I saw. 

It was the right place. Jackie sat in a big room with two large desks. She worked from one table, and a guy whose name I was never told sat at the other.  I took a seat next to Jackie’s desk and looked around the room.  A thick drape covered the entire street-facing window, leaving the room strictly fluorescent-lit.  There was a back room filled with miscellaneous junk, but I couldn’t get a good look at it.  It definitely seemed like they weren’t really moved in or set up. They were either just on the way in or already on the way out. 

I was amused to notice the obligatory TV monitor right near Jackie’s desk, letting her see who might be pressing the buzzer.  It seemed to be an escort agency staple, and it explained how she knew I was at the door downstairs before I’d figured out which buzzer to push.  There were also two other monitors: one for watching the street and one for watching the hallway.  I wasn’t sure what purpose those served.  Since they weren’t running an in-house service, I didn’t understand why they needed so much surveillance equipment, but it wouldn’t have been appropriate to ask.  I accepted it as part of the territory.

Jackie had three computers and several phones around her desk. The guy only had one of each on his.  During the entire interview, he just sat and smoked and watched us. He was middle-aged, balding, glasses. Typical mid-level mid-town kind of guy  in a wrinkled suit.  I wondered if he even used his computer or phone.  Jackie, on the other hand, never stopped answering calls while I filled out my application.  No matter how crazy the phones got, the guy appeared completely unconcerned.  I understood why they’d rather have a woman’s voice answering the phone, but why was he even there?  He just leaned back in his chair, legs up on the table, and smoked his cigarettes.  As he did that, I watched Jackie talk on two phones at once, one on either shoulder, while clicking away on the computer at the same time. In her button-down shirt and pulled-back hair, she could have been a paralegal or a admin assistant or even a daytrader.

This was the standard procedure: a guy would call, give his information, she’d confirm address/phone number, give him his rate, and then say “I’ve got the perfect girl for you.”  The safety protocol consisted of making sure that the name on the telephone account matched the name of the person asking for a girl.  The phone number had to match the address where the girl was supposed to go.  Then Jackie would hang up and contact one of the “on call” girls, give them the address, and how much money to collect.  Simple.           

I even got to watch Jackie in full Crisis Action Mode: One of the girls was way up on the Upper East Side, and she told Jackie that there was no way she could get down to meet the client on Broadway/Lafayette in thirty minutes.  It was raining, and cabs were really hard to find.  So Jackie found a driver she knew and sent him to fetch the girl. In order to coordinate properly, she called the driver to tell him where to go before calling the girl to tell her where to meet the driver.  When the driver was a few blocks away, he called Jackie, who then called the girl to tell her to go downstairs.  I got a thrill just eavesdropping on it all.  It was very fast-paced drama. It made my life seem ordinary and dull by comparison. I wanted to be needed somewhere, stat.

(As I listened to Jackie hustle to get this girl downtown against all odds, I was strongly tempted to say, “Hey, I’ll take the job.”  I really wanted to do it, to leap into action, but I had my third interview at 7:30, so I kept my mouth shut.)

This application also asked for my measurements.  I told Jackie I knew my breast size, but I wasn’t sure about waist or hips.  She asked me to stand up.  I stood up and started to pull my shirt up a little bit, so that she could see my hips better. 

“Honey, you don’t have to take off your clothes!” she exclaimed.

“I just wanted you to be able to see better,” I explained, sounding sheepish.  I’d gotten so used to pulling off my clothes, I hadn’t even thought twice about doing it here.

 “I can see just fine, sweetheart,” she said, laughing. “You’re a 34-24-34.” 

I wasn’t sure how accurate those numbers were, but if that was what she wanted to write down, it sounded fine to me.

The application also asked what name I wanted to work under.  It specified that the name had to sound “real.”  I figured Candi and Crystal weren’t suitable for this kind of classy agency. 

“Do you think Karla with a ‘K’ would be okay?”  I asked, hoping for consistency.

Jackie checked through the list of current girls.  “Sorry, honey,” she said apologetically.  “I’ve already got a girly with a similar name.  How about Carla, with a ‘C?’”

I didn’t entirely understand why a ‘C’ or  ‘K’ made that much difference, but if Jackie thought it did, then that was what counted.  “Okay.”

Jackie looked through her lists.  “No problem, sugar, that sounds fine.”

While checking through the program to look at names, Jackie somehow crashed the online database and had to restart the computer.  This prompted a heated discussion with the guy behind the desk over whether or not she had pressed F1 or F4.  I sat silently, amused by the debate, wondering how long this would take and not wanting to leave.  The situation was too funny.  I felt like I’d stumbled into an episode of Fawlty Towers.

“F1 opens the program,” the guy said, not moving from behind his desk.  “You pressed F4.”

“No, I didn’t.  I pressed F1.  That’s what I always press.” 

I could tell they’d probably had this argument a million times before because both Jackie and the guy seemed bored, as if they were arguing out of habit more than anything else. They seemed like an old married couple.

“Then why did the program crash?”

“I don’t know.  I pressed F1.”

“If you’d pressed F1, then it wouldn’t have crashed.  What were you trying to do?”

“I pressed F1 to open the list program to scroll the names.”

This went on for a few minutes.  I listened, trying to be inconspicuous, wondering how it would end and who would win.  The debate finally came to an inconclusive halt when the phones started ringing again.  In between answering phones and clicking on the computer, Jackie answered my questions.

Question number one: “How much do the girls make?”

“It’s all different rates.”  She thought for a second.  “It depends on what kind of girl you are.  We’ve got all different types: midwest, Euro, New York.  I’ve got some girls that get $400 an hour and others that get $1000.  Then they split it with us, fifty/fifty.  You get to keep all your tips, obviously.”

Of course.   I  nodded, trying to look blasé. That seemed to be standard in this business. 

Question number two: “So would I start out at the low rate and then work my way up to a higher rate?” I asked.

“No, no, honey, it doesn’t work like that.”  Jackie gave a throaty laugh.  “You don’t make less as a beginner.  You make what you’re worth.  If you’re good, you can start off making the big money.  We’d definitely start you off at $400 an hour.  We might get you up higher if you had a picture on our site, but the phone girls are always going to try to get the max for you!”  She laughed again. “We all want to make money!”

Question number three: “What type do you think I am?  How should I dress?”  I still had to create my new escort persona.

Jackie studied me carefully.  “I’d say you want to look classy, you know, so you can go out to a club if they want, or out to dinner.  You want to look nice.”

Question number four: “Is it safe?”  Once again, I was hoping for a straight answer but skeptical I’d get it.

“Safe?”  She stared at me as though I was an idiot just for asking the question.  “Honey, everything is risky, but this place is pretty safe.  I’ve been here for years and never had a problem.  We want to keep it safe for our girls, so that they’ll keep working for us.  We’ve got over a hundred girls,” she declared proudly, as if this was her own personal accomplishment.  “We want to keep them.  You just have to be careful.  Use common sense, of course.  If you don’t feel comfortable, leave.  You can judge your own safety better than any of us.  Don’t stay if it seems risky.  Most of our clients are regulars.”

It seemed like all the agencies catered to regulars.  There must be new people at least occasionally. How were they handled?  I wondered how carefully the new people were screened, and how detailed the files were for the regulars.  Did they keep track of the ones that were “weird?”  The ones that liked to be dominated?  The ones that liked blondes or brunettes?  I didn’t think these were questions I could ask, so I stuck to the basics.

Question number five: “What kind of shifts are you looking to fill?”

Jackie looked at me blankly.

“What nights would you want me to work?”

“Why, any ones you wanted to, honey.”  She seemed confused.

This was weird.  I didn’t understand why she was so startled by my question.  “But what would be the minimum?  Would I have to work three nights a week?  Four?”

“You’d work as many as you want.”  Jackie sounded like she really didn’t want to have to spell it out for someone as clueless as I was.

“You don’t have set hours when I’d have to work?”  I was incredulous.

“No.  We don’t run that kind of operation.”  She sighed.  “You work whenever you want, as much as you want.   But we’ll keep you busy!”  She laughed her throaty laugh again.  “You just call me when you feel like working and you say, ‘Jackie, I’m on.’  When you get tired, you call me back and say, ‘Jackie, I’m calling it a night.’  Easy.”

As a second thought, since clearly I’d demonstrated I wasn’t too bright, she added, “You’d have to get a cell phone, though.”

“That’s not a problem.”  I was sort of excited by the idea of getting one, in fact.  It made me feel even more glamorous, important, and decadent. (Remember, this was back before cell phones were as ordinary as ballpoint pens.)

I had just started dreaming about those glittery jewels and fancy limousines again when Jackie interrupted my fantasy.  “Have you ever used a credit card machine?” 

I said no. This was unexpected.

“You’ll have to buy one.  We’ll show you how to use it.  All the girls have to have one.”  Her attention span had run out.  Jackie seemed to be bored by this whole discussion.  I figured I’d learned what I needed.  The time had come to move on to interview number 3.

I wondered how many interviews she had to do if the agency was so big.  I knew from Kelly about the massive turnover rate in this business.  Were they constantly hiring?  Upgrading?  Expanding?  Did Jackie have to answer the same stupid questions all the time? 

“Are the machines really expensive?”

Jackie laughed.  I was really showing my naiveté.  “No, honey, they’re only $25.”

Last question:  “What area do you serve?  Where do the girls go?”  I was trying to sound professional again.

“We go everywhere,” she said with pride.  “New York, New Jersey, Connecticut.  If they’ll pay, we’ll bring the girls.”

“How do the girls get to New Jersey?”  God, I couldn’t imagine.  I didn’t want to have to go outside of Manhattan.

“For that we’ll give them a driver.  He’ll drive you out there and then wait for you to bring you back.  That’s safe, right?”  She laughed her throaty laugh.  “Pretty good, huh?”

I agreed.  I wouldn’t mind having that kind of security for every job.  At least there’d be someone waiting for me after the session.  That might make up for the hassle of traveling out there.

“What kind of experience do you have, honey?  Have you ever done this work before?”  It was her turn to ask me questions.

“No, but I’ve done some stripping work and some online porn.”  I felt pleased to have accumulated some credibility.  I could even put a little resume together if I had to, complete with references.  I felt like I was building up two separate lives, with two respective career paths. Funny how the illegitimate one was becoming the true breadwinner.

“That’s fantastic, honey!”  She sounded really impressed.  “Where’d you strip?”

“Just some bar in Connecticut.”  I tried to sound cool and world-weary about the whole thing, hoping they would think that meant I had done it for ages.  “I started doing the porn and video work when I moved to New York.”

“That’s so cool!”  Jackie exclaimed.  I wondered if my experience was really so unusual that it warranted such enthusiasm.

 “You could sell your pictures and videos through our website, if you want, and make a ton of money,” piped in the guy behind the desk, also apparently impressed with my sham of a porn career.

“I’ll think about it,” I said politely, wondering if I felt like bothering with that. And then I had to ask the big-ticket question. “How are the men about anal sex?” 

It was time to get back to business, and this was definitely a concern of mine since I wanted to get out of this porn project without ever crossing that boundary.  I kept my fingers crossed for a straight answer. 

Instead, I got an awkward silence.  After a few seconds, the guy behind the desk gave me my answer, leaning towards me in a conspiratorial fashion.

“We don’t serve those kind of men.  If that’s what they want, they know where to get it.  There are plenty of places that offer those services in New York.  They don’t come here looking for that.”

“So how about protection?  Are they cool about using it?”  All I wanted was a direct answer that would let me know what to expect from the job. Was I going to be having sex or not?

Jackie and the guy behind the desk exchanged glances.  “We don’t run that kind of operation,” he said.

“We provide companionship,” Jackie continued, emphatically, as if to end the conversation.

“Yes, but what kind of companionship?  What do the men want?”

“Honey, I wish I knew.”  She sighed, seeming genuinely at a loss.  “They’re lonely.  They want someone to talk to.  They’re in town on business.  They don’t know where to go, and they don’t want to go by themselves.  They don’t know what’s safe.  They don’t want to go out alone.”  She paused for emphasis.  “That’s where we come in.”

Jackie must have been able to tell I wasn’t satisfied.  On the one hand, if they were upfront about what went on, they’d be implicating themselves legally, but, on the other, I felt like they had an obligation to prepare me for the type of work I would be doing.  I wished they’d be better about hinting what really happened on the job, so I knew towards what I was heading.

“Look, sweetheart.”  Jackie leaned over to me, sounding maternal.  “I was married for seven years, and I still don’t understand men.  I don’t know why they do what they do.  I can’t figure them out.”  She sighed, implying that I wouldn’t be able to either.

While I was there, a guy named Joe called.  I couldn’t understand exactly what had happened, but it was something along these lines: He’d asked for two girls.  When they showed up, he only had money for one, so the other girl left.  He paid for the one that stayed with a personal check, which was against the rules.  She had said she would come back, but she hadn’t, which was why he was calling.  Needless to say, she hadn’t dropped off the company’s half of the money yet, either.  What made the situation even more intriguing was that Jackie said that the girl had done this sort of thing before. 

The guy behind the desk kept saying, “Some girls never learn.  We catch her every time.”

All I could think was why hadn’t they learned?  If she did this before, why did they re-hire her?  Why did they keep sending her on jobs?

Jackie told Joe to stop the check, that the girl was definitely out of state at this point.  “She’s one of those girls that likes to travel.  She comes and goes as she pleases.  She works for a few weeks, and then she goes off to Italy, Europe, whatever.”

When she finally got off the phone, Jackie turned her full attention to me.  “Sorry about that, honey.  Now when do you want to start working?”

Startled, I stammered, “Um, I haven’t decided for sure if I am going to work.  I’ve got to think about it.”

Now Jackie was caught off guard.  “Oh, okay.  Well, how long do you think you want to think about it?”  She sounded almost Southern in her sweetness. Suddenly, she was the picture of patience and compassion.

“Probably a few days.”  I had to go to my third interview before I made up my mind, but the flexible hours made me think quite favorably about this agency.  “I’ll give you a call.”

“Okay.”  She smiled at me reassuringly. 

I asked her again about my rate. I still couldn’t quite wrap my head around the  numbers.  “So if I can act cute and charming, how much do you think I’ll be able to get?”

“Honey, you are cute and charming.”  She laughed flirtatiously.  “You can definitely start at $400.  I’d like to get your photo up on our website.  You’d be great!  You’ll make more money that way.  Putting your picture up instantly boosts your rate.”

She even showed me some other girls’ pictures on their website.  “Here, look at this one. She’s not nearly as cute as you are, but she’s got a good picture.  You can get a good one done, too, for cheap.  There are tons of places that can do it for you.”

“I think I already have a picture that will work.”  I figured I could just use one of my photos from Jeff’s shoot at the Delmonico.

“Oh yeah?  Great!”

The guy behind the desk perked up.  “Give us a call if you’re interested, and we’ll give you the number of the girl who does the website.”

Jackie shook my hand.  “It was really nice to meet you.  I look forward to hearing from you.  Hope you’ll come on board.”  She smiled at me again.

I smiled back. I liked her. She was nice. I had a feeling I would choose this agency.

“Once I’ve decided to work, what do I need to do before I start?”

“Sugar, just get your cell phone set up, and we’ll hook you up with a credit card machine, and you’ll be good to go.” She beamed at me, big white smile standing out against her dark skin. “The holidays are a busy time.  I’d love you to start as soon as possible.”

“And the men are cool, right?”  I wanted confirmation.  This was my biggest concern.

“Yes, honey.  When we have some that are weird, we tell you beforehand.  We’ve got one guy with Parkinsons, for example.  That freaks some girls out, so they won’t work with him.  That’s fine.  Most guys are pretty normal, though.”

“That’s great.”  I figured that was as much reassurance as I was going to get.  “It was nice to meet you.”  I shook hands with Jackie and the guy behind the desk and headed off to interview number three.