He handed me the money. No one leaves it on the nightstand. Any pro worth her salt knows that she always gets the full amount up front. The bills were crisp, like they’d come straight from the mint to the bank to the man standing in front of me. It was all there—fifteen hundred dollars. I slipped the money into my small black clutch and set it down on the coffee table inside of his hotel suite.
I considered that he was some kind of Las Vegas Metro vice cop. Fifteen brand new one hundred-dollar bills were probably just the sort of currency a vice cop would have when trapping working girls on a prostitution bust. The bills were probably marked, maybe even counterfeit. There were thousands more just like them back at the station waiting to be ripped from their bulk shrink wrapping and doled out to the detectives eager to flirt with a pretty girl before hauling her into jail for soliciting sex. I assumed all of this, of course, because I’d never been busted and had no idea how the police—or the FBI or whatever—handled this sort of thing.
My concern disappeared as quickly as it came when I turned away from the coffee table and back to him. If this was a bust, he’d have cuffed me and read me my rights the instant I took the money. Because once it exchanged hands, illegal activity was in play, and if he let even an ounce of flirting to continue, he’d become a willing participant and the arrest wouldn’t hold up. Not in court, anyway.
I’d have plenty to worry about if word of my bust got out. How would I explain my moonlighting activities to my sales manager at the radio station where I worked? What would my friends think of my secret identity? Could my teenage daughter even begin to understand why I was spending nights having sex with strange men for great money?
She was the only reason I was doing it anyhow. My daughter, Julianne, was a freshman in the visual arts program at the Nevada Arts Academy. She had applied, and been accepted, to study abroad with a renowned artist in Paris. She was leaving at the beginning of her sophomore year, which was still a few months away, but the program required a down payment of $5,000 to secure the spot. There was no way I could have come up with that money without going back to escort work. I hadn’t done it since I needed money for my own education. I never thought I’d ever have to pick it back up.
But I couldn’t think about any of that then, I had a paying customer I needed to satisfy. “Brand new hundreds. You know how to impress a girl.” I said.
“I stopped at the bank this afternoon,” he said. “Some men like to have a fresh haircut before a big night out, I like to have fresh hundreds.”
I met him at a bar inside the Massiccio Hotel and Casino. It was the Strip’s newest, and therefore, hottest, property. It had a contemporary Italian theme and boasted the most square feet of gaming floor space in Las Vegas history, hence its name, Massiccio—Italian for massive. I was convinced they were running out of ideas.
He told me his name was Donald. I told him mine was Vicki, which it is. He had his own construction company in Riverside. He made a killing before the real estate bubble burst, landed on some hard times, but was sure that I understood that the last three years had been extremely lucrative, more so than before the recession. He preferred new hundreds to fresh haircuts because he had no hair. But bald worked for him. HIs plain scalp distinguished him the way gray did other men. He was an easy mark because he was trolling for a date just as much as I was. He told me his wife divorced him when his bank accounts hit zero, which was most likely the reason he was so intent on proving to me that he was currently wealthy and liquid.
Donald missed his wife. Simple as that. For his hour, I played the role of a woman deeply in love with him, a woman who couldn’t keep her body off of his. A woman who loved his money, too, but would never leave him if he lost it all.
His fifteen hundred dollars bought him an hour. What happened in that hour was totally up to him. We could have sex, talk, watch TV, have a pillow fight, take a bath or clip each other’s toe nails—I’ve done it all. You see, so many people consider an escort’s sole purpose to be that of providing sexual favors to men. And we do, most of the time. But the reason we’re hired is not just because men are horny—it’s because they’re lonely. They want someone to pay attention to them and treat them well for a little while.
Donald wanted to have sex. And I could tell that it was less about being horny and more about fulfilling his desire to be desired. And I’d bet my last dollar that he often kept the company of women like me, judging from his comfort and control of the situation.
“I want you to seduce me,” he said. “Seduce me like you’ve been waiting you’re whole your life to sleep with me and want to make this moment last as long as you possibly can.”
Donald missed his wife. Simple as that. For his hour, I played the role of a woman deeply in love with him, a woman who couldn’t keep her body off of his. A woman who loved his money, too, but would never leave him if he lost it all.
He was sweet and not a terrible lover. When we finished, we dressed ourselves and he walked me back down to the lobby. He offered to buy me another drink but I didn’t need one. I had to drive home and wake up in a few hours. Julianne and I were going to spend the day together. First we’d brunch, then we’d head to the new exhibit at the Las Vegas Art Museum. I didn’t tell Donald any of this. Instead, I politely declined, thanked him for a wonderful time and kissed him on the cheek.
“Maybe I’ll see you again,” he said.
“If fate allows.”
Being an escort for me was like being a scrapbooker on Etsy for most other single moms trying to pick up some extra money. The only difference was that I could make a few thousand bucks for one hour of potential discomfort versus making a few hundred for several hours of suffering through handmade clip art. I’m a pretty open-minded person, but I cannot for one second believe that there is any joy in being hunched over a desk, cutting and pasting other people’s memories together. It seems so lonely and juvenile.
I’ve seen these scrapbooks. Julianne did a report on the planets of our solar system in the third grade that was far more interesting and aesthetically engaging than what you would find on Etsy. I'm not saying this just because she’s my daughter. I’m not a parent who thinks her kid is perfect and can do anything. Julianne is terrible at sports. She has the coordination of a drunken toddler. When she was younger, I had her enrolled in ballet, gymnastics and soccer. She respectively twisted both ankles simultaneously, broke her collarbone doing a cartwheel, and routinely kicked the ball into the bleachers full of parents instead of down the field to her teammates. So there, I’m not afraid to say that my kid sucks at certain things. But Julianne is incredibly smart and creative. It’s how she was accepted at Nevada Arts, the most prestigious magnet school in the southwestern United States. And she’s determined. She always was. She was potty trained at 20 months. I’d love to take the credit for that because I’ve always been determined, too, and I shudder at the thought of dirty diapers, but the glory is all Julianne’s. She’s so determined that—and you’ll think I’m making this up—when she was three years old, she convinced herself she could pee like her daddy and began peeing standing up rather than sitting down. This lasted only a week before she realized it wasn’t feasible. It’s a good thing, too, because I was one cleaning wipe away from handing her over to nuns.
Her dad, Charles, and I met when we were nineteen and living in Reno. He prided himself on being a wanderer. He came from a small town in the middle of Illinois just to see what the west was like. He had no specific ambition to be one thing but plenty of ambition to be many things. He introduced me to the writings of the Beats and to the music of The Velvet Underground. He drank black coffee and warm beer and was funny and aloof and so incredibly handsome you wouldn’t be able to stand it. And we fell in love. We never married because he said he didn’t believe in the institution. He said that we didn’t need the State or County to approve our love in order to make it real. And as far as God went, if God didn’t already know how in love we were, then what the hell would He care about a wedding anyhow? It was things like that that made me swoon; he turned his opposition to marrying me into a romantically rich profession of his love for me. How many men do you know that can do that?
Or maybe you think I was just a foolish girl—her head removed from reasoning by her lovesick heart. It’s understandable, but hardly the case. Yes, I loved Charles and would have loved to have married him, but I was also rational about everything in my life, including that relationship. When I became pregnant, Charles and I talked about abortion ad nauseam. We were twenty-one years old living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Reno. He was trying his hand as a blackjack dealer at one of the casinos and I was finishing up my communication degree at the university. We had no money to raise a kid and neither one of us was emotionally ready to tackle parenthood.
And then the day I was set to swing into Planned Parenthood, my bohemian, freethinking boyfriend suggested that we keep the baby.
“I could give fatherhood a go,” he said. “It’ll be an adventure. Let’s take the ride.”
She could have just as easily taken my self-absorbed loathing as an opportunity to cram into her nose one of the crayons left out from the night before.
I liked adventure and I liked the idea of having a family with Charles. Without any surefire way to afford the costs of a family, I knew we’d have some struggles, but it would sure be interesting. So, I wrapped up my last few months of school and began looking for work. I found a job as a radio sales assistant and though the money wasn’t great, it wasn’t terrible either. Charles finagled his way into a position in the marketing department at the casino. It was less money than he was making dealing blackjack, but there were advancement opportunities.
Julianne was born, and for a while, the three of us lived a nice little life. We bought a three-bedroom house in Reno, and shortly after Julianne stopped peeing standing up, I convinced Charles to move to Las Vegas and accept the director of marketing position at the Rabbit’s Foot Casino. I was hired to do sales at the city’s largest radio group. We sold the Reno house and bought a home with a pool and marble countertops in a new development in northwest Las Vegas. I was happy, but I could tell that Charles was on the verge of a mid-life crisis—though he was barley out of his mid-twenties.
When Julianne was five—her first day of kindergarten, actually—Charles came home and told me he quit his job and was going to travel the world working his way as a deckhand on cargo ships.
“I’ve heard the call, Vicki,” he said as I colored with Julianne at the kitchen table. “It’s the shipping lanes for me, the vast ocean, the salty sea air, the adventures.”
“You can’t do that, Charles," I said. "You’re in the middle of this fatherhood adventure. Why not try sticking to one adventure at a time? That could be a kind of adventure.”
“Oh, darling… The time is nigh. You girls will be the great loves of my life, but right now, my heart belongs to the container ships.”
He packed a small duffle bag and took off that night. I cried until morning when at breakfast Julianne said to me, her mouth full of Frosted Flakes, “Mommy, you don’t have to be sad. I’m still here and we make a great team.” Like I said: smart kid. And advanced for her age.
She could have just as easily taken my self-absorbed loathing as an opportunity to cram into her nose one of the crayons left out from the night before. And she was right. I didn’t have to be sad.
Yeah, I loved Charles, but I also knew that the life we ended up building together was not the life he wanted to live forever. The realities that come with adventures got in the way of the actual adventure. And that’s okay. Besides, any man who says, “My heart belongs to the container ships,” has got to be completely bat shit. That’s not a dig against those who do the work, but even those who love their job can’t have that much passion about it. Thing is, Charles talked that way about everything; Warhol art, the institution of marriage, the benefits of Velcro shoes, all of it.
Sometimes Julianne would tell me that she missed her dad. Mostly this was during the holidays or school functions. And I’d tell her that I missed him, too. But that was it. We would feel it, say it, and then move on. I dated guys, nothing serious, but I dated, which was fine by me. Julianne and I had a good thing going. She was revealing herself as a gifted artist and a horrible athlete, and I was setting record numbers and raking it in as the radio cluster’s highest grossing sales associate.
But that was back when the economy was booming.
The housing bubble burst before the recession hit and our little planned community in Las Vegas was at the epicenter of that bubble. The Great Recession only made things worse for the city. Even when the media reported that the recession was over and jobs were slowly coming back to the average American worker, the local economy still struggled. People who were trying to rebuild their lives were not so quick to travel and blow money on roulette and Cirque du Soleil shows. As such, radio sales had taken a dip and seemed to be stuck in perpetual ebb with no flow in sight.
The Monday following my appointment with Donald, I was welcomed at work to an email from Mike Wexler, the vice president at Miracle Auto, the biggest automotive sales group in town and the client that had been the only one I could depend on buying enough airtime each month to supply me with enough of a commission to narrowly cover all of my expenses.
“Morning, Vicki,” the email read. “Hope you had a great weekend. My wife’s parents were in town and you remember how that went last time. Let’s just say that the one highlight of the weekend was that my father-in-law didn’t throw a hot hamburger patty at me like last time. Anyway, I have some bad news. We won’t be renewing our ad buys with you next month. In fact, we won’t be able to purchase any spots or live broadcasts or anything for the foreseeable future. We’ve just had a hell of a few quarters that have really kicked our ass and right now radio just isn’t in the budget. Hopefully this tight belt won’t last too long and we can get back to working with you. You know I luv ya, Vick! All the best, Mike.”
“Sonofabitch,” I thought. I texted Mike that I was coming over to see him and talk about the email.
“You’re drunk, right?” I said to him in his office. “Because only a drunken idiot would pull all of his advertising from the state’s largest radio cluster when what he needs is to drum up business.”
“Vicki, you know I haven’t had a drink in three years. Come on, don’t make this harder than it needs to be.”
“Let’s talk about this. There’s got to be something that I can offer you and Miracle. We can adjust the buy, get even more targeted. For what you’re paying now, I can double the amount of production and throw in a live broadcast at any of your locations every month. You know who you need to reach—I’ll make sure you reach them with exactly what they want to hear.”
“My boss might kill me, and I know the production director will want to see me drawn and quartered, but I’ll do it because you need me to do it.”
“Vicki, look, I really do appreciate all that you’re saying. And I know that this is going to affect your own bank account. That’s what makes this so hard. I know you’ve got Julianne’s trip to pay for and that things have been tight, but I just can’t justify spending any more money on radio right now.”
“Did you cancel your buys with all of the other stations?”
“Oh, Jesus Christ, Mike! Who are you staying with?”
“Mercury Radio!? Mercury only has two stations!”
“Yeah, but they have an entire division dedicated to digital broadcast marketing.”
“We’re broadcasting digitally and you’ve always had ads on our websites. Those were a bonus.”
“I understand that, Vicki, and I’m grateful for that. It’s just that, well, you don’t have the digital reach to the audience we’re aiming at right now.”
“What audience is that, Mike?”
“Well… Any audience. Vick, you just don’t have the numbers anymore. No one is listening to radio, not in the conventional way at least. Podcasts, online streaming, that’s where we need to be. Mercury has a foothold in all of that. We’re not even buying on their terrestrial stations, it’s all their digital development department.”
He was right. Terrestrial radio did not deliver the big audiences anymore. As I drove back to the office, I felt like a washed up rock star who used to sell out Madison Square Garden, but now could only get gigs playing to a slightly filled House of Blues. It was embarrassing. And it was bad news for me.
I left the office a little early to get home and poured a glass of wine. I sat with it outside in my gorgeous backyard with my pool and lagoon landscaping. The reality of my situation settled in even deeper. Two-thirds of the homes in our neighborhood were either in foreclosure or being short sold. I had managed to pay our mortgage and bills for years through good financial sense and occasionally dipping into the savings account. But with my last remaining client of any worth gone, I was up a creek without a commission check. The last thing I wanted to do was spend more nights escorting. And that was mostly because I know how people feel about escorts.
If it ever got out that I was an escort, I would certainly be fired from the radio group. If I got caught, I’d be a felon and my boss would have every right to do so. If she even heard about it, she’d find some other reason to can me. Women like her don’t see escorts as working women, but rather women who prowl the night trying to screw their husbands. It’s ludicrous. We don't want to screw their husbands any more than they do.
Julianne would certainly hold it against me, and if anyone at Nevada Arts found out, I’m sure her year abroad in would be revoked. She’d probably be kicked out of the school altogether. I don’t know why people have such an issue with escorts. I mean, if my own dad didn’t care that I made money that way, why should anyone else?
It was Dad’s idea that I go into the business. We never had much money growing up. When it came time for me to go to college, student loans were not an option. That life-long debt made no financial sense and I suggested to him—jokingly—that I could become a stripper to pay my way through school. He told me that stripping would not pay enough for the trouble. Plus, he said, I didn’t want to be known as a stripper—no one would take me seriously—and there was a pretty good chance that someone from school or work or wherever would end up in the club I was working in and then what?
“Hooking,” he said. “There’s better money, you can work alone and you can be far more discrete.”
I didn’t tell him I had been an escort until long after I had been. He laughed and said, “Better than stripping. At least it’s honest work."
I told Julianne about the Miracle Auto loss and she was supportive. She expressed concern about having the money to pay for her trip first, but then hugged me and asked if I was okay. We made root beer floats and just kind of complained about life’s hiccups. That weekend, she made plans to sleep at her best friend’s house. I made plans to cruise Massiccio for some work.
He said his name was Carl. He was in town from Cleveland. Julianne’s money was due in a month, so I bumped up my hourly rate to two grand. Time was of the essence. We got to his hotel room. I asked him for the money. He clumsily pulled the $2,000 out of his wallet. I took it and counted it then placed it in my purse and said, “Okay, Carl, what would you like to do tonight? The hour is yours.”
He flashed his badge. He told me he was a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officer. I was under arrest for soliciting sex. He cuffed me. I threw up on the carpet. I was led into a Massiccio security holding cell. There were two other women there.
“Hooking?” the one with jet black hair asked me.
“Yeah,” I said.
“You look scared,” the other one with red hair said. “First time?”
“Getting caught? Yeah.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Red said. “We’ve been through this a dozen times. They’ll make us wait here all night, then take us to the station in the morning.”
Before the night was up, there were seven of us. I learned that the cops did stings like this every month or so. All six of my new friends had been busted before. I was the only virgin in the room.
The undercover cops brought us outside and lined us up along a wall at the back of the property by an employee entrance. Several workers waved hello and a few even exchanged personal greetings with the girls.
“Don’t be surprised,” said Red. “You get caught enough, you get to know the people who work here. It’s kinda fun.”
We were taken to the station for booking. My purse had been confiscated and I couldn’t call Julianne to let her know I wouldn’t be home when she got back from her friend’s house. Sure, I could have used my one phone call, but what kind of a mother would that make me? I had to assume that she would get home and figure I had run out for milk or pantyhose or toilet paper. I was praying to no one in particular that she wasn’t calling or sending me texts wondering where I was. The cops had us all in a large cell where we waited while, one by one, we were brought out and booked. When it was finally my turn, I thought it was my fear causing hallucinations when I sat down in front of the booking officer. It was my ex, Charles.
He had a file on me with my new mug shot and fingerprints. He didn’t look up at first. But then he must have recognized the name, then the face and then lifted his head.
“You’re as surprised as I am,” I said.
“What are you doing here?”
“You’re the one with the file. You tell me, officer.”
“I thought you gave this up.”
“I needed some money.”
“Are you going back to school?”
“It’s for Julianne, you dope.”
“Is she in college already?”
“Never mind Julianne. What are you doing here? You’re a cop? How long has this been going on?”
“About nine years.”
“Funny. Nine years ago you were supposed to be sailing the world on a container ship.”
“Yeah… I ditched that in our second port. Couldn’t shake the sea sickness.”
“But the call, Charles, what about the call of the ocean?”
“Wrong number, I guess.” He smiled, but it quickly faded when I didn’t smile back. “Anyway, I caught a flight and came right back here a month later. I applied for the police academy and, here you have it.”
“And you didn’t think to come home, call, at least visit your daughter?”
“I didn’t think it would be such a good idea. I figured you were both mad at me.”
“You idiot. We missed you.”
“So what does Julianne need money for?”
“She’s an artist.”
“You’re hooking so she can buy paint?”
“No. I’m escorting because she’s an amazing artist and attends Nevada Arts Academy and was accepted into a study abroad program in Paris next year and I need five grand to cover the down payment. Money has been tight and, well, this is an incredible opportunity for her, so…”
“If you need money, I can help.”
“You have four thousand bucks to give Julianne so she can go.”
“I can let this little arrest slide. Like it never happened.”
I quit my radio job. Mike offered me a position at Miracle Auto as the director of digital development. The salary was steady, and while it was less than I was used to, it was more than I would have made if I stayed in radio sales. I’m pretty sure Mike created the job for me because he felt guilty for pulling his account. I thought it was interesting that my recent good fortune had come out of men feeling guilty. It seemed I was selling guilt as well as I’d ever sold sex.
At the end of the summer, Julianne headed off to Paris for 10 months. I drove her to the airport and as I hugged and kissed her and cried a little at the security gate she did the same.
“Thank you, Mom. For everything.”
“You know there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you, Sweetheart.”
“I know. But you really went above and beyond. I couldn’t have ever asked you to do what you did to make this possible.”
“Honey, it’s just hard work and good financial sense. You’d do the same for your daughter.”
“I don’t know that I could. I mean, being a hooker? That’s just… wow. Thanks, Mom.”
She hugged me as hard as she ever had. I didn’t know what to say. How did she know? Oh, boy, how could she not have known? She was my daughter, of course she knew. And of course she understood.