Monday, May 2, 2011

Sample from DEAD LIGHT DISTRICT - first chapter

Friday, July 17, 8:57 PM

“So these women get paid to have sex with men?” I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation. 

“Sasha, I know it sounds bad, but it’s not what you think,” said Candace, the expertly coiffed, perfectly groomed madam of the first bordello I’ve ever been inside. I hoped it would also be the last. She seemed matter-of-factly businesslike, almost imperious, sitting there with her legs gracefully crossed at the ankles, absently fingering a thin gold chain as she spoke. Her confident body language was not at all surprising, given that she used her body to make a living. The well-appointed room told me that her confidence was not without merit.

“Sounds to me like it’s degrading, exploitative, unsafe, and a whole bunch of other things,” I said. “Sorry, I don’t want to be judgemental, but I can’t get my head around this.”

“Maybe if you talk to some of my girls, you’ll get a better sense of things. They’re in control. It’s the men who are being used. The girls have a lifestyle here with me that they could never have on the street. For many of them, working here is the only thing that saved their self-respect.”

Never say never, but it was unlikely I would ever get around to seeing things from Candace’s point of view.

“Perhaps for now we should just agree to disagree,” I said. “You might as well tell me why you called me today, since I’m here, anyway. By the way, how did you get my name?”

“Let’s just say we have a client in common. For obvious reasons, I can’t tell you his name. I mentioned to him the other day that Mary Carmen, one of my girls, is missing. We haven’t seen her in just over a week, and no one has heard from her. Our mutual acquaintance suggested I contact you, since, clearly, I can’t go to the police.”

I understood why she wanted to handle things unofficially, but the fact that we shared a client got my curiosity engine going. I’m really stubborn and insatiably curious, two important characteristics for a successful private investigator. I would find out sooner than later which of my clients enjoyed time with Candace’s ‘employees’, but for now I let it go.

“What are the details of the last time you or one of the other girls here saw the missing person?” I asked.

“Last Thursday night. Mary Carmen was here for her regular shift. She usually works Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. She’s slated for the peak hours, from 6:00 PM to 2:00 AM.” Candace was so nonchalant about this that she could have been discussing the cashiers’ schedules at Walmart. “We had a request for an outcall. Terra was on the phones. She said the caller was quite specific about what he wanted. Latina, at least five foot eight, green eyes, long black hair. Mary Carmen came to mind before I even looked at my database.”

“You have a database of hookers?”

A stunning, petite brunette in a black satin bustier and fishnet stockings strutted into the room, grabbed a bottle of single malt scotch and two Baccarat glasses, smiled at us, and sashayed away without saying a word.

Candace paid no mind and kept talking. “Please, don’t call them hookers. Most of the girls use the term intimacy consultant, though some call themselves relaxation therapists. I know they’re euphemisms, but they’re important to the girls’ self esteem.”

“Consultants. Right. Got it.”

I felt as if I were on the set of a Peter Bogdanovich meets Ron Jeremy film and half expected someone to click one of those black things and shout, “Hot, Wet Conslutants, take two! Lights, camera, action!”

“Yes, I have everything on my database. Before I tell you more about it, I should offer you a drink. Do you care for ice wine?”

Does a bear shit in the woods? I absolutely love ice wine and don’t get to love it nearly often enough. At
fifty-plus dollars for a 375-millilitre bottle, it’s way out of my budget. Of course, since she was offering, I cheerfully said yes and hoped she’d pour it into a giant tankard.

While Candace was getting our drinks, I took a better look around the room. It was understatedly elegant. The drawing room—since in my mind that’s what it should have been called—was bigger than the whole first floor of the house I share with my dad, Jack, and my brother, Shane.

Candace had clearly spared no expense on even the most minor details. The coasters were marble, the ashtray was granite, and there was a sterling silver Dunhill lighter beside it. The sofas were the softest leather any cow had ever produced. The sculptures and artwork were all authentic Canadiana originals—something I had learned a lot about on my last case. There was an ebony grand piano in the corner, polished to within an inch of its life (if such could be said about an inanimate object), and there were fresh flowers in every brightly-hued Murano glass vase. The walls were painted in the warmest and richest shade of claret Benjamin Moore had to offer, and the carpet was so plush I thought it would swallow me. Oh yeah, classy joint.

I felt out of place in my faded Levis, amethyst tank top and pewter-toned gladiator sandals. At least I’d recently had a pedicure, so all ten little piggies—painted as they were in Mauve Magic—looked really cute.

Candace returned bearing a tray of goodies. She set the platter of flatbreads and artisan cheeses on the coffee table. She then handed me a flute of chilled ice wine and sat down next to me.

“You simply must try this St. Antoine Brie. It’s made in Northern Quebec and tastes fantastic with this wine.”

I spread a healthy gooey blob on a cream cracker. Delish.

“Cheers,” she said as she clinked my glass. “To doing business with Sasha Jackson Investigations.”

I took a sip of the liquid gold nectar before replying. “I haven’t agreed to anything yet. Give me some more details before I decide. What’s on the database?”

“Hmmm. Well... prostitution is a business, and maybe even a science. It’s certainly a service-oriented industry where knowing clients’ preferences and catering to their whims results in loyalty and excellent word of mouth.”

“Kind of like the baristas at Starbucks knowing how you like your non-fat, decaf, extra foam cappuccino with cinnamon, right?” I think this is the first time anyone has ever made an analogy between prostitution and take-out coffee. Venti, VD, Visa.

“In a way, yes. I have things grouped by the physical characteristics of the girls, and by the educations, the professions, and the hobbies of the men. I have clients sorted by fetish, by lingerie preferences—”

I had to ask, “Lingerie for him or her?”

“Both. They’re also sorted by role-playing, and by musical tastes. It’s all about finding a match, and combining the right ingredients in order to produce a spectacular session.”

I hoped my face remained expressionless, but more likely I was blushing with embarrassment. As if right on cue, we heard some ecstatic moans, and the snapping sounds of a whip coming from the bedroom above us. I visualized the fishnet-clad brunette standing behind an espresso machine with a cup of steamed milk in one hand, a cat-o’-nine tails in the other. Purr... snap... who’s your daddy?

Candace continued, “Believe it or not, this is as much for the girls as it is for the men. When my employees are paired with someone they actually like and enjoy being with, and they get paid for it... well, that’s hardly considered work.”

“Again, I don’t want to seem judgemental, but would you suggest this as a career choice for your daughter if you had one?”

“Probably not. But these girls fell into the life one way or another, and since they’re hooking anyway, they may as well do it here. I hire only the very best and I treat them very, very well. I pay top dollar, I give them regular shifts, and I have a high-calibre client roster, not a bunch of dirtbags from the street.”

“Uh huh.”

“Some of the guys take them out for dinner first. Occasionally, they bring the girls gifts. My workers get paid a flat hourly rate no matter what they do during their shift, and they get to use nice, clean, safe rooms here.”

“How many bedrooms do you have?”

“Six. This building is zoned for commercial purposes, and I have it registered as a bed and breakfast, with common rooms on the first floor. The third floor has been converted to an office and a small apartment where I live.”

I suppose, in some weird way, the bed and breakfast claim was loosely true. Sort of. Kind of. More or less.

“Do any of the girls live here too?”

“No. They use the rooms during their shifts. It gets cleaned and changed when they’re done, and at the end of their shifts they go home.”

“You have a housekeeping staff?”

“No. I have a contract with a cleaning company.”

“Would they be able to give me any insights?”

“I don’t think so. They keep pretty much to themselves. They just get the job done and get on their way.”

“How well do you know them?”

“Not well. They have four or five women who sort of rotate. They come twice a day, do the basic cleaning, take the dirty laundry out, and bring in clean linens.”

“I see. You mentioned that the missing girl went on an outcall?”

“Yes. About one-third of the clients prefer to take the girl to a hotel. Clients seem to think it’s more anonymous that way. Whatever, it’s their money, and to me it’s just another transaction, another service we provide.”

“Uh huh.”

“Many of the girls enjoy the hotel bookings. They say it’s like a mini working vacation, although others prefer to stay here on site. They say they’re more comfortable here,” she said.

“That’s a fine bit of spin-doctoring, Candace, but in the end, a strange man sticks his penis into her and fucks her.”

“That’s true. But if you think about it, who’s really getting fucked, Sasha? The guys who pay hundreds of dollars to buy a few hours of intimacy? The guys who naively believe the girls who tell them they’re virile, and sexy, and dynamite in the sack? The smitten puppy dogs who come back every week, bringing flowers and jewellery? Or the guys who really believe the girls find them attractive and fascinating? Give me a break. The guys are getting fucked, but they’re just too dumb to know it.”

Ouch! I didn’t have an answer for that.

I still had an almost full glass of ambrosia, so I decided to string the conversation along as long as I had vino.

“Okay, well, why don’t you tell me more about the missing girl?”

“Mary Carmen is a sweetheart, and I’ve been worried sick about her since last week. Let’s see; she’s twenty-two, she’s from Mexico—somewhere in the North. She’s gorgeous— an unparalleled combination of ethnicity and good genes. Her background is indigenous, think of an Aztec goddess. She has these amazing green eyes, high cheekbones, caramel skin. She’s got a body to die for: tall and slim, quite graceful, really. I can easily picture her on a runway. Her English isn’t the best, but despite that, you immediately get a sense of how warm and kind she is, and she seems to have a good sense of humour. What else do you want to know?”

“Where does she live? What’s her social insurance number? Her date of birth? Where did she go when you sent her out on that call? Who was her client?”

“I have to protect my clients.”

“Then I won’t be able to help you.” Yummy noble rot or not, I set down my drink and made like I was about to leave. My job is hard enough as it is without having to play by someone else’s rules.

I’ve only been an investigator for about a year and a bit, and it’s a more challenging and dangerous job than I ever imagined. I got into sleuthing when I gave up on singing. There are days when the music biz in Toronto seems a more solid and stable profession than private investigating. And, there are times I really miss performing, although some would say that’s exactly what my current job entails.

Despite what it says in the private-eye textbooks, real life sleuthing is neither scientific nor predictable. I’ve been shot at accidentally on purpose; I’ve sat atop rotting food scraps in a dumpster in the pouring rain; I’ve chased and been chased by angry, errant spouses; I’ve uncovered an art fraud ring; and I’ve done a number of boring, routine background corporate checks that almost turned me into a battery-operated robot. Or a zombie.

I never know what’s on the horizon.

As unpredictable as my job is, though, I can’t say I ever expected to be employed by a madam in a bordello, and I’ve never gone looking for a disappeared hooker.

Missing persons is probably my least favourite gig among the myriad cases that fall into my lap. Okay, maybe not exactly myriad. How do you start looking for someone who doesn’t want to be found? Or worse, what if the missing person doesn’t think of herself as missing, but just decided to walk away? There’s no law that says an adult has to stick around. There’s no law that says you can’t leave without saying goodbye.

On one hand, looking for someone is a challenge; on the other hand, missing person cases could make me prematurely grey, and could frustrate me into indulging in any number of irresistibly tempting coping strategies, such as martinis, wine, single malts, or any sweet concoction with a paper umbrella stuck in it.

Candace said, “I’ll tell you whatever you need to know, but only as you need to know it.”

To which I replied, “And how will you know what I need to know when half the time I myself don’t even know what I need to know until after I know it?”

Good thing I’d only had one glass of ice wine because that sentence would have made a lot less sense if I’d been a bit further into my cups.

“I can tell you where she went and when. If you need to know with whom, I’ll eventually tell you that too, but only if it’s germane. I just want to be sure Mary Carmen’s okay. She may have called it quits, and I’d be okay with that. I feel a sense of responsibility for my girls. If anything happened to them because of a job I arranged, I’d feel terrible.”

“I can see your point,” I said.

I wondered how culpable she’d feel if any of her girls got a sexually transmitted disease.

“Mary Carmen might have just decided she’s had enough. That’s happened before. Girls have just walked away from working here, from the life. Others have decided to do exotic dancing instead, some go back to their old pimps, some get messed up on drugs.... Longevity is not one of the hallmarks of this industry. Neither is loyalty. There may be perfectly innocent reasons for why she’s gone, but I want to be sure.”

It struck me as odd to say ‘innocent’ in any sentence discussing a prostitute, much less one who was missing.

.... more to come....

Link for Dead Light District on Amazon Kindle

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