The Escort

The day came more quickly than he anticipated. Next day at work, he went to the bathroom to burn the last five minutes before 5 o’clock, and when he got back he was floored to find a petite woman with a visitor’s badge, sporting a bobbed haircut and a red cocktail dress, peering intently into his computer screen, clicking madly — searching his email apparently. When she turned to him, he recognized the face.

“Hello?” Gary said, sparing her his usual “What the f—“.

She was surprised but unrepentant. “Gary Corinth? I’m from Amy’s Escorts, and I’m here for our evening together. Shall we go?” She stood up and held her little handbag in front of her with both hands — an endearing gesture but Gary wondered if she was keeping a handgun at the ready.

“Ah sure,” he said. He took a moment to shut down the computer and to try to see what she had been doing. She had closed all windows.

The surrounding cubicle environment was agog — people either amazed at the woman, or disbelieving he’d managed to make the call to an escort service at all. Those few moments Gary enjoyed, but he found himself riding the elevator down with his immediate boss, not relishing a confrontation. The fellow was a grease-haired twenty-something, who spent the ride down three floors trying to figure out if he should slap Gary on the shoulder or give him a stern glance. He walked out of the elevator first, pretending he hadn’t noticed anything untoward.

The Amy girl stopped when they stood at the circle in front of the building. “Which way?”

“Which way where?” Gary asked.

“To your car, silly,” she said with a saccharine voice that made Gary’s shoulders lurch in a suppressed guffaw. She smiled with a strain.

Gary pointed out into the lot, and she took off. She seemed to be scanning the lines of cars for someone trying to determine if they were together. Gary had to call to her to stop when she reached the row. She recognized his car when she did, but she did a wide circle around it, pretending to be interested in car styles or occupying her mind while Gary caught up.

She did not approach the car until Gary got in. Then she hopped in and said, “Get going.”

“Where to?” he said.

She switched back to the saccharine voice. “Wherever you want, honey.”

“Dinner?” he said, not knowing the parameters.

“Maybe we can have dinner later. What do you say we get comfortable somewhere?”

He was about to say something, but she put her finger to her lips. She reached into her purse and flashed a book of matches at him with the name of a nearby adult motel. The matches went back in the purse and she took up surveillance again. Gary drove a longer route than necessary, thinking that might help if they were being followed, but of course Amy Girl didn’t know the difference.

They pulled into the lot, and Amy Girl smiled and said, “Oh look.” She pulled a set of keys from her purse. “What do you know,” she said with a giggle. They both hopped out of the car and walked to the room. It was a small, single-story motel set into an irregular lot at the intersection of two major but askew streets.

The door had closed behind them before Amy Girl turned around. The face had become hard — in the way that women’s faces often do before a difficult transaction. “You got our message,” she said curtly.

“Yes I did.”

She moved toward Gary, staring from one eye to the other. “Have you told anyone?”

He smiled in a moment of relief. “I haven’t told anyone.”

“Has anyone contacted you about us?”

Gary had a brief moment to weigh his decision about the next step. He knew that he was at that moment of transition, where the one future becomes real and another impossible, without knowing what the future he was selecting would be. But this future was, in a sense, already mapped out for him, in a path of least resistance that he could not overcome and could not want to.

“Yes, in a sense.” — “Oh shit -” She turned away and cussed some more under her breath, took a massive breath and stretched her limbs, down to her finger joints.

When she was motionless — but still averted — Gary decided to go on. “Robert C. Walton invited me to dinner, and we talked about the anomaly, as he called it. He says he wants it. He also said I should tell him if I was contacted by the professor.”

She turned around completely. “Did he mention me?”

“Yes,” he said.

She did not react this time. “Did he get the projection?”

“No,” said Gary.

“Why not?” She approached him, in a for Gary strange mixture of menace and allure.

“He wanted to see if you show up.”

“Why?”

“He wants to catch you with it.”

“What are you supposed to do when you see us?”

“I have a way to contact him.”

“Okay,” she said. “It’s safest to assume he already knows I’m down here. You should contact him. Later.”

“All right,” said Gary, somewhat meekly, but with the voice he had honed through dozens of interactions with superiors who had, finally, decided to give him what he wanted because it suited their needs, too.

“Tell him that you were contacted by me and that we arranged to meet tomorrow night. I’ll fly back to _______________ tonight.”

“But — ” began Gary slowly, trying to get the point of this from her.

“But we’ll see it tonight. Professor ______________ is already here. Only Walton won’t know that.”

“What if he knows it — he’ll know I’m lying.”

“He won’t know a thing about what you know. For one thing, this room is completely jammed — even if you were wired head-to-toe this conversation is private. Tomorrow night is what you tell him. We’ll make it worth your while.”

“How can it be worth my while if he has me killed?”

“When you don’t have the projection any longer there’s nothing he’ll do to you. Trust me.”

“That’s not the impression I got from him. In fact, I had the distinct impression that he would have no compunction about adding me to a very long list of deceased individuals, including a private in Alaska…”

She didn’t respond, looked him over closely. “He’s bluffing.”

“It’s not worth my while to find that out. I’ll tell him that you’re here and that we’re planning on tomorrow morning. He won’t contact me any more, he said. Let him figure out what to do about tonight; I won’t go anywhere near the thing. But I’ll contact you later tonight to let you know how to find me ‘tomorrow.’ What happens then isn’t my problem.”

“Oh no? If you think you can set us up — “

“I’m the one who’s set up here, lady. I just dialed in a fucking signal on a home radio, and now I’m holding a live grenade. If I throw it, I get shot. If I drop it, I get blown up. If I hand it to you, we both get shot, then we get blown up. But I figure if I drop and run as fast as I can the other way, maybe only my backside will get blown off.”

“Well, thank you for that image.” She said, and plopped onto the bed. A pack of Camels and the motel matches came out. She lit up and set to considering the new reality.

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