“If there’s ever any kind of problem with a client,” Micah said, his earnest gaze concentrated on me, as we sat on opposite sides of the table in one of the booths in the Haven Hotel bar, “there’s the panic button by the bedside unit.”
Sitting beside him, Tom frowned at his best friend. “Depends what the problem is, right?”
Micah nudged him in the ribs, his helpful gaze fixedly on me. “I’m handling it, Tom. I’m explaining to Eli what to do if a punter gets, you know, difficult to handle.”
Tom ran his gaze up and down my muscles and snorted. “That’s not a problem Eli is gonna suffer, is it? Guy’s built like a truck.”
I raised my eyebrows at what may or may not have been a compliment. You never knew with Tom. I was certainly well built, and I liked to keep myself in trim. And my bike leathers probably made me look even heavier. Yeah, I decided it was a compliment. And undoubtedly true. I knew how to handle myself.
Micah’s eyes were tight around the edges, like he was trying to not roll them. “You never know. Especially when you’re new to the escort game—”
“More likely to be a droopy dick problem,” Tom broke in cheerfully. “And there are lots of ways to get over…” he sniggered, “…getting it up!”
Micah bit his lower lip. “Tom, please. We’re working on the basic household issues today. Eli is taking bookings from Tuesday, so we need to answer any of his queries.” His smile back at me wasn’t as confident as before.
“I wasn’t going into the crabs issue, for fuck’s sake.” Tom’s look was almost a pout. “Though he needs to know there’s plenty of help around here for all those awkward itches and sore patches—”
“Anyway,” Micah broke in, firmly. “We vet the guys before they arrive, as far as we can. They almost always pay up front. You should have some info in advance if they want anything unusual or special.”
“Unusual?” I asked. I thought I’d kept the note of panic out of my voice, but Micah reached over the table and patted my hand.
“If you wanna do just vanilla, that’s fine. Just let Rick and Arne know, they take most of the bookings, and they can suggest the right clients for you.”
“I dunno,” I said slowly.
I’d come to the Haven this evening because I was in trouble. Basically, I was out of a job. My usual job in construction, anyway, which was where I’d met Rick Thatcher a year or so ago. A plank had fallen on my foot last week, and I was out of action on all the weight-bearing work. Which meant more or less all of it. And I didn’t get sick pay. The injury would heal, but in the meantime I couldn’t be useful on a building site. Okay, so I’d never have considered escorting before I met Rick—never even thought of it as a proper job, let alone a part-time option—but I’d been to the hotel several times to help Rick with repairs, so I knew all about the rooms here. And Rick and his mates made escorting sound both feasible and fun.
But if I was honest? This gig wasn’t only for the money I needed to tide me over until I was fully fit again. Glancing at Micah and Tom, bickering lightheartedly for a moment on their side of the table, I felt myself get hot, and it wasn’t just because these booths were really small and stuffy for a big guy like me. I cleared my throat and tightened my hand around my beer bottle. When they turned back to me, I mustered a grin.
“Actually, I’d be okay with some adventure,” I said.
Micah gave a gasp of delight. He had the most fantastic, shining smile. “That’s great! There are a few of my ex-clients who haven’t found anyone, um, suitable since I stopped working here. You may be a good match. You give off this great, nurturing vibe—”
“You’d have to like knitting,” Tom interrupted. He’d pulled a pot of purple nail varnish out of the tiniest pair of denim shorts I’d ever seen—was there even room for a pocket?—and the smell wafted around the booth as he started to paint.
“And jigsaws,” he continued blithely, swiping the purple glittery stuff up one nail, then the next. “And guys who want to curl up on your lap and purr.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Micah growled.
Tom shrugged, mischief in his eyes. “Micah made a bit of a career of the wacky ones.”
“I won’t have you talk about them like that!” Micah snapped. “They’re all decent guys and I’ve kept in touch with some of them—” He glanced quickly at me, then back to Tom, “—not professionally, of course. But as a friend.”
Tom didn’t even bother holding back his eye roll, even though he was concentrating on his nails, his tongue peeking out of the corner of his mouth.
This was fascinating to watch—I’d never seen Micah get even slightly annoyed, but then I’d quickly learnt that Tom could try the patience of a saint when he was at his most provocative—but I thought I’d better get us back on topic. This was, after all, meant to be my induction, as Eliot had called it. He and Rick managed the Haven, but I wondered sometimes who managed the rent boys and their friends.
“Well, thanks, but I’m not sure that’s the kind of thing I want to take on,” I said, hoping not to offend Micah. “To be honest, I don’t have any complicated requirements. Just straightforward guys who want straightforward sex. Men getting off, nothing more than that. It’s what I’m used to.”
Micah nodded enthusiastically, but Tom’s eyes narrowed.
“Anyway,” I hurried on. “Are you two okay to continue?”
Micah sat up straighter, looking mortified. “Of course! I’m sorry Tom and I got distracted. Let’s get back on track. There are always clean towels in the room, and some basic things like toothbrushes and mouthwash…”
“Gotta hate stale garlic breath. Marmite. Tequila. Throat lozenges. All of them, yeuk! Some punters, right?” Tom muttered almost, but not quite, under his breath. “And Jeez, some of those synthetic fruit flavoured lubes can really kill the mood on a rim job…”
“You can always ask them to shower,” Micah said quickly. There was a slightly desperate tone to his voice. “Wash up after a day’s work or a hot, sweaty journey here on the Tube. Take off their shirt and tie. Brush their teeth.”
“Shave their hole,” Tom added brightly. “Oh, wait, no, that’s just what Billy likes to offer!”
“Tom!” Micah swivelled around on his seat to glare at his friend. “That’s enough! Will you shut the fuck up?”
Tom blinked but he apparently had no intention of it. “Well, there’s a lot more to escorting than clean towels and stocks of condoms in the bedside unit.”
“Oh, yeah, I was just getting to that—”
“You gotta be friendly, too. Charm them. So they relax, have a good time.” Tom leant over the table, one purple-nailed finger tapping his lips. “So they come back for a repeat. So they tip well.”
“Tip?” I didn’t think I’d ever got a tip in my life, apart from the occasional recommendation for a horse in the 3.30 at Kempton.
“If they offer, get the cash in your hand ASAP,” Tom said firmly, eyes shining. “Count it right away but keep it at arms’ length. If it’s not enough, you wanna be able to haggle for more. But if it’s too much, you don’t want them thinking twice and grabbing some back.”
Somehow, I reckoned Tom had always done really well with his tips.
“What about… charming them, you said?” That had never really been my… thing. Not for the first time, I wondered exactly what I was getting myself into. “What does that involve?”
“Oh, it’s just normal stuff, to break the ice. Being polite.” Micah jabbed Tom again, and they had a brief tussle, until Tom tickled him under an arm and Micah couldn’t help laughing.
“Ask ’em how their day went. How they are. Did they have to travel far,” Tom said. “All that stuff. Whether you’re bothered or not.”
“Of course you’re bothered!” Micah snapped.
“Sweetie, I’m only teasing. It’s always good if both sides are engaged. We both know that.” Tom pursed his lips, not hiding his smile very well. I wondered how much sex had actually gone on between Micah and his clients, and whether he’d been running a talking therapy business instead.
“You should make them feel comfortable,” Micah said. “But also good about themselves. Compliment their eyes, their hair. If they’re slim, they may be graceful or light on their feet. If they’re stocky, they might like being complimented on their strength, their shoulders, their thighs. Flattery’s always going to be popular, all men like you to see their best features—”
“And every guy on the planet likes to be complimented on his dick!” Tom crowed. He ran his varnished fingers through his long, blond curls.
That had to be a wig, right? He’d been a crew-cut ginger last time I met him. And that sailor schoolgirl outfit he was wearing today was more than a little weird…
“Yeah, be as cheesy as you like with the cute eyes ‘n thighs stuff,” he continued, “but tell him his cock is pretty, he’ll almost forget he’s paying for you.”
Micah nodded, though I got the feeling he wasn’t thrilled with Tom’s delivery. “If it helps, you can pretend you’re, like, his hairdresser. Have that kind of chat. Friendly, encouraging, but not too personal, not too deep—”
“But you need to make him open up,” Tom said with a laugh. “Hey, that’s more like a dentist than a hairdresser, right?”
And that was it, it seemed—they both burst into giggles and more tussling, and it looked like class was over.
I sighed, but they made me smile, too. I had to ask myself, why exactly was I being inducted by two guys who weren’t escorting any longer? They both had serious boyfriends, they both only came here to catch up with friends and, in Tom’s case, to nose around Liam’s stock of sex toys up in the Room 8 playroom. But they’d been keen to show me the ropes—and no, not the ones in that playroom, but the ins and outs of escorting.
Hell, the double entendres kept on coming.
I’d been bricking it when I approached Rick at the desk, to ask him if I could hire a room, if I could try out for escorting. Not scared that he’d think any less of me, because he was pretty okay with anything a bloke wanted to do with his own life, but because he might laugh at me thinking I could be a rent boy. Boy? I was thirty-six next birthday, for God’s sake. How was a tough old manual labourer like me gonna get sex work, up against some of the pretty little things I ran into when I came here to see Rick?
But everyone had been really helpful and welcoming. Rick suggested I talk first to some of the guys about what went on, while Arne grabbed that big old desk diary and announced he had vacant rooms on Tuesday to Thursday, and I should let him know what kind of punter I was looking for.
That had been the trickiest question to answer, to be honest.
“Another beer?” Micah asked me.
Neither he nor Tom had drunk anything but cola, though they didn’t seem to have any problem with me having a beer. But I knew they had places to go this evening, and I appreciated the time they’d already given up for me. I shook my head, smiling. “I’m fine, thanks.”
We sat for a while longer while I finished my drink, with more laughing and some truly hairy stories from both Micah and Tom about previous clients. Like when part of the roof fell in on Dante in the middle of a session; when Tom nearly got strangled; when Billy got cramp half way through showing a client how he could suck his own dick…
Okay. I admit I felt more comfortable when Micah moved on to chatting about his work with his musician fella, Fox. And Tom was itching to tell me how he was helping his posh businessman boyfriend Craig suss out a new business venture in an adult movie studio.
Maybe one day I’d find a boyfriend, I thought to myself, seeing the way their faces lit up with talk of their relationships. But I was happy enough being single. Definitely. Yeah. Besides, men had never been hammering down my door to make me theirs, had they?
We made our way out of the bar. I let the guys go first, found my hand hovering at the small of Micah’s back when he stumbled on a loose bit of flooring. I made a mental note to come and fix that flooring later in the week. Then, as he darted across the lobby to find Arne in the kitchen, I handed Tom’s nail varnish to him.
He raised a highly-plucked eyebrow.
“You left it on the table,” I explained.
“Yeah? Good of you to notice. And to bother fetching it out.” He’d been watching me as I looked out for Micah, too. Now he tilted his head and peered at me, as if searching for something more. “You said you wanted some adventure, right?”
“I did?” I tried not to blush. It didn’t always look good on a big, bearded guy like me.
He tutted, and grinned. “Yeah, Mr Tough Guy, you did. And I’m just sayin’, that’s a good reason to be here. We get all sorts of people passing through. You can have fun while you’re working out what you really like, as well as what you can offer a guy who needs our attention.”
I must have looked puzzled because he continued.
“It’s an essential service, right? Escorting, I mean. Sex. Maybe a punter can’t get it elsewhere, maybe he needs something special. Maybe this is all he can handle, and paying for it eases the stress.” He shrugged but his gaze was softer than before. “Whatever the reason, when they come here, they want us, not anyone else, even if it’s just for that night. And it’s our job to make it a good time for them.”
I looked at him more carefully than before. Perhaps Tom wasn’t as flaky as he’d first seemed to me. It sounded a lot like he cared about the guys he’d met, too.
“Thanks for sharing that,” I said gently. “I know Arne said he had a couple of bookings would suit me.” I grinned back at him, suddenly feeling lighter. “And I’m ready to get going.”
Tom nodded, but now there was a little frown above his nose.
“What did you mean,” I blurted out, “I’d be working out what I really like?” I knew I liked sex. What more was there?
He lifted that eyebrow again. “Those appointments Arne’s got fixed up for you. What are they? Big guys like you? Rough guys? Guys who want some strong handling?” His eyes were suddenly shrewd.
I nodded. That had been the impression I got from Arne.
“Right. Is that what you want?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that. “Like I said, it’s what I’m used to.” Sex had always been a practical thing for me—or at least, that was how my partners viewed it. The fucking was usually good; sweaty and sexy and sometimes sweet. There was often some good-natured pushing and shoving, but we just got on with it and didn’t talk too much. And then they left.
Tom was still watching me. “Okay. To be fair, Eli, that’s probably for the best, to get you started. The delicate punters will probably be shit-scared of you squashing them.” He chuckled, and I had to smile along with him. “But it’s not just about what the clients want, y’see. Most of us find out what works best for us, too, along the way. What we like and want. And I reckon you can do some work on that.”
“What the hell does that mean?” It came out as a bit of a growl.
Tom wasn’t remotely fazed. In fact, he leant towards me, even if he was a good six inches shorter. “It doesn’t always pay to take the easy road, you know? Don’t just accept what you’re offered, or agree with how people see you. Look for what will float your boat, too. We all fucking deserve that in the end. And after what Micah said in the bar…”
“What did he say?”
He paused before answering, while he slipped one foot then the other into a pair of ludicrously high pumps he’d left on the lobby floor, on his way into the hotel earlier. I resisted holding out my arm so he could lean on it, and he managed reasonably well without help. When he was up on his heels again, he crossed his arms across his slender chest and stared boldly up into my face.
“He mentioned that nurturing vibe you have.” His eyes were twinkling with renewed mischief. “Though maybe you’re used to keeping that under wraps.”
“I don’t know what you’re on about,” I said sharply.
His smile was sly. “This job can be as important to you as to the punters, Tough Guy. After a while, when you’ve got your feet under the table—or your arse in the bed, in this case—you may wanna rethink your punter profile.”
“I won’t be taken advantage of, believe me. Just nice, straight sex is all I’m after. That’s what I can offer.” I didn’t know what else to say. I needed to get into this job soon, and without any hassle and, let’s face it, I didn’t plan to be here for long—but I wondered how Tom and Micah saw me, and why it should be different from anyone else’s view. “I’m fine with my bookings as they are.”
I didn’t sound defensive. At all.
“Whatever.” Tom tossed back his curls and swayed his way towards the kitchen, presumably to find Micah. “But if it’s not what you want, too, the punters will spot the difference eventually. And Micah’s usually right about that kinda thing.”
And with a final wink, he let the door into the kitchen swing shut behind him.
copyright Clare London as Stella Shaw 2022