"A handsome young guy with curly black hair came in and immediately offered me $500 for an hour…"
It's midnight. I'm already three hours into my nine-hour shift, and it's only just starting to pick up; we won't get busiest until about two a.m., when the bars let out and miners with pockets full of fifties and hundreds decide to splurge on a couple of girls. The phones are starting to go off, but most of the girls are sitting in rich-looking leather chairs, their legs neatly crossed at the ankles, slouching over cell phones or, in one case, a novel. Some of them stare into space. Most of them disappear every ten minutes to go smoke out back. There are only supposed to be two girls smoking at one time, or the floor looks too empty: house rules.
This brothel has an illustrious reputation. Its sister establishment, in the mining town of Kalgoorlie, is one of the oldest in West Australia, and this one has been around for decades itself. It's only a few blocks from Perth's casino complex, which is the only place in town to get a drink after two a.m. while gambling away the money you just made working the rigs up in Karratha, or visiting Perth on a weekend business trip from Sydney. The casino has a hotel, too. We know it very well… and they know us.
Prostitution is legal in Western Australia, with some restrictions: independent escort work is frowned upon. Sex workers are encouraged to work in brothels. There are no low-class streetwalkers; everything is above-board, so nobody needs to scramble for ten dollars in the back of someone's station wagon. Unlike strictly-legislated Sydney and Melbourne, however, Perth has some bizarre restrictions: while sex work is legal, "making a living from the proceeds of sex work" is not. This means a sex worker cannot hire a driver or a bodyguard, as they would be engaging in illegal activity. I am technically employed by Mackenzie Ltd, an umbrella corporation whose assets just happen to include the brothel I sit in four days a week, from nine p.m. to six a.m.
We do in-calls and out-calls. That means we send girls to houses, hotels, and nightclubs as escorts, and we also host visiting clients in our suites. The girls have twelve-hour shifts and most of that time is spent sitting or smoking, fiddling with phones, making coffee or tea, and sucking up to the various nervous gentlemen who come through the sliding doors. The interior is a dark chocolate brown, low-lit, with an enormous pool table. We have a fifteen-minute limit on it, to thwart the guys who just come in and play pool obsessively instead of booking a girl. A large television screen plays music videos so repetitively that none of us even notice them anymore.
It's house policy to call the girls "girls," even though most of them are older than me. Liz, our highest earner, is well into her forties, and she still pulls in a couple of thousand a night. That's not all from the straight-up booking fee; the girls only get $250 per hour from the house. We know, although it is technically against the rules, that they ask for and get extra fees in the room. Massage, bodyslide (massage with a naked female body), oral, and full-on vaginal sex are included in the basic fee we charge, but there are a thousand extra perks the girls can charge for. You want anal? An extra $200. You want to cuddle? It'll cost you. Kissing? Not likely, but some girls will do it for a hundred.
NEXT: "Sometimes they ask me if I'm tempted to jump the counter…"
I'm the receptionist, so I answer the phones, explain the booking procedure to new and confused clients, and take the money. I swipe credit card after credit card. When a girl gets a guy to extend — that is, his hour is almost up and they're having such a good time (read: she hasn't let him get to the penetration part yet) he wants to stay for another hour — she shows up at the front desk wrapped in a towel, his credit card in hand. I'm sure the face I see, the one of businesswomen waiting for a transaction to go through, is not the one they show in trying to get the extension in the first place, as they write in fat tips for themselves on the receipts their clients never ask for.
Sometimes, out of boredom, the girls chat with me. They ask me what I'm studying, tell me about their kids or boyfriends who do or do not know about their job. One girl is Canadian, like me, in Australia studying at university, like me. Many of them are lesbians. They all have fake names. This can lead to problems, as with one girl who ODs in a back room on my shift. When the paramedics show up, they ask, "What's her name?" so they can call it as they try to revive her. I have to tell them I don't know. "Her work name is Cindy," I say helplessly, as they force air into her lungs. Apparently the fake name is good enough; she coughs, eyes fluttering, and is conscious when they carry her to the ambulance. (She decides to go to rehab and get clean, then relapses and, sadly, takes as big a dose as she was used to before she went sober. It kills her, wedged into a back room at the brothel, on a night I'm not working. The other night receptionist is off work for three days after dealing with it. We don't send a card, although her family knows, now, where she worked.)
Sometimes they ask me if I'm tempted to jump the counter, make $250 an hour instead of $30. My Australian blue-collar boyfriend angrily asked me the same question when I first started work. "What if the money is too appealing to you and you decide to be a hooker?" he asks, balling his fists in his concrete-covered work pants. "I won't," I told him, and it's what I tell the girls. The guys who call, overwhelmed by all the choices I offer them, frequently say, "You sound nice. Can I just have you?" I laugh and tell them no.
Truthfully, the only time I was tempted was when a handsome young guy with curly black hair came in with some friends; he immediately spotted me and offered me $500, then a thousand dollars for an hour. I kept shaking my head, laughing, and he finally shrugged and went with someone else. When he came out at the end of the hour, he came over to me. "I wish it was you," he said. "Give me a kiss." I shook my head. "Just one. On the cheek."
My boss always told me not to flirt with clients in case I upstaged the girls, but he was so charming. In the oldest trick in the book, he turned his head at the last minute, and I gave him a light kiss on the lips.
"There," he said. "I kissed the prettiest girl in the house."