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.

They all have fake names. This can lead to problems, as with one girl who ODs in a back room on my shift.

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."


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