For today’s daily prompt, Hidden, I used an excerpt from Kalorama Road my latest novel which I hope to finish by Fall 2017.
The closer I get, the more fearful I become. I have no idea what lies beyond those doors, perhaps dangerous criminals ready to interrogate rigorously before I invade their private sanctum. And if they discover the hidden camera, circumstances could get nasty. I’m ill-equipped to protect myself against God knows what. Will they question my age? Young men buying sex is not an anomaly. It happens all the time, though it’s never been a desire of mine. I’ve often imagined men’s humiliation, bidding physical pleasure from strangers. Such brief discomfort can’t match women’s degradation, tendering flesh for survival.
The closest I’ve come to an escort, call girl, whatever they call themselves was my brother’s bachelor’s party. The tawdry act aroused sadness not lust; sorry to see women display their bodies with such shameless disregard. Inside the looming home, I’m certain exploits are tamer, a more sophisticated persuasion. I imagine the fawn-eyed student’s horror, discovering Patrice’s treachery and luring predators ready to prey. The thought’s enraging. I hasten my pace toward the expensive address. The transgressors aren’t your average criminals if they can afford a home, I’m certain, lists in the millions. Sometimes wealth’s begotten with unlawful acts, I remind myself.
I pluck up at the door, imagining a muscular fortress penetrable only with an intangible key labeled Pennington. I hope my informant is right and the code hasn’t changed. Since the mysterious letter appeared, I’ve pondered my source’s ability to cipher the secret password. I can only assume an affiliation, perhaps an ex-client or escort. I’ve also considered the letter a prank, but after observing Patrice Jensen’s campus antics, I’m certain the escort business is legitimate.
Assuming a demeanor of sophistication and wealth, I stiffen and press the glowing doorbell. A few seconds later the door unlocks, revealing a fortyish-looking man no taller than my shoulders. What he lacks in stature, his powerful torso and legs exceed in strength. I’ve seen his type, stripped bare in gyms, muscles in places you couldn’t imagine. With a steady gaze, he stands mum. His muted exhort forces “Pennington,” from my mouth.
He studies me silently, and I assume it’s my age. I brace for a barrage of questions and insistence for identification, but to my surprise, he asks, “Cell phone?” Deadpan, he explains, “No cameras or recorders allowed in the home. A precaution we take to protect our guest’s privacy,” he said extending his hand.
Of course, I’d expected safeguards and explain I left my mobile in the car. He asks me to remove my coat and searches all pockets. Approaching closely, he commands, “Extend your arms.” I do as he asked, hoping he overlooks the cross about my neck. The dual-purpose necklace, hidden beneath cubic zirconia, is undetectable unless examined intensively, revealing the miniature lens of a spy camera. He pads my suit jacket inside out, fingers graze metallic imprints. He stops. I brace for discovery.
“Open your shirt,” he said with laser eyes roving my face.
I’m fucked if he’s a trained profiler, able to detect the subtlest facial and body changes. Behavioral psychology, a prerequisite course I took a year ago, is finally useful. I recall facial cues indicative of liars—increased pupils, high-pitched voice, firm lips, unblinking eyes. So I do the opposite, blink several times, relax my lips, appear as casual as possible, and unbutton my shirt, exposing the backward-facing cross.
“Catholic boy?” He smirks as if a private joke charged his mind. Turning the cross face forward, he sweeps the edges with his thumb. “No need to repent your sins,” he said, glancing at the cross. “This is all good.”
I blink twice trying to relax my face, but every muscle tenses forming a trickle of sweat down my collar and a twitch in my upper lip. I bite firm on my molars suppressing the quiver and study his probing eyes. The chain releases from his hand with a smack on my chest.
He grins and continues padding my waist down to my ankles. “Alright, you’re okay,” he said finally. “You realize this is a referral business, we try to keep a tightly knit group. Before I can let you through, I need the name of your contact.”
Shit! Contact? There was no mention of a contact in the letter. Did my informant forget? No, not possible. A client or escort would know a reference is required, which refutes my earlier belief. The informant can only be an outsider. Damn, I’m shit out of luck! I’m not getting through that door tonight. For a moment, I accept defeat, and the next, I’m a master of deceit. “My contact is a discreet man, and I respect his wish for privacy. I was told the code name would suffice, but I can assure you, he’s a mutual friend, and even closer friend to your employee, Patrice Jensen,” I said arrogantly.
“If you’re referring to Mr. Murphy he’s a very important associate, as well as Patrice. You wouldn’t know the young lady’s name or their relationship unless you knew them personally. You see, inside these walls, all our ladies are known as Belle.”
What the f. . ! He bought it! I didn’t know Patrice’s paramour before, but somehow I’ve managed to acquire his name and deceive my way through. I contain a grin and listen to the next mandate which sounds absurdly like a stratagem befitting a James Bond movie—cloak-and-dagger, espionage stuff. But it’s not that absurd given my charade as a wealthy entrepreneur and my hidden spy camera.
“When you’re inside the home, your name is Pennington. It’s your prerogative to reveal your real name to the girls, but we suggest you don’t. Thank you, Mr. Pennington,” he said turning his body, revealing the straps of a leather gun holster. I shake my head in understanding and step inside, hoping I make it out alive.
Copyright 2017 by E. Denise Billups
Book Cover by E. Denise Billups