"Hello, Mr. Gibson?" she said as the door opened.
The man at the door was in his mid-thirties. Attractive, if a little average-looking.
"Yes," he replied in a kind voice. "You must be Marissa. Please come in."
"Thank you," she said. He led her through the large house to the kitchen area. It looked like he had been reading the paper.
He motioned to one of the chairs at the table. "Can I get you something to drink? Coffee? Coke? Orange juice?"
"No, thank you," she replied, wondering why he would be hiring a call girl. The house had a warm feeling to it. The décor was country with lots of little homey touches.
Topping off his coffee cup, the man sat at the table opposite her.
"Has Laurie explained the situation to you?" he asked casually.
"Not really, Mr. Gibson. She—"
"Please," he waved his hand. "Call me Alan."
"Thank you, Alan. She just said you were going out of town next week and needed someone to go with you." Marissa shifted uncomfortably. She didn't like taking on long-term clients because they sometimes wanted a relationship she didn't. Marissa was in it for the money; nothing more, nothing less. And she liked one night stands. At first, she had thought to turn this job down, too, but Laurie promised that she'd make too much to pass it up.
"That's essentially correct," he said. Marissa looked him over again. He was obviously well-to-do, but not in an arrogant, opulent way. The way he spoke to her wasn't condescending, unlike most of her other clients. He was treating her as if she were his equal. In a sense, she was; they were both businesspeople, and this was just another business relationship for each of them.
"I've got a conference next week in Las Vegas and I'd like for you to come with me." He reached into the briefcase under the table and pulled out a legal pad with some notes on it. "We'll be gone Sunday through Sunday. The conference has a number of social and business functions. You will accompany me to all of them, although there will also be plenty of time for you to spend on your own while I'm in meetings."
He reached into the briefcase again and brought out an envelope. He counted out five crisp $100 bills and pushed them across the table.
"This is for your time today. If you would like to go to Las Vegas with me, there are a couple of errands I would like for you to run with me." Alan paused for a moment, and then flashed Marissa an embarrassed smile. "I'm not really sure how this works, so you might want to take over from here."
"What do you expect from me while we're on this trip?" she asked, slipping the money into her billfold. She always liked to get everything on the table from the start. Laurie maintained a stable of good-looking and sexually adept call girls, but was very discriminating with her clientele. She screened all prospective clients and did not tolerate any abuse of her girls. Laurie had an interview with Alan before sending Marissa out to meet him, and she was generally a pretty good judge of character. Marissa got the feeling that Alan was going to be one of her better jobs.
"I need someone to accompany me to all of the social activities. We'll come up with something to explain our . . . relationship. After the meetings, there is usually a meet-and-greet each night. I will pay for you to register with the conference as a guest which will get you into all the functions. I will also pay for your food while we're there and any activities we do together," he said. "Anything you do on your own—like shopping or gambling—comes out of your pocket."
Alan shifted uncomfortably. "In addition, you will be available for me sexually all week."
Marissa smiled inwardly, but kept her expression carefully neutral. This was definitely his first time with a "working girl".
"Let's talk pay," Marissa said. "Laurie should have told you that my rate is $2,500 per day."
"I don't do anything kinky," she said and rattled off a list of acts she would not perform or take part in, "And you must wear a condom for anything involving penetration."
"I was going to ask you about that . . . I really don't like using condoms," Alan's voice trailed off. Laurie had told him about this provision that she demanded of all her girls, but he had learned in life that everything is negotiable. He watched Marissa's expression carefully, bracing himself for the rejection of his proposal. "What if we both went in for STD tests—which I will pay for—and if I paid for the birth control method of your choice?"
Marissa thought for a second.
"If you see something you don't like on the tests, you can back out at any time," he continued, watching her eyes.
"I've had Norplant for three years now," Marissa said, her face unreadable. "Birth control isn't the problem."
Alan thought she would probably go for it, but that the businesswoman in her wanted something in return. "What if I got you Lasik? You'd never have to wear those contacts again?"
That caught her completely off guard. Here was a guy willing to pay for all sorts of blood work as well as for $3,000 laser eye surgery. And he had looked close enough to notice she wore contacts.
He must really hate condoms, Marissa thought. She wavered for a second, but when she added up in her head how much money she would be passing up if she said no, she gave in.
"Okay," she said. "But if anything shows up on your tests, the whole deal is off."
"Excellent," Alan smiled, and Marissa was immediately taken aback. There was something about him. His smile was very disarming and sincere. In her line of work, cynicism was the rule, not the exception. "If you don't mind, let's get running on our errands."
He finished off the last few bites of his bagel, grabbed his half-empty coffee mug and then retreated into his bedroom. Marissa took the time to look around his kitchen and living room. He had not decorated it; that much was clear. In a couple of places, there were piles of papers: notes, bills, unopened letters and the like. Not dirty or messy. Everything was organised in some kind of system, and Alan surely knew where things were, but it appeared to be a lot of clutter.
By comparison, the rest of the house was filled with antiques and knickknacks. The furniture matched the paint on the walls which matched the borders which matched the pillows on the couch. There was artwork on the walls that no single straight man would have ever bought or arranged. It was as if someone with good taste and an eye for detail had decorated the house for Alan then left, and he had never changed a thing.
After a couple of minutes, Alan led Marissa out to his car and they ran their errands. Along the way, they talked. Of course, he didn't want any of his professional colleagues to know he had brought a call girl to a conference, so they got to know one another. His complete and utter lack of pretense soon had Marissa forgetting that he was paying her to be with him, even if there was no sex involved. He asked about her interests, and while he never asked about her work, he seemed genuinely interested in her personally.
Their first stop was a doctor's office. After signing in, the two were taken back for a physical examination and blood screenings. The process was fast and mostly painless.
Next, the two went to a Lasik clinic, where it seemed like they were ready to take her on the spot. Their eagerness put Marissa off, but when Alan told her that he had his own laser eye surgery there, she felt a little better. She made an appointment for a day when a friend could pick her up, but before their trip.
After a quick bite to eat, their final stop was a tailor shop. Soon, Marissa was up on a stand as a young woman quickly took her measurements. Alan offered no explanation, but throughout the day, he was polite and kind.
With their errands complete, Alan drove back to his house. Marissa went to her car.
"It was nice to meet you," he said with a warm smile. She found that she had very much enjoyed the other's company. It had been a long time since she had spent time with a man who did not want to just do his business and then be done with her.
"It was my pleasure." Marissa replied with a matching smile.
Alan handed her one final packet. Inside the envelope were five more crisp $100 bills and a list. "There are some things you will need for the trip. It is business, after all, and you should be dressed appropriately. If you don't have something, there should be more than enough money there to go get it. If you spend more than that, you're on your own."
Marissa stared at him for a second, a flash of disbelief in her eyes. None of her clients had ever offered her even a fraction of the consideration, generosity or respect Alan had shown her.
"If you have any problems with the Lasik place, give me a call." He handed her a business card with his home phone and his cell phone number on it. "Our test results should be back by Thursday. Can you meet me at the doctor's then?"
Nothing came back on either of their tests and Sunday morning the pair was on a plane to Las Vegas. It was the first time she had ever flown first-class, and she had $5,000 in cash in her purse, an advance on her services for the week. Also in her purse was a big bottle of saline drops to keep her eyes moist, but otherwise, her surgically-enhanced vision was a perfect 20/20.
The two had concocted a story claiming to be business partners with something of a romantic interest between them. The show they were attending was a food and beverage expo, specifically for entrepreneurs opening and running non-franchise restaurants. Alan had inherited a fair amount of money from his parents and went to college. After graduating from Davidson, he earned a Ph.D. in history from Columbia and had written a couple of reasonably successful books.
Although he did fairly well for himself as an author and as a university professor, he also wanted to try his hand at business. He had saved up some money and was about to invest it all in an Italian restaurant. Marissa wondered if he was going to write off her involvement in this trip as a business expense.
He asked a lot of questions about her, which she answered. Sometimes evasively, usually honestly. Because of his easy-going manner, she never even considered lying to him. However, when she tried to probe him about his personal life, he said virtually nothing.
Their plane landed at McCarron International Airport and soon the two were at the rental car counter, picking up a Toyota Solara convertible. He then drove to their hotel, the Luxor, a casino/resort in the shape of a giant pyramid. Even though it was spring, it was still warm out, so they were glad that they would be spending the majority of their stay indoors.
After dropping the car of with the valet and checking into the hotel, they went up to their room. Marissa was surprised that Alan had not laid a hand on her throughout the entire trip. He was in business mode. They got settled in and began unpacking a few things.
It was a one bedroom suite, located in the main pyramid. There was a sitting room with a table, desk and hookup for a laptop computer. A cabinet hid the television. Through a doorway, there was a bedroom with a large bathroom that featured a stand-up shower and jacuzzi tub.
Marissa checked the clock. It was 2:00 pm Pacific Time.
"Let's go get registered," Alan said, pulling a folder out of his briefcase. "Would you like to be a guest or a conferee?"
"What's the difference?"
"About two hundred bucks," he smiled. "A conferee gets to attend lots of boring seminars. Of course, you could probably go to the seminars anyway. I doubt they'll be checking name badges at the doors. Want to open a restaurant?"
Marissa smiled back. "No, but thanks for the offer."
The pair went down to the conference center, which was bustling with activity. Both were dressed casually and by all appearances, they were just another pair of entrepreneurs.
He registered her as a conferee anyway, just to get an extra packet with all the free stuff, which included a conference schedule, name badges, a big cache of goodies from some vendors attending the conference, meal tickets for the luncheons and a sturdy backpack to hold everything.
Along the way, Alan was quick to meet as many folks as he could and began networking with a vengeance. Marissa stood quietly at his side, making polite conversation, appearing interested and letting him do all the talking.
After a while, the pair headed back up to their room. Alan went into the bathroom and washed up. Marissa waited for him, not really knowing what to expect. She was a call girl, but this was turning out to be the most unusual job she had ever taken. She checked her watch; some of her other clients would have banged her three times by now.
"There's a lounge down on the first floor," he said to her. "Freshen up and we'll go get something to eat."
Then he was gone.
A little while later, she found him sitting at the bar. He was wearing a polo shirt and khakis. A drink sat on the counter, but it was nearly full, as if he had only sipped at it. Marissa sat down next to him. He must not have heard her because he continued to stare off, his eyes blankly fixed on some point well outside the casino floor that was in front of him.
The soft touch of her hand on his arm brought Alan back to the present.
"I'm sorry," he stammered. "I didn't see you come in. You look great."
Unconsciously, Marissa blushed. She had never been complimented like that by a client. If they said anything at all about her appearance, it was usually that she was hot or sexy. And then it was off to third base.
"Thank you," she managed to reply. She didn't think much about what she had on, a simple blouse and skirt. Her hair was pulled back and she had put on a little make-up, but she otherwise felt rather plain.
"Are you hungry?" Alan asked.
"I'm starved, to tell the truth."
"Where would you like to go?"
Marissa had to pause for a moment. This job was getting weirder by the minute. No client had ever asked her what she liked, and he was ready to let her pick the restaurant. She was half-tempted to mention the very pricey steak house in the Luxor just to see if he would take her there, but decided against pushing her luck. "I don't know. I've never been to Vegas before."
"I've heard good things about the buffet over at the Rio." Alan pushed his drink away and stood. "Why don't we go check it out?"
"That sounds good." Marissa slipped her hand into the crook of his arm and the two headed off to the main entrance to the casino. The valet retrieved their car and soon they were headed off to dinner.
The Rio is off the Strip, but the buffet alone makes the trip worthwhile. Once they got a table, there were any number of stations with all sorts of food available. Everything from burgers and fries to sushi to Mongolian barbeque to pasta to gyros to fish and chips was available. The food was excellent, even if it was a buffet. They split a big 44 ounce margarita, and between the two of them, still managed to get only half of it down.
Alan continued to make conversation. He was unfailingly polite, charming even. Marissa wondered if he was some sort of serial killer. She tried once again to probe him, trying to figure out why he needed a call girl to accompany him on this trip.
She made little headway, although a couple of times caught Alan using the word "we" when discussing his plans for the restaurant and how it had been a long-time dream.
After dinner, they drove up and down the Strip, just to see Las Vegas in all of its magnificent neon glory, and then headed back to the Luxor. Once the sun went down, the night air was bearable and the two rode along with the convertible top open, getting the full effect of the Strip.
Alan's hand absently rested on her leg. Out of curiosity, Marissa gently put her hand over his to see how he would react. His fingers unconsciously wrapped around hers. Neither said a word.
Once again, they dropped the car off with a valet and were walking arm in arm across the floor of the casino. He led her to a lounge area where a five piece band was playing.
"Would you like to dance?" he asked.
Marissa blinked in surprise. He took her lack of a no as a yes and led her to the dance floor. There were a handful of other couples already out but there was plenty of space.
He took one of her hands in his and placed the other on his shoulder. Soon he had her moving to the music. Alan was a good lead; he never got ahead of her and even got Marissa (and her two left feet) doing more than just swaying back and forth.
The song changed and Marissa saw Alan's eyes go blank for a second. He pulled her close to him. She could smell his cologne and feel his breath on her neck. Once again, he was staring off into space. His movement slowed.
She pressed her cheek against his as the music continued to play. He was lost to some distant memory. Marissa pulled back enough to get a good look at his face. There was pain in his eyes, but at the same time she could sense that his reverie was fixated on a happy moment in his life, some day long since past that he had vowed never to forget.
Marissa danced with him, following his lead and leaving Alan to his private thoughts.
After a few minutes, the song changed again and he seemed to snap back to the present. He blinked away the cobwebs. He started to say something, but he caught himself before his voice broke.
Marissa smiled gently. She looked into his eyes and for the first time, didn't see a client. She saw a broken-hearted man who was nervously smiling back at her.
"You know," she whispered in his ear. "You don't have to try so hard."
"What do you mean?" He hadn't released her from his close embrace.
"I'm a sure thing, Alan," she laughed teasingly. "You don't have to buy me dinner and take me dancing to get me to sleep with you."
He blushed slightly.
Marissa led him from the dance floor. They went up to their room in silence, absently holding hands.
Alan walked through the suite, dropping his wallet and keys on the table by the door. Marissa followed him to the bedroom. He fished a toiletry kit out of his suitcase and went to the bathroom. She found him brushing his teeth and took care of herself in the second sink.
He left her there and went back into the bedroom. After a couple of minutes, she found him lying on the bed with the covers already pulled down. The television was on but Alan wasn't really watching it. She noticed that he had hung up his pants and shirt in the closet and was wearing only a pair of boxer shorts and an undershirt.
Once again, Alan was staring off into space. Marissa turned all the lights off. She stood next to the bed wearing only a bathrobe that the Luxor had graciously provided. Her hair hung down over her shoulders.
He turned to her. The light from the TV bathed Marissa in a soft glow. Alan's eyes flashed with recognition for a second. His expression was part sadness. Part desire.
Marissa went to the window and parted the heavy curtains. They were staying on the side facing away from the Strip, so the flashing neon wasn't coming into their room. Pressing a button on the remote control, Alan turned the television off. The room filled with moonlight.
Alan couldn't take his eyes off her. Standing at the edge of the bed, with her back to the window, Marissa slipped the robe off her shoulders. It fell to the ground. She heard Alan draw in a sharp breath.
His face was white. It was as if he had seen a ghost.
Moving slowly, Marissa sat Alan up and gently pulled his shirt over his head. Then she pressed him back on to the pillows. She put her hands on his hips and slipped him out of his boxers.
All the while, she noticed that his gaze was fixed on her, but she was acutely aware that he was seeing someone else.