Two – Garnet
I’d seen a lot of stuff and pretended to be a lot of people in my years at Gems.
Nothing could have prepared me for witnessing Kennedy Parks being escorted from the brothel that he’d build with blood, sweat, tears, intimidation, and corruption by two state sheriffs. Or the deadly looks he threw our way as he was leaving. If looks could kill, we’d all be floaters in the Colchester River right about now.
All the Gems were lined up along the railing that looked down upon the first floor bidding area. Me, Diamond, Amber, Peridot, Ruby, Onyx, and Citrine. All except Opal. He’d been outside with his boyfriend, Ian McDougald, and the other owner of Gems, Butch something. Stocky guy with a perpetual scowl that worked with McDougald.
While we were all happy to see Kennedy go – he was a mean pimp who’d been ripping us off for years – we were all also really edgy about our futures. All of us here had lived on the streets. Not a one of us wanted to return to them. Which is why we probably all had put up with Kennedy being such a bastard when crossed. That, and our names signed on those contracts of his. Talk about selling your soul to Satan. In all honesty, though, what was a slap or one of his cruel punishments as opposed to sleeping on a mattress behind the dumpster of the Colchester Public Library with an Illinois winter blowing under your dirty blanket?
Sometimes, when I was homesick for Toronto, I’d step outside and try to find a little of that crazy fresh cold air that I’d grown up with. Sadly, all one smelled on the south side of the Colchester River was exhaust, garbage, sex, death, dope, and grift. Not necessarily in that order.
Butch called us all down. We took seats in the main bidding area, Opal smiling meekly and Butch regarding us like we were something he really needed to scrape off the bottom of his shoe.
“Let’s get this meeting over with. I have to accompany Mr. McDougald to Cambridge for a speech he’s giving at MIT early tomorrow morning,” Butch announced from the corner he was stationed in. Arms crossed, legs spread, eyes in constant motion. He’d had to have law enforcement in his past. If he wasn’t an ex-cop, I’d eat my Converse.
“Right, okay,” Opal said, pushing to his feet from the small settee he’d been nervously perched on. It seemed weird to have this massive place be so empty and silent. No cleaning service had come today, no hulking security men milling around, no bidders rolling out to have coffee and baked goods after a night with their chose Gem. “Well, first off, we’ve come to a decision about the future of Gems. We’re looking into becoming a legitimate business so that we can shake off the grip that organized crime has on this brothel.”
Diamond scoffed. We all glanced his way. “Sorry.” He lifted a big hand, then tossed that shank of silver hair from his brow. “I’m not laughing at going legit, I’m laughing at the notion that you can escape the grip of organized crime on the southside of Colchester. Fuck, across the bridges is just as corrupt. All you have to do is look at city hall. They just hide the corruption behind skyscrapers.”
“Lord, yes,” Onyx chimed in, bouncing a foot garbed in a fluffy heeled slipper that matched his flouncy yellow robe. “Mayor Rupert is so crooked, if he swallowed a nail he’d cough up a corkscrew!”
Everyone had a laugh at that aside from Butch. Opal kind of lost control then, as everyone started talking about the mob family that sat at the right hand of the mayor, or even possibly higher.
A loud, ear-blistering whistle pierced the chatter. Butch glowered at us all, then waved a hand at Opal toying with his short, uneven hair.
“Anyway, we’re going to try to go legit and turn Gems into an escort service,” Opal announced, his chin coming up a bit, even as we gaped at him. “This is an opportunity for all of us to become our own bosses…in a way.” He paused when Citrine began mouthing off. “No, it’s not the same as working for Kennedy, not at all! You pick your own dates.”
Everyone started talking at Opal at once. Diamond stood up. Silence fell over the group like a shroud.
“We need to let the man talk,” Diamond stated. Butch nodded, then shuffled around, obviously anxious to be off. “Mr. Khan, go on.”
“No, God, don’t call me that. Just…I’m Shin,” Opal…Shin begged, his gaze falling on me. I nodded and gave him a small wink. “So, it’s just in the planning stages, but we’d like to set things up as a legitimate escort service for gay men. It’s going to take a lot of work, and some major renovations because this place looks like Buckingham Palace on steroids.” A few of the guys chuckled at that.
“What’s your cut?” Diamond asked, folding his arms over his wide chest. “If we do this, we want to know the percentage that the house takes for every job.”
“Of course,” Opal, damn it, Shin quickly replied. “Right now, we’re looking at taking twenty percent for administrative purposes. The rest would go to you. We’re working on a rate scale now that’s going to hopefully bring in a high class of customer.”
“So… where do we go to fuck them?” Onyx enquired in that sultry Southern drawl, waving a dark hand at the suites on the second floor of this old, tacky, gilded warehouse. “Are we still going to have our old suites, or are they getting redone? I hate mine!”
“Yeah, let’s get that out in the open right off. There is to be no fucking for cash on the premises. If you decide to engage in any kind of carnal activities, that is totally off the time clock,” Butch chimed in.
“Guys,” Shin shouted to be heard over the low hum of bewildered men. “What we’re trying to do is give you opportunity to not have to sleep with every man who lays down cash. We’ll be our own bosses. We’ll choose who we go out with, and what, if anything, we do with them will be consensual and not because we signed on some dotted line. You all get that, right?”
I did, and I really liked it. So, I pushed to my feet. “Opal – fuck, sorry! – Shin’s right. I’d be thrilled to be able to pick and choose my bidders. Clients, customers, whatever. I can literally think of a dozen men I’d never let near me again.” Several of the gems threw out names of men they loathed, but had to sleep with in order to make a buck and keep Kennedy calm. “Let’s just work with Shin and Marky Mark there and see what happens. When can we start going out? I need cash right now.”
“Oh, uhm, well…” Shin looked over at Butch. He rubbed at the bridge of his crooked nose, and then settled his hazel eyes to the crowd.
“Give us a day or two to get an office set up. We’re talking of gutting the suites to open it up for a spa sort of deal. That’s Ian’s idea, what the fuck do I know about hot rocks and mud facials? I grew up three blocks south of here. The only mud facial I ever got was from my older sister.” Everyone smiled stiffly. “Point is, we got plans. Like health insurance, real paychecks, a fucking spa and fruit juice bar. Christ, a fruit juice bar. In a gay escort office,” he said while rolling his eyes. “Whatever. The thing is we need time to get things up and running. For now, Shin has the names and numbers of the men who were your bidders. His job today is to contact them and tell them that Gems has changed hands. He’ll be explaining our new platform to them to see if they’re interested in our new service package.”
“Sounds like you’re trying to get them to switch cell phone service carriers,” Diamond joked. Butch actually smiled a little. “Why don’t we call them? They’re our customers. Let Shin work on getting some sort of new bookkeeping and scheduling system into place. Like Garnet said, we all need money now, today, so the sooner the bidders are lured into this new ‘service package’, as you put it, the better.”
All the gems nodded in agreement. Shin and Butch exchanged looks.
“Okay, sure. Uhm, give me a little bit to find Kennedy’s client list among all the papers that he scattered. Then you can reach out to your bidders.”
“So, we’re not fucking anyone anymore? Or are we fucking them but just not here?” Peridot asked from his seat on the stairs.
“If you want to engage in sexual activities off the clock, we can’t stop you. But during your time working for Gems Escorts LLC, you are not to suck dick for a quick twenty. Or fifty. No money for sex is to take place during the scheduled client time you’ve been set up for. Are we all clear?” Butch asked slowly, then rolled his thick neck to crack it. “We’re trying to go legit here. Now that Parks is gone, so is that ‘one hand washing the other hand’ thing with the city. It’s a class A misdemeanor in Illinois to exchange a sexual act for anything of value. I’m sure that once we reopen those doors, the vice squad is going to be a weekly visitor to our fine establishment.”
“From now on, you don’t have to be a sex worker if you don’t want to be,” Shin said to a silent room. It was going to take us all some time to really grasp that we had the freedom to say yes or no. It was kind of heady, to be honest, and not anything that I’d experienced since I was wandering the streets of Toronto at fourteen, hungry and cold. “We’re giving the power to you with no shame for any choices you make.”
I walked over to Shin and wrapped my arms around him. He was several inches shorter than I was, so his head nestled under my chin nicely.
“Thank you for this,” I whispered. The rest of the Gems soon gathered around, hugging Shin and each other. It was one of the nicest moments I’d ever had on the bidding floor. I wiggled free from the mob of young men. “Any chance I can take my stupid settee there and toss it in the fucking dumpster out back?”
Shin wiped at his eyes, grinned, and ran over to pick up the end of low chaise he’d reclined on. One by one, we all dragged out the items we’d been displayed on out the front door and around the back, taking great joy in legs snapping off or arms coming loose. If there’d not been a chance of catching our home on fire, we would have lit up those fucking chaise lounges. As it was, we all merely pissed on them, then went inside to start our new lives.
By days end, I’d called forty men. Thirty were horrified that I even knew their names and numbers. Kennedy had info on all kinds of upper society men hidden away in his office, I explained to them. Those thirty swore they’d never see me again, which was okay. The ten that were open for escort services were some of the nicer, more respectful bidders that I had. I set up a “date” for that night.
We’d meet for two hours. I’d get paid a base rate of two hundred dollars an hour. The first hour would be a real “date” – dinner and conversation at a certain gay club a few blocks over – that would be on the clock. The second hour was off the clock and under the table. If we needed more than an hour of play time, I’d get time and a half. I was pretty proud of my ingenuity. Butch and Shin would be so pleased with my professionalism and my best bidders, or clients now, would be happy that they still got their rocks off. Win/win. What Butch didn’t know and all that…
Since this was all new to us, I had no other clients lined up after him, so if he was really getting into our cowboy role play, I’d stay later. He was so excited to be able to see me outside of Gems. He asked if I’d accompany him to a charity fundraiser to benefit the Colchester Colts Winter Festival for Inner City Youth at the end of the week. He’d broken up with his current boyfriend and didn’t want to go stag. The job would be three hours or so on a Friday night. I agreed quickly, hung up, and gathered up my Stetson, my lariat, and my spurs. I’d worry over where to get a tux later. Right now it was time to rope and tie up a horny, rich doggie.
To be continued…