1st Place – December 2019

My Wednesday Client

By Gary Christenson

A masculine “Noooooooo” echoed off Chicago high rises and made me look upward. Petrified, I watched the last few seconds of his dive to the street.
Thuummp! His body slammed into the concrete sidewalk ten feet from where I stood. Blood pooled around his head. One leg lay at an unnatural angle. The fall crushed his naked chest.
I recognized him as my much-loved Wednesday client, code name Denzel Redford. He knew me as Susie Seattle. The green beret tattoo on his left arm and four diamonds on his right arm were unmistakable.
***
Three years earlier I began my lucrative career as an escort for Chicago’s premier agency. I enjoyed pleasing men, and my job provided time to shop, read and study French, Spanish and Russian. The lady in charge, Miss Stephanie, explained the business.
“We run an exclusive agency with many important clients. Both parties must stay anonymous. We use code names only. Tips are yours, but we split the escort fee. You’re hired to meet the needs of gentlemen. Our one strike policy applies. Screw up once and I’ll replace you in a Chicago minute. If a man mistreats you, we deactivate his code and refuse to serve him.”
“I understand.”
Men called the agency and requested an escort. When I reached the top of her daily list Miss Stephanie dispatched me to see Denzel Redford.
We met at the Radmore Hotel on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago. He rented the room, texted me, and I knocked on his door minutes later. He liked what he saw. I’m adorable, well dressed and shapely. “Hi, I’m Susie Seattle. You requested an escort for the afternoon?”
His charming smile intrigued me as he examined my body from shoes to hairdo. “Please come in. I took the liberty of ordering Champagne. Would you like a glass?”
My smile sparkled brighter than a three-caret diamond. “Of course, Champagne is great. Oh, Dom Perignon! You do like Champagne.”
“I love your perfume. A toast to you, a beautiful young woman.”
We drank and chatted. Redford was nearly as handsome and likeable as his namesakes. We talked and laughed and grew comfortable with each other. An hour later he handed me the $1,000 cash escort fee and described what he wanted. I suggested an appropriate tip.
During the next year I saw him every two weeks, always on Wednesdays. He showered me with gifts of jewelry and lingerie. After sex we indulged in pillow talk. “I’m in a business, don’t ask what, that produces tons of cash. I spend it on fine wine, expensive Italian suits, discrete hotels and you.” He kissed me and we engaged in our second afternoon delight, sensitive and slow.
I meant it when I told him, “You’re a considerate lover. Wednesdays with you are my favorite.” Once I asked, “I see you’re a former green beret. What do the four diamonds on your other arm mean?”
He evaded my question. “It’s personal, nothing important. More wine?”
***
One Wednesday his lovemaking seemed frantic. After I relaxed him and he drank too much Cabernet, I asked, “Do you want to talk about what’s worrying you?”
“You don’t know my real name or what I do. That protects us. I don’t know your real name or where you live. That protects you. Several of my business partners are dangerous. I don’t know how long I’ll remain safe.”
He looked sad. “A friend of mine fell from the roof of a tall building. They called it suicide, but I suspect otherwise. These things happen. That’s why I savor the pleasures that food, wine, healthy bodies and loads of cash provide.” His forced smile worried me.
I said, “That makes our time together more precious. May I distract you?”
“Just nap with me, your head on my chest. Okay?”
***
Months later I received the call for another Wednesday liaison at our favorite hotel. I took a taxi to a nearby department store and walked the final two blocks enjoying glorious May sunshine in Chicago.
His shirtless body crashed into the concrete. I recognized him, screamed in anguish, and disappeared into the crowd of lookie-loos.
Frantic, I called the agency. “Miss Stephanie, Denzel Redford fell to his death outside the Radmore. What do I do?” I couldn’t stop gasping for breath.
She told me, “Stay calm and go home. Do not leave your apartment for at least five days. Have the doorman deliver food, newspapers, and packages. Let no one inside. If whoever did this leaves you alone for five days, you’re good. Now repeat what I said.” Her calm voice reassured me. Later I realized why she knew what to do and that scared me.
Friday afternoon the doorman rang my house phone. “Detective Houseman is here to see you.”
My hands shook. “Send him up.”
The knock on my door petrified me. My glance though the peephole revealed a Chicago Police badge, one eye, a nose and mustache hairs. I unlocked the door.
“Miss Phillips, may I come in? I’m Detective Houseman and I’d like to ask you a few questions about the death of Ronald Denozza.” English was not his first language.
“Coffee or water?” I waved him in, trying to conceal the quiver in my voice.
“No, thanks.” He was polite, but his eyes were dark.
“Please sit. What can I do for you?”
He stroked his mustache. “I understand you work for Miss Stephanie at the agency. Our sources tell us Ronald Denozza, who you knew as Denzel Redford, was a client.”
His eyes betrayed nothing. I sat still and maintained a tense smile. “I knew Denzel Redford. I’ve never heard of Ronald Denozza.”
“He died on Wednesday. We’re treating it as a suicide. What can you tell me about him?”
“He never mentioned his real name or business connections. We had a professional relationship.” I sipped coffee to calm myself.
“We believe he divulged confidential information to you during one of your Wednesday sessions. Did he?” His dark eyes grew larger while his voice hardened.
“He told me his favorite Champagne was Dom Perignon and his preferred wines came from the Alexander Valley. He liked Italian suits, but he never discussed business, politics, or people. How did you obtain your information?”
“Sorry. Police business. Did he talk about financial products, derivatives, or banking practices during your afternoon liaisons?” His voice assumed an accusatory tone.
I stared at him and worried. He didn’t move a muscle. “You aren’t a cop, are you?” He watched and waited.
I crossed my arms, feeling threatened. “All I know about banking practices is that I put money into a checking account and pay credit cards. A derivative is something I calculated in college math. Savings accounts are financial products. I think you should leave.”
His face tensed as he shook his head and frowned. He removed a semi-automatic handgun from his coat and screwed on a silencer.
Terrified, I leaned back into the sofa. I couldn’t scream, my throat locked up, and I wrung my hands together, waiting for the bullet.
“I’ll ask again. Did Mr. Denozza mention banking or derivatives to you?” He pointed the gun at my head. The tiny exit hole enlarged because I saw nothing else. I choked out, “No. Never. We talked wine, what he liked in bed, and clothes. We didn’t go anywhere together and met only in the hotel where he died. He never knew my name or where I lived, and I knew him only as Denzel Redford.” I almost fainted.
The pretend Detective watched me crumble. He clicked off the safety and aimed the handgun at my heart.
My stomach cramped and I couldn’t breathe. I squeaked out, “I’m telling the truth.”
A full minute later he said, “I believe you, which saved your life. If I discover you lied, you’ll die slowly. Understand?”
I shook my head, unable to speak.
“Paris is stunning this time of year. Book a flight tomorrow and don’t return for two months. If you delay, I might change my mind and kill you.”
He walked to the door and left. After the door closed, I jumped from the couch to lock the dead bolt. Then I collapsed onto the floor and sobbed.
***
Paris was beautiful in the spring. I enjoyed it, but too many nightmares interrupted my escape from Chicago killers. I woke up screaming and knew I had to change my profession, city, and name.
A year later I used my man pleasing skills in D.C. hotels and bedrooms lobbying congressmen for favorable legislation. I felt safe and protected. My terrifying encounter with Houseman faded into the past.
I lived in Virginia and loved it. I missed Redford but I appreciated both Redford and Houseman for teaching me to cherish every day in our short lives.

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