Early Life Crisis
Having been out of work for over a year, Mark signed up to an escorting agency. Nothing funny. Nothing naked. Just talk.
If he could keep two lonely old dears company a week that would be enough to get by. He filled in his details and had to go for an induction interview but on the website it never said where this would be.
A day before the interview was meant to take place Mark was going to ring up and drop out. He kept thinking about the reactions towards his newfound profession:
“You sleep with old women for money?” was the accusation stuck in his mind.
He imagined Jen his ex-girlfriend, and the disgusted look and shake of the head combination, she had perfected over the course of their relationship.
He knew sleeping with old women wouldn't be part of the job description because he would be an escort, not a prostitute. “I am not a prostitute”, Mark repeated pacing his flat with the phone in his hand.
Before he could make the call a text came through from the agency:
Meet at the Clifton hotel. 6PM. Dress smart, darling x
Mark was hit with a sudden rush of adrenaline. He was ten years old again, pretending to be James Bond in the back garden.
In the early 90’s The Clifton was the ultimate hotspot. Footballers and Channel 4 TV presenters would meet there, take drugs and commit adultery away from prying eyes. In the last quarter of a century the infamous hotel had severely lost its mojo. Ultra modern competition had sprung up around the City and its chic Victorian decor was in dire need of renovation. Mark was excited the interview was taking place at the Clifton, not only because of all the crazy stories he’d heard (Jamie Theakston once forced a midget into a dumbwaiter) but because it was where his parents had first met.
Mark wore his smartest black brogues and an overly large brown blazer that at a glance made him look like a double amputee. With his back painfully straight and his chin at a peculiar, obtuse angle Mark strode through the hotel lobby hoping to make an impression. “Smith, Mark Smith” he had practiced several times in the mirror before leaving. Over the years because of these sort of social occasions Mark had become freakishly adept at making his voice lower than it naturally was. To Mark’s inner ear this was sexy, brooding, X-rated but to the outside world it was a near perfect impression of Christian Bale’s Batman.
When Mark arrived in the grand suite he was surprised to find it empty and fell back into his default apish posture. He circled the room in awe and took a seat on one of the huge leather couches facing each other in the centre of the room. He sat in silence picking fluff off his pants and glancing at the doorway for other prospective escorts.
“Fine evening isn’t it?” a female voice called out.
Mark flinched and scanned the room seeing no one. At a loss he even locked eyes with an oil painting of Winston Churchill on the back wall, squinting as if expecting the lips to move.
“I’m by the window” the voice explained, irritated.
Mark had to look hard but now could make out a female silhouette from behind the floor to ceiling curtains.
“Hello?” he announced uncertainly.
The lady appeared from behind the curtain. Mark stood up and offered his hand like an eager politician but the lady didn’t even bother to wave it away. She sat on the opposing couch and there was a lengthy silence, long enough for the lady to weigh up Mark’s soul. He felt like this was a test and it was up to him to fill the void.
“This couch is probably worth more than my car”, he said, wincing as soon as it left his mouth.
“I would imagine so” the lady said eyeing Mark’s sleeves.
“Why don’t you tell me something about yourself, Marcus?”
“It’s just Mark, actually”
Mark was proud he corrected the lady but the nod and polite smile she gave him implied he was wrong about his own name.
“Well I…” Come on Mark, be confident, she doesn’t know you, you could be anyone, you could be a fucking architect.
“… like buildings”
The lady pulled a face.
“I mean, I like building new relationships…”
A more confused face.
“I love meeting new people” Mark salvaged.
“Yes, very much so” he lied.
“Marcus, I should have said at the beginning. This isn’t a typical interview. There’s no need for nerves”.
Mark wasn’t actually that nervous but now someone presumed he was, his heart increased by twenty beats. He tried to picture his birth certificate. Did it say Marcus?
“Cup of tea?” the lady asked, gesturing behind Mark’s right shoulder. He turned and saw a man approaching with a silver three-tier trolley. The man placed a cup and saucer in front of the lady, chose deftly from the array of different teas and poured.
“Thank you, Sebastian”
Sebastian placed a cup in front of Mark and took a step back to his workstation. Smiling and gliding his hand over the teas as if in front of a game show prize, but the smiling was twinned with staring and now Sebastian resembled a maniac that was going to kill Mark with chamomile.
“I recommend the apple crunch” the lady enthused.
Sebastian took a green pouch from the bottom tier, opened it and removed a solitary teabag. He held it like a valuable diamond, dropped it into Mark’s cup and poured quickly.
Sebastian bowed and left.
Although the cup was a considerable distance from Mark’s nose, he could smell burning apple, a sugar glazed rotisserie pink lady, he thought.
“Take a sip, then” the lady insisted.
Mark brought the cup to his nose. The aroma of apple was so pungent the greens in the room became more vivid, juicier - the contrast had been turned up.
The lady grinned.
“Is this? … Is this a drug?”
“Not really” said the lady “Sebastian makes them, as a sort of hobby”
“He made this? He should win awards. There should be a bank holiday in his name”
“You’re getting far too excited over tea, Marcus”
Mark realised he had broken rule number one of the job interview. Formality. Shit was a B-level swear word but a swear word nonetheless and he had got the impression that this had offended the lady.
“So you were saying…” the lady straightened up, business-like “you like making new relationships with new people?” A tad of mockery in her tone.
“Sorry about that” Mark said, mimicking the lady’s straight posture.
“What makes you think you can be one of my escorts, Marcus?”
This was it. The big sell. Mark had practiced this one at home. He’d typed it into the notes section of his iPhone; he’d even recorded himself reading it aloud.
“I believe I’m a good person and a great listener…”
The lady took a small notepad from her jacket and started to write. Mark assumed this was a positive thing so continued.
“… And although I haven’t made this impression tonight, I am quite a skilled conversationalist when I get going…” This was true. Mark was unlike most boys his age; he had more confidence in his ability to talk than his ability in the bedroom. “But I guess most of all, I empathise with lonely people”
Mark was unsure about this as a closer. Bit on the nose. Bit X-Factor moment with Coldplay playing in the background, but it was the truth and he meant it.
The lady ripped the page from her notebook, “Sebastian!”
Sebastian appeared and she passed him the folded note.
“Don’t let me forget this darling”
“I wouldn’t dare Madam… Do you want me to bring the car around?”
After a sharp nod Sebastian scuttled off.
The lady walked back to the window with her mind still on the note, now in Sebastian’s inside blazer pocket. An actress trying to remember lines, Mark thought.
“How would you feel about escorting men?”
“Sorry?” Mark had heard perfectly.
“Men pay more,” the lady said turning and gesturing with an upward palm, for Mark to stand up. “Especially for little lambs like you”
At this point Mark questioned whether or not this lady was a real person. That tonight was a hidden camera show and he’d been well and truly duped. Noel Edmonds and the crew would shortly be making an appearance, patting him on the back, laughing, maybe handing him an abnormally large cheque. He snapped out of it. What was he thinking? This was too raunchy and highbrow for Edmonds.
As Mark stood up there was a rush of blood. He felt he was going to be sick. He lowered his head for a moment to catch his barings and when the brief nausea subsided the lady was standing close to him, too close and she was stroking down the collars of his blazer, even though they were perfectly fine the way they were.