Phone rings. Benjamin picks up the brown receiver and says into it what he's paid to say into it, which is about a dozen syllables longer of a speech than he uses to answer his own phone.
“Do you all have the 3-D glasses?” says the guy on the other end, unceremoniously.
Now Benjamin doesn't work at a cinema or movie rental or novelty shop or any other establishment where having 3-D glasses in stock or on offer would make sense.
“No,” says Benjamin.
And when the guy then just hangs up, he thinks – I really should write down some of the crazy shit that comes down the pike around here.
Later that night -- the next morning actually, about two hours before dawn -- a pretty brunette, normal-looking, young, in her twenties, pops up at the counter. Benjamin's in the back, the little office, his laptop on the desk there, as is his custom in the dead hours, so he jumps up and goes out front.
“Good morning,” says Benjamin, with his eyebrows up and a little singsong on the 'mor' which points out the unusual time of day for a visit to the lobby.
“I just want you to know,” says the brunette, seeming a little out of breath, “that you have a man in 213 who's soliciting sex.” And she stands there, tugging on the left drawstring of the hooded sweatshirt under her denim jacket.
“Thank you,” says Benjamin.
The woman shuffles her feet, moving her hips around and shifting her weight, like a boxer but slower. She tilts her head. On her forehead is a makeup-covered swelling – a broad, shallow mound, like an oversize mosquito bite. Her off hand strays there for a moment, then lands on Benjamin's counter. She's going to level with him. Whether he likes it or not.
“Look, I work for an escort service.”
What strikes Benjamin is that she's not dressed up at all.
“But we don't do sex.”
She looks like she just threw some comfy clothes on to run out for some smokes.
“We go to dinner. We're like... little trophy women.”
She pauses. Probably to wonder whether she's used the term correctly. From imagining her in a gas station buying menthol 100's Benjamin jumps to the momentary image of a miniature woman, bronze and silent, sitting across a white-clothed, candlelit table from an overweight, bald, forty-something man in a bad suit.
“Sometimes,” she presses on, “the guy will want like a backrub or something after, and that's alright, but not sex. This guy has been seriously soliciting sex. I just thought you should know.”
Dinner and a backrub?
“Yikes,” says Benjamin. Yikes is an expression he uses fairly often. Not with an exclamation point, generally. Yikes! Gadzooks! No. Just yikes. Yikes. He doesn't hear a lot of other people saying it, but some must. He has to have gotten it from somewhere.
“Yeah,” she says. “And I drove all the way down here, drove him to the bank and everything.”
“Hmm” goes Benjamin. It's sort of a grumpy Hmm. He doesn't approve of this sentence. Of sentences of this type. Over the years of dealing with people, he's come to expect and recognize this kind of sentence, as a fish does not learn to expect and recognize a barbed hook. Rather than let it make him wonder and ask 'drove down from where' and 'drove what' and 'which bank' and 'why' or 'how much', he pulls his mind to a deliberate halt. That's what the Hmm means: halt. Refusal to take bait.
She reacts to his tone of disapproval.
“My job...” she says, pleading her case, “It's a pretty bad job. But it pays okay... I took this guy to the bank. Now he's up here just soliciting sex. I called my boss, and she's probably going to call the cops. It's the Dancing Tiger Escort Service. The cops will probably be here.”
“Okay,” says Benjamin. What's okay he doesn't know. We just say okay, don't we, sometimes. A lot of what we say makes no real sense. Just taking turns making sounds. He's feeling misunderstood now. Wants her to know that the disapproval in the Hmm wasn't him judging her job or her as a person. He just doesn't like the type of Swiss Cheese sentence that begs a lot of questions. But he can't explain all that to her.
“That's pretty rough,” he sympathizes. Minimally.
“Yeah it is. I can't believe I drove all the way down here. I needed this money to buy my kid a birthday present.”
Oh, now. He's looking at this woman, and the expression 'soliciting sex' is reechoing in his mind. The cops are coming. Soliciting Sex. Dancing Tiger. She must have come the hour's drive down the highway from the city. The state capitol. The man in 213. The ride to the bank. The words he may have said to her. Soliciting sex. Her hand on the hoodie string. Her eyes and mouth and hair. Trying not to objectify her unduly or imagine what 213 said or did. Now she's got a kid. Poor... escort.