Today's Reading

RICK
I'm not the only one here on business, right?

ME
You got me, Rick.

RICK
If you don't mind me saying, Claire, you don't seem the type.

Time to confess.

ME
That's because...I'm not.

RICK
So what type are you?

ME
The type who comes here to take acting classes and gets behind on her tuition fees. Every couple of months I go out, have some fun...and the problem goes away.

On the other side of the lobby, a family is checking in. A little girl, about six years old, all dressed up in a coat, knit hat, and
scarf for her trip to the city, wants to see what's going on behind the desk. Her father lifts her up, placing her feet on her elephant-trunk suitcase, and she sprawls across the counter, excited, as the manager issues the key cards, handing one to her with a smile. Her dad keeps one hand protectively on the small of her back, making sure she doesn't slip off. I feel a familiar tug of envy and pain.

I push it from my mind and get back into the conversation with Rick, who's leaning forward, his voice lowered, eyes bright—

RICK
And how much fun are you looking to have tonight, Claire?

ME
I guess that's open to negotiation.

He smiles. He's a lawyer. Negotiations are part of the game.

RICK
Shall we say three hundred?

ME
Is that what they charge in Seattle?

RICK
For that you get quite a lot in Seattle, believe me.

ME
What's the most you've ever paid for a woman, Rick?

RICK
Five hundred. But that was—

ME
(interrupting)
Double it.

RICK
(stunned)
Are you serious?

ME
No, I'm not. I'm an ordinary girl out to have fun—and that's why I'm worth a thousand dollars. But if you've changed your mind...

I reach for the bag, deliberately casual, hoping he won't see how much my hand is shaking.

RICK
No, wait. A thousand's...fine.

ME
What's your room number?

RICK
Eight fourteen.

ME
I'll knock on the door in five minutes. Don't make eye contact with the concierge.

He stands up.

RICK
(admiringly)
That trick with the table was pretty neat. Picking me up right under the noses of the bar staff.

ME
You get to learn these things. When you're having fun.

When he reaches the elevator, Rick looks back. I give him a nod and a tiny, secret smile.

Which dies as soon as the doors close, obscuring his view of me. I pick up my bag and walk to the street exit.

Fade out.


Outside, it's finally stopped snowing, the fire hydrants along the sidewalk all wearing white toupees of snow. A short way down the street a black town car is waiting, its lights off, its engine running. I pull open the rear door and get in.

She's about forty-five, Rick's wife, with the kind of jaded but expensive looks that suggest she was probably part of the music
scene herself once, before she started hosting Rick's business dinners and bearing his children. She's sitting next to Henry on the
backseat, shivering despite the warm air gushing from the heaters.

"Everything okay?" Henry asks quietly.

"Fine," I say, pulling the little video camera out of my bag. I've dropped the Virginia accent now. In my ordinary, British voice, I
tell the wife, "Look, I'm going to say what I always say in these situations, which is that you really don't have to watch this. You
could just go home and try to work things out."

And she says, as they always say, "I want to know."

I hand her the camera. "The bottom line is, he uses prostitutes regularly. Not just when he's away, either. He talked about paying up to five hundred dollars back in Seattle. And he just offered me a thousand."

The wife's eyes fill with tears. "Oh God. Oh God."

"I'm really sorry," I say awkwardly. "He's waiting for me in room eight fourteen if you want to go and talk to him."

Her eyes might be full of tears, but they also blaze with anger. Remember that. "Oh, sure, I'll talk to a lawyer. But it'll be a
divorce lawyer. Not him."

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.
...

What our readers think...