Hundred Dollar Baby
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Date of Birth:September 17, 1932
Date of Death:January 18, 2010
Place of Birth:Springfield, Massachusetts
Place of Death:Cambridge, Massachusetts
Education:B.A. in English, Colby College, 1954; M.A., Ph. D. in English, Boston University, 1957, 1971
Read an Excerpt
The woman who came into my office on a bright January day was a knockout. Her hair had blond highlights and her fawn-colored suit appeared to have been hand-sewn by Michael Kors. She took off some sort of fur-lined cape and tossed it over the arm of my couch, and came over and sat down in one of my client chairs. She smiled at me. I smiled at her. She waited. The light coming in my window was especially bright this morning, enhanced by the light snowfall that had collected overnight. She didn’t seem dangerous. I remained calm.
“You don’t know who I am,” she said after a while. “Do you.”
Her voice sounded as if it had been polished by old money. It was her eyes. Someone I knew was in there behind those eyes.
“Not yet,” I said.
“‘Not yet,’” she said. “That’s so you. ‘I don’t know now, but I will.’”
“My glass is always half full,” I said. “Are you going to tell me or do I have to frisk you.”
“God, it’s good to see you,” she said. “It’s April.”
I stared at her. And then there she was.
“April Kyle,” I said, and stood up.
She stood up, too. I walked around the desk and she almost jumped against me. I put my arms around her. She was beautiful, but the incest taboo had kicked in the moment I knew who she was. It was like hugging a little girl. All the cool elegance was gone. She stayed against me with her arms around me and pressed her face against my chest.
“It’s like coming home,” she said.
“When you have to go there, they have to take you in,” I said.
“Very good,” I said.
“You taught me that,” she said.
I nodded. She kept her face pressed against my chest. It made her voice muffle a little.
“You taught me almost everything I know that matters,” she said.
“That’s not so hard,” I said. “Because not many things matter.”
“But the ones that do,” she said, “matter a lot.”
She let me go and stood back and looked at me for a moment, then sat back down. I went back to my desk chair and tilted back in it.
“Are you still with Susan?” she said.
She nodded. “And you’re still doing what you do.”
“And charmingly,” I said.
“You look the same,” she said.
“Is that good or bad?” I said.
“It’s absolutely marvelous,” she said. “It’s been so long. I was terrified you wouldn’t be here. But here you are. Looking the same. Full of irony and strength.”
“You’ve become quite beautiful,” I said.
“And graceful,” I said.
“Is it real?” I said.
“Mostly,” she said.
I was quiet. I could smell her perfume. It smelled expensive. She was expensive. Everything about her: clothes, manner, makeup, the way she crossed her legs. The way she spoke.
“I’m still a whore,” she said.
“And a very successful one,” I said.
“Actually, I don’t do so much of the, ah, hands-on anymore,” she said and smiled at me. “I’m management now.”
“It’s what makes America great,” I said.
“You don’t disapprove,” she said.
“I’m the guy sent you to Mrs. Utley,” I said.
“You had no choice,” April said. “I was a complete mess. You had to find someone to take care of me.”
“How about you,” I said. “Do you disapprove?”
“Disapprove?” April said. “I’ve been in this business since I was fifteen.”
“Doesn’t mean you approve,” I said.
“And you sending me to the best madam in New York doesn’t mean you approve,” April said.
“I had to think about it a little because of you,” I said. “And if it’s among consenting adults and no one is demeaned—seems okay to me.”
“Have you ever had sex with a whore?” April said.
“Not lately,” I said.
“So maybe you do disapprove.”
“Or maybe I’m such a chick magnet,” I said, “that I never had time.”
April smiled and looked for a moment at the bright morning hovering over Berkeley Street.
“Do you disapprove of me?” she said.
“No,” I said. “I don’t.”
“I guess that’s probably what I really was asking.”
“Probably,” I said.
“I’ve been back in Boston for more than a year,” April said.
“I never called you.”
I nodded again.
“I guess I was afraid you wouldn’t still be you, and, maybe, I guess, I was afraid you wouldn’t like it that I was still in the whore business.”
“I think the current correct phrase,” I said, “is sex worker.”
April shook her head a little.
“You used to say that a thing is what it is and not something else.”
“I did,” I said.
We were quiet again. She wanted me to help her out of whatever trouble she was in, but she didn’t want to admit she was in trouble. Half the people who came into my office were that way.
“Two years ago,” April said, “she gave me some money and sent me up here.”
“Patricia Utley,” I said.
“Yes. You know her operation in New York?”
“She wanted me to open a branch up here,” April said.
“And I did. I bought a mansion in the Back Bay and hired the girls, and paid off the proper people, and…the whole thing.”
“Big job,” I said.
“Big payoff,” she said. “The business is very successful. I’m making a lot of money for her, and a lot of money for me.”
“Good,” I said.
“It’s an all-woman enterprise,” April said. “Mrs. Utley, me, the girls, even the more-or-less non-sex staff, bartenders, food preparation, everyone is female. The only men anywhere are the clients, and for them it’s like a private club.”
I nodded. She stopped talking and looked though the window again. I waited.
“And now some men are trying to take it away from us,” she said.
Hawk parked his Jaguar in a resident-only space in front of April’s mansion. The sun was bright but without warmth. The weather was very cold, and it had kept the light snow cover from melting, so that the mall along Commonwealth Ave was still clean and white, and what snow there was underfoot was crisp and dry like sand.
We sat for a moment with the motor running and the heater on, and looked at the house. It was a beauty, a town house on a corner, four stories high with a big semicircular glass-roofed atrium on the cross-street side.
“April doesn’t know who it is that’s trying to shake her down,” I said. “It was an anonymous phone call. But when she told him no, a couple guys showed up the next day and disrupted, ah, the orderly flow of enterprise.”
“And they kept showing up?”
“It’s an all-woman enterprise,” I said. “And it’s tricky. They are, after all, an illegal enterprise. It’s hard to call the cops.”
“Ain’t there bribe money spread around?” Hawk said.
“Yes. But it’s effective only when there’s not a lot of attention drawn.”
Hawk nodded, looking at the house.
“Girl’s got nice taste,” Hawk said.
“Like you would know,” I said.
“Who more tasteful than me?” Hawk said.
“I told her we’d come around and discourage the interlopers,” I said. “Maybe see who they represent.”
Hawk nodded slowly, still looking at the house.
“Bouncer at a whorehouse,” Hawk said. “The capstone of my career. We getting paid?”
“We haven’t established that yet.”
“Free samples?” Hawk said.
“You’ll have to negotiate that with the samplees,” I said.
Hawk shut off the engine and we got out. I had on a sheepskin jacket. Hawk was wearing a black fur coat. It was maybe eight degrees, but not much wind and it didn’t feel too bad in the short walk to the front door.
There was a front desk in the high foyer. A good-looking young woman in a tailored suit was at the desk. A discreet sign on the desk said Concierge. She looked a little nervous when we came in. There were doors off the foyer in all directions, and an elegant staircase that curved up toward the second floor.
“My name is Spenser,” I said. “For April Kyle.”
The concierge looked relieved. She picked up the phone and spoke, and almost at once a door opened behind her and April appeared, looking just as elegant as she had in my office.
“Thank God you’re here,” she said. “They’re coming.”
We were in the office. It was spartan. There was a big modern work desk against the back wall. Desks where two women sat working at computers. A bank of file cabinets stood along one wall. There was a bank of television monitors high on the wall above the door.
“For future reference,” April said to the office workers, “these are the good guys.”
The two women looked at us silently. April didn’t introduce us. She was all business, as if stepping into her work space had made her someone else. Hawk and I took off our coats and hung them on a hat rack near the door.
“The monitors are for security cameras,” she said. “The one in the center is on the front door.”
“Who’s coming,” I said.
“The man called,” April said.
Her voice was flat and didn’t sound emotional, except that she spoke very swiftly.
“He said they were tired of waiting. He said they were coming.”
“To remonstrate with you?” I said.
“Yes,” April said. “He told me this time it would be worse.”
“Probably not,” I said.
“I won’t give in,” April said. “I won’t. He can’t have this.”
“What they do last time?” Hawk said.
“They pushed past Doris on the desk, and went through the house interrupting the girls and their guests, chasing the guests out.”
“Very bad for business,” Hawk said.
“Yes,” April said. “Those guests are unlikely to return.”
“You have a gun?” I said.
“Yes. But I don’t want to use it. I don’t want either of you to use one. That would be the end of it if someone got shot here.”
“It would,” I said.
“This is a good business,” April said. “A good woman’s business. I’m not going to give it up because some man wants part of it.”
Hawk was watching the monitor.
“Hidey ho,” he said.
April looked up.
“Yes,” she said. “That’s them.”
“You ladies go somewhere,” I said to the office workers.
They looked at April. April nodded. The two women got up and went out a door behind April’s desk.
“How about you, my feminist beauty?” I said.
She smiled. She didn’t seem frightened.
“I’ll stay,” April said.
“Don’t blame you,” Hawk said. “Be fun to watch.”