By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Her business card reads "Cole Taylor," a name chosen for its sexual ambiguity.
Underneath, it says "Photographer," or, sometimes, "Internet Design Consultant," and then a phone number. The number listed is disconnected. You must reverse the last two digits when dialing, the escort says, to reach her cell phone.
Potential clients put the card in their wallets, grateful. The disinformation provides protection from snooping spouses.
At the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort, Taylor sips Grand Marnier, waiting to be approached. The business cards in her purse tonight are borrowed from a friend, with Taylor's number written on the back in pen.
Taylor quit printing her own cards weeks ago as a gesture of quitter's faith. She has promoted her services so successfully on the Internet that she's become something of an online celebrity. She's been interviewed by Online Tonight, ZDTV and Wired News ("Net Escorts Nail Their Niche," smirked the Wired headline).
Taylor thinks her newfound fame is a chance to escape the escort business and become an Internet star. Her first step is performing in online video porn shows at a new, Phoenix-based Internet studio owned by a fellow escort. Eventually she wants to become the "Martha Stewart of the sex industry" -- doing online product demonstrations, book reviews and lending sex advice.
A 28-year-old divorcée and mother of two who's engaged to be married again, Taylor swears tonight's lounge foray will be one of her last attempts at "direct marketing" -- an escort euphemism for going to a bar and waiting to be hit on.
Waiting, like now.
The Hyatt's wealthy alpha males keep an eye on Taylor, but haven't approached. They circulate through the cocktail lounge and expansive patio. They wander past the delicate fingers of resort landscaping. They glance up at the palm trees, then down at the potted flowers . . . and their eyes return to Taylor, a Barbie doll come to life in a shiny red dress.
You can almost hear them thinking: She's alone, looking like that -- and no ring. There must be a catch.
And the catch is this: A minute or two into their flirty conversation, Taylor will trump a man's prepared pickup lines and career brags by saying: "I'm actually here doing a little PR for myself. I'm an escort, would you like my card?"
The reactions, Taylor says, vary greatly.
Many are intrigued, some are bemused and others are insulted. "Why would I need to pay for something like that?" is a common indignant response.
If the man is willing, however, a deal is negotiated right at the bar. Starting price is $300 per hour. "The assholes in Scottsdale bars will always try to impress you by pointing out how much money they make," Taylor says. "They don't realize my price just went up."
Though Taylor has only been an escort for a little more than a year, she knows all the best local venues for direct marketing. Bars such as the Famous Door and the Cajun House. Resorts like the Hyatt Regency. And just about any lounge at a golf course. The most important requirement is that the hot spot is within the City of Scottsdale -- where escorting is a seller's market and, escort-service insiders add, police stings are nearly nonexistent.
"All the best clients are here in Scottsdale," she says. "There isn't a need to go anywhere else because there's so much business here."
It's a resort community, after all. And resort living means never having to dine, or sleep, alone.
In 1996, Scottsdale was ranked the 103rd most populous city in the country. A year later, it was ranked 29th in volume of escort phone book listings, according to a Scripps-Howard News Service survey (Phoenix was seventh in population, fourth in escort listings). One Scottsdale limo service manager, Jerry Goraj of Starlite Limousines, estimates that 20 percent of his clients express interest in hiring an escort, though many back out when they discover the cost. Those who go through with the transaction are sometimes robbed and beaten in an unscrupulous form of escorting called "cash 'n' dash." (See accompanying story)
The men at the Gainey Ranch Hyatt sneak glances at Taylor and probably do not imagine her as a potential threat, only potentially threatening to their self-esteem. When one finally works up the nerve to approach, everybody watches.
Taylor looks up at him, shakes his hand and laughs at his jokes. Not devouring him alive, after all.
With the ice successfully broken, the whole room seems to shift. One by one, men wade over to Taylor, attempting to appear casual, but lining up as obvious as incoming air traffic at Sky Harbor.
Taylor smiles broadly, opens her purse, and gets out her borrowed business cards.
Essence's owner and operator is John Lemonis, who looks the part. He's got the shirt unbuttoned a bit too far. He's got the gold chain around his neck. He's got the blown-dry hair styled straight back.
"Prostitution goes back to Adam and Eve," Lemonis says between puffs on a Benson & Hedges. "You know Moses didn't go up to the mountain alone, he probably had a couple 12-year-old slave girls with him. And our friend Jesus -- if there was a Jesus, and I hope there was -- his best friend was Mary Magdalene. And according to the Bible, she was -- a what? A prostitute."