Heart for Hire

Steve met a girl. Her name was Ashley. She would come over to his place, they'd hang out and watch TV, talk, make love, hold hands and cuddle. It seemed like a good thing; a certain bond began to develop between them. Twenty-four-year-old Steve had never experienced anything quite like this in his years of sporadic dating.

When Steve would get home from his job as a night shift floor maintenance man at a 24-hour supermarket, he'd punch in the numbers to Ashley's beeper. She'd get back to him, and sometimes they'd chat on into the dawn. That was really something he looked forward to; working the night shift, it's tough to meet anyone who shares your hours--let alone a girl--but Ashley had an odd schedule, too. Steve and Ashley saw each other about once a week for a year or so; then Steve woke up one night and realized he was in debt to his five credit cards for $6,000, and had drained his savings of $4,000. Totaled up, that's roughly half of what he made in a year.

Dating can be expensive; with Ashley it was very expensive.
That's because she was a prostitute.

Steve's one-bedroom apartment is incredibly neat and clean. On the dining-room table is a basket of pine cones spray-painted gold with a candle sticking from the middle of the pile. There is a stuffed penguin doll sitting atop a stereo speaker. On one living-room wall there are two group shots of the Cardinals cheerleaders. All those perfect smiles are aimed directly at a poster on the opposite wall of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

But who calls prostitutes these days? Rich guys? Losers? Frat boys? Traveling businessmen? Men with Martin Luther King Jr. posters on their living-room walls?

Like the apartment, Steve himself is neat and clean, too. Girls might like that, but he says they don't like a guy who works the night shift, and if it's not that, then it's always something else.

"I'd date girls, I'd take them to a concert or a movie and they'd find out I was a night worker, or there was some reason they didn't want to go out anymore. It was tough to go out with somebody and be rejected by them. Plus, there's AIDS--it's hard to meet girls nowadays."

So he works at night, and he's used to rejection. Steve's also polite, sincere and as open as a 7-Eleven when it comes to talking about himself and Ashley, a relationship that began with a Sunday edition of the Arizona Republic about three years ago.

"I was looking in the paper, and I saw one of those escort service things, and I thought, 'I'll give them a call and see what it's like,'" he says, taking a sip from a glass of Coke that will proceed to go untouched for the next hour and a half.

"I called, and they said we've got this girl, and her name is Ashley. I told them it was my first time, and I'm kind of nervous. Then she called me back, and they try and impress you by letting you know their size and all; they don't want you to hang up. She told me it was $150 an hour, but they won't go into great detail about what you're going to get. I kinda wanted to know; I've heard of where people will pay like $100, and all that is is to come over. You still have to give more money just to do something with her.

"She said, 'I guarantee we'll have a lot of fun.' I thought, 'Well, the worst thing that could happen is I lose $150.'"

Ashley arrived. Steve says she looked a little older than she had claimed to be, but that she was "pretty good-looking." He digs up the only photo of her he has, one he's wanted to get rid of but just hasn't quite been able to. She has her back to the camera and is looking over her shoulder; from beneath a black cowboy hat, she smiles in profile looking very Irish, her arms around the neck of a horse. Can you describe a call girl as "fetching"?

"When she got there, I paid her right away, then she asks me what I want to do. I was like, 'I'm not really sure.' Of course you have ideas what you want to do, but this being my first time doing this, I didn't know what I could do, and what I couldn't do.

"She said, 'Well, why don't you just sit in the chair?' So I sat down, and she took her clothes off. I was able to pretty well touch her, it wasn't a nontouch kind of thing. It just kind of happened. Before I knew it, it got down to where I was going to have sex with her, but of course I didn't have any protection, so I was like 'forget that.'"

If there's one thing that backs this whole thing up as spur-of-the-moment, it has to be a man who would spend $150 for a prostitute and not get any condoms.

"I thought she would have something like that with her. She said, 'Normally I carry them around with me, but I'm out.' It kind of worried me, the idea of that, you know."

Still, the lack of rubbers did not prevent the good times from unrolling.
"It surprised me how long it went on that first day, maybe two hours. She didn't even charge me for that other hour. I turned on my stereo . . . it was just the fact of having a girl sit on your lap and knowing you can touch somebody like that. It was amazing how fast time would go. I had such a good time that first day that I called her the next day; it just leaves you wanting more. That was amazing, how much money I spent. By the second day, there was already $400 gone just like that [Steve was tipping 50 bucks a pop] . . . After a while, it became no big deal. It was kinda like calling up another friend."

Now Steve is gearing up to reveal the really hot parts of this relationship. He's ready to get into what kept him coming back for more, again and again.

"By the second or third time, we started talking. She was getting to know a little bit of me, and I was getting to know who she was. I'd be laying on my stomach, and she'd be laying on my back and we'd just watch TV that way. It was one of those good things where you just had someone laying on you like that."

Good, but not cheap.
"At that time, I started to get money-hungry, I guess you could say. I had a credit card already, but I had to get more credit cards, because the way I was spending money there was no way one was going to keep up. And I was going to ATMs and taking money out left and right. It doesn't enter your mind that you're going to have to pay this money back when you're having that kind of fun with somebody.

"I used to buy her a lot of gifts. We sold these birds in the floral department, and she was in the store one day, not looking for me but just in there buying stuff. She saw those birds. They were pretty expensive, about $30 or $40 for just one bird, and I'd buy all these birds up and give 'em to her. She was all into birds."

If, as you read this, you feel like reaching into the story, grabbing this man by the lapels and saying, "Steve, Steve, Steve--what the hell are you doing???" you are about to meet a man after your own heart.

"There was one guy who I worked with, we're like best friends, and I did mention it to him. He tried to pull me away. He said, 'You've got to pull yourself out of this now, because all she's going to do is yank you into it further and further.'

"I would tell him, 'You don't know what you're talking about. We're good friends.' He would say, 'What about the money you're paying her?' And I was like, 'Well, that's her job.' We'd get in big arguments, but we never lost our friendship.

"At that time, I didn't have a girlfriend, and here was somebody I'm out having fun with, you know? Course, I had to pay for it, but I'm having fun. It was a companionship thing. The sex thing kind of followed that, but it was more just having someone come over in the morning and being able to spend time. It was someone other to talk to than just the people you work with. Not that they're bad people, but you talk to 'em all night long, and you come home, and pretty much all you do is sit there until you go to work again the next night.

"A couple nights, I'd come home in the morning and think, 'What am I doing?' But then the excitement part would just overtake that part of my thinking."

And then the police stepped into the picture.
Steve made one of his rare visits to Ashley's escort headquarters, a "pretty nice apartment" off Camelback Road.

"I was in the room with her, and I heard a door open because there were other girls in other rooms, and I heard someone go, 'Hey!' The first thing that went through my mind was the cops had busted in. You just don't know what to think--I could lose my job, I could go to jail.

"This guy comes in the room, and luckily I was still wearing my clothes. The guy goes, 'Come with me,' and he's asking me to tell him what happened. I just said nothing had happened. I was playing stupid; I didn't want to tell him that I had been with her before.

"He asked me what I expected to get there, and I said, 'I don't know.' He looked at me like, 'You know what you wanted.' I said, 'Well, I'm a guy . . .' He understood where I was coming from. He asked if I'd be willing to go to court, but I thought she might come after me if I got her in trouble. There was never really enough evidence, I guess, and it never went to court.

"I didn't see her for a few weeks after that. I was thinking, 'Man, I don't know if I should keep doing this.'"

But he did.

This thing had started in May. By December, Steve's world involved a great deal more than just sitting at home waiting for the next night shift to begin. And very little of what it involved was any good.

"I'd spent like $5,000, and I couldn't believe I had put myself in that kind of debt. And people at work started wondering. I was coming in late. I got written up.

"It's amazing what some girl will do to you after so much time. I've never told so many lies in my life. Just to keep people from knowing who this was, because I knew if people found out, they'd try and keep me from seeing her, even if they had to grab my credit cards and checkbook away to do it."

Steve says this not with any chauvinistic regret, but with honest befuddlement. The "it's amazing what a girl will do to you" theme pops up repeatedly during his tale, but always with more of a shrug than with gritted teeth--Steve's not pointing any fingers of blame. Of course, it is amazing what a girl will do to you, though it usually doesn't cost $10,000 to find that out.

"My parents would want me to come over for dinner, and I would say I was going out with the guys, when she was coming over. On my 25th birthday, instead of spending it with my parents, I spent it with her. We were pretty good friends by that time. I wasn't paying her any money, but we really didn't have sex anymore. When we became friends, it didn't feel comfortable to do that anymore. The worst thing was, we thought back to what had happened in the last few months, and it almost made you feel horrible inside that we had done all of this, and now we were friends."

Finally, it was Christmas.
"At Christmas, my parents wanted me to go to the late-night church service, and I said no. They wanted to know why, and I really couldn't think of any more lies. So I said there was a girl I'd met at a sports bar one Sunday, and that's how I left it. They were excited to hear I'd met some girl.

"I called her, and she had to go to some Christmas party and dance on a table or something, but she said, 'After that I'll come to your house, and we'll spend Christmas Eve together.'

"The party canceled out, she came over and she felt really bad. Everything was starting to get to her, the escort service wasn't going that well for her, and all of a sudden she just fell apart on me. She just came out with a huge cry, and at that time we were pretty good friends, and it made me feel bad to see somebody like that crying.

"That just made the friendship even stronger; it seemed like we were better friends after that night 'cause it seemed she knew that I was caring for who she was, than just knowing her as an escort service."

Now that Ashley was no longer charging, Steve's feelings seemed to have found a toehold in this woman's heart.

"I was hoping this was going to be a girlfriend/boyfriend thing, or she was going to live with me, or something like that. There was one night she came over, and I had two bottles of champagne and a six-pack in the refrigerator. I don't really drink--I had one beer--but she drank the rest of the alcohol.

"She told me what it was like to be an escort, how a lot of people would lay their problems on her all the time, or they just wanted a girl to hold in their arms and pretend like it was theirs. That's what made me realize what this friendship thing was."

Ashley purchased a house, and though Steve says he couldn't quite figure out where she got all that money, it's pretty safe to say where a certain chunk of it came from.

"One day she invited me over, and we went swimming in her pool, and we went out to dinner. That night she was real quiet, like she wanted to tell me something, but she didn't know what to tell me. . . . I saw this picture on the wall, and it showed her with another guy. And I'm like, 'Who is this guy?' And there was guy stuff lying around the place."

Steve really didn't need to be told who the guy was. Ashley told him anyway.
"She said, 'My boyfriend was in this rock group, and he just split up with this other girl, he's down on his luck and he wants to move in with me.' She kind of gave me the option, 'cause we had been talking about moving in together. She goes, 'I don't know what to do. Should I come with you or take care of him?' I was ready to tell her, 'Come with me,' but I told her I couldn't make that decision. You've got to do what's best for yourself. We talked a while, and she said she thought she should stay with him.

"She said we could still be friends."

She said more than that. Ashley apparently wanted to get out of the escort racket, and into a business selling "ice cream and salad."

"Even though I was working at the market, she thought I had a lot of money. She thought I had a big savings account or something. I said, 'Well, I gotta tell you something, Ashley, all this money came from credit cards, it didn't come from me.' And when she heard that, her whole thing changed. She was like, 'Oh, really? I guess I'm not going to do that restaurant.'

"I guess what I'll never know is, at the end, would it have been a friendship thing, or did she like me because she thought I was someone who had a lot of money? But some of the things we did as friends were not money-related. It was just going out to have dinner somewhere."

Steve tells all of this without shame or anger or embarrassment. If anything, he gets a bit wistful at times. Is he a romantic? Is he a sucker?

"It was just the first experience I had, having that much fun with a girl. Even though it cost me so much money, most of the time I had a good time. It's just too bad it happened the way it did. I'm sure there are guys out there who want to experience that kind of thing, but it's so easy to do it and get stuck in it. It felt bad that I was paying another human being to have sex with them; I think that's why we never had sex after we became friends."

And that is where the friendship ends.
Steve has not seen Ashley for a couple years, but her memory lingers on for him, and not just courtesy of the five credit-card bills that still line his mailbox every month. There's the photo she left their last time together.

"I wanted to drive by the house and just leave it there, put it in the front yard or on the car, but I thought she might take it the wrong way. It still bugs me sometimes; probably one day I'm going to get rid of it. There are times I almost want to just find her, but I don't think that'd be the smartest thing in the world to do. I need to forget about her."

Whether Ashley would really be offended if Steve tossed her picture on her lawn in some future dawn is a question only she can answer. But Steve, well, Steve has come to at least one conclusion. While it may not be the smartest notion a man has ever thought, it's got to be right up there on the wisdom list.

"As soon as the money runs out, everything else kind of runs out with it."

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