He’s late. A half hour late, and I don’t have the option of calling. I check my watch and take a sip of my sparkling water. A small sip, after thirty minutes open I find it flat. I should’ve put the top back on. Stupid. Friday night and I’m paying for my own drinks, bad enough without wasting all my money on Ballygowan.
Can’t get drunk yet. Who knows how much longer he’ll be? I need to look good, and drinking on an empty stomach won’t help me. I look at the cocktail menu anyway. Ten Euro for a Cosmopolitan. Celtic Tiger prices. They obviously didn’t get the memo. It’d take fifty of them to pay for this suit. My shoes, newer, cost half a Cosmopolitan. The bartender spots me looking and asks if I want anything. I tell him I’m driving even though I took the bus. Shit. He’ll buy me a drink when he gets here, that’ll be awkward. He’ll probably buy me a few. I order another sparkling water, Ballygowan, glass, not plastic, even though the first bottle’s not empty. It’s warm as well as flat but I finish it anyway, the bartender takes the empty as he places the fresh bottle on the table. I check the mirror behind the bar - the suit looks good, dark navy slim fitted jacket, skirt just long enough for office wear and a crisp white blouse with enough buttons open to show my necklace. The suit’s touching two years old, older than I’d like, but looks professional. Just like him.
I don’t wear suits to my nine to five. It’s just a temp job, office manager, business casual. Sounded glamorous when I signed up but it’s just booking meeting rooms, ordering stationery and covering reception at lunch hour. Pays a pittance. I don’t really mind though, I never stay late, it’s south Dublin, which is important, and it’s easy to get days off for my real job. Modelling.
I joined the industry late at twenty two. I used to do promo work, handing out fliers in fancy dress, getting drunk guys to try new beers, that kind of thing. Not exactly glamorous but good college money. I was a bit embarrassed the first time I did my own college bar but after a few drinks I loosened up. Men will do anything if you wear something bright and after that I found the guys on the course were extra helpful on projects.
A photographer spotted me and I started getting spots at trade shows. Toys for Boys, motor shows, night club openings – it was a blast. Two or three nights’ partying a week, all paid for, always the centre of attention. Some say that’s why I didn’t do too well in college. I don’t think that’s it. I always excelled in projects but exams were never my thing. I’m more into teamwork than doing that kind of solo work. Who wants to hire someone that can’t work on a team?
College results didn’t really matter for me. I had a wedding fair booking the day the class graduated; I would have lost money if I had to go. Wedding fairs were my favourite at that age, spending the day walking the aisle wearing dresses no-one in the audience could fit in, let alone look good in, always made me feel alive.
The money was great, for my age, especially as the parents didn’t charge rent. I could get forty five Cosmopolitans on a day’s pay back then. Not that I ever paid for my own drinks. Still, a girl has other expenses. Success requires the right wardrobe. And surgery. I had a bump on my nose removed, and three moles on my back. I still have a small scar from one of them that I worry about. Oh, and I needed braces. They weren’t cheap. Money can go to your head at that age. I often had shows that lasted over twelve hours with makeup, I needed a holiday every month or two to destress. After a year I got a mortgage on a great penthouse. The payments are ludicrous when you consider how much the value dropped. Then my ex-boyfriend estate agent persuaded me to invest in a complex in Bulgaria. Men. I lost a packet on that. Still, I’ll make it back someday.
I’m getting better on the spending. Not by choice. Job offers started slipping even before the recession and I still had the same costs with the mortgages, the gym, the hair, the treatments – looking this good isn’t easy! When you’re a bit younger, it’s hard to know what’s essential in a professional’s wardrobe. I still get the occasional designer piece but I’ll often grab bargains in Penney’s or TK Maxx. With the economy going downhill it doesn’t look good to flash money.
Works out well really, I doubt my credit cards could survive another splurge. That’s what I’m looking forward to most about making it big, not having these petty concerns. Bills. Phone calls. Interest. Final demands. Internet getting cut off. It’s just so unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Why should I feel guilty about having two little bottles of sparkling water on a Friday night?
I flag down the barman and ask for a Sprite Zero. I’d wanted one all night but I’ve been trying to stay away from sweeteners. Heard they can cause hives and rashes. That would kill a photo shoot. You have to be more careful as you start to get a little bit older. That’s one area I won’t scrimp on, have to look after my skin. It looks great, but takes a lot of hard work. I’ve got a serum for the drier patches by my nose, an oil absorbing moisturiser for the slight greasy section on the top of my forehead, and an intensive retinol moisturiser for the eye area because that’s where the skin is thinnest. It works; you’d never guess my age.
The barman opens my Sprite with a flourish. He looks very young. I send it back and ask for more ice. I’ve spent over ten euro on soft drinks so far and I’d like this one to last. I check my watch. It’s fake, but you’d never tell. Where is he? He always goes here after work on a Friday, and he rarely works later than five. I text the client.
“No sign. Any word?”
She’ll understand that. I hate texting in bars, doesn’t look right, and I know she’ll be too jumpy to talk right now. Claire, I think. Getting married early next year. Nice girl, but settling down a little too early. Her fiancée cheated on her, nearly eight years ago now, back when they were kids. She’s worried he’ll do it again. That’s why she hired me. Some evenings, like tonight, I’m what’s known as a honeypot.
“sorry I should have said he said something about a conference call with the states so hed be an hour late id say”
When did punctuation go out of style? She’s only a few years younger than me. I put the phone away and watch my reflection’s frown, willing it away. I’m not getting wrinkles over this. I relax. Sometimes this gig’s easy. Two hundred and fifty Euro, flirt with a guy, ask if he’s single, leave, report back to the girlfriend, or the wife, or the boyfriend. A lot of them pay cash. I suppose they don’t want receipts for this kind of service. Suits me fine, I don’t want to bother the tax man. Or the bank man. Money put in my account can be hell to get back out, they always whine about the overdraft. With cash, the only one taking a cut is the agency. Fifty Euro, which is silly money when you remember I have to do the actual work. Still, can’t get the leads without them.
They should give me a better deal than the other girls. I’ve got the agency record: under ten minutes to infidelity. That client wanted a photograph and the photographer timed me, pity he didn’t have a proper stopwatch. I spent most of the time trying to find the guy. Crowded bar. I don’t do lines. I just said hi. He said hello gorgeous and two minutes later gave me his business card, like I was supposed to be impressed he’d made middle management in some American bank. It had his mobile number, and that’s all I need. Job done.
I order a Cosmopolitan. A girl can’t stare at a cocktail menu for an hour on a Friday night. I ask for extra lime and I don’t know why. “Feeling bitter?” the barman asks with a smile and I know he’s only trying to be friendly because I’m on my own but it’s such a bad line I roll my eyes and look away. Thick Kerry accent too. He walks off with a reddening face and mixes my drink at the far end of the bar, slinking back to place it on a napkin, stretching slightly to keep an arm’s length from me. He’s too young for this job, he’ll learn. For a moment I think he’s so embarrassed he’ll forget to charge. I start to get hopeful; I’m spending my taxi money here and I hate taking the bus in a designer suit. He drops the receipt next time he passes. Damn. I won’t get the cash for this job till next week and I’m planning a quiet weekend, no trade show, no partying. It’s been a while since I last got a trade show actually, and the money’s been going down. I must fire my agent. He’s been useless. The Cosmopolitan’s strong and I’m starting to think it might actually be value for money till I remember that bus trip it’s going to cost me.
This earnings slump is just temporary. I’ll look back on these days and laugh. Soon. Some models don’t find their face for years, and I’ve got ten years’ industry experience over the new girls. That counts for a lot. Think about it, the money’s in the early thirties market. That sweet spot between having your career settled and starting a family, where a woman has money and no little grub to spend it on. When the career girls realise they have to start taking care of their looks and turn to the beauty section. That’s where the ads are targeted. That’s where I’ll get my big break and make some serious money. Who wants foundation advertised by a teenager? Teenagers don’t need foundation. Customers want to see someone the same age as them, but looking a whole lot better. I fit that bill. I’ve invested in my brand too, hired a photographer for a whole day’s shoot, just me, had posters made for ten different market leading products, used my contacts to find out who runs their advertising and sent them professionally done info packs. That’s initiative. That’s what people should be looking for in a model.
Cost a bomb, even after I haggled. More Cosmopolitans than I could drink in a month. If I’d known the guy behind the camera got paid that much I might have chosen a different career path. Still, it’ll be worth it long term. I haven’t heard back from anyone yet but that’s okay, these things take time. These big companies plan their advertising a year in advance so I’m not surprised they don’t need someone straight away. It’ll happen. It has to. Thinking back there are things I’d change. Really, I looked too good. No one would believe I’m in my thirties.
I check the bar mirror again, pretending to adjust my hair. The bar’s a good spot, I can also see if anyone new comes in without looking around. The client suggested the seat. Even had pictures of it. I think she’s been planning this for months. Maybe years, she does go on. I’m getting paid to hit on her boyfriend, not listen to her problems. This place is quiet for a Friday. Must be the prices. So far only the barman’s tried a line on me. I hate being early for these things but the client says he doesn’t dawdle. Two soft drinks and a drive home is his normal routine. I look again. Long hair is so high maintenance, especially if you’re in the gym as often as I am. I used to be a brunette but I switched back to my natural light blonde last year. Colouring is so hard to maintain. And expensive. I’ve had a few premature greys recently. They don’t really show against the blonde. I’m sure it’s temporary. Just stress over credit card bills, and all the work I’ve been doing. Between trade shows, honeypot jobs, and my nine to five sometimes I do over seventy hours a week, and don’t earn half what I did five years ago. Didn’t have two mortgages five years ago either. Between work and the gym I don’t have time for real dates. Still, working this job gives you a whole new appreciation for how easily men can be distracted. I don’t need that in my life right now. Maybe when I’m settled.
I must pick up some vitamins in the chemist’s tomorrow. I’m getting run down, not that you’d see it. I’ll just have to stay out of the makeup section this time. It’ll be a quiet weekend. The bartender asks if I’ll have another. I finished that one quicker than I planned. I think. Three Euro water or ten Euro cocktail? Hotel bars are always so expensive. I’m down to two fivers so no matter what I choose I won’t have enough for a taxi. I go for the cocktail. If I’m going to be stuck on a bus I might as well be in a good mood, and the three soft drinks I’ve had should stop the alcohol drying my skin. I ask for a glass of tap water as well, to be safe. I stop him when he reaches for a pint glass, then stop him again and ask for a slice of lemon, and two more ice cubes. Would it kill him to be professional? I know water’s free but it’s my fifth drink here, I’m the one funding his cheap haircuts and plastic watches. Your drink says a lot about you and a pint of tap water says cheapskate who’s just thrown up. With the slice of lemon in it this could pass for Ballygowan, especially beside the empty bottle. Just a girl looking after her hydration.
The mirror’s maybe three feet from me and you can only see those few gray hairs up close, but I check again anyway. Maybe I’m overdoing it in the gym. I’m going for more of a fitness athlete look, it’s quite popular for sports advertising and I’ve never targeted that area before. Very few in Ireland doing it. Useless agent didn’t even suggest it to me, had to do the legwork myself. I don’t know why I don’t fire him. There are good opportunities in fitness, but I have to focus on my shoulders. A hint of muscularity in the shoulders does wonders for a girl, the waist seems narrower, you have an athletic look, any jacket looks good on you. I’ve already got great legs; I used to run. I had a personal trainer when I started but she was quite expensive and didn’t really understand what I wanted. Besides, the guys in the gym can be so helpful, if you ask nicely.
The Cosmopolitan arrives and it’s not as strong as the first one. I stop myself from complaining – drinking alone is bad enough, but shouting for more booze from a barstool is not something I see myself doing. This one has to last. I’m out of cash and I’m not paying ten Euro with a credit card. Unseemly. It felt bad enough when I paid with two fives.
My favourite is twenties. Fifties are just physically too big for the purses I like. Twenties feel like proper money. If I get cash for this night my cut will either be ten twenties or four fifties. A pile of ten feels like more when you count it, or fold it, or take it out of your purse. No-one complains when you buy a coffee with a twenty.
When I was growing up I read that Cindy Crawford would get bored waiting for photographers. To pass time, she’d work out what the job paid per minute. You should do it. It really changes your dedication to a job. My nine to five pays 160 a day. I used to spend that on a trim. It’s an eight hour day with a half hour break, so that’s 450 minutes. That’s thirty five and a bit cent per minute. I always remember that if someone asks me to do something that’ll only take a minute. Based on those earnings it’d take me nearly half an hour to afford a Cosmopolitan, and that’s before all the tax I pay. That ten minute honeypot record I hold? Twenty Euro a minute, cash. Thirty seconds to Cosmo time. This gig will be disappointing. Even if I break my record the hour I’ve been sitting around here still counts. If I snare him in six minutes I’ll be looking at three Euro a minute, before expenses, which is looking like thirty Euro in drink so far. Thirty Euro. I’ve got to talk to the agency about expenses.
I look at my hand on the Cosmopolitan. I’m getting better at doing my own nails. Waste of money to pay for what you can do yourself. The money I used to waste. I’ve been working out hard but the downside is the veins in my hands are starting to show. Not a good look. I wrap my hands around the glass of ice water. It’s freezing to the touch but the coldness reduces the blood flow to my hands. Problem solved. One of the tricks you pick up.
I check the mirror again. He’s here. Pink tie on a dark shirt, just like Claire said by voicemail this morning. Two friends, both are following him. Maybe he’s in charge. I half wonder what he makes per minute and fix my lipstick before he sees me. His black shirt and pink tie combo is just awful. I don’t know how Claire let him out in it. Still, he’s easy to spot. I’m glad he wore it, otherwise Claire would have to describe him as about five foot eight, with spiked hair that looks greasier than he intended and almost no chin. The shirt’s good, I’ll give him that. The agency say they have a policy of relative attractiveness. They say it’s unfair to send a stunner to trap a middle aged fattie. I do wish they had a better grasp of the language. In theory, I should only be used on the most gorgeous of guys. Still, if they kept that rule I’d never get any business.
The boys are in good spirits, slapping each other on the back. It looks like pink tie is getting the first round. I don’t know his name. Not yet. I stopped asking after my second client; I called a guy Mark before he introduced himself. He ran away. One of the few guys I haven’t caught. Still got paid though.
He comes closer to the bar and I take a deep drink from my Cosmopolitan, leaving a mouthful at the bottom. I’ve moved the seats slightly; the easiest spot for him to stand is next to me. Not too close. Some of these boys are shy.
He stands at the bar. I give him a few seconds, playing with my glass. The barman’s slicing limes in the far corner. No grasp of customer service, but the pause suits me well.
“Hi” I say, turning my head up towards him, slight smile, not too much. Less is more. “Hi” he says back after an awkward pause, not sure where to look. “Happy Friday!” he finally adds.
I smile again. It’s hard to pretend that’s a good line, or that he’d ever have a chance with me. I should get an Oscar for this work. I really should.
“Happiest day of the week” I say, taking a half mouthful of Cosmopolitan. Anything that draws the attention to the mouth is good. “And I’ve been stood up. How about you buy me a drink and tear yourself away from your friends for a while?”
Not my best line but I’m tired and I’ve had two Cosmopolitans on an empty stomach. Besides, when you look this good, you don’t need to waste great lines on a man with no chin. Looking at him closer the spikes are arranged to cover a retreating hairline and there are tired bags under his eyes. This will be easy. He looks back to his friends.
“Sorry love, no can do. You can buy me a drink if you like.”
I’m fuming. No one says that to me. I can walk out now and tell Claire, honestly, that he’s the most faithful man I’ve met, or the worst flirter, but either way she’s safe. I get paid either way. The barman makes a noise somewhere between a snicker and a sneeze. I make a note to never get a slice of lime here again. I’m angry. Where does he get off telling me to buy him a drink? If I walk out now he gets a big white wedding and a doting wife who’ll trust him forever. I’m not going to let that happen. I take out my purse.
He turns around and I can tell he’s annoyed at the label but he’s not very good at his job, and he shouldn’t have been listening in.
“I’ll have another Cosmopolitan, no lime, and my friend will have...” I think for a minute before continuing “A strawberry Daiquiri with two pink umbrellas and a pink straw to match his tie. Oh, and a slice of lime on the rim.”
I get a giggle from the barman, and see him put an extra shot in my Cosmopolitan. Maybe he’s not hopeless. Pink tie laughs, introduces himself as Steve, and I go with the name Simone. The bartender manages to fit three pink umbrellas, three slices of lime and two pink straws in the Daquiri; one’s bent, one’s straight. I thank him with a nice smile and offer my newest credit card, crossing my fingers while he runs it through. Steve doesn’t offer to pay, but he laughs again when his cocktail arrives. Payment authorised. Relief. Steve pays the barman a twenty for ten Euro worth of beer for his friends and asks if he’d mind dropping them down to the lads, keep the change buddy. He takes a seat and blows bubbles in his Daquiri. I put my credit card back in my purse and turn on the digital recorder hidden inside.
“Tasty” he says.
“It certainly matches your tie.” I pick up the offending article. “Girlfriend get it for you?”
“Nah, not me, no girlfriend. Free agent so I am. How about you?”
Steve has a good clear voice, aimed straight at the recorder. That should do the trick. Probably a new personal best too, if I’d had someone to time me. That said, the rules do say I have to get a phone number. And Steve owes me a drink. If I leave now I’ll have spent fifty Euro on three cocktails.
“Nothing serious. Unless you count seriously late. I’ve been here for over an hour waiting. In fact...” I took out my phone and tapped a few buttons “I’ve just deleted his number.”
Steve smiled. Why shouldn’t he? Hot girl, slightly drunk, been stood up, all his. No wonder I’m so good at this. He’s not badly dressed. Good shoes. I can’t see his watch’s make but it has a gold bracelet. Claire said he traded securities or something, started early in the morning, did a lot with Istanbul and had to match their time zone. I saw two credit cards when his wallet opened. I’ve been turned down for both. Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Claire will give me 250 for the recording. I wonder what it’s worth to Steve?
Poor guy looks self conscious with the pink Daquiri. He’s swimming through it. He mustn’t talk to other girls often.
“Not driving then?” I asked.
“Nah, car’s in the shop. Maseratis are good motors but takes forever to get parts. Probably won’t have it back till next week.”
It was probably parked outside. Still, the more lies on the tape the better.
“So, what are you guys celebrating?”
“Oh, great day in work...” I drifted in and out. Give a guy an opportunity to talk about work, and how great he is, and let him lie, and you won’t have to add anything to the conversation. From what I could pick up on they’d signed a big deal that day and were due bumper bonuses all round come year end. I wonder how much he’ll get. How much is saving his wedding worth?
A fresh Cosmopolitan arrived, with lime, and another strawberry Daquiri. I thought Steve must have ordered during a particularly boring story about having to get in at 6am, but it seemed to be one of his friends. Or maybe both. They laugh as he picks up his Daquiri. He toasts in their direction with his left hand. Bvlgari. A camera flashes from his friends’ table and Steve excuses himself to speak with them. Camera phones make guys nervous and I’m sure that shot got deleted.
We finish our drinks. Looking over, his friends have left.
“So, I finally get to pay you back for making me drink pink all night. What can I get you?”
Steve’s opening his wallet. It’s stuffed with twenties. I will make him pay.
“Champagne’s nice” I say and he turns to the bar to order. No hesitation. Must be loaded. I touch his arm. “But if I drink a half bottle of champagne on top of these Cosmos, I think I’ll need a little lie down.”
He looks at me, not sure he believes his luck. The recorder is paused. This is too blatant and I don’t want it on tape. Don’t want Claire on his side if I have to hand this over. I need to spell it out for him.
“Maybe you should get room service to deliver it?”
A smile spreads above his weak chin. How this guy makes it in the financial world is beyond me. Must be good with numbers because he isn’t too bright otherwise. He excuses himself. I can picture it now, the call to Claire, the excuses. What will he go with? Called back to the office from the pub is the only one I can think of. Nothing else would work. I hope she doesn’t figure this out. She knows I’m here. She knows I’m gorgeous. She knows I’m hitting on him. Still, I can worry about that later.
The sex is uninspiring. His breath, hot and sticky, smells of strawberries and old coffee. I make sure to call out his name for the recorder. I briefly wonder who Simone is till I remember it’s the name I’m using. I even get him to say he loves me; he probably thinks I’m a freak but that has to be worth at least another few thousand. I’m thinking fifteen k. For now. He might like to get me a Christmas present too, but I won’t bring that up just yet. He lies back, dimly aware that he’s failed to satisfy, but still consumed with bliss. Selfish. Maybe I’ll send Claire the recording anyway, as a one year anniversary present. I probably won’t care by then, one of those companies is bound to snap me up before that. With fifteen grand I can get the bank manager off my case and market myself on a proper scale. I’ll get a DVD made, and a proper website, not that MySpace one. This is just what I need to get my career moving.
I lean over and pick up that pink tie. I wonder where his wallet is. I’m sure he won’t miss taxi fare. This seems like a good time to talk business; I don’t plan on hanging around here naked any longer than I have to. I kneel on top of him and run the tie playfully around his neck. Judging by the hotel clock that was less than fifteen minutes. For the first time in my life I’ve made more than a grand every sixty seconds. It feels great. This is what next year will feel like. I’ll be modelling every day and I’ll be on billboards everywhere. He’ll probably boast about this to his friends but no-one will believe him. Who would, with that hair? I pull the tie, caught him in my noose. It’s not tight, just enough gentle friction to maintain his attention. I might keep it as a souvenir of our time together. I might tell him how awful it looks. I can’t wait to watch his face change.
“You never did tell me where you got this tie” I start. He’s now playing with my left breast and I’m considering upping the price. Sweet sixteen. It sounds good.
“That tie? Tremendous sentimental value.” He’s still slightly out of breath “Won it in an office bet.”
My pulse quickens and I feel a horrible knot in my stomach. “When?” I ask, trying not to tremble.
“Lunchtime today. You should’ve seen Mike’s face. He’s going to be in such trouble when he gets home. It was a present from his fiancée.”