An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not the invasion of ideas.
– Victor Hugo
Gene usually got dressed quickly, gave Katherine some kind of rough estimate of when she should expect him to call again, asked her what she had planned for dinner and then told her what a lovely time he’d had before heading out the door. But when he fumbled with his shoes, tied his tie unevenly, and otherwise delayed leaving while making no conversation at all, she knew he was nervous about something.
“Kathy, I just wanted to let you know that I saw Victoria Tate, but I won’t again,” he finally blurted out.
She took his hand and smiled. “I think you sometimes forget that I’m not your wife, Gene; you don’t owe me fidelity. You can see Victoria or any other escort you like, and you don’t have to report it to me or seek forgiveness.”
“Well, usually I don’t; I mean, you know I’ve seen other girls before, and that I always come back to you. But somehow, it just seemed different with Victoria, like I was betraying you or something.”
“That’s silly; how could seeing Victoria be any more a betrayal than seeing anyone else?”
He paused for a moment, then: “Because we both know she’s marketing herself as a younger alternative to you.” If the statement hurt her feelings, she gave no outward sign. The situation was obvious to everyone in town: Victoria used similar advertising copy, presented herself in the same general fashion, even provided the same kind of amenities at her incall. Both women were tall, charismatic, classically-beautiful brunettes, both well-educated and well-spoken, both endowed with that indefinable quality known as “class”. But while Katherine was well over fifty, Victoria was still under twenty-five. And while Katherine had never really learned to take full advantage of the marketing possibilities the internet offered, Victoria knew every last one.
“Do you remember Melinda Van Doren? She was the most highly-regarded escort in the city when I started working in 1975.”
“No, I didn’t try the hobby until after my first wife and I divorced in ’81, and I don’t remember the name.”
“That’s because she retired in ’79. Well, you know it was all services and word of mouth in those days, but I had new ideas. When I first started it was just to pay my way through school, but by the time I graduated I realized I wanted to make a career of it. So I paid bribes, placed private ads, offered spiffs to every concierge in town, and slowly began to win Melinda’s clientele from her.”
“I can’t imagine you being so…”
“Ruthless is the word,” she laughed. “I was a different person then, an awful, hungry little upstart intent on invading and capturing my rival’s territory. It wasn’t until Melinda confronted me that I changed.”
“What did she say to you?”
“Oh, it was so long ago…suffice to say she made me see the error of my ways. She retired not too long after; moved to one of those countries where American dollars go a long way. Costa Rica, I think it was.”
“Well, I’m glad you changed; I don’t think I’d have liked you like that. I know I don’t like Victoria. Hey, maybe you need to talk to her like Melinda talked to you.”
“Yes, maybe I do.”
After Gene had gone, Kathy opened up the email folder where she had saved all the other messages on the subject…and there had been several, both from clients and from escorts. She was very popular and respected, and a number of people were upset about Victoria’s tactics…which had in the past few months gone from mere competition to character assassination, rumor-starting and, last week, a poorly-executed attempt to get her arrested (which might’ve succeeded if she hadn’t had an informant in the vice division). Clearly something had to be done, and soon. She picked up the phone.
“Hi, Victoria, this is Katherine Nolan.”
“How did you get this number?”
“That’s not really important. We need to talk.”
“I think you know the answer.”
“Look, I really don’t have time right now…”
“Yes, you do. In fact, I think you’ll be very interested in what I have to say. I’ve been thinking about retiring for a long time now, but putting it off because I needed someone to take care of my gentlemen for me. And I think you just may be the woman to do it…”
An hour later, Victoria opened the door to usher Kathy into her incall. Though she had been understandably suspicious of Kathy’s motives, the offer had been too good to pass up: the older woman had said she was tired of drama and felt it was better to bow out gracefully rather than contribute to strife in what had previously been a largely-harmonious community. A few hours of small talk, a few empty promises, and the field would be clear; if there was any chance at all Kathy was being honest, Victoria had no choice but to risk it. And so they chatted over coffee, and after a while Victoria actually found herself beginning to like the veteran courtesan, and to feel a few pangs of regret for her unscrupulous tactics.
“Think nothing of it, my dear,” said Kathy; “you’re young and determined to succeed, so it isn’t surprising you might overstep the bounds of propriety from time to time. Why, when I first started working, years before you were born, I was just as ambitious. But then I had a meeting with the older lady with whom I was in competition, just as you and I are meeting today, and after that day everything was all right.”
“Yes, that was how she got me to invite her over, just as it got you to invite me.” Kathy’s voice suddenly sounded different – cold, strange and very, very old. Victoria was transfixed by her gaze and felt a sudden wave of inexplicable terror wash over her; she tried to scream but the sound was strangled in her throat, and though she tried to struggle it was as though she was held fast by the tentacles of some invisible nightmare.
“You know, I really need to compliment you on your exquisite taste; some of these pieces are really fine,” Roger said as Victoria walked with him to the door.
“Thank you, but I’m afraid I can’t take credit; an older escort helped me find a lot of it. You may remember her, Katherine Nolan?”
“No, I only moved here two years ago, but I think I’ve seen her name mentioned on the boards. She’s out of the business now, isn’t she?”
“Yes, she retired in 2010 and moved to one of those countries where American dollars go a long way. Costa Rica, I think it was.”