“Isabelle, I need to settle up my tab.”
Stretched out on a thrifty store reject Chesterfield, Isabelle turned a languid eye toward her best client. Draping her arm off the narrow edge, she rummaged through the red foil wrappers in a nearly empty box of chocolates searching for any leftover cordials.
“It’s a sizable account,” she said, licking sticky cherry syrup from her pudgy fingers. “Clearing the books to begin anew after the holidays?”
Floyd shifted from foot to foot, hands dug deep into his pockets. Head down, he murmured, “no, not exactly.”
Isabelle wiped her hands across her legs, leaving greasy smudges on her faded velour track pants. Once ruby-red, her outfit was now a threadbare shade of sickly orange. She shoved a free hand under the shabby couch cushion and pulled out an equally tattered ledger.
Flipping through the pages, she finally found the entry for Floyd. She ran a chipped nail down the columns, mentally adding up the charges, sometimes counting on her fingers for the total.
“Here ya go,” she said, holding out the book for Floyd to see. “Did you want to go ahead and set up a date tonight with one of your regulars?”
Leaning in without moving any closer, Floyd shook his head and dug deeper into his pants pocket. He pulled out a wad of cash and began peeling off $20 bills.
“No, Issy,” he said once he cashed out. “I won’t be coming back.”
Floyd’s dismissal got Isabelle’s attention. Struggling to sit up, she slid her legs off the couch and slapped the ledger on the cushion beside her.
“The hell you say?” Isabelle sputtered, unaccustomed to any client rejecting her stable of bargain-basement escorts. “What’s your problem with my girls? Ain’t they sexy enough for ya?”
“They’re plenty sexy, no complaint there,” Floyd said. He toed at the faux-Oriental carpet covering the worn, parquet floor. “It’s just… it’s… “
“Speak up man,” Isabelle smacked the ledger again.
“They talk too much!”
Floyd’s outburst stunned Isabelle speechless.
“They won’t freaking shut up, ever,” he said. “I don’t come here for conversation. Ain’t got no time for sharing feelings, or what I did at work today. I sure don’t want to swap sweet nothings.”
Isabelle opened her mouth to respond but just snapped it shut, her eyes wide with shock.
“If I wanted to chat,” he said, “I’d’a stay home with the Missus.”
“Whattaya saying?” Isabelle stood when she finally found her voice. “You want ‘em to just lie there, all quiet like?”
“I don’t mind them, ya know, moving around and stuff,” Floyd said, a little too eagerly. “But, dang, they gotta stop all that yammering.”
Hands on her hips, Isabelle pursed her lips in aggravation. Floyd’s suggestion went over with her like a lead balloon, landing with a thud at his feet.
She shrugged her shoulders and held out her hand for Floyd to shake.
“Well, Sweetheart, we hate to see ya go,” she started, “but can’t have ya disappointed in our services.”
She took Floyd by the elbow and not so gently pulled him to the front door, shoving him through without a, “good-bye.”
That evening Isabelle called her ladies together for a meeting.
“It’s been brought to my attention,” Isabelle said, gazing out at her menagerie of women, “that some of our efforts to provide exemplary services are not appreciated.”
One of the younger girls raised her hand, wildly shaking it to get Isabelle’s attention.
“Put your hand down Sparkle, this ain’t high school,” Isabelle said. “I’m not even going to guess which word ya didn’t understand.”
Isabelle passed out sheets of paper.
“New House Rules,” she said after the last page was gone. “Until further notice, there will be no conversing – that means talking Spark – with the clients. Answer no questions, ask no questions. Wham, bam, no thank you ma’ams. Got it?”
Leaving the dumbfounded group, Isabelle went back to her couch in the sitting room with a fresh box of Queen Anne dark chocolate cherries. Once she shut the door, her ladies began babbling.
Bunny, the oldest of Isabelle’s escorts, popped the younger girl in the back of the head with her open hand.
“You’re a freaking genius!” Bunny hugged the younger girl as the rest of the women crowded around them. “I didn’t think it would work, but damn, thank you! Now we don’t have to put up with all that stupid gabbing with the clients. We can just do the deed and be done with it.”
While the women basked in their victory, Isabelle, alone in her room, gorged herself on chocolate-covered cherries, wondering if she needed to finally retire from the business, and wished she had someone she could talk to.