I checked the rear-view mirror for neighbours, then pulled in on the left under the cover of the looming oak and beech standing guard, politely obscuring the view. Another humid, steamy afternoon on the ‘paradise peninsula’; an unprecedented ‘scorcher’ according to the folded Echo on the passenger seat. I’d worked this street before and remembered the wealth, the space and the barking from the toy dogs through bifold doors. High-spec, polished cars gleaming on driveways, sparking grills smirking in undeviating black. This neighbourhood was not gripped in a Tory ‘cost of living’ crisis.
I’m parked up just ten minutes’ drive from the terraces we grew up in. They were grim thirty years ago and they lay squalid now, like a row of rotten teeth crooked with age and discoloured with filth. Uniform, working class housing designed to yield generations of dumb workers, senses stunted by the daily grind. I never imagined that so many had it so good just the other side of the M53. I knew lads who would stalk these areas at night for easy pickings. Unlocked SUVs sat on driveways laden with handfuls of coins, designer sunglasses, or a forgotten handbag if you were in luck. Less opportunity with automatic locking, and that’s presuming you haven’t got encrypted gates and CCTV surveillance to contend with. Ironic really, ‘cause here I find myself most weeks – on the graft in broad daylight.
I exhale a slow, deep breath before a quick scroll of my phone to check the brief:
they lay squalid now, like a row of rotten teeth crooked with age and discoloured with filth
Simple enough job. I lock the phone away in the glove compartment of the van and pull out the requested mask and gloves. Grab my tool kit from the back; good to go. I admire the house as I approach the open back door, work boots crunching across the gravel drive. Solar panels shimmered from the roof while the day’s sunlight poured into the glass front of the double height entrance hall. The Firs was sleek and polished, even the stack of ‘show wood’ framing the stove was artistically chopped. I made a kitchen sink drama of wiping my soles on the mat.
“Sorry love, been a busy morning and I’ve got muck all on my boots. Minty. I’ll take them off, save the tiles. Office said you’ve had a few issues. Shall I make a start on the washing machine?”
Client called through from upstairs, “not today, it’s the ensuite shower that requires attention. Across the landing, first left.”
Though it was already damp with the heat of the day, I pulled my T-shirt over my head as I approached the running shower, a modern, walk-in steamed unit. Client was stood inside, making the effort to demonstrate the pressing issue with the temperature gauge. Tanned skin and proper curvy, like the Spanish birds you’d have a crack on to in Benidorm. Mid 50s but fit, probably a second wife.
“You can put your T-shirt on the side over there,” she smiled, “next to my clothes.”
How does a thirty seven-year-old scally end up on the game? Without much resistance when you’ve had your fill of zero hours contracts and payday loans. ‘Robyn’ recruited me. She showed me how it works, ‘cause I don’t always get things first time. Basically, the client is lonely and ignored, probably because the husband’s playing away with more than his golf clubs, or it’s her hard-earned cash in the first place to enjoy as she wishes. Modern world.
The first WhatsApp brief from Robyn.
The call connected to Robyn as the route configured.
“Darling, today I’m going to reveal the sensual underbelly of suburbia, stripping away that façade of middle-class respectability and revealing the passions behind the gates!”
I drove and I listened. Robyn opened my eyes to all that was available, ready to transfer from overburdened bank accounts to mine. I drove through the tree-lined avenues, gawping at the architecturally designed homes, smug within their sculpted gardens and wrap-around extensions.
“While all the Malcolms, Ians and Richards focus on their handicap on the golf course, Bev, Christine and Susannah are busying themselves with strokes of their own preference. Missed opportunity really, as all golfers are perverts, just not with their own wives!”
I could tell this was a repeated script, but she was clearly enjoying herself.
“In these neighbourhoods, women in the prime of their lives who drink gin at lunchtime are considered charming eccentrics, not a scourge on society.”
I thought of my Aunt Lil pissing herself at the Bingo. Robyn didn’t ask for my thoughts during the drive, which was a relief frankly, as I found her as confusing as she was terrifying. My enlightenment continued.
“Find a discreet place to park, then tell me what you see.”
I crept in between a skip and a works van, feeling like a second-rate cop in a daytime mini-series. I turned the engine off and slunk down the seat.
“Houses, nice houses. Trees, dog walkers, scaffolding, cars and vans. Posh houses, like. No one about, though.”
“Describe the vehicles,” Robyn commanded in her East European lilt.
“Audis, Ranges, some of those new Volvos which look decent. Erm….. loads of workie vans. Some builders, a car valet van, three gardening rounds. What the…. home dog grooming?”
“Precisely. Car valet fella – where is he? Not on the drive. What do you reckon he might be valeting inside? Three gardening vans! How many lawnmowers can you hear?”
One lawnmower, or perhaps a strimmer, but I guessed that answers weren’t required. Robyn’s tone grew serious, “I’ll tell you what I know. There’s too much money and too many fabulous women left sexless and isolated, pained with nostalgia of lost youth and desire. Stuck inside at the prime of their lives, craving the thrills of impulsivity, passion and an attentive partner to delight and thrill them. You’ll make money you’ve never made before, for sex.”
Robyn allowed me a pause, while I checked my comprehension and grip on present reality.
“The dog walkers. Are they on the graft too?”
“Yeah, they specialise in strangle collars and doggy style.”
“No, you gormless prick. They’re walking their dogs.”
I deserved that.
“What if they don’t fancy a rough lad from down the Ferry?” I winced hearing my own words.
“Just view it as an act of class warfare,” she squealed. “You’ll be a much-desired speciality! Keep your profile low, hands rough, and overalls as filthy as the client. Don’t engage in conversation, you’ll show too much of yourself. Small talk? Christ no! They’re paying for fantasy and flesh, not a repeat of the stilted exchanges they suffer over Bridge.”
“I’m in,” a terrified voice whimpered from inside my own skull.
“Excellent darling! Now for your assessment. Read the brief, attend promptly at 21:00.”
you don’t want a flooded bathroom the same day that you’ve got a dying prostitute on your floor
I surprised myself at the assessment. Passed with flying colours. Funny thing is, I’ve realised that I’d approached women wrong all my life. Striving to be nicer, shave more, engage my brain. Act more ‘sensitive and understanding’, my ex Jen used to say, usually if she’d come back from her book club. Used to irritate her anxiety and depression, all that reading and thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a shadowy past with birds and I really screwed things up with Jen, our boys’ Mam. We were hardly setting the sheets on fire. Not all her fault, like. Hard to act all steamin’ after pulling double shifts in A&E ‘cause yer fella’s gambled all you’ve got. Every woman I’ve loved I’ve stolen from or cheated. I do feel the shame of it, especially the day she caught me playing away.
‘Caught with your pants down again, Knobhead!’
First time I’d seen Jen smile in years was when I repaid her that first grand.
Fortunately for me, there’s no time for talking, thinking or caring during a forty five minute slot. Straight to business. I felt a bit awkward at first. With the girls round our way, it’s customary to buy a wine and soda and let her talk about her shift or Mam for twenty minutes. Turns out no need to worry about talking, not even about the services required. Clients select their orders on the club app, then the job pings on my phone to accept or reject. Decided it was best to take Robyn’s advice and play it moody, like the ald meatheads all the birds melted over down the club. Robyn said I’d carved out a niche for myself as a ‘strong, silent type’ and if I kept getting sales like this, she’d promote me to Willaston. Plenty of work flowed my way as did the money. Didn’t seem to matter that I didn’t know what ‘niche’ meant.
I began to enjoy myself, developing a sense of professional pride in my delivery. Nothing was too weird or able to put me off my stroke, as it were. The women were confident, adventurous and fit! Some were older, but not every part of them if you get my drift? Not just the fascias getting renovated in these parts. I could write a book. There was the ratty Chihuahua that shadow humped his favourite cushion for the full forty five, with the client offering her full encouragement. Not forgetting the regional speciality; Catholic guilt exorcism with a light spanking for the ex-convent girls! But my favourite was Linda, vengeful as hell. She’d make sure that every explicit act was carried out in full view of the critical gaze from her husband’s portrait. Bored by the usual offerings of the tool kit one day, the ald girl suggested a very creative use for the old man’s snooker cue.
I’ll be straight with you. Even when I’ve thought, you’re pushing the limits of decency ‘ere lad, we have a great time. The ald girl is beaming, all sparkly eyes and rosy cheeks, and I get paid more than a day’s labouring with half the back ache. Compare that on spending your pension on four visits a day from a miserable bitch wearing an apron and gloves because she’s terrified that she might touch your skin. Not for me. I’ll turn the heating off and struggle making me own tea all week to spend those pennies on feeling alive for forty minutes on pension day! Except, looks like I’m not going to have the luxury of planning mucky treats in my old age ‘cause here I find myself at twenty years her junior, sliding down the client’s Italian marble, boxies round my knees having a fuckin’ heart attack.
I swear it was the stare from that Sacred Heart painting following me across the landing. All that guilt and morality from when we were kids started to creep over me. My skin prickled and burned with the shame while my stomach lurched. Sick with filth and damnation, I gasped for breath and mouthed for an ambulance. I felt like the sin was physically crushing my chest as I collapsed to the floor.
“Stay calm, breathe,” she purrs. I feel like a minor interruption to the triviality of her day.
“I’ll get next door’s nurse, or gardener.”
You’ll be lucky getting a gardener out of Christine’s house, I thought. Premium membership, ninety minute slot and she always utilises the full tool kit. For Christ’s sake, why hasn’t she just phoned an ambulance? S’pose she can do without the attention and scandal. I try not to panic as the client steps over my crumpled body to dress. She checks her cheating face in the mirror for clues, before leaving. She also remembers to turn off the shower, which is important because you don’t want a flooded bathroom the same day that you’ve got a dying prostitute on your floor.
I think of my mobile locked away in the van, but then my thoughts turn to my boys and the shame stings. Would they ever understand this was all for them, for their Mam?
Here lie the remains of
Devastated by the housewives of Wirral
Cheat. Thief. Tart.
What’s the greater shame? Bankruptcy, foodbanks and not being able to keep my kids warm, or an honest transaction between adults with mutually satisfiable needs? As I start to accept my miserable fate and the encroaching darkness creeps across my frame of vision, I heard the client return.
“Wake up! The nurse from next door is here!”
I rolled my head towards the voices, peeling an eyelid open to show that a scrap of my miserable existence remained.
A nurse with Jen’s disappointed face looked back, “caught with your pants down again, Knobhead!”