Just One Murder

[NOTE: Names in the story have been changed or removed to protect privacy.]

Anytime someone orders a mixed drink that involves an American light beer I take notice. Not that mixing beer and some other concoction or type of drink is unusual, mind you.

When I was in Germany visiting my relatives back in 2000 they so kindly introduced me to their local ale beer with about one-third left at the top to add some Cherry 7-Up. “Cherry beer” is what they called it. And thanks to that addition and mixing, I was able – without even thinking about it – to down about eight to 10 of them without batting an eye. Being in a small German town, we stumbled across the two-lane highway and main drag (the only drag actually) to the family’s homestead just across the street, into the nearly 200-year-old farmhouse and promptly went to bed. I felt great the next morning to boot. It was an idea worth its weight in, well, beer.

So imagine my surprise when in little ‘ole Palm Springs I saw this woman tell the bartender to make her a “bloody beer“, then watched the bartender dutifully leave a little room at the top and add a red concoction. Was it Cherry 7-Up? Didn’t think so, but I checked with my able-minded, socially-conscious, pop-culture aficionado and hipster friend who pointed out the Clamato bottle beneath the bar, sitting in the ice bin.

What the hell is Clamato? It’s tomato juice and clam…uh, juice mixed together. So, it’s like barf in a bottle. Apparently I’m the last to know these things. Just the sound of those two wretched “juices” makes me gag.

Wanting to know more I solicited the help of my friend – who I think was a little intrigued, too – to go over and investigate in person. I suggested she go with me so that my intention of finding out what the drink is wouldn’t be clouded by some thought that I was hitting on the woman. She was pretty, and so was her friend. Bear with me now. The focus of this story shifts…

Ironically the more outgoing of the two ladies was named Cherry, just like the German beer treat. It didn’t take long, though, to find out Cherry has an unusual profession: She owns an escort service.

Now, it’s not everyday that I run across a 20-something (she said she was there celebrating her birthday but said first she was 24 and then later was overheard saying she was turning 19) woman who says she owns her own business arranging play dates with lonely men. In fact, it’s never happened in Cincinnati. Big shocker. So, I was intrigued. And she was willing to talk.

I asked her tons of questions in the 20 or so minutes we spoke. I had more to ask, but she was drunk and I didn’t want her to start wondering why I was so curious. She seemed okay with me asking questions for the vast majority of the time and then suddenly got suspect at other times. I didn’t want to tell her I am a reporter, but I am not sure she would have minded either way.

Cherry and I played through a scenario where, if I had her number and wanted a woman to “escort me”, I would call her and how the conversation would go.

Apparently you can order up ladies by hair color, breast size, height, age and on and on. So, I’d call up Cherry and she just ask me what I wanted and then get off the phone with her and she flip through her Blackberry, find a match and then send them my way.

Typically, I’m told, the women go with a “driver” who stays outside and may be sent in at the end to collect the fee and stand watch at the doorway. Some go on their own and risk it, for reasons I didn’t quite get. More, faster money, I guess.

The fee ranges from a low of $200, but the tip is expected to be about $500. Apparently Cherry’s girls give her all their tips to “keep business going their way,” she said. That’s their polite agreement. They may go on six to 10 visits a night.

This is where I heard the most disturbing piece of the whole conversation. In defense of her business – and my friend and I were really just listening and asking questions – Cherry decided to tell us that one of her girls died last year. She was murdered during a call she decided to make by herself and her body was discovered days later dumped in the desert. It was all over the news, she said.

“We’ve only had just one murder,” Cherry said, seeming to be proud of the record of only one work-related death on her watch.

“Well, that’s good,” I said in return, not really sure what to say to something like that.

“But she knew the risks…” Cherry said.

“Sure, she did. Of course,” I said, still a little paralyzed by her sort of blasé reporting of the incident, like it was a something so insignificant or expected that it would akin to those signs seen at an entrance gate to a manufacturing plant: “289 DAYS WITHOUT A WORKPLACE RELATED INJURY”.

It’s similar to those people working at a steel mill, it seemed she was suggesting. They know the dangers, and that sometimes people die. Their fellow workers occasionally get crushed in a machine or their head smashed from the weight of a ream of steel falling on them. It’s all part of the work. That’s why you get paid so well. You take it, take the money, try to be safe and hope something awful doesn’t happen to you.

Then I noticed Cherry beginning to tear up, but she quickly regained her composure and it was back to matter-of-fact business talk again. I was stunned. Going to do a strip tease or to…to, whatever – it just doesn’t seem the same as, say, going to a steel mill to work for the day. Or hour.

Just before Cherry and I wrapped up our conversation a group of her male friends showed up, possibly some bar friends, it seemed that way, anyway. One guy called Cherry something besides the name she gave me and she was quick to correct him.

“Hi, Peter, I’m Cherry, nice to see you,” Cherry said, grabbing his hand and forearm with both her hands.

“Oh, hi, yeah. Hi, Cheeeerrry, it’s nice to see you again,” the man replied.

She nodded approvingly at his playing-along. Now seemed like a good time to end our brief encounter. I asked if I could get my photo taken with her and her friend. She quickly obliged, then proceeded to undo her shirt so she could expose her bra to the camera, then she gingerly and aggressively put her arm around me.

I knew this feeling. It was icky. Those times when I have been to a strip club – not something I have particularly enjoyed, but found it a required and necessary rite of passage for most men – this is how the women who work there treat the guys who come in to ogle the scantily-clad and naked bodies that float around the bar like fish feeding on dollar bills. Truthfully, though, I have been a half-dozen times to these types of establishments. I’ve never really liked the feeling they gave me.

Ah, I got it. With Cherry I was just another potential client. She had no idea that my questions were because I was just a curious reporter-type with this insatiable curiosity for the non-sequitur, even if it means getting oneself into slightly precarious situations (she mentioned organized crime at some point in our chat).

I don’t think she’s a happy person. But she was drunk and I hate to land such a serious blanket allegation on someone I barely know. It seemed pretty likely, though. She was a nice person, even if I was just another John.

I know, however, if I wanted to take it further, to extend our friendship beyond that night, it was clear. I needed $200 plus 250 percent for the house.

Author: Joe Wessels

Joe Wessels is a freelance journalist and photographer. Wessels covers local news events for Thomson Reuters news service and features for About.com's Cincinnati Guide site, plus is the executive director of hyperlocal news site, iRhine.com. He wrote for The Cincinnati Post, covering Cincinnati City Hall and Hamilton County government and wrote a weekly political column, which continued weekly at Cincinnati CityBeat. Previously, he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Business Courier and writes or has written for several publications in Cincinnati and around the country including The Cincinnati Enquirer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine and the Sacramento News & Review. He is a native of Colerain Township, one of Cincinnati's western suburbs, and now lives in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a journalism writing certificate from the University of Cincinnati. He also graduated from Colerain High School, is an avid photographer, news junkie and was once a roller rink disc jockey, and sometimes rides a scooter around town.

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