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“Listen,” he said, his confidence coming back. “I realize you don’t have a lot of time to chat with me so I’ll explain real quick then you can ask as many questions as you like.”

She was amused by his tone and his friendliness. “OK, go for it.”

“My boss asked me to write a series of articles about life as an escort” — he’d struggled to decide which word he would first use — “in Montreal today. He wants me to interview women and tell their stories, but without revealing who they are in any way.”

It’s a funny feeling, to spit out so many words so fast at such low volume. He was almost winded. “I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to get in trouble with the cops, and I guarantee your identity will be secret even from my boss. It’s simply a matter of writing stories about life in the business from your perspective. How does that sound so far?”

“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“You can’t know, at least not now. My name is Marc Lalonde, I’m from Quebec City originally and now write for the Montreal Gazette. Do you read it?” Shit, he shouldn’t have asked that, he thought as he administered a swift mental kick to his own behind. She might think him condescending.

“No, not really.”

“OK, well, I have a regular column in the paper, in the city section, that runs every Tuesday. It has my picture on it, at the top. How about next Tuesday you take a look at that and if you’re satisfied that I exist then we could meet for coffee? You’ll be able to recognize me from my picture in the paper, it was taken six months ago.”

A brief silence. A intake of air. Then another silence. Is she thoughtful or asleep? Marc couldn’t tell. He knew he was gambling big by giving her a few days like that. What if she forgot to look? But on the other hand, if she did remember then agreed to meet, he would know she was for real. So there was that.

She interrupted his inner monologue. “Sounds fair. But before I agree, tell me more about your project.”

“Of course,” he stammered. “Actually it’s still a little vague because a lot depends on the subject. But the idea is to show our readers what pr — — I mean,” he blushed, even though no one could see it, “sex workers…”

“That’s OK,” she cut him off. “Prostitute isn’t a bad word. For one thing, it has a lot more than four letters.”

Marc was starting to like this woman.

“OK, thanks. Anyway. A lot of people think of prostitutes as desperate women, women with no options.”

“I’m sure it happens to guys, too. And then there are the dumb ones, of either gender.”

“No doubt. And see, the point of the series is to show that, at least in some cases, that stereotype is not true. And who knows, if I do my job right, I might help some people change their minds.”

A brief silence. He could hear her breathing coming down the phone line.

“How do I know you’ll keep your promise not to identify me and get me in trouble?”

That was it, the make-or-break point. And he had nothing. “My word and professional reputation, that’s all I’ve got.”

Another silence, longer this time. He knew he had her.