+J.M.J.+

TITLE: Gigolo Turf Wars

AUTHOR: "Matrix Refugee"

RATING: R (Sexual themes, including off-screen slash)

ARCHIVE: Yes

FEEDBACK: Please, please, please, please!!!

DISCLAIMER: DreamWorks holds Joe's license, I just borrow 'um once in a while. (I also don't own the verse of "Keep the Customers Satisfied", which belongs to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.)

NOTES: This is an old idea I dusted off recently in an effort to try to get some stuff out of the binder I keep my WIPs in…. Long before I started writing all these crazy "A.I." fanfictions (Just call me this fandom's Lope de Vega, after the world's most prolific author!), I had written a novel (As of yet unpublished), "The Magdalen Man: Enter the Scrawny Runt", which described the early history of Josef "Jake" Jacobi, self-proclaimed bad Catholic, a former "Poor little rich kid" turned actor who had to put himself through acting school by working as (in his words) "shall we call it…an escort?" After I first saw "A.I.", I couldn't help wondering what would happen if Jake should cross paths with a certain green-eyed love machine. I would imagine Jake would hate Joe's components (can't say "hate his guts", he ain't got any!) and Joe would find the competition amusing, but I was careful to "ask" Jake what he thought would happen; he replied, "Speaking subjectively, if good looks could kill bad looks, Jude Law would have only to look at me out of the corner of his eyes and I'd sprawl stone cold at his feet. But I think you want the objective viewpoint…Oh, of course Joe and yours truly would be butting heads and trying to one-up the other and matching wits—and probably matching pricks. My friend Shotsie McCoy would probably find it immensely funny to watch."

The setting is New York City in the year 2023, following the passage of the Sex Workers' Protection Act of 2020. Imagine you're in Jake's shoes: you're short, you're thin as a rail, you're dark, but you definitely aren't handsome, and you have to make ends meet by selling your body at two hundred dollars a poke…and there's someone hedging on your turf who's better looking than you…but is he really a man?

SUMMARY: Jake Jacobi, actor in training and "shall we call it an escort?", hasn't had much business, and it only gets worse when the ultimate threat invades his turf.

Rainy nights are bad for business in my profession. The only takers you get are the ones who've called ahead. Very few potentials show up in between calls in the bar of the Hotel Satine over on 10th Street, where the agency I work for operates from. I usually pick up at least half a dozen customers most nights, but not tonight.

I knew the night was off to a bad start when I discovered, in between the few calls I had earlier in the evening, I was flat out of rubbers (Never mind that most of them are made of vinyl now). This meant I had to make a quick dash to a drug store, which nearly made me late for my last assignation in a hotel room. This probably sounds like nothing to you, but when you're a $200-an-hour escort with an image to maintain, it's a big deal. It's like being a high profile techcorp CEO (like my father), and getting caught buying your own CD-RWs at Staples. It's a tougher job than you think, and in this industry, image is everything. Talk of being caught with your pants down!

A cab and a bicycle messenger almost clipped me on the way back to the hotel afterward. Not the first time; I should be accustomed to the perils of Manhattan traffic by now. Trouble is I'm hard to see since I'm so bloody short. But I have nine lives like a cat: all whores do, man or woman.

I managed to get back to the Satine in one piece, wet but alive. I ran upstairs to the agency headquarters to change into a dry shirt and spruce myself up for anyone who might come in, and to check and see if anyone had called looking for my services. Or looking for me. I've been at this for about two and a half years now, and some women are asking for me specifically, usually by sight ("The short, dark guy/the skinny runt/the guy who's so funny-looking he's cute"; I had one older customer call me "The one who looks like Joel Gray") but sometimes by name, but even then they don't often get it right. I've been called Jay or Jack or Joe, rarely Jake.

On my way into the bar, on the way back to my usual spot at a table, where I can see the whole room and be seen, but where the light falls just the right way so it doesn't make my too-thin face look like a skull, I spotted this tall (okay, he might have been five-foot ten, but I'm five-foot even, so anyone above five-foot five is tall to me), slim guy in black, whom I'd never seen before. At first I figured he was some newbie I wasn't aware of, but he looked like he knew what he was doing. The way he walked across the room, just that simple act alone made everyone's eyes turn toward him. I mean, damn, this guy was beautiful; I'm comfortable with my masculinity, but this guy's looks made me stop and stare. He carried himself excellently, like some danseur from the New York City Ballet. At first, I wondered if he might have been some actor or dancer or something out slumming (not that the Satine is in slum territory. I'd have to call it demi-mondaine). But there was something odd about him, something that suggested he wasn't out to buy: he was out to be bought. He had that slightly cheap look that haunts all whores, even the highest-priced ones. Hell, he looked like he was made for the oldest profession. He looked like he might be about my age (23), but he had the air of someone who's been at the trade for most of his life. He glanced my way, but he seemed not to take much notice of me, or at least it didn't register in his eyes. Come to think of it, he had this weirdly vacuous look about his eyes, and they were the oddest shade of green, the kind you see in wine bottle glass, but which you never see on a human being. Must have been really cheap colored contact lenses.

At the same time, I spotted a potential customer ahead, a blonde sitting alone at the bar, her head in her hands, clearly needing consolation. I started toward her; so did the weird guy with the impossible green eyes.

I was passing by a table occupied by two women in their forties, giggling over their wine glasses. One of them stuck out her foot and tripped me. I sprawled on my face. The two women howled with laughter; I got up and dusted myself off.

"So much for my grand entrance," I said, to no one in particular.

As I looked up, looking for my quarry, I saw her wobbling away from the bar, with the tall, weird guy supporting her out.

'Hey, that's MY customer!' I thought.

Only a few more girls showed up after that. I didn't spot Impossible Green Eyes after that, but he could have come back for more while I was engaged.

I had turned my ankle when I tripped, which obliged me to favor it without limping for the rest of the night. By the time quitting time came around, it had gotten pretty sore. Usual bad luck. I was glad to head home and crash on my couch bed.

"Oh, I have seen too many beds

But I have known too little rest…" Aldonza wasn't kidding.

@--`--

I limped home at five o'clock in the morning, in the dull gray of a rainy pre-dawn.

Neve, the folk singer over near the subway station, not far from my apartment high above a cybercafé on Seventh Avenue, was on the verge of taking down her set up as I hobbled past where she stood against some movie posters, tuning her six string guitar for a last set.

"Hey, Jay, what's that, Dustin Hoffman in 'Midnight Cowboy'?" she asked.

"'I'm walkin' here! I'm walkin' here'!" I hollered (I don't sound like Dustin Hoffman any more than I look like him; I'm told I sound like Vincent Price with laryngitis). Neve and I started this game where one of us picks a movie and tries to cue the other into guessing it. She'd play a swatch of the main melody of the movie theme, or I'd do one of the more famous lines from it, whoever had won the last set.

"I'm afraid I can't play tonight."

"Wuz wrong?" she asked in this mock-motherly voice.

"Bad night: no tips."

"Yeah, I have those a lot, too. It'll pick up."

"I hope so." I limped away.

"Catch you later, Jay." She struck up the second verse of "Keepin' the Customers Satisfied."

"'Deputy sheriff says to me

Tell me what you come here for, boy,

You better get your bags and leave.

You're in trouble boy, and now you're headed into more.

It's the same old story:

Everywhere I go, I get slandered,

Libeled, I hear words I never heard in the Bible

And I'm one step ahead of the shoeshine

Two steps away from the county line,

Just trying to keep my customers satisfied'."

I could have choked her.

I crashed on my couch bed in the tiny rooms I call my apartment—the artist in his garret!—and slept like a rock until the clock ran eight. Get up, wash, shave, treat any injuries from the night before, breakfast, then hit the street again, going to classes at the New York School of Drama. Again, Jake Jacobi, actor in training, no worrying about rivals with impossible green eyes.

Nightfall. Jake the actor goes into hiding, the other Jake emerges: Jay or Jack or Joe the escort. Love for sale. Good things come in small packages.

That night made up for the previous night. I'm worth $200 an hour (It would be $500 if I got myself vassed), and the agency lets me keep my tips and half the fees that I earn, so do the math. Upwards of a thousand a night is not to be sniffed at. The last client even slipped me a hundred dollar tip. No taxes, but I'm licensed to the eyes and I have the Health Department on my back every third week even though I'm inoculated against seven major STDs and I keep the hygiene protocol.

Home again! Four hours of sleep a night is all I need. And no dark strangers with weird green eyes haunted the turf.

Another slack night hit me a week or so later, and this was a real washout. I actually had to swallow some of my principles just to make enough to afford this month's groceries. Man cannot live on sex alone. I don't like doing this kind of stuff, but if one of my own kind is the only person who asks for it, so be it. I don't detest this thankfully infrequent part of the job because I'm bigoted; I detest it because I'm straight. Some students get lucky and they pay their way through college flipping veggie burgers; I ended up with a much older profession.

One advantage of this part of the job: I've learned not to grit my teeth as some guy is going at me, which has actually helped me be a better actor. I have no problems with stage fright or camera shyness.

It wasn't an easy call, either; I ended up with more than the usual cuts and bruises. It sometime seems every time I oblige this breed of customer, I get the worst of it; I wish I knew why. My waif-thin appearance seems to attract the types who like the rough stuff. Try patching yourself up with Band-Aid Clearseal and covering that with foundation as a fairly regular part of your job!

I got help from one of my colleagues, an older guy known as Shotsie McCoy. You might almost call him my mentor in the industry; if I wanted to stay, which I don't, he'd be the kind of guy I'd try to emulate. Turns about twelve tricks a night even on dead nights, and he's not much better looking than I am. He's managed to rack up a coterie of regular customers.

"You always manage to get the tough customers, Jake," he said, covering a bruise under my left shoulder blade with foundation.

"Must have something to do with my frail waif appearance," I said. "Now to make this a really f---ed up night, will the weird guy with the green eyes show up?"

He looked at my face in the mirror. "What weird guy with green eyes?"

"You're never on the floor long enough to see all the stuff that goes on here. The other night, this dark guy with green eyes showed up. At the same time, I see this likely looking blonde at the bar, so I go to keep her company. Then someone sitting at a table puts their foot out and trips me. When I pick myself up, the blonde is going off with the green-eyed dark guy."

"You sure it wasn't her boyfriend?"

"No, she didn't seem to know him."

"I thought the free-reiners were banned from this block?"

"He must be so new in town, he doesn't know the rules," I said as he handed me a clean shirt.

We've had trouble in the past with free-reiners working off our turf, which has led to some rather nasty turf battles. I've sat on more than my share of guys' heads while Shotsie and a couple other colleagues beat the s—t out of the intruding punks.

We were just coming downstairs when I looked off to the left, into the bar. I saw him.

Unmistakable: the same green eyes, the same achingly slender physique, the build and grace of a danseur. He passed from the bar to the lobby in easy, long strides, escorting a tall, gangly redhead. When they stepped out into the light, I saw he'd bleached his hair blond since the last time I'd seen him. I could hear them talking, not the actual words they said, but loud enough to hear their voices. He had a softer voice than my deep-throated rasp, and he seemed to have a British accent, the real thing, not like my stagy-sounding mockery of one, which has earned me the nickname "the Inglish Lord" or "the British guy from Awlb'ny".

Shotsie looked at me. "That the fly-by-night? That the sneaky f---er?"

"Yeah."

"Thought you said he was dark."

"He looks like he bleached his hair."

The couple went out into the night; said fly-by-night closed the door behind them both.

"Well, I can see why you'd have your dander up: you and I put together ain't half as good looking as he is," Shotsie said, looking at me. "But look at it this way: the fella looks wet behind the ears—check that, he looks wet all over the face. Is he that green that he forgets to dry it on his way out? If he's that green, he probably wears shorts."

"Probably is so green he forgets to put the seat up when he's taking a leak."

"Hey, don't get too nasty: we're the ones whose only asset is our strong personas."

"The last time he showed up, it was as rum a night as this one."

Shotsie screwed his mouth into a tight smirk of agreement. "It always happens: it never rains without pouring."

"I believe it."

"I'll keep an eye open for him, in case he shows up again. Maybe he'd like us to show him the ropes." The smirk turned into a fiendish grin. "We'll letcha take a poke at him."

"It would almost make up for the trouble he's cost me."

To be continued…