By Albert Tucher
Diana closed the door behind her.
No one in the courtyard parking lot needed to see what she saw. Most women would have shrieked with laughter or just shrieked, but Diana had to face it. She wasn’t most women.
She couldn’t even claim that a man in nothing but a diaper was something new.
The client perched on right side of the bed with his knees primly together and his arms crossed over his bare chest. At least he wasn’t wearing an infant’s bonnet. He was forty-something, tall, fit, and handsome in a ride-the-high-country kind of way. Dress him up and send him out in public, and any woman would sneak a second look.
But Diana met men like this in motel rooms, where she got to see things that they kept from everyone else. Even on a good day it didn’t make her feel special. On a bad one, it made her feel warped.
She realized that he was speaking. It was time to earn her money.
“First off, this is serious. I don’t need anybody laughing at me.”
“Certainly,” she said.
Some men craved ridicule and humiliation. She could do that. She could also play it as straight as he wanted.
“And you have to use this.”
He reached into the canvas tote bag that sat next to him on the bed and pulled out a stainless steel serving spoon. His expression pleaded with her to understand, because it would ruin everything for him if he had to explain.
So what did he want? Was she supposed to beat him with the spoon? She hoped not. She tried to avoid brutality, because she was no good at it unless someone else hit first. The men who hired her for physical punishment seldom called again.
She wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t think that was what he wanted. Maybe she could sneak a look into the bag without disappointing him.
No, stealth wouldn’t work. He was watching her too closely. She would have to brazen it out.
She strode across the room to the bed and took the spoon from him. With her left hand she reached into the bag. The first item she found shocked her with the mental picture that it summoned.
Mama looked young. She always did when Diana thought of her, because she had disappeared a long time ago. Diana felt tall, and she realized that she must be sitting in her high chair. Mama smiled as her hand approached Diana’s face with a spoonful of something yummy-yucky.
And grown-up Diana could feel that two-year-old Diana was wearing a bib, which was what her hand had recognized while her mind was still working on it.
She pulled the bib out of the client’s bag. In that moment she decided to play the scenario soft and tender. Without tears, if she could manage it.
“Hold still, sweetie.”
His face unclenched the way an infant’s does after a heart-felt burp. She reached around his neck and fastened the straps. How had Mama coped without Velcro?
Now Diana had an idea what else was in the bag, but the industrial-size jar of baby food exceeded her imagination. Hospitals and orphanages must go through multiples of the enormous container, but she had never seen one before.
She got the idea. The large jar and matching spoon would help him feel tiny.
The lid gave her a bad moment. Her gym muscles were more than equal to twisting the top, but her hand was too small for a good grip. She couldn’t break character and ask Baby to help. But by bracing the jar against her chest and using the heel of her hand she managed to break the vacuum seal. She balanced the open jar on the bed.
Next question. How messy did he want to get? She decided to try a half spoonful and gauge his reaction.
“Open wide. Gooooood boy.”
He took an enormous mouthful and gummed it around until it coated his face and dripped from his chin. That answered that.
Maybe it was the encounter with her own inner toddler that caused her to regress, but she started to enjoy herself in a perverse way. She reminded herself to make sure he left a fifty-dollar bill for the maid, who was going to have some work to do. At least he had stripped the bed of everything but the contour sheet, and spread a towel to sit on.
As she fed him another huge spoonful, she heard a key turn in the lock. In an instant Diana knew what was happening. There was no legitimate reason for anyone to come through that door, which meant that the desk clerk had just sold her client out to someone. She looked over her left shoulder toward the noise, as the door banged open. A wad of goo slid off the spoon and blotched her casual tan slacks on its way to the floor. Someone would pay for that.
A wiry weasel of a man stood in the doorway with his right hand raised. Diana knew that pose, and she was already on the move. She stepped between him and her client. The cell phone camera flashed.
“Butt out,” said the new man.
“I don’t think so.”
Nobody blackmailed her clients while she was on the clock. Letting it happen would be bad for business.
The man maneuvered to his right to get a clear view. Diana whipped the spoon around like a tennis backhand. A wad of baby food hit him in the face and clung there. It looked like a good shot, but she had hoped to hit the phone.
“There’s more where that came from,” she said. “Unless you want to talk about this.”
“Nothing to discuss. I have a job to do.”
“Who’s paying you?”
“None of your business.”
He feinted right and moved left. She spun to face him.
The client hadn’t moved except to let his mouth hang open in surprise. Diana wanted to tell him to do something useful, but she didn’t have time. She dipped the spoon in the jar and launched another attack. The blackmailer ducked, and the camera flashed uselessly again.
The client finally came to life. He jumped up from the bed and plunged both hands into the jar. He threw underhand with his left, and then unloaded his right like a knuckleball pitcher. Diana approved, but it still struck her as a little weird to be standing shoulder to shoulder with a man in a diaper. Even in her world this wasn’t exactly another day at the office.
She reloaded and sent another spoonful of goo on its way. The client abandoned finesse and shoved a double handful straight at the other man.
Baby food coated the blackmailer’s face and pasted his dyed black hair to his forehead. The dry cleaners would soon be asking some embarrassing questions about his dark suit. Blinded, the man clawed at his eyes with his left hand. Diana darted forward and snatched the phone from his other hand. She dropped the phone into the jar and pushed it to the bottom with her spoon. When the blackmailer could see again, Diana stood in front of him empty-handed.
“Where’s my phone?”
His whining tone said it all. He knew he had lost this round.
“You can buy it back. I’ll give you a break on it. Say a hundred.”
The man glared at her, then at the client, who Diana had to admit looked pretty tough, considering.
“It’s a steal at that price,” she said. “Or maybe I should email whatever else you have in it to the cops.”
The blackmailer glared, as his hand crept toward his pants pocket a millimeter at a time. He pulled his wallet out and plucked bills from it. He made her come to him, but he gave up the money. She verified the five twenties with a glance and then used the spoon to scoop the phone out of the muck. She held the spoon out toward him, and he took the phone from her with two fingers and a disgusted look.
“Now another hundred for the maid.”
That seemed to stir some outrage in him, but it fled when the client made two fists and took a step closer. The blackmailer took more bills from his wallet and dropped them on the floor. Diana decided to overlook his insolence, because when she thought about it, she owed him something.
Hadn’t he just chased her silly mood away?
“You can go,” she said. “And here’s a message for your boss: Don’t send a man to do a hooker’s job.”
Albert Tucher is the author of forty published short stories and five unpublished novels about prostitute Diana Andrews. One story, “Bismarck Rules,” appeared in the anthology The Best American Mystery Stories, 2010, edited by Lee Child. Diana’s most recent adventure, "The Retro Look," was just published by Untreed Reads. Albert Tucher works as a cataloger at the Newark Public Library and drinks too much coffee.