READ LOCAL First represents the world’s premier archive of Utah-related writers. Today, we present Chapter One of Marilynn Bybee Rockelman’s Ducky: The True Story of a Decoy Prostitute, which earned an honorable mention in the Creative Nonfiction category of the 2020 Utah Original Writing Competition.
Rockelman was raised in Bountiful, Utah. She worked for the Salt Lake City Police Department for 16 years. Then, as a Licensed Professional Counselor and Clinical Hypnotherapist, she advocated for the self-sufficiency of women and collaborated with the State of Utah in matriculating prison parolees back into the community.
In her submission to 15 Bytes, Rockelman writes that her excerpt “has sexual language” and doesn’t rely on constructions like “f—k” to masquerade for the word itself. Enough said.
Ducky: The True Story of a Decoy Prostitute
Throw A Chair
April 1978—Salt Lake City, Utah
If I could die a grotesque and mysterious death like the Black Dahlia, my name remembered for generations, I would be deliriously happy. I longed to be known for something other than a slob with wrinkles in my skirt, an unforgivable sin in my family or my cleavage, commented on by a couple of men I had slept with as “your little fried eggs.”
I had been invited to the café at the TriArch Hotel, where the Salt Lake City Police Vice Squad regularly met for coffee, to discuss working with them part time as a Special Officer. I liked the sound of that.
Jordan Smoot, a fellow dispatcher’s boyfriend, had told me of the job when he came into the Communications Division to pick Dotty up for lunch. We’d chatted about the benefits; exciting job, only three or four assignments a month, extra pay, while I sat at her dispatch console and familiarized myself with the activity going on in the field.
When I arrived at the hotel, the sun was a half-disk in the western sky. I slid into an orange booth next to Smith and Weston—not to be confused with the gun. Smoot sat on the end, blocking me in.
Across from me, Sergeant Hanover, nicknamed “Heartless” for good reason, brushed aside my questions about the job. Instead, he shoved the mugshot of a woman who looked like a sumo wrestler across the brown Formica table at me. “We want you to go into her massage parlor tonight and get hired as a prostitute. That way we can shut her down.”
He had lost me at “massage parlor.” Said something like, “Anita, beat one of her girls to a pulp and went to prison a few years back.”
I had come for information and coffee—can you spell C.O.F.F.E.E.?—not the bum’s-rush into a dangerous situation. I wasn’t going anywhere near the woman.
“Last night we busted one of Anita’s girls, Kathy, doing unauthorized extra-curriculars at the Hotel Utah.” Smoot smiled. “So, either she set’s Anita up by introducing you, or she gets arrested, and Anita finds out. Kathy chose to make the introduction. She’s now your long-lost friend and she’s working tonight.”
I glared back at Smoot, cursed him for not warning me I was going to get put on the spot. He continued to explain the story Kathy and I would tell.
My heart tap-danced across my ribcage. I gulped my coffee, raising blisters on my tongue and searing my throat. Ice cubes, pale blue through the glass, clinked as I guzzled the water. A drizzle slid down my arm, sending my whole body into deep freeze. I garbled something incoherent, which the squad took as agreeing to the assignment.
I wanted to back out, but couldn’t. Rumors of my running scared and ruining the operation would spread like lice through the police department, and I would be ridiculed by the people I most wanted to impress.
Maybe Anita would beat me to death and the department would give me a ceremonial funeral, like a police officer. I doubted it. More than likely I would be blamed for a botched job and the whole thing covered up to save the department’s ass.
Just a couple of years earlier, one of our decoy prostitutes had arrested Congressman Alan Howe for soliciting sex. He’d demanded a fellow congressman be expelled for a sexual escapade. After the arrest, the same man called for Howe to step down. He tried to deny the charges, but the decoy had every word on tape. Maybe I would become as famous as she had been, my name in the newspapers.
“We’ve got to get moving.” Heartless pushed a small black box with a long thin cord extending from it across the table. Silver Duct tape rolled into my lap. “That’s the transmitter. Tape it to the small of your back. Run the wire up through your bra and tape it in your cleavage.”
A wire! I’d seen enough movies to know people got killed for wearing a wire.
Smoot smoothed his dark hair, then stepped out of the booth. I looked into his dark eyes as I stood. If he smirked, I was going to slap him silly.
Without looking back, I marched across the orange swirled carpet and into the Ladies’ Room. Inside a pink stall, I shed my frilly maroon blouse. Time to take the plunge, jump into the ice-clotted water, let the freezing burn scald away my fear. The transmitter stung the small of my back. I fumbled securing it. Luckily, my loose bohemian skirt would cover the evidence.
The bathroom stall closed in. I leaned against the steel wall. Antiseptic/poop smell faded away. I was suddenly my four-year-old self, sitting on the stairs leading to the basement of my childhood home, banished so my mom and grandma could adult-talk. Her being there was beyond unusual. Mom didn’t like people coming to our house. Even Grandma.
I already know the secret. I was getting a baby brother in a few days.
Grandma yelled something about bastards. I didn’t know what that was, but it sounds bad.
Mom’s reply was too soft for me to hear.
“Any woman who would give her baby away is a whore.” Grandma’s voice shook. “You’ll have to watch Marilynn like a hawk. She has that whore’s blood.”
She sounded like she was going to throw up.
I put my fist in my mouth and bit down hard. She gave her cat, Snowball, to me. Didn’t Grandma love me anymore? What had I done wrong? Shame stomped me into the ground, the same way my father smashed stink bugs. Could they smell my whore’s blood upstairs?
Of course, I didn’t know what the word “whore” meant at that age. My first goal became learning the meaning of the word, then discovering whether I fit one of the vilest descriptions of a woman I’d ever heard.
Whether I fit the description or not, I knew I could go into the massage parlor and act my part. Imagining a black snake, I entwined the thin wire with the microphone across my back, around my side, then up through my pink princess bra. I swallowed. Hard. Little puffs of air barely reached my lungs.
Blouse back on, I shoved myself from the stall and bent forward, shaking my long hair then jerking back, letting it fall into poofed waves. A little mauve lipstick and I was finished.
Heartless waited for me just outside the bathroom door. A medium-height, muscular man, he wore a red Utah Utes t-shirt and a pair of jeans. “Say something.” He looked me up and down, probably checking for telltale signs of the mic.
“What do you want me to say?” I wasn’t obtuse, but his abrupt request didn’t make sense.
“I don’t give a damn what you say. Say the fucking Pledge of Allegiance.”
I frowned. I was working with a raving lunatic. How could I trust him or any of his crew to protect me?
“We need to make sure the mic is working. Say something on the way to your car.” He walked out, leaving me behind.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America—” I headed across the parking lot. The unseasonably warm spring air rustled my Farrah Fawcett hairdo, but did nothing to ease my chilled body.
I got into my almost new cream yellow Mustang and started the engine.
Heartless rushed towards me, flapping his arms.
“Your mic is cutting out. Piece of crap.”
My eyes must have bulged. He slowed down and smiled. He assured me I would be safe. They would be watching from a distance. “If you have a problem, just throw a chair through the window.” With that, he raced back across the parking lot, jumped into his car, and pulled out, waiting for me to follow.
Hell no! I’m not doing this.
I pulled out behind him. Instead of turning toward home as I’d planned, I followed him to the massage parlor on Main Street. No one would blame me if I backed out, would they? Let someone else face down the madam, someone who had a working mic. And training. And a gun. I wasn’t going inside.
But, of course, I was.
My throat sticky-tape tight, I parked in front of a white clapboard house.
Remember your whore’s blood.
The term danced along my spinal cord, set my teeth throbbing. The open sign in the window blinked in time with the lump, lump, lump of my heart.
When I entered the massage parlor it was as though a pail over the doorway dumped coconut oil on me. It clogged my nose, permeated my skin. Slimy. In more ways than one. Turquoise and green sheer curtains sheathed the front window. I expected to see a room full of men sitting on the ragged beige furniture waiting to get rubbed down—or up—as the case may be.
Luckily, none were there.
Leaning against a bulky over-stuffed chair with all my might, I tried to move it.
Not one inch.
Gulping air, I scanned the room for something else I could heave through the plate-glass window.
“Come on back.”
I jumped at the booming voice.
Anita stood in the doorway of a room directly across from the front door. She looked strong enough to throw me through the window. When I got closer, I could see the deep lines in her face and the gray in her brown chin-length hair.
Not that I wanted to get close enough to see the dark two-inch hair protruding from the mole on her left jowl, but then, I had a job to do. Anita had to hire me.
A large wooden desk sat just inside the small room she indicated. I hesitated, then maneuvered through the space between it and the wall.
“Take a seat.” The large office chair behind the desk creaked with her weight.
I was riveted by a dark-stained mattress on the floor, partly covered by white crumpled sheets. Scruffy brown slippers and a red Folgers Coffee can, half full of cigarette butts, sat next to the bed. For a moment, hysterical laughter threatened to overpower me. Was I in her damn bedroom? A nervous giggle escaped as I sank into the chair across from her. I couldn’t throw the large tripod office chair through the small window to the side of the desk if my life depended on it.
“You are a virgin, aren’t you?”
The question confused me. “Do I look like one?” Why would she ask me such a stupid question? Did she have many virgins applying for the job, or was she wondering if I could play one if a customer wanted someone innocent?
She studied my face. Had I let my revulsion show? I must have screwed things up already. I had to get it together.
“You’re precious.” She licked her upper lip with the tip of her tongue. “What size are you, anyway? A seven?”
“Ten.” I gave her my best dazzle-dazzle smile.
Anita diddled her fingers. In glee? She reminded me of another woman I’d seen—probably in my nightmares. “So, do you like sex?” She asked.
“What’s not to like?” My eyes widened at the blunt question, then I chided myself. I wasn’t meeting a stranger at a party. She expected me to screw her clients for money.
“Don’t play coy with me.” Her dagger-sharp stare made me squirm. “Are you sure you want to be here?”
Hell, no. I don’t want to be here.
“I don’t have time to be jerked around.”
I swallowed the Adam’s apple I didn’t have. “If I’m getting screwed anyway, why not get paid?”
She nodded, then turned toward the door and yelled. “Kathy, get in here.”
A girl with long dark hair, wearing pale blue Baby Doll pajamas with short puffy sleeves and an empire neckline falling just below her panties appeared at the door. I blinked. Although the sun had set, no stars had appeared yet, so why was she ready for bed or was that the required working outfit? Was she required to sleep there? On a massage table? My questions would have to wait. The most pressing one was whether the girl in the doorway was Kathy. I had no idea. Smoot hadn’t shared what she looked like, and I hadn’t thought to ask.
“This the girl you told me about?” Anita asked her.
I held my breath. With one word, the girl could burn me. Trying to smile with taut muscles made my face ache.
“You’re here.” Kathy smiled back. “Did you have any problem finding the place?”
“So,” Anita pulled on her jowl with her thumb and forefinger. “You guys went to high school together at…”
“Jordan.” We said in unison. I breathed again. At least Kathy played her agreed upon part.
“You’re the same age?” Anita looked at me, then back at Kathy.
“Marilynn was a year ahead of me.”
She used my real name. Piss. Puke. Scratch. Cunt. I silently rattled off the cant I remembered from the cult film, Candy. Didn’t the idiots from Vice know what undercover meant?
“So, you graduated in ‘67?” Anita asked.
I shrugged. Might as well tell her the truth. Might as well give her my frigging address. “I graduated in ’68.”
Anita nodded, then turned back to Kathy. “Get the hell out of here and close that door behind you.”
This was it. Either Anita believed us, or I was dead.
I scooted my chair as far from her reach as possible, bumping into the mattress.
My heart pounded my eardrums. The mic had to be picking it up—if it was picking up anything at all.
Anita’s chair creaked as she leaned back and put her bare feet on the desk. They were huge. She curled her toes, and I glimpsed pink nail polish. Bright pink! The absurdity of it all drew me back from the edge of panic.
I took her relaxed posture for acceptance. I was in! Tingles of elation rushed through me. I’d done it. She believed me. I took a deep breath, suddenly delighted to be alive, even though inundated by stale cigarettes and stinky feet.
“So, do you like sex?” she asked again.
If I was completely honest, which I didn’t intend to be, I liked the physical contact, but sexual intercourse always hurt, unless I was so drunk I felt nothing. “Of course.”
“So, Kathy said you’re hard up for money.”
“You know money. It never goes far enough. I need some quick cash for rent.”
“We can make that happen.” Anita’s chair creaked again. “We charge thirty dollars for a blow job or hand job. Your cut is twelve-fifty.”
Twelve dollars for giving a stranger a blow job!
“A fuck is fifty and you get twenty-five out of that.”
“Somebody wants something different, I’ll negotiate for you. We got costumes, toys, those kinds of things.” She nodded toward a closet covered with a thin psychedelic tapestry on the other side of the bed. “I’ll be fair with you. I expect you to be square with me.”
All I could do was nod. What an injustice. The girls were allowing their bodies to be violated while she sat back and collected the profits. They should get the same deal as hairdressers, pay her rental on the space and keep the profits for themselves.
“I can tell you’re impressed. I pay my girls well.” She licked her lips again. “Do you know how to give a good blow job?”
“I—I think I do.” I’d never been called on to judge my performance.
She huffed. “I’ll have to teach you. Probably have to teach you how to give a decent hand job too.” Reaching into the top desk drawer, she pulled out a black five-by-seven-inch appointment book. “You know how to moan, don’t ya?”
Sweat trickled between my breasts. What was I doing there? I laughed hysterically. “Oh boy, can I moan. I can even scream!”
She took my meltdown for ecstatic enthusiasm and smiled.
It was only a matter of time until my perspiration shorted out the receiver battery pack and I electrocuted myself.
“You can buy some rubbers from me tonight,” Anita continued, “but you’ll have to supply your own.”
Rubbers? My mind wasn’t working. “What size should I buy?” I’d never seen a rubber in my twenty-seven years.
“Just buy the economy pack.”
They don’t come in penis sizes? Good to know.
“But like I said.” She leered. “I have some for tonight.”
I shouldn’t be there. I should never have joined the police department in the first place.
Flexing my thigh muscles, I prepared to flee.
Anita would catch me before I made it to the door. Maybe I could vault onto the desk and hurl myself through the window.
I was about as agile as a cow. Another nervous laugh.
Anita laughed with me, a gruff chortle. “I have a few clients who love to help me break the new ones in, and you’re a blond. Men love blonds.” She put her feet on the floor, reached for the dirty beige desk phone. “Let’s see if we can’t make you a couple hundred bucks tonight.”
My heart and spleen scrambled to make their escape. My vagina drew itself up into my navel. I did the math. Almost twenty blow jobs? Screwing eight times? All before dawn! She wouldn’t kill me. I was going to get fucked to death.
She picked up the phone’s receiver and dialed. Each click of the wheel returning to zero thundered in my ears. “Hello, my darling,” she spoke into the mouthpiece. “Do I have a treat for you.”
“I can’t stay. I didn’t know you’d want me to start right away.”
“Hold on a minute.” Covering the mouthpiece, she glowered. “What do you mean, you can’t stay?” The mic felt like it was crawling out of my blouse. I put a hand up secure it. If Anita saw the wire, she’d twist my arms off.
“I’m meeting my boyfriend and his parents for dinner at eight-thirty. They flew in from Denver. Tomorrow they want to drive up the canyons, then see Temple Square.”
Anita’s beady eyes narrowed, and her lips protruded like a balloon caricature. “Oh.”
She spoke into the phone. “Let me call you right back.” After she hung up, she waved her black book wildly. “You see this? There are some very important people in this book. Lots of names you would know. They’re all going to want to try you.”
I was in trouble.
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