Lights hemmed the Hutt motorway. There were black hills on Eden’s left and the dark sea on her right, lit only by the occasional movement of clouds and passing traffic. She was in T-Rex’s people mover. He drove with his left hand on the wheel and his right elbow on the open window sill. Cold air blew onto Eden’s face. It pulled at her hair and cheeks and lay in the hollow of her neck, which her jacket didn’t cover.
‘You’ve got your cellphone, eh?’ asked T-Rex. He said the same thing every time. It was part of his pre-flight check: landing gear, trim, fuel tank alignment. Eden didn’t mind. She liked going on jobs with him. There were always sandwiches in the glove box, and a supply of condoms and emergency lube in a red metal box under the passenger’s seat. In the boot there was a first aid kit, two silvery blankets to wrap around themselves in the event of a natural disaster, jumper leads and various tools.
‘No harm in being prepared,’ he said when she quizzed him. ‘We’re right on the faultline. Never know when the whole damn city will slide into the sea.’
Eden admired T-Rex’s glass-half-empty attitude. It made him perfect for the job, she thought. He operated on the assumption that rapists, murderers and robbers lurked behind every picket fence and suburban front door. He told the women to yell if something was off, and he’d come running. To the best of her knowledge he’d only had to do that once, but she felt easier going into a client’s house knowing he was waiting outside in the car. His size and tatts made clients think twice about starting something, however drunk they were or full of two a.m. aggro. But it wasn’t just about physical presence. T-Rex was also good at defusing situations. She’d seen him with a pissed off client a couple of weeks ago. The guy wasn’t happy with one of the women, and wanted his money back. Cindy tried talking to him, a take it or leave it look on her face, but the man wasn’t having it. He was getting loud and the other clients in the lounge were eyeing the door.
When T-Rex swung through the office door, Eden thought: uh-oh. He looked the business. He went over to the guy and put his head right in close, next to the guy’s ear, and said something quiet. The other man laughed. He said something back and T-Rex laughed, and then the guy’s shoulders relaxed. Cindy said something and the three of them looked at Eden, who was sitting on a stool and swinging her legs and pretending not to be taking any notice. Cindy returned to the office and called in Eden. The man had agreed to pay for another woman, she said, so could Eden please go and make him happy. Eden wasn’t 100 percent keen but Cindy looked as if she just didn’t need any extra grief given the way the night was going, so she said okay. When she went back in the client lounge and the man put his hand on her ass and she leaned into him and laughed like she was gagging for it, she saw T-Rex watching her from behind the bar. His dark eyes didn’t give away much.
All the women agreed that if Stan had been there, it would have come to blows. He wouldn’t have been able to help himself. He had a typical shortarse’s temper and a bit of red in his hair. That was just Stan: a good man in a fight but no fucking diplomat.
‘Jaysus,’ he’d said one night when Holly arrived for work in a white figure-hugging dress. ‘Who ate all the pies?’
Eden thought Stan might be having it off with Sabrina on the side, which wasn’t against the rules but not exactly recommended either. Personally, she couldn’t imagine trying to have a relationship with someone from the club. How could it work?
‘Sorry sweetie, I’ll be late for dinner tonight because I’m booked for a threesome.’
Ah, no. Easier to stay single.
The white caravan was tucked under the trees at the far end of the carpark, between the softball fields and Harcourt Werry Drive. It was angle-parked by the trees, with one side in darkness and the other lit by streetlights, a cabin light over the main door, and the yellow glow from a lamp on in the caravan. A low-hanging branch scratched across the caravan’s roof. Music was playing quietly.
T-Rex parked the car about twenty metres away from the caravan. Close enough to hear her call for help, far enough not to hear anything else. He cut the lights. Eden checked her lipstick in her phone’s mirror app, ran her hands through her hair, and picked up her bag and jacket.
‘All right?’ asked T-Rex.
He tapped an imaginary watch on his wrist.
‘Clock’s ticking,’ he said.
It was starting to rain. Eden held her jacket over her head as she ran to the caravan. The door opened. The client must have been listening for her. He stepped straight from the caravan onto the gravel, music following him out.
‘I’m Jason,’ he said, giving her a once over.
‘Eden.’ She moved from foot to foot. ‘It’s bloody cold out here. Shall we go in?’
‘Let’s get the paperwork out of the way first,’ he said. He was holding a wad of notes and he started counting it out. He must be in his forties, Eden thought, but he obviously took care of himself. He had a runner’s build, lean and corded, and dirty blond hair, surfie hair, and what her grandmother would have called a Roman nose. She wasn’t sure what the modern term was. A blue towel was wrapped around his hips and his hair was wet, as if he’d come straight from the shower.
She looked over at T-Rex. He’d taken off his seatbelt and was lounging back, drinking a bottle of V and watching the road.
Jason handed her the money. It was exact, so she folded it into her wallet. He opened the caravan door.
‘Here we are,’ he said.
The caravan’s interior was divided into light and dark. Down the dark end she could make out a small kitchen, a built-in couch with brown squabs and a pile of blankets and washing, and a fold-out white and grey formica table. A lamp was on in the other end, and it was well lit by comparison. That part of the caravan had been walled off to create a bedroom, separated by a maroon velvet curtain which was now tied back. There was a double bed covered by a green duvet. Jeans and a khaki tee-shirt were folded on top of a cabinet to one side of the bed. His side, Eden thought. Half a dozen books were neatly stacked on the cabinet, but Eden couldn’t read the titles.
She put her jacket and bag on the floor.
Jason dropped his towel.
‘Take me to paradise,’ he said.
Eden wasn’t her real name, of course. It was Rebecca. She didn’t really care what she was called at work but Cindy had chosen Eden, and that’s how she was advertised: rediscover the garden of Eden…
Eden remembered the first time she’d had sex for money. She was a student, and broke. Desperately broke, in fact. So broke her flatmates were going to kick her out if she couldn’t come up with money for the power bill. She didn’t know where her student allowance went. It seemed to slip through her fingers on coffee and magazines, junk. She’d never been good with money. Anyway, this guy came up to her in a bar and offered her $100, easy money, if she’d have it off with him in the toilets. He’d been eyeing her up all night while she played pool. Her friends had left and she was drunk and wondering what to do next, whether to walk home or shell out more money for a taxi. Whether it was worth going home if there was a chance her flatmates would have changed the locks.
So when this guy offered to pay for sex, if she was up for it, it seemed both amusing and a life-saver. She’d have money for the power bill and a funny story to tell her friends the next day. And he was all right, it wasn’t like he was really old or ugly or weird in some way. Just drunk and horny, and loaded. So she went off with him and they had sex in a cubicle in the women’s toilets, which she thought was safer than doing it in the men’s. They waited for the queue of women to disappear, whipped into the toilets at the first opportunity, and then waited ages while women trickled in to use the toilets or reapply make-up. They tried to be quiet, shushing each other noisily, and Eden had a fit of the giggles, drunken nervousness skittering out of her as the stranger sat on the toilet and she wrapped her legs around him and his cock moved slowly inside her.
Afterwards the guy didn’t pay her and when she reminded him, as he zipped up his trousers, he laughed and said yeah okay, jeez, I’d just forgotten, give me a minute.
When she woke the next day, she wasn’t sure what to make of what had happened. She didn’t feel ashamed but it didn’t seem like an amusing story to tell her friends about, either. She was glad of the money, however, and surprised by the amount and how easily it had been obtained. She left her share of the power bill in an envelope on the kitchen table and went out for a coffee and to clear her head and to think.
The incident in the toilet led to further experiments, and more money, and then one night at a bar a friend came up to her, a girl she’d gone to school with, and said look, you’re getting a bit of a reputation, I just thought you should know. And while Eden didn’t like the idea of getting a reputation, she wasn’t bothered at all by having sex with strangers, so she smiled at this former friend and said thanks for telling me. She realised then that something had shifted, and her compass no longer pointed north.
Two months later she was working at the club, and living in a flat of her own.
The club offered a good income, privacy, and some measure of safety. Eden liked most of the women she worked with, and she didn’t mind having sex with people who had little interest in her thoughts or long-term plans. She was in the moment, and while the moment could be rough, crude, functional — the mechanics of screw and nut — there were also times when it was not like this, or not only like that, not only the earning of coin, a transaction between fucker and fucked.
It wasn’t very loud but she heard it.
‘What was that?’ she asked.
‘What was what?’ Jason was on his back and she was riding him.
‘I heard something.’ For a moment she wondered if T-Rex had succumbed to curiosity and was pressed against the caravan wall, trying to see through a chink in the curtain. It was a ridiculous thought. Besides, the sound had come from inside the caravan.
‘Keep going.’ Jason put his hands on her hips. She absently brushed his hands away and eased herself off.
She padded, naked, down the caravan, into the darkness of the kitchenette. Now that she had heard something unexplained, a slight rustle that should not have been there, she felt compelled to investigate. There were no real hiding places in the caravan. She looked inside the tiny bathroom and in the narrow utilities cupboard and under the fold-out table.
‘Eden, come back,’ Jason hissed.
And then she saw him. The boy. He must have been four or five, a skinny little thing with brown hair and eyes that caught the light, looking at her from under the pile of blankets on the couch. In the next instant his eyes were shut and he could have been asleep, except that she had seen him and she wasn’t fooled. She stood there, smiling in case he was looking at her through nearly-closed lids, and then she straightened his blankets and returned to the bedroom.
She began pulling on her clothes.
‘Who the fuck is that?’ she whispered.
‘My son,’ said Jason. He sat up and watched her dress. ‘He stays with me at weekends. Don’t go. He’s asleep. He can’t hear anything.’
‘He’s not asleep,’ said Eden. She wanted to yell at him but didn’t want to frighten the boy down the other end of the caravan. ‘Do you think this is okay? Us having sex with your son here?’
‘You’re over-reacting,’ said Jason. His voice had an edge. He reached for the towel he’d cast aside earlier. ‘We’re not doing anything wrong, so get a fucking grip.’
Eden wanted to hit him.
‘He’s a kid, you fricken dick,’ she said. She was so angry she could barely get the words out. She snatched her bag and jacket up from the floor, and saw that her hands were shaking.
As she left the caravan Jason came to the door. He had pulled on the khaki tee-shirt.
‘I want a refund,’ he said.
Eden didn’t speak as they drove back along the Hutt motorway. She remembered being five and waking in the night to strange sounds. Climbing out of bed, half asleep, and going to investigate, and finding a man on top of her mother in her mother’s bedroom. She remembered screaming with fright and her mother and the man springing apart and her mother saying shush shush, it’s just uncle Bryce. You remember him, don’t you baby?
She thought of the boy in the caravan waking to strange noises. She hoped he was not afraid. She wondered how often his father had done this before, and how the boy had learned to pretend to be asleep. She decided to tell Cindy about the incident. Cindy would make sure no one else went to the caravan, and she might put in a quiet word somewhere else too.
Eden’s breathing slowly returned to normal. T-Rex didn’t say anything. His window was up and the car was hot and stuffy. Eden wished he would put the window down so she could feel the cold air on her face.
They pulled into the carpark at the club. T-Rex switched off the engine.
‘Are you all right?’ he asked, looking at her.
‘Just a wanker, that’s all,’ she said.
She checked her handbag to make sure the cash was all there, and opened the car door. T-Rex placed the back of his hand on her cheek and held it there for a minute, and then they both got out.