Some would say Tommy French got what he deserved. Zack Gleason too. The both of them, thinking that a rendezvous of that sort with one Pauline Mary Lou Colt would come off smooth as a lucky streak at the racetrack. They could not have known of course what her actual intentions were, that what they were buying is not what they would be receiving. That deception was involved. The only thing they were sure of is how they felt about the prospect when—separately and without any awareness of each other’s existence (Tommy lived in Auburn, Zack in Fitchburg)—they checked out the profile of her posted on the website and saw staring back at them a woman who made their blood run hot. She would be worth every penny, is how they viewed the situation. Instead they might have been two souls lost in a fish bowl, for all intents and purposes, considering the way it turned out for them—the victims of a ruse as mischievous, secretive and unforgiving as a pickpocket’s lifting of belongings from a poor sap walking through a crowded terminal; South Station in Boston, perhaps, or the Port Authority in New York. What they shared, Tommy French who loaded pallets of soda onto Polar Beverages trucks backed into the bays of the distribution facility on Southbridge St. in Worcester and Zack Gleason who worked the Zamboni at the Wallace Civic Center on the John Fitch Highway in Fitchburg, was a certainty that Pauline wasn’t an everyday hooker. They had enough good sense about them to avoid the drug-addled, overly-pimped-out streetwalkers who could be found in their miniskirts—clutching cheap handbags or purses, strutting like giraffes, dragging on a cigarette—at the corner of Main and Piedmont in Worcester’s notorious Main South neighborhood: the dames who charged fifty bucks or a hundred in exchange for the drive-up services they rendered in the privacy of your vehicle after you’d parked discreetly along Beacon St. or in the no-man’s-land behind the Family Dollar store in Webster Square. The kind of women you wouldn’t bring home to momma. Pauline by contrast was a high-priced call girl, officially an “escort.” The rarest of specimens in a city long identified by sluttier members of the world’s oldest profession. That she was employed by a matchmaking outfit that went by the name meetme.com—with her photo and essential information a mere click away at any instant (5-8, 110 pounds, 34C-25-34, jet-black hair, intriguing dark eyes, skin as fair as Snow White’s, lips painted fire-engine red)—only proved that they had better taste than your typical “john.” Best of all, she was twenty-four, about their age. So here they were, Tommy French and Zack Gleason, each driven towards Pauline by lust but by something else too. Tommy French whose long jagged scar marring the left cheekbone—the result of a knife fight with an old enemy from Auburn High—determined to get the sex that was no longer available to him by ordinary means. Tommy French who when he played right guard for the Rockets was a candidate for Homecoming King, who with his misshapen nose (broken twice in hockey games) and already thinning brown hair was never what a cheerleader would have called handsome anyway despite a conspicuous masculinity. Now a certifiable reject. Tommy French who drank alone at Herbie’s or Yong Shing when he wasn’t eating seafood at Ronnie’s or swatting pitches in the batting cages at Crystal Caves. Tommy French, waiting for the female attention that suddenly seemed so elusive. And Zack Gleason, he of the permanent limp. Zack Gleason who was born with one leg shorter than the other, who had done the best he could despite a fierce hatred for his deformity, who when not perched in his seat at the controls of the machine that honed the ice to shimmering glass did not know what to do with himself. Zack Gleason who even with lifts in his shoe could not disguise the favoring walk that was such a complete disqualifier. Zack Gleason whose height at a mere 5-5 was against him to begin with and then add that infernal handicap, which no amount of compensating for could cover up. Money was not an issue for either of them. Both were flush with cash, eager to lavish it on Pauline who they’d been visualizing in their dreams before heading to Decatur St. in the city’s “Main Middle” neighborhood. They arrived simultaneously in front of a green three decker at nine o’clock on a steamy Friday night in July, Tommy exiting a battered white Ford 150 and Zack a stylish black Maxima. They stood in the street, sizing each other up, wondering what their mutual presence could possibly mean, glancing about for any sign of Pauline. Tommy walked toward Zack, Zack toward Tommy. They would sort this out. She approached. She wasn’t an illusion. She was real. They watched together, admiring the swing of her hips, the clack of her high heels on the walk, the strapless white dress that she appeared to have been poured into. They did not see the man sneaking in behind them from the other side of the street until it was too late. “Your wallets, gents, and then go back to from where you came,” the tall, swarthy, bearded man said, waving a pistol. A last glimpse of Pauline as she turned and retraced her steps. How were they to know she was a “decoy date”?