Sensing Pol’s aggravation, the staff finally turned their attention away from the case, much to my relief, and we were shown to our room. James hadn’t held back with any expense. The penthouse he had intended to share with Pol was clearly the honeymoon suite, with its floor to ceiling windows and terrace overlooking the unpopulated beach (it would take another few years before this stretch of Tulum became the holiday destination of choice for film and fashion insiders).
Pol calmly opened the case on the bed, tipping out hundreds of crisp dollar notes. Strangely I was neither shocked or surprised, just thankful she hadn’t transported 4 kilos of hard drugs into the country. I asked why she had this kind of money in Tulum when James had paid for everything. She was doing it as a favour to James. Pol was carefree but not stupid, so I chose not to ask any questions about the details of the favour. She wrapped the money in a towel and placed it in the safe. With James’s unknown favour and Pol’s devil may care nature, there was still time for us to be arrested.
A new friend from New York, Nicholas, was in the process of designing his boutique hotel close to where Pol and I were staying for the week. Nicholas was in Tulum at the time, overseeing building work and planning a shoot for Vogue that would take place on his as yet unfinished property. We arranged to have drinks at his future hotel on our second night.
Although most rooms at Nicholas’s hotel were incomplete at the time, it was still clear that his vision was going to be wildly successful. With Nicholas’s network of friends and associates from his days as an in-demand model, it wasn’t going to be hard to create the necessary excitement around this place. Pol and I spent an evening in his company, drinking wine on the beach and listening to his plans before walking the 10 minutes back along the beach to our hotel.
Both Pol and I were not the types to sit and sunbathe all day, we needed more to engage our minds, a likely side effect of our over stimulation in the city we lived. After a couple of days spent on the beach, Pol suggested we travel to Cancun, spending the day and evening exploring the city. We booked a driver and travelled the two hours north along the coast, arriving shortly before lunch. Cancun wasn’t what either of us had expected. Having not researched the city before our departure, we had envisaged a cultural haven with classical buildings and intricate Mexican tiles creating a visual delight at every turn. What we found was a built up city overrun with drunken overseas students and tourist bars stretching the entirety of the main streets. Accepting that culture wasn’t on the cards, we soon found ourselves in one of the many oceanfront bars offering two for one frozen margaritas.
When it became clear that we had both written the evening off, we dived head first into a bar clearly lacking in culture, but with great music blaring from the open windows. Having been sure that a tortilla sombrero filled with guacamole was a mythical culinary creation, when entering what we now knew was Señor Frogs, it soon became apparent that this was something they prided themselves on.
After our third margarita, Pol excused herself and headed for the bathroom. When she hadn’t returned 20 minutes later I sensed something was wrong. Imagining my flat mate’s abduction by Mexican drug lords (who would, of course, be dining at Señor Frogs) I went in search of her. I pushed my way through the packed bar, trying to avoid the avocado falling from hats all around me. With no sign of Pol in the loo, I walked through the three floors of the restaurant hoping she had befriended an entertaining group and was planning our next stop for the evening. With anxiety clearly written on my face, one of the waiters who had seen us together downstairs told me he was sure it was Pol who had walked to an upstairs office with the restaurant manager. Expressing my concern, the waiter kindly led me to where he thought she could be. I heard voices behind a large carved wooden door, one I recognised as Pol’s. After a minute of knocking, an undeniably handsome man with a large enamel frog pinned to his open shirt unlocked the door. Pol was seated on a small desk looking slightly dishevelled, but happy. She waved to me as though this scenario was completely normal. For her it may have been, but I was her holiday companion and she had abandoned me for a Mexican restaurant manager whose office was decked out in frog memorabilia. With Pol you had to accept her free spirit and not ask too many questions. With no apologies for her diversion, we walked back down to our table and ordered another round of extra-strength cocktails.
After the Cancun episode, the rest of our time was how I had envisaged our trip would be; yoga at sunrise, cocktails at sunset and a far slower pace than that of the hectic life we lived back in New York.
The week passed quickly. I had found a new love for Tulum, but still no greater understanding for my flatmate. As we departed the hotel, I noted that the money and small leather case were no longer with us. The favour had clearly been met.
On our return to New York, the vagueness surrounding Pol’s income was now on my mind. For the first time I wanted to know more about the person I was sharing a home with. The source of Pol’s finances became crystal clear a few weeks later.
My friend Tom was in town from London with an artist friend who was having an exhibition at the Gagosian. He invited me to the opening party, plus any guests I wanted to bring. It was my 28th birthday and I asked Pol and another girlfriend, a New York Times writer, as my dates.
Before heading uptown to the Gagosian, I had a small birthday dinner for three at Employees Only, a restaurant with blacked out windows on Houston Street where my friend Dagny was working as the Maître d. Once at the party and having lost Pol in the crowd somewhere, my writer friend began to ask probing questions about my flatmate. The questions pointed to Pol’s black AMEX and how she continuously rotated a wardrobe of the latest designer collections and Hermes Birkin’s. How Pol acquired her extensive wardrobe had never been a huge consideration of mine, I had my own life and work to think about. By midnight, having not seen Pol for at least an hour, I left the party and headed back downtown. I was sober and reflecting on what the year ahead may bring, something I always do on my birthday and New Year.
That morning I was woken by an indistinct sound coming from the living room. From the crack in my door I could see that the only light was coming from the street lamps that reached our third floor window, so knew it was the early hours. I hazily peered out into the living room and saw Pol sitting on the floor in tears. It was the first time I had seen her even remotely vulnerable. She told me about her work, her life and suddenly it all made sense. We talked for hours that morning, distracted only by the last people we could see at the party Lenny Kravitz was hosting in his enormous apartment across the street. Lenny often had gatherings and we would sit drinking on the fire escape, waiting for him to beckon us over to join him. He never did.
During our talk, it emerged that Pol was a walker of sorts, hired as an escort for high profile events and dinners. She explained there no sexual involvement, just company. I chose not to question her further. I still don’t know the exacts of that time and prefer it that way. What I found out that night, sitting under blankets in our cosy flat, was that clients were film stars, diplomats, politicians; anyone who could pay the big bucks for her time. Pol was a beauty, great company and was street smart. She knew how to look after herself and the work suited her, for now.
Her current boyfriend, the property developer, was into hard drugs and not particularly charming company for the most part. After the night she and I had, when for the first time our conversation felt truly authentic, she decided not to see him again. After this, life continued to improve for both of us; I was getting regular styling work and Pol was more focused on her idea of launching a fashion label.
There was a party coming up to celebrate a designer at Bungalow 8. I asked Pol to be my plus one, sure that now there were no tricky ex-boyfriend influences, I could trust her not to get into any trouble. We arrived to a throng of people outside, pushing their way towards the already clearly packed club. I knew the doormen at Bungalow, I was there often and they ushered us in ahead of the queue of people claiming they knew Amy, the owner.
The party was clearly going to be one of the better ones the club had seen for a while. Hollywood actors mixed with fashion industry heavyweights and musicians tried their best to gain the attention of the supermodels who were being fiercely protected by their wary agents. The energy in the place gave me some indication as to how it must have been to party at Studio 54 some twenty years before.
While deep in conversation with a friend at the bar, I realised Pol had disappeared again, which after the Mexico situation made me immediately nervous. Scouring the room for my flatmate, I could see through the wafting palm trees that lined the room that there was some sort of altercation happening on the other side of the bar. I guessed Pol would be involved. As I walked closer, I could see things were clearly getting heated. I noticed a man forcefully pulling Pol’s arm away from another man who I now recognised as one of the leading actors in that year’s biggest film. Pol was trying to pull herself free as the club’s security were pushing their way through the packed club to where the fracas was happening. I still had no idea what was going on and why Pol was being physically handled by this man. With the security now agitated and in talks with who I now reaslied was a bodyguard, Pol was led from the club, with me following behind. I was mortified. Wildly angry, Pol was shouting at nobody in particular as she walked up the otherwise deserted street and onto 10th Avenue. I wanted to stay at the club, it was one of the best parties I had been to all year, but I knew that living under the same roof would be uncomfortable for the foreseeable future if I didn’t leave with Pol to show my support. As we walked home, Pol explained that as recently as a few weeks ago she had been booked by the actor to accompany him to an event. Pol didn’t disclose exact details, but things had apparently escalated and ended badly. It was times like these that I wish Pol had been more of an open book, all these years later I still have so many questions.
Life continued as normal and things had quietened down in Pol’s life. I was planning a trip back to London, a trip that was brought forward when the girl renting my flat in Notting Hill had, for no apparent reason other than being a deceitful wretch, decided to stop paying her rent. When I realised she had no intention of paying me ever again, I knew I would have to fly home to evict her myself, having not employed a managing agent to deal with any issues on my behalf. I informed Pol I would be spending six weeks in London, where I had lined up magazine shoots and would use this time to find a new, somewhat more reliable, tenant to rent my flat.
Apart from brief weekend visits, I had been away for three years. I loved this extended time back in London, seeing friends and family and being reminded of just how much I loved the city. I was quickly swept up in my old routines and as much as I loved New York, there was nothing I treasured more than the familiarity of my favourite haunts, close friends and walking through the neighbourhoods where I had grown up.
Throughout our regular correspondence while I was in London, Pol appeared cagier than usual, a certain vagueness to her answers when I had asked what was new in New York,. One night a phone call came that would explain just why Pol had been so evasive.
While I had been in London for six weeks, Pol had met someone and was now married. If I thought this was a lot to take in, the story of how they had met and the timeline from first date to beach wedding was even more of a shock.
DISCLAIMER. Names have been changed to protect identities. Situations relating to and involving Pol can, in some instances, be embellished or exaggerated. The term Escort used in this extract does not relate to work involving sex in exchange for money.
IMAGE. Stock image of Crosby Street in New York, uncredited.