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Out to you hon? Kaye is delivering her mumsy sales pitch down the phone to a potential client at the Pelican Club - the central Auckland brothel she manages. She's sitting behind a barred window in an office about the size of a cupboard. Dozens of post-it notes are stuck to the walls. Some concern safety — 'watch out for that Arab customer with a strangling fetish', call police if a notorious gang member tries to enter. Tonight is Pippa's first escort.
She's wearing dark clothes, her spiky hair straight out of an anime book. The owner of Pelican Club, Lyn King, has given her a test tube of lipstick. The client she's going to see is a regular who calls up when his parents leave town. Last time he paid with a jar of coins. Pippa spends about 30 minutes debating whether or not to do the job. There are about seven other women in the lounge with her, biding their time until they are summoned for house calls or in-house work in the club's 13 Egyptian-themed rooms.
They chat on bar stools, wine in hand, adjusting lingerie and reapplying make up. New Zealand is touted as having the ideal legal model for sex work. In we became one of the few countries to legalise the industry. Despite that, sex workers still regularly felt the whip of moral panic, with every media furore — more recently claims of underage sex workers in South Auckland — reigniting calls to tear up the groundbreaking legislation. In an area that was already grey to start with, have things gotten better?
Each hour shift at the Pelican Club kicks off with a meeting where the manager goes over, of all things, the most interesting news items of the day. What was creating a buzz this Monday? On the weekend a man got drunk and stuck a cone on top of a Nelson cathedral and a cat stole a policeman's badge. We give them topics of interest instead of just saying 'hi, how was your day? The meeting takes place in one of the sex rooms, where about ten girls cram onto a bed or sprawl across the massage couch to face the manageress who is sitting on a table.
King: "What about sport? The Warriors won. With a minute-and-a-half to go some guy scored the last try. The girls are reminded of the importance of a clean room. Some had been forgetting to wipe down the showers. Look for anything left on the floor. The end of a condom packet looks tacky. The White House, with its mighty pillars and graffitied Uncle Sam "we want you" ad, is a kind of institution on Queen Street.