I wasn't supposed to be working yesterday, but when else would one go to a massage parlor?

Three flights up, just above a hair studio and smack in the middle of M Street's nightclub district, I took a seat next to the plastic sofa in the waiting room. I wondered if anyone was home. It was just me and the stereo, and a female vocalist warbling about one night love affairs.

A man in his forties asked me if I wanted a Coke. I said no. "OK," he said, and left. I contemplated the arrangement of plastic foliage to my right.

Then, from behind a red curtain, she appeared: blond and bathed in the soft red lights.

"Shall we go upstairs?" she asked. I followed, carrying my overcoat.

She led me along a corridor past three closed rooms. We stopped at a cubicle on the corner, 8-by-10-feet and painted black. A mirror on the ceiling over the double bed reflected the glow of a table lamp. She draped herself on the bed. I sat on a corner.

"Do you want our fees?" she asked.

"Tell me about them." I said.

"Well, its $40 to come upstairs," she cooed, leaning forward.

"What does that get?" I asked.

"A half-hour nude encounter. No touching. But for $130 you can have sex with me." All I had was $40. "What about the massage?" I asked.

"We're not allowed to give massages," she said. "It's against the law."

"I have a confession to make," I said. She sighed a lot, every few minutes a sigh. "Go ahead."

"I'm a reporter, and I'm here to do a story on Christmas Day in a massage parlor. It that OK with you?" I took out my pad and pen to convince her.

"It will still cost you $40," she said.

I gave her the money. She took it downstairs to the manager and I took off my shoes, watching her walk down the hall.

Her name was Angelique. Her eyes were blue. She was 19.

She works here for the money -- 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day -- and tells her friends in Gaithersburg she's a cashier. Her boyfriend doesn't like it, but he needs a shoulder operation as a result of a construction accident. She's been here for one year.

Angelique was the only girl working in the parlor yesterday. She had not planned to, she wanted to stay home with her boyfriend and cuddle by the Christmas tree. But when they called and said they needed someone, she thought about the money and came in at noon.

There I was, lying on a bed in a massage parlor writing notes. I asked her about sex for money and how she manages to do it.

"Well, usually we get a lot of businessmen on their lunch hours," she said, biting a silver-painted fingernail. "They put it on their expense accounts. Some are pretty gross, others are nice. I have some regulars, though. I just think about the money.

"We haven't had much business today," she said, lighting a cigarette and offering one to me. "Just a few guys who said they were kind of lonely.

"Well, your time's about up," she said, "and I have a customer downstairs. Hey, it's been nice talking to you." I wanted to kiss her. I felt guilty.

I went down the steps and past the waiting room. Angelique was talking to a white-haired old man in a three-piece suit who was sitting on the couch by the Christmas tree.

"Do you know our prices?" she asked him.

"What's that," he said, cupping a hand to his right ear.

"I said, do you know our prices?" she repeated.

"Oh" the man said. "Oh yes. I've been here before, honey."