Decoy Inc.

Time: 8pm Saturday Place: a bar in New York City Mission: to see how bad a husband can be
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Twenty-five-year-old Teresa Russo is tall, blonde and beautiful. She's also a decoy. If a man has a cheating heart she will know - and so will his wife, thanks to the tiny tape recorder Teresa wears strapped to her calf. "I run the wire from the recorder up the leg of my trousers and under my blouse," she says, sipping mineral water in a Manhattan restaurant. "There's a tiny microphone in my bra that can pick up everything a man says."

Teresa has been a decoy for five years. She works with a team of former New York City detectives who own Check-A-Mate. "Business is booming," says former NYPD homicide investigator Gerry Palace, the company's president. "Men in the Nineties seem more inclined to cheat than ever, plus in New York you can never be sure that a guy you meet is telling the truth. That's where we come in."

Check-A-Mate clients come to Palace with suspicions and doubts. Teresa's job is to give them certainty and peace of mind. "The typical job is a wife who notices a change in her husband's habits," says Russo. "Maybe he's suddenly staying at work later than usual." That's when Teresa sets up the sting. "I'll go to a bar or restaurant where he's known to hang out. I'll go stand next to him and get into conversation."

The purpose of this exchange, with tape rolling, is to see how far the husband or boyfriend will go, if given the chance. The clients often give Teresa a list of questions to ask, designed to test their fidelity. "I tell them how great they look, what a nice personality they have," she says. "Then I'll say something like 'A guy like you has to be married, right?' We call this the integrity test. Most married guys under suspicion say 'No, I'm single.' That's when I've got them. I've done more than 700 cases and only three guys ever told me the truth. Most of my married targets I know are going to fail because the first thing I notice is they ain't wearing their wedding rings."

Teresa was Miss New York in 1991 and critics of decoys say she entraps her targets with a figure and a sparkling smile that make her green eyes all but irresistible. Middle-aged accountants with a paunch must scramble to stuff their wedding rings in their pockets the moment she walks in. "That's not the point," she says. "They are only a target because they have done something suspicious. If they're married they should still be able to resist temptation, even if I'm Cindy Crawford with no clothes on."

Gerry Palace usually sends out Teresa with a back-up. He will sit somewhere else in the venue, keeping a close eye on the decoy and the mark. Palace always carries a gun and sometimes Teresa will follow suit. "I have a 9mm Glock semi-automatic, it's light and fast," she says. "Sometimes I have to be in a bad neighbourhood or targeting a mark with a history of violence. Then I'll carry a weapon and you can bet I know how to use it."

It's eight o'clock on a Saturday night. The venue is Match Uptown, a slick restaurant within catwalk distance of Calvin Klein's headquarters. Models line the walls with faces familiar from building-sized billboards in Times Square. One face is strikingly familiar and he's Teresa's mark.

"I'm really nervous about this job, " she says in the cab on the way. "The guy is engaged to a supermodel, she's really gorgeous. I can't compete with that." She fiddles with her long blonde hair and adjusts the Velcro that holds her tape recorder in place. "Gerry hand-picked me for this but I don't know." She's dressed for the part. All Calvin Klein elegance. Graceful slacks end in a pair of fake-crocodile boots. An Armani-style jacket swings open to reveal a curvaceous chest and an athlete's stomach all sculpted inside a tight bodysuit from Donna Karan. "Only three guys have ever turned me down and one was a religious fanatic. Tonight could be number four."

She needn't have worried. While Palace watched from the bar Teresa went to work. Earlier she had booked a table for two but sat there alone. She kept giving the mark a look with her flashing eyes and soon he was at her side. The tape tells the tale. The underwear model asks Teresa why she's alone. She fakes a story about a girlfriend stuck in Denver airport. He sits down, orders drinks. Then she works the hit. Teresa: "Where's your girlfriend tonight? Or are you married?" Guy: "Hah! I ain't married, not yet at least. I have few girlfriends but nothing special."

Nothing except a supermodel fiancee with a big diamond ring who broke down crying when she heard the tape, her suspicions confirmed. Her man is a runaround. "She was unhappy," says Palace. "But at least she knew the truth before she got married. That cost her some sleepless nights and our $500 fee but it would have been more expensive to marry the loser."

There is nothing illegal about what Teresa does, astonishing given the litigious nature of American society. Her recordings have been used as court evidence and nobody has challenged their validity. Gerry Palace has a portfolio of 20 women decoys. He shows their photographs to his clients and tells the wife to choose the face her husband is most likely to find attractive. Teresa gets picked more than anybody else. "I'm working all the time," she says, acknowledging that these days she also carries her gun more often than not. "Some guys have been leaving messages at Gerry's, threatening my life. That is scary. They're anonymous calls but Gerry's tracking them."

A prime suspect is a Frenchman called Charles who was pulled down by Teresa in August and lost half a million dollars in the bargain. "He came here from France with a sob story. He met our client and played hard-to- get. For weeks this went on. He is very handsome and charming but reserved. When he explained that he was recovering from the loss of his wife and two children 18 months ago our client was hooked."

The couple got engaged. She was wealthy with an independent fortune. Charles wanted to open a business selling high-quality designer leather coats. She helped him get started. Each night he'd bring home flowers and make love with her until the early hours. "There were none of the usual signs," says Palace. "He was loving, he was full of desire for her and his habits were regular." Perfect? Too perfect for the client.

Before she injected another half million into Charles's business and walked down the aisle with him she wanted to know if he was really so good. "I went to his showroom," says Teresa. "I told him I modelled. He said he'd love me to do a fashion show with him. He said I was beautiful, the compliments just poured out of him. He asked me to lunch. I asked if he was involved. He said no and told me he hadn't been out with a woman in two years, not since his wife died. He kind of teared up when he told me."

With the incriminating tape in hand, Teresa went about the other part of her job - taking the tape to the client, sitting by while they listen and then offering help once they've heard the awful truth. "This was hard. The poor girl started crying. He said to me exactly what he'd said to her. She heard him say how he had this rich aunt who gave him money, that the business was just a game. It turned out he'd been screwing girls in hotel rooms on his fiancee's money almost every afternoon of the week."

One of Teresa's clients heard her husband say he was a widower, another heard her fiance make arrangements to meet Teresa in a Las Vegas hotel room. When he turned up he found his wife waiting for him, tape recording in hand. "These women are worried that they are being betrayed," says Teresa. "Often their marriage is the most important thing in their lives and so long as they are suspicious they can't retain their self-esteem." That explains the questions that most women want asked. "The wife wants to know if he's going to deny her, if he's going to deny their children, if he's going to ask for my telephone number."

Teresa is somewhat of an avenging angel. A tall willowy nightmare for any cheatster, driven by her own pain. "I first met Gerry because I thought my fiance was betraying my trust," she says. "I needed to know the truth. When I found out he was, it destroyed me." Gerry helped her pick up the pieces, offering her a job. "I've been cynical about men ever since and this job doesn't make it any easier. I'm not out to hurt any man, I'm out to help the women and give them some peace of mind. For some reason, men don't think they will get caught. They are so wrong."

Teresa comes from a large Italian family. When her father heard what she was doing he flipped. "He said, 'How can you do this to men?' I told him, 'But Dad you wouldn't do that. If you did I'd catch you!' My mother thinks it's a wonderful thing, that I'm helping women," she laughed, flashing at me the eyes that have undone hundreds of men. "I already go in knowing these guys are lying and that's not something they have to do."

Breaking men's secrets can be risky and Teresa's gun shows she knows the danger. "The most scared I got was with a guy known to be violent," she says. "We were in a private club. The mark was real suspicious of me at first but in the end he relaxed. I got what I needed but as we were leaving my tape recorder fell off my leg." Teresa shivers a little as she recalls the moment. "I thought I was done, this guy owned the club and had some nasty-looking goons behind the bar. My back-ups were outside. Luckily I was wearing new Jil Sander boots with a wide cuff and the recorder just dropped down inside."

In the last year Gerry Palace has flown Teresa to London twice to do jobs. She trapped two prominent businessman, one at Claridge's, one at Annabel's. The trips were so successful that Palace plans to open a London office. "In New York, men know about decoys now," says Teresa. "I think we are having a deterrent effect. We can do the same thing in London." So watch out, you two-timing Englishmen. Teresa is coming and she takes no prisoners.