06262017Headline:

Working Girl: Every Witch was Once a Babe in the Woods

Just a Regular Working Girl: Moralistic Values Gleaned from My Time in Chicago’s Seedy Underworld

Moral: Every Witch was Once a Babe in the Woods

 

Please don't follow me.Image by Steve Corey at Flickr Commons

Please don’t follow me.
Image by Steve Corey at Flickr Commons

“Leslie, hang around for awhile,” said my boss, Caroline. “I want you to meet Rebecca.”

“Okay,” I said. It was unusual for Caroline to ask me to stick around when she had an appointment.

She was an escort, and her appointments usually involved paid sex, so it was really best for everyone involved if I just went out and ran errands—like buying pie or gummi bears or cartloads of condoms—instead of sticking around.

“You’ll love Rebecca,” Caroline said. “She’s been one of my girls for about three months now. She reminds me of you—kind of doe-eyed and school-girlish. But she’s tougher than you. No offense.”

“None taken,” I said. If being tough meant Rebecca let Caroline pimp her out, I was perfectly happy being a wuss.

Caroline had had her day at the peak of the Chicago escort scene, but now she was getting a little older. She still saw clients, but the way she really managed to keep her standing in high-class circles was by employing a bevy of young, tight-skinned, tiny-waisted bombshells with perfect hair and perky butts. Theoretically, Caroline provided the clientele—men who checked out as safe and who had skrill to spare, as she said—and sent them to her girls. The girls wouldn’t have to worry about dealing with unsafe johns or abusive pimps. In return, Caroline took half the cut.

That’s how it worked in theory.

In reality, I knew Caroline often sent her girls men she’d never seen before, or those she didn’t particularly like or trust. (She was protective of her girls in the same way that Matron Mama Morton was in the musical Chicago. “When you’re good to mama, mama’s good to you.” But sometimes mama’s gotta pimp you out to thugs. Sorry honey, that’s just the way the world works.)

 

Moral: “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” But sometimes the person scratching your back has one hand behind their own with their fingers crossed.

 

“Rebecca owes me money for her past few appointments,” Caroline said.

I suspected she wanted me to meet Rebecca because the girl was new to the business. Caroline was always trying to get me into the business. Maybe she thought I’d be more amenable to suggestions from someone who “reminded her a lot of me.”

Rebecca was a petite redhead with a pretty sprinkling of freckles over her nose. Her skin was pale, her red hair was waist-length, and her bag was honest-to-god Gucci.

She set the bag on Caroline’s counter when she came in, and they hugged.

“Hi,” Caroline chirped. “Glad you could come! This is Leslie, who I was telling you about.”

“Hi!” Rebecca said.

I reached to shake her hand, but she pulled me into a hug. When she pulled back, she said, “Caroline was right—you are pretty.”

“Thank you,” I said. Here we go, I thought.

But Rebecca didn’t make any attempts to convince me that the life was working out for her. Even so, I’d been working with Caroline about as long as she had. I knew when a prostitute was putting on a show. That Gucci bag and the red soles of her Louboutins were a costume. I was pretty sure I was the audience.

Caroline, Rebecca and I shared blueberry pie—which Caroline kept in her fridge because it was my favorite—and talked. Rebecca had plans to go to the theater with a client that night. “He’s taking me to dinner, then the show, then I’m taking him whatever way he wants!” Rebecca said. She and Caroline laughed while I tried very hard not to. That should not be funny.

But it was, and I laughed.

Rebecca was totally, completely charming. Even though I guessed this was all an act, I was enchanted with her. It was her hair, I told myself. What did I have to do to get my blonde hair growing that long?

 

Moral: Anyone can be charmed by the right kind of vice. That’s why it’s a vice.

 

“Okay,” said Caroline, “before you go, let’s take care of business. You owe me a little cash.”

“That’s right,” said Rebecca, and took her wallet out of her bag on the counter. She counted out $800 and gave it to Caroline, who counted it, then paused. A small frown creased her forehead.

Uh-oh. No more pie tonight.

“Is this it?” Caroline said.

“Yes,” Rebecca said.

“No,” Caroline said. “You saw four guys since Monday.”

Rebecca’s fair complexion flushed red as the bottoms of her shoes. “No,” she said. “I only saw the two you sent me.”

Caroline put the money in her pocket and picked up Rebecca’s bag. “I don’t think so,” she said. “I think you saw two behind my back.”

“I didn’t!” Rebecca said. “I wouldn’t!”

“Yes, you did. I talked to the guys. They said you gave them your direct number and they went to you without talking me first. You lied to me, Rebecca. And you cut me out of the deal. And that’s not gonna fly.”

“No, I didn’t!” Rebecca insisted. “I’m leaving. Give me my bag!”

“No,” Caroline said.

I didn’t know who to believe. I’d seen Caroline lie to her girls before. But working with her had taught me that escorts in general were pretty good liars. Anything might be true here.

Caroline demanded $800 more. Rebecca refused. Caroline said, “You’re not leaving this apartment until you give me that money,” and folded her arms around Rebecca’s bag. “And I’m calling your appointment tonight and cancelling. I’m sending him to Helen instead.”

“That’s not fair, I need this money!”

“You owe this money to me. So your next two clients, I’m taking the whole cut.”

“That isn’t fair!”

“That’s what happens when you go behind my back and steal my clients! Unless you wanna find yourself a pimp!” Caroline threw Rebecca’s bag hard at her face. Rebecca fumbled, caught it, yelled four letter words at Caroline, and ran out.

Caroline turned to me. “Follow her.”

“What?” I said.

“YOU HEARD ME!” Caroline said. “What, you thought you could just sit there and get entertained during all this? FOLLOW HER! See where she goes, make sure she doesn’t meet up with that guy! And if she gets on the phone, see if you can get close enough to hear what she’s saying.”

I snatched up my bag before Caroline could decide to hold any of my belongings hostage, and got out of there. It occurred to me to go home and never go back to Caroline’s. But, like Rebecca, I needed the money. Tax free, under the table, hard cash. I wasn’t even one of Caroline’s girls, and I was still making better money than I ever had.

I knew that I would go back to work for Caroline, and I needed to keep that relationship as smooth as possible. So I followed Rebecca.

I didn’t know how to follow someone. Would I have to tell a cab driver to “follow that car” like in the movies? Would I have to slink against buildings? My high heels would be loud. I hoped I wouldn’t have to follow her anyplace too quiet. I hoped I wouldn’t have to run. The streets could be a little icy in places.

I kept what I thought was a safe distance behind Rebecca on the sidewalk, and followed her. Her hands were jammed in her pockets and her steps were quick and heavy. I followed her for several blocks, and as she turned toward the “L.” I followed her up the steps to the platform, and even paid the train fare. As I exited the turnstile and rounded the corner, I almost ran into Rebecca.

She must have seen me coming up the stairs to the platform. She leaned against the wall, her hazel eyes wide and uncertain. She shifted her weight. “Are you following me?” she said. She sounded vulnerable and small. She sounded like someone who had never been followed.

I cast about for something to say. In the end, all I came up with was, “Yes.”

She looked at me, trying to decide what to think. How to react. “Please don’t,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. Neither of us knew how a situation like this was supposed to go. I had the feeling we were supposed to be angrier or more suspicious of each other or something.

Rebecca licked her lips. “What are you gonna tell her?”

I thought for a minute. “How long does it take to get to your place?”

“Like a half hour.”

I nodded. “I’ll wait an hour and then go back. I’ll tell her you went home. Where do you live?”

She told me the intersection and building where she lived.

“Leslie,” she said as her train pulled up. “Don’t trust her, okay?”

“Don’t worry,” I said. I didn’t trust Caroline at all. “And Rebecca? Actually go home tonight. Okay?”

“Okay,” she said.

Rebecca and I were like babes in the woods. I wondered if Caroline had ever been so innocent. I wondered whether, if Rebecca and I stayed in the business, we’d eventually turn into the witch.

 

Moral: Every witch was once a babe in the woods.

***

L. Marrick is a historical fantasy writer and freelance copywriter. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. She eats too much chocolate and still doesn’t believe downward dog is supposed to be a restful yoga pose. You can connect with her at either of her websites, and follow her on Twitter @LMarrick.


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