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Working Girl: Honesty is Not Always the Best Policy, part 2

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

Moral: Honesty is Not Always the Best Policy. Part 2.

 Virtue by Brett Jordan

Image Source: Just Desserts by Brett Jordan at Flickr Commons

Last week on Working Girl, I wrote about how my boss Caroline, who was a professional escort, was trying to extort one of her clients for $10,000. As a direct consequence of this, I wound up on the phone with an FBI agent, spilling all Caroline’s deepest darkest secrets, such as her phone numbers, her address, and her real name.

What can I say? I suck at lying. I’m just not cut out for the life.

In this post, I’ll tell you all about what happened after I hung up on the FBI agent.

Which is what I should have done the moment I realized he was an FBI agent.

My stomach was clenching and my heart was going harder than I knew it could go without killing me. I was shaking like a leaf and I threw up in my mouth a little.

I tried to tell myself this was all Caroline’s fault. After all, she was the prostitute. And she had given me her phone. She knew I was bad at lying. She always said one of her favorite things about me was that I was so honest.

She just never considered what that honesty would mean if I was ever questioned by the FBI.

 

Moral 111: A person’s “good qualities” don’t only exist when it’s convenient.

An honest person will probably be honest when you want them to lie. A charismatic date will probably charm everyone around, not just you. A self-reliant person might have trouble accepting support from others. You get the idea.

 

I was so tempted to quit my job right there and just go home. I could mail Caroline’s phone back to her. She didn’t know where I lived, so she wouldn’t be able to find me too easily.

But as scared as I was, and as horribly as I had failed her, I couldn’t do that. I had to warn her. I had to tell her that her client had not been bluffing—and the FBI knew everything. She might need that warning to get a head start on . . . whatever plans she had to make to avoid being arrested.

I abandoned my mission—which had been to coerce some store clerks into giving Caroline a free leather jacket, and which I would ultimately have failed at—and headed right back to Caroline’s apartment. She was probably having sex with her client right at that minute, but I called her anyway. When she didn’t pick up, I called again. And again. And again. All the while I was racing across the city, trying to come up with a story that wouldn’t get me murdered and dumped in the Chicago river. (There is a scene near the end of The Devil Wears Prada, where the main character tries desperately to warn her dragon-lady boss that someone has betrayed her, which almost exactly mirrors what this was like for me.)

Finally, Caroline picked up the phone. “What?” she snapped.

“Caroline, the FBI just called! Your client told them, they know everything!”

“WHAT?!”

“I know, I—”

“Get here now.”

“I’m on my way—”

“NOW!”

I passed her client leaving in the hallway, and before I could knock on her door, Caroline opened it, grabbed me by the shirt, and pulled me inside. She shut the door and leaned on it with one outstretched arm. I was very aware that she was blocking my exit on purpose, and I clutched my briefcase close to me. I had seen her take a girl’s purse before and keep it so the girl couldn’t leave.

“WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?” she said. “Tell me EXACTLY what happened!”

“Caroline,” I said, and now the lie I had decided on came pretty easily. I guess it was something about my own skin being on the line that made it simpler. “The FBI just knew everything. I didn’t tell them a thing, he just knew, and he rattled it all off to me—”

“HOW DID HE KNOW? YOU TOLD HIM!”

“No! I swear! I didn’t tell him anything, he just knew! It’s the FBI, they have better ways of getting information than just calling and asking!”

That had to be true, right? In TV shows about the FBI, the feds always had all these high-tech ways of gathering information. They could find out anything!

Right?

 

Moral 112: Tell a story that you can stick to. The truth usually works best. Because sticking to a stupid lie just makes you look stupid.

 

Caroline looked like she might explode. Her eyes and mouth were wide with horror and incredulity. “How could you do this to me? You know, I know you’re smart. I know it. But sometimes, you look at me with these big dumb cow eyes and I really wonder if there is anything in your brain at all.”

I knew the facial expression she was talking about. Sometimes—like when she talked about extorting her clients, or tried to coerce me into helping her launder money, or referenced sexual stories about her and her former dog—I would just stare at her, thinking to myself “Wow. This person is real and I am really here and she is really saying these things to me.”

She sneered at me. “And why are holding your bag like that? I can’t believe you.” She dialed up her lawyer on the phone and pointed at me while she waited for him to answer. “DON’T MOVE. We are NOT finished.”

Oh yes, I thought. We most certainly are.

She explained the situation to her lawyer, though she left out the part about extorting her client for $10,000. She just said he owed it to her. Then she said, “Yeah . . . but what if . . . penitentiary?! . . . so what should I . . .? Okay . . . Okay, call me back.” She hung up.

I didn’t care what else she had to say to me, or how much more she wanted to yell. “I quit,” I said, standing up. “I can’t do this anymore.”

“Good. Because you’re fired.”

“Good,” I said. “And good luck.”

“Not to you,” she said. “Get out and don’t come back. You’re a liar and you’re worse than all the rest.”

All the rest of who? Her assistants? I didn’t bother to ask. I made for the door before she could block it and trap me.

I got on the “L” and went to my home neighborhood in the city. It was a grungy little up-and-coming area with expensive shoe stores next to thrift shops, used books, and cafes. I walked and walked until I could think like a rational person again. I was deeply grateful that I’d had the foresight not to tell her where I lived.

By the time I went home, it was dark. There were 75 messages on my answering machine. All of them were from Caroline. The first fifteen or so were angry.

“How could you do this to me! I thought we were friends!”

The next twenty or so were calmer. “Okay, I ‘ve been thinking about what you said. I shouldn’t have involved you in the first place. I should have kept you out of it. But you were still wrong to talk to the FBI. You should have just hung up!”

The last batch were deeply apologetic and needy. “I’m sorry I called you stupid. I believe you didn’t tell them anything. Please don’t quit. Please come back to me.”

She really said that. “Please come back to me.” It was like we had broken up.

I did not go back to her.

 

Moral 113: After an encounter that makes you genuinely afraid for your safety, you shouldn’t go back to that person or situation.

 

I worked for Caroline for something like seven months. But as short a stint as that was, I had managed to stick it out longer than any of her previous assistants. That probably said more about my lack of self-respect than my fortitude. Although I like to think I have fortitude.

A week later, a friend called from Colorado and told me to move to the Rocky Mountains. It sounded like a good idea, so I made plans. Before I left Chicago, I called Caroline and we made up. I introduced her to one of my friends, who wound up working as her next assistant (a questionable moral move, like setting up your friend with your abusive ex). I even invited both of them over to my little studio apartment for a farewell dinner. I figured it was safe to let Caroline know where I lived, because I was leaving in a week. She and Nina arrived together, Caroline looking out of place and uncertain, clutching a kitten inside her jacket, like a teddy bear she wanted to curl up and sleep with. I wasn’t sure whether she or the kitten looked more vulnerable. And I couldn’t figure out why. That entire evening was stilted and uncomfortable.

I don’t know whether she wound up going to the penitentiary. I don’t know where she is, or what she’s doing. I wouldn’t be able to find her even if I wanted to, but I think about her a lot. I wish I had been a stronger person, and a better support for her. But if I had been stronger, I wouldn’t have worked for her for seven months in the first place, and this series never would have happened. Anyway, I can’t be too hard on myself. I did the best I could at the time. So did Caroline, I’m sure. I think we’re all too hard on ourselves. We’re all doing our best.

 

Moral 114: Do your best and screw the rest.

***

Working Girl is going to be a book! I’m winding down to the end of the series, and I’m collecting all the entries into a book, along with additional material and microwave instructions. 50% of the proceeds will go to sex trafficking non-profits for the entire life of the book. It will be released March 25, but you can pre-order it and get more information here! Let’s help people and convince ourselves our lives have meaning!

If I don’t make the March 25 deadline, I’ll dye my hair pink. No, really. It’ll be Jem-tastic.

I’ll also do fun and frightening milestone events. So when we sell 500 copies, I’ll sing a karaoke version of Damn, I Wish I was Your Lover and share it online. But fair warning, I can’t sing. So buy a copy and contribute to my awkward humiliation!

***
L. Marrick is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. 50% of proceeds from her book Working Girl, a memoir of her time working for a professional escort, go to sex trafficking non-profits. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @LMarrick.

© L. Marrick 2014. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact the author at the above links to request usage.


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