Working Girl: You’re the One Who Decides What You’re Worth

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

Moral 99: You’re the One who Decides what You’re Worth

image by jpereira_net at Flickr Commons

image by jpereira_net at Flickr Commons

I stood quietly beside my boss Caroline in the ritzy lobby of the bank. It had a very shiny floor. It was the kind of bank that looked like a hotel lobby. There was a tray of complimentary pastries set out next to a display of coffee, tea, and water.

The bank manager had a bulging belly pressing out against a black suit, a shiny forehead with a combover, and an honest-to-god pocket watch. He looked like a cartoon of himself.

He wouldn’t give Caroline a loan.

“I’ve been coming to this bank for over ten years!” she said. “My accounts are in good standing! There’s a lot of money in them, you saw how much, so why—”

“Ma’am,” said the bank manager, who had come to escort us out after Caroline had thrown a little tantrum. “You’ve been coming in here every week for the past five years with big wads of sweaty cash. I know where it comes from. Now we don’t want trouble and I’m sure you don’t want me to call the police.”

She’d wanted a loan to invest in some real estate. But when the bank manager catches onto the fact that your “big wads of sweaty cash” come from prostitution, he gets to decide you’re not eligible for a loan.

Caroline grabbed my arm and hauled me out. “I’m not banking here anymore,” she said, loud enough for everyone in the fancy lobby to hear.

I guessed I could never bank there, either. Because now the bank manager probably thought I was a prostitute, too. I wished I had at least eaten one of the pastries.

Moral 96: The company you keep reflects on you.


“Ugh!” Caroline said as we walked back to her swanky loft apartment. “Can you believe that guy? Who does he think he is?”

The bank manager, I thought, and I’m pretty sure he has every right to deny someone service. What I said was, “He didn’t even try to make up a reason for denying you.”

“I know!” she said.

I had worked as Caroline’s personal assistant for about eight months. I had gotten really good at not sharing my real opinion on things—like when she swallowed handfuls of random pills, or slept with a client without a condom, or went to make a deposit (at that same bank that had just turned her away) sporting tight short shorts and camel-toe that probably broke the security cameras. (Maybe she considered it advertising.)

Instead of saying what I thought, or lying, I often just kept quiet or stated something very obvious. Sometimes I also said things with double-meanings, hoping Caroline wouldn’t catch onto the meaning I really meant. It was my attempt at preserving some kind of integrity. Or sense of self. Or something. It felt like it mattered at the time.

Once Caroline told me about her previous assistant, who had quit by calling her crazy and storming out.

I said, “She said that to you?”

Moral 97: Choose your words wisely. But don’t think about them too long or people will get suspicious.


“I don’t get why he wouldn’t give me a loan,” she said. “He knows I’ll keep coming in with money. Whatever, screw him. I have a decent client later today. I’ll focus on that.”

“If I can ask,” I said. “How much does an appointment with a decent client get you?”

“Usually about $450,” she said.

It was a lot of money, especially considering Caroline saw about three or four clients a day, but it was still less than I’d anticipated.

“I do have standards, you know,” she said. “I have a range of payments I work within. I don’t go below $300. That’s not worth my time.”

“How do you decide on the range?” I asked. “How does an escort set her rates?”

“Well, I charge for my time. I think about what I want to make in a year, then I break that down to months, and then I know how much I need to make a day. I break it down like that. Then I consider that I’m a great service provider. I’ve got twenty years of experience! I can fill a lot of roles, while some streetwalker might just lay there and take it. I know what I’m doing on the job! I deserve to be paid for my expertise just like any professional!”

I wasn’t shocked exactly—not after working with her so long—but my face must have looked funny, because she laughed at me. Then I laughed. Then we laughed together.

When we got back to her place, her phone rang. She checked the screen instead of handing it to me, because we both wanted to avoid the potential disaster of me talking to a john. That rarely went well.

Good thing she checked. It was her client. “Hey,” she said, with a casual version of her phone sex voice. Caroline had a lot of sexy phone voices. This was Girl Next Door. “What’s up? . . . Aw, that’s too bad . . . We’ll, I’d hate for us to cancel just because you’re a little short on cash. How much? . . . Hmm, well let’s make it $300 . . . Still too much, huh? . . . Wow, that’s less . . . You know what? Let’s still do it . . . Yeah, I’m sure. See you at 3:00.”

She hung up and sighed. “Well, damn.”

“He came up a little short, huh?” I asked.

“A little short? I shouldn’t take this one. I shouldn’t. But it’s worth it.”

“How much?” I asked.


She took clients at low rates like this more than she would ever have admitted.


Moral 98: If you relax your standards too often, they’re not really standards. More like ideals.

Moral 99: You’re the one who decides what you’re worth.


“Rebecca’s got a client today too,” Caroline said. “He’ll be here in a few minutes. I could just not send him to her and do him myself instead. There would be time before Mr. $125 got here.”

Rebecca was one of her “girls.” She sent clients to Rebecca and took a cut of the pay.

But I knew that Rebecca needed this client. I felt so conflicted—there was the part of me that didn’t want Rebecca to be pimped out by Caroline at all, then there was the part of me that wanted her to get paid.

When Caroline sent clients to her girls, the payments happened in several ways. Sometimes the guy paid Rebecca all the cash, and then Rebecca gave Caroline a cut later. Sometimes the guy paid Caroline all the cash, and then Caroline sent him to Rebecca and paid her later. And sometimes, Caroline took her cut from the guy, and sent him to Rebecca with the rest.

That’s what happened today.

Kind of. The guy showed up at Caroline’s door, and I saw her count out his money. $400. She took $300, and gave him $100 back. “Great,” she said, and told him Rebecca’s address. “Just give her the $100. She’ll be expecting you.”

“Okay,” he said, and left. He had no idea how the payments worked. He didn’t question anything.

I did. I knew exactly what Caroline would do, too. She would call Rebecca and tell her that the guy could only afford $200.

Caroline saw my expression. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. Rebecca will be fine. Go home early today, I don’t have any more work for you until tomorrow.”

She paid me out of the money Rebecca’s client just gave her.

Moral 100: Passing the buck often means the bucks aren’t getting passed.

Quick—What’s the second most profitable criminal industry in the US? First guess, then click.

L. Marrick is a fiction 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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