...Giulietta brushed a wet strand of hair from her forehead. “How much did you say?”
“I didn’t but it’s a dollar and a half per week, plus the tips my ladies pay directly to you. Figure another dollar a week from those tips … provided you smile and never backtalk anybody, no matter how much you may feel so inclined.”
Giulietta hesitated, trying to find the right words to ask for more, whatever Bess would be willing to give. All she could manage was, “About my hair ….”
“It’s a walking advertisement for disaster, which I intend to correct before you leave here today, whether you take the job or not.”
“I’ll take it.”
Located in the heart of Chicago’s Red Light District, Certain Liberties presented itself as a mansion of sienna colored stone, similar to that of Dearborn Station. Giulietta didn’t look to her right or to her left when she climbed the short flight of outer stairs. She rang the bell and waited several minutes before the door opened. There stood a matronly woman dressed in a maid’s uniform—white cap, black dress, starched white pinafore trimmed with ruffles.
“Yes?” the maid asked.
“I’m here to see Miss Liberty Dressler.”
“She’s expecting you?”
“Yes and no.” Giulietta hesitated, then remembered the calling card Liberty had given her some months before. She found it in her pocket book, printed her name on the backside, and handed it to the maid. “Miss Dressler said I could stop by any Sunday afternoon.”
The maid turned the card over a few times. “Step inside. I’ll see if Miss Dressler is receiving visitors.”
Giulietta walked into a foyer of polished wood, not oak but something richer, perhaps mahogany. She found that same wood in the impressive staircase leading to the second floor. What lay beyond there, she didn’t want to think about, at least not at the moment. Her focus returned to the foyer when four women had gathered at the far end of the hall. Never had she seen such a spectacle. These females of indiscernible age, hair hanging loose around their shoulders, lips painted bright red and cheeks displaying a pinkish color that could never be misconstrued as the blush of innocence. Even at her worst, Editta had not appeared this ridiculous. Two of the harlots still dressed in night clothes—see-through negligees offering no measure of modesty, nothing to tempt a man into wondering what else he might see. The others wore street clothes, the usual white blouse and dark skirt, however ordinary but still not enough to compensate for the clown faces. One of the women gestured for Giulietta to join them. Giulietta hesitated, not wanting to offend people she might have to work with—more like supervise if her plan worked. The decision was no longer an issue when she glanced upward to the top of the magnificent staircase and saw Liberty Dressler, every bit the refined lady in an outfit suitable for church on Sunday.
“Ah-h, Giulietta,” Liberty called down with a wave of lace-gloved fingers. “I’ve been expecting you.”
“You have?” Giulietta’s skin prickled from the lame response.
Liberty began her regal descent. “News travels fast, my dear, especially that which originates in the local beauty salon. Although I’m quite surprised you didn’t inform me of your decision to leave during my last visit.”
“I didn’t feel it appropriate, not in front of Bess.”
“How very considerate of you, a courtesy lacking in many young women in today’s society.” On reaching the foyer, Liberty glanced down the hall where six women were now whispering behind their opened palms. “That’ll be all, ladies.” With a clap of her hands Liberty silenced their chirping. “Need I remind you to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, in our case rest and relaxation on this blessed afternoon. Please conduct yourself accordingly in the lounge. Or, take a walk, whatever suits your immediate fancy.”
To the maid lingering nearby, Liberty said, “Tea, Henrietta, the Darjeeling white. And some of those marvelous chocolate truffles imported from Belgium, please.”
“Come, join me in my private area where we can talk without being disturbed,” she told Giulietta.
Giulietta followed Liberty halfway down the hall and through two adjoining parlors decorated in opulent-bordering-on gaudy that exceeded anything she’d seen in The Loop’s finest shops. One room gold, the other red: a smothering effect of flocked wallpaper, heavy velvet drapery covering tall windows, brocade fabric covering upholstered settees and divans. The heavy scent of perfume permeated both rooms, slivers of sunshine crept through the narrow openings of drapery. At last they reached their destination, a room so bright Giulietta used one hand to shade her eyes while scanning the array of greenery and exotic flowers. Beyond the large expanse of small-paned windows, herbs and perennials filled an outdoor garden surrounded by a high stone wall providing a sanctuary from the erratic bustle of Chicago. Inside, the soothing quiet mesmerized Giulietta, another world inviting her to enter.
“What a nice sunroom,” she managed to say.
“I prefer solarium, in keeping with the room’s British theme.” Liberty motioned Giulietta to a chintz-flowered settee.
“Sit, my dear.”
Giulietta waited until Liberty had positioned herself on the opposite matching settee and only then did she assume a similar posture. As with Liberty, she did not allow her back to rest against the settee’s back.
“Now, what can I do for you?” Liberty asked.
Giulietta cleared her throat, searched for the words she’d been practicing for weeks. “We talked before, you and I, about my coming to work for you.”
“For someone as lovely and clever as you, I can always make a place.”
“But not as an entertainer.”
Liberty thought a moment, her face never altering its pleasing expression. “I really don’t have any other position open, except that of a laundress, and as I recall from our last discussion, you felt such work beneath you.”
“Not beneath me, it’s just that I’m capable of doing more.”
With that, Henrietta appeared, carrying a sterling silver tea service, along with a silver bon-bon dish filled with chocolate candies, all of which she arranged on the white wicker table positioned between the settees before she backed out of the room.
“Would you like to pour, dear?” Liberty asked in a way that told Giulietta the woman was testing her social skills.
“Of course,” Giulietta said, calling on her powers of observation, the scene she’d observed earlier that morning at the Palmer House. Her hand was shaking when she poured Liberty’s tea. “Sugar?” she asked.
To which Liberty indicated, “Two, please, no cream.”
Using a small silver tong, Giulietta dropped two cubes into the steaming cup before passing it to Liberty. Giulietta poured a cup for herself. No sugar, no cream, she didn’t even like tea that much. But she would learn. She could learn to like just about anything that ultimately would benefit her. The chocolates didn’t need any learning. She reached for one, popped it into her mouth, and savored the morsel before letting it slip down her throat.
“Now, where were we,” Liberty said after a single sip of tea. “Oh, yes … a position for you. So, my dear, just what did you have in mind?”
“Something on the order of your assistant, that is, if you agree. I’d like to learn the business, perhaps open a ‘shop’ of my own in the future.”
Liberty laughed. “Let’s see if I have this right. You want me to teach you the business so you can compete against me in a few years. Do you take me for a fool?”