The Last Booth in Chicago

Nathan Perrin

Susan’s leg shook as the lieutenant looked over her resume. 

“You grew up in the South Side?” he asked. 

“I did.” Susan bit her lip. 

“You came a long way up,” the lieutenant leaned back. 

“Thanks. I worked hard.”

The lieutenant sipped his coffee, “So what makes you want to join the Special Investigations Unit?”

“When I grew up, one of my neighbors was a prostitute,” Susan sighed. “It was the only way she could provide for her kids. Deadbeat dad and all that. Always knew her as a kind, loving person who was put into an impossible position. One day, they found her in a dumpster with her throat slit open.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah. They never caught the killer, because it was a group effort. I was a kid, and I was so fucking pissed that the community didn’t do anything. They just let it happen. They saw all the signs she needed help and didn’t step in because they thought she was a whore.”

The lieutenant leaned back in his chair, “That’s the way it is out here. People know what the right thing is, but they don’t want to do it. It’s a conundrum to me.”

He smiled at her, “I like you, kid. You’ll fit in fine. There’s a bust tonight if you want in.”

Susan smiled back. “Yeah, let me on it. Won’t let you down.” 


Susan finished putting on her makeup. She stepped back to look at her tight-fitting nun’s uniform. Her blonde wig flowed freely. She’d always wondered why guys had a thing for blondes. She put away her badge and tucked her gun into her bra, letting out a deep sigh. “Remember your lines?” asked Leon. 

“Yeah,” Susan answered. “Offer to blow him or a quick tug.” 

“Pretty much, yeah, and then he’ll try to pay you. That’s when we bust him. Pretty standard procedure around here. Got any plans today after the bust” 

“Heat up some leftovers and watch some Blockbuster.” 

Leon laughed, “You’re a joy to be around, Susan, and I thought going home to my wife and kids was boring.” 

Susan playfully punched him. 

Leon took a sip of his coffee, “Did you catch that episode of Seinfeld last night? The one with the library cop?” 


“I was thinking to myself it’d be a nice retirement gig after working here. Just harassing folks over their missing library books.” 

Susan laughed. “That would be a nice change.” 


“They can see you, but you can’t see them,"” Leon opened the door to the peepshow booth. “We got cameras running. The owner and all of them have been busted. We just got to bust the johns. Like catching mice.” 

Susan held her nose, “What’s that smell?”

“Shame and fluids. Get used to it. Lord knows they’re used to plenty of it.” 

“That is disgusting.”

Leon pointed towards a hole in the wall near the mirror, “That’s where they’d put it in.”

Susan looked at Leon and knew she had to do better. She slowly took her hand off her nose. 

The room was painted like a church with a crucifix hanging on the left wall. On the west side of Chicago, Irish Catholics sometimes turned their guilt into a fetish, or at least that’s what Susan always picked up from her dates with Catholic guys. 

Susan sighed, “And this is the last peepshow booth in the city?” 

“Should be,” Leon took another sip of coffee. “But this wasn’t a peepshow booth. This was a trafficking front. We got more gigs after this, though. I’ll fill you when we’re done here.” 

Susan smiled again, “Alright. Thanks, Leon.”


Susan heard the door open. 

She took a deep breath and listened as the john pulled out a chair, sat down. “What’s your name?” asked the john. 

“Jackie,” Susan lied. “What’s yours?”

The john breathed heavily in and out. “That doesn’t matter.”

“What do you want, baby?”


“Strange place to get it, honey.”

“Why not? There’s a crucifix on the wall.” 

Susan puffed out her chest. “That’s all you notice? I’m insulted.” She made a pouty face.

“Do you know what you remind me of?” 

Great. A talker. 

“No, hon,” Susan let out a devilish smile. 

“My ex-wife.” 


More breathing. 

“Yeah, my ex-wife,” the john continued. “When I met her, I mean. She was young like you once. A real spitfire.” 

Susan got up and started waving her butt towards the window. 

“We got married in a Vegas chapel,” the john continued. 

Susan sighed, “I’m waving my ass in your face and you want to talk about your ex-wife.” She wanted to arrest him partially out of principle and partially out of feeling insulted. 

“I’m gonna be paying you anyway, right? What’s it to you what I say or don’t say?” 

Susan sat down, “Sorry, hon. Continue.”

“It doesn’t matter any more, really,” said the john. “She left one day. Not sure why. Better pastures, she said. Can you believe it?” 

Susan looked at her reflection in the window. 

“Do you talk to God much?” asked the john. 

“Not much, baby.” Susan rested her hands on her knees. 

“That’s the problem these days. Nobody talks to God. They’ll go to church, but they’ll act like it doesn’t matter. They’ll talk a good game, that’s for sure.” 

The john let out a deep sigh. 

Susan read about guys like this—guys who came in because their wives wouldn’t pay any attention to them. Instead of going to therapy, they came to sex workers to get an emotional and sexual release. 

But this felt different. 

“I knew a prostitute… that word seems so demeaning for what she had to do… who lived close to Saint Sabina’s.” The john cleared his throat. 

As soon as he said Saint Sabina’s, Susan knew he was from the South Side too, most likely Black. She’d lived a few blocks from there growing up, and painful memories crowded her mind as she fought back tears. 

“The community really ostracized her, I mean she really got the beating of her life on a weekly basis. I knew. My neighbors knew. The cops knew. Yet we stood back and watched it happen. Her name was something like Christy. Did you know her? She worked here sometimes.” 

Susan’s heart skipped a beat as she felt the line between herself and Jackie blur. “We all knew Christy. She was a good woman. I remember her too.” 

“The thing is I could’ve helped. I could’ve stepped in and helped her get back to her feet. Instead, I watched it as it happened over the years. In fact, her suffering was easy to ignore. But her face… her face always haunts me. She had to do what she had to do, and we made her life hell for it. Even the cops were raping her and then throwing her on the street after. How in the world did they live with themselves?” 


“I remember seeing Christy die from a distance,” the john continued. “Her hands and feet were slashed, and she was stabbed in the side of her chest. People were spitting on her and taunting her as her own family looked at her, helpless. Never seen anything so vicious.”

“Yeah,” Susan wiped away a tear. “They threw her into a dumpster, but her body wasn’t found for some reason when the police responded ninety minutes later. Some people say the cops took Christy’s body out to help cover up what they’d done, others say she lived and is in witness protection somewhere.” 

“What do you think happened to her?” 

“I don’t know, but she lives with me every day, just like you said. Her face stares back at me when I think of her. I want her so desperately to be angry. Instead, she is just… sad. Her eyes seem to be asking me why I didn’t help.” 

The john sniffled, “Do you think God will ever forgive us for what we do to women like her?” 

Susan looked down and then back at the mirror. “I don’t know.” 

“I happen to think if someone turns their life around and commits to doing the right thing, that God understands. He has to, right?” 

“I hope so.”

“Jesus loved women like Christy. He embraced them. Called people like us out on our bullshit for how we treated them. I’ve been a Christian all my life, Jackie. Why did I not see that?” 

Susan remembered the assignment, and centered herself back down to what she was supposed to be doing. She should have no room for sympathy for the john—he could be dangerous. This could be part of his game. 

“I’m not an actual nun, you know,” Susan waved her hand. “I fuck people for a living.”

“I know.” 

“Then either fuck me or get out.”

“Can’t we just talk?” the john whispered. “I promise I’ll pay you more.” 

Everything in Susan’s body wanted to scream at the john to get out, but she remembered Christy’s warm eyes and they made her stop. 

“You know what else?” the john continued. “I can’t make up my mind if God is punishing me for ignoring Christy. Every night, I wake up covered in sweat and all I want to do is shout and scream at the world, but every morning I wake up and I’m still alive. It counts for something, right? Maybe God wants me here, for whatever reason.” 

“What do you want, honey?” Susan’s leg started to lightly shake. 

She could hear light sobbing on the other end. 

“It’s so hard, Jackie,” the john whispered. “It’s so hard.” 

Susan stood up and touched the glass. She could see a shadow up close. 

“Hey, you can’t beat yourself up like this,” Susan wiped away another tear. “You need to practice compassion for yourself. Self-forgiveness and all that.”

“I don’t know how to do any of that,” said the john. 

“Pray about it. I mean, I’m not religious. But it seems like God is really important to you, and maybe that’s the first step towards healing. Maybe twelve-step. Maybe a therapist.”

“I don’t know, I don’t know… it feels all so pointless. I’m going to hell for doing nothing to help Christy. I mean, they did nothing too. But that’s no excuse for me.”

Susan’s lip quivered, “Maybe that’s a sign you’ve truly changed. When you’ve stopped looking at others’ wrongdoings and finally look at yourself.” 

The john stood out of the chair. She could see a hand touching hers through the glass. “I want you to know, for whatever it’s worth, I’m sorry," the john whispered. “I’m sorry I didn’t help Christy, and I’m sorry for all the ways I may have hurt women like you.”

“What do you mean?” asked Susan. 

“I guess I need to know whether or not I’m forgiven, Jackie. That’s all.” 

Susan breathed in deeply. “You’re forgiven.”

“For everything?” 


She heard more light sobbing. 

“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you.” 

She saw him get up and whisper a prayer. 

“I hope everything works out for you,” said Susan. 

“Same to you,” said the john. “Stay safe.” 

She saw the shadow leave the room. 

After a few minutes, Leon opened the door behind her: “Fucking pervs. Guilty conscience.”

Susan sat back down and stared at the crucifix, “Are we letting him go?” 

“He didn’t do anything illegal. We have to.” 

“I hope he finally feels peace.”

Leon held a hand up to his ear, “We got another john coming in. Hopefully this one won’t need you to be an actual nun.” 

Susan forced a chuckle, “Yeah. Hopefully. I’m already exhausted.” 


Susan wiped off the makeup in the restroom over the bathroom sink. She looked up and saw the blonde wig in the mirror. She’d joined the Special Investigations Unit to enforce the law ethically. There was no room for mercy or compassion in her role. Her job was to get the pervs off the street no matter what. 

She heard a knock on her door. 

“Come in,” she said. 

Leon walked in with a big grin, “You’re not going to believe this.” 

“What?” Susan laughed. 

“That first john? He was that mayor from some years back who tried to run but became an alchie and was caught in bed with a sex worker. Ruined his whole career.”

“Makes sense, I guess. Does he know how close he came to ruining his whole life again?” 

Leon shrugged, “Not sure. Believe it or not, the guy’s in seminary now. After his wife left him, he got all religious. Trying to become a priest.” 

“Everyone needs something, I guess.”

Leon laughed. “I guess so. Well, hopefully we won’t see him again. You good for tonight?” 

“Yeah, I’m good.” Susan looked at the mirror. 

Leon leaned against the wall, “We’re going after the massage parlors next. You’ll be more behind the scenes there. Usually, it’s women and girls kidnapped from Asian countries that work the parlors. You’re a white girl from the South Side. You’d stick out.”

“Makes sense.”

“No more hearing confessions.” Leon laughed. “At least for now.” 

“That’ll be good,” Susan chuckled. 

“You’ll learn as you go, kid. I’m glad you’re here. Why’d you transfer?”

Susan bit her lip and moved her hand through her wig. “I guess because of women like Christy. I knew so many women like her growing up.” 

“I get it. Chi-Town’s rough.” 

“Yeah,” Susan forced another smile. 

“See you later, Suse.” Leon put his jacket on. “You did good work tonight. Keep it up.”

As Leon walked out, Susan stared at her reflection and broke into sobs. 

She thought about all the things she had seen as a cop, all that she’d participated in. She thought about the cruel jokes about Christy she’d heard as a kid. Susan thought about all the pains that led her to be callous and push people away from seeing the real her. She knew when she stepped into her apartment that night, she would be greeted by silence—formless, empty silence. 

Was doing good worth even this? 

Susan knew in the deepest parts of her heart that talking with the john was the safest she’d felt in a long time. She knew she’d fucked up—she let her guard down and felt for him. It’s what killed Christy, and Susan figured it would kill her too if she didn’t get a handle on it. 

Susan realized she was not that different from the john. He was in seminary to help make the world a better place—to bring about compassion, empathy, and love into his community. She was a cop who felt a strong urge for justice and knew that, ultimately, her work was probably helping to contribute to the problem rather than solve it. Perhaps the john felt the same way about his work. 

Yet, what else could they do? 

It was all they knew.

A single tear streamed down her face as she stared at herself in the mirror again, reaching out to touch her reflection. 

“Everybody needs something,” she whispered.

Nathan Perrin (he/him/his) is a writer and Anabaptist pastor in Chicagoland. He holds an MA in Quaker Studies, and is a doctoral student studying Christian Community Development at Northern Seminary. His doctoral work centers on creating a writing program for nonprofits and churches to use to help under-resourced communities process trauma. His work has been published in the Dillydoun Review, Bangalore Review, Collateral Journal, Esoterica Magazine, etc. His forthcoming novella Memories of Green Rivers will be released in winter 2025 by Running Wild Press. He is also a screenwriter for an unannounced indie comedy series. For more information, visit