Greenwich Village, New York City, in the early years of the 20th Century—a haven for artists, writers, philosophers, and those seeking cover for atypical lifestyles.
Johnsy and Sue had talked about moving there since meeting each other as roommates in their second year at Vassar Women's College.
Now, here they were.
They looked like coordinating hourglasses in the de rigeur costume for forward-thinking women of the era-long, flared skirt that showed the top of short boots, a high-necked shirtwaist emphasizing the exaggerated curve of the midriff and cropped jacket with shoulder pads and a little straw hat.
The prospective landlord smiled obsequiously as he led them through the dimly-lit, dusty hallway to the first floor apartment on the left side of the brownstone building.
Johnsy, a painter with indulgent parents, was thrilled with the sunlight and view from the far window. It was almost park-like, with a well-tended lawn, some flower beds and an impressive maple tree, situated in the recess of the L-shaped building.
Sue, who hoped to be a lawyer, liked the other end of the room, with an isolated nook that would be perfect for studying.
Between their favored spots were a kitchen area with a sink and wood stove and small wooden table, a fireplace on the right wall with two lumpy, mismatched chairs in front of it and in the far right corner—an iron bedstead.
Sue moved to that area to check the bed. "What are those little holes in the ceiling?" she asked, demonstrating her attention to detail that could make her an excellent attorney, if given the chance.
Mr. Behrman walked over quickly to join her. "Oh, that," he said, brushing off the nickel-sized dents, "I asked the previous tenant about it. He said he was experimenting with ways to set up some kind of fan over the bed. As you can see though, there's no dust from them. They're clean holes and shouldn't cause you any trouble."
Sue locked her hazel, bespectacled eyes on him critically. "When do you plan to fill them?" she asked.
"I'll get to it as soon as I can," Mr. Behrman said. "Until then, I'll take 10 percent off of your rent. Is that satisfactory?"
Johnsy gave him her devastating smile. "That's a wonderful deal, isn't it, Sue?" she squealed, impulsively grasping the other woman's arm.
Sue glanced up at Johnsy then quickly walked to the kitchen area, making a show of testing the water pump.
"Alright," she said decisively, "we'll take it, Mr…."
"Just call me Old Behrman," the landlord said.
Sue nodded. "If you don't mind, we'd like to spend a few minutes here alone, then we'll come and find you to sign the lease."
He grinned and left the room, closing the door behind him. Then, with more vigor than his florid complexion or baggy pants would have suggested, he raced up the stairs to his own apartment, directly above the young women's room.
With the door closed, Sue and Johnsy hurried into each other's arms.
"Isn't it wonderful, Sue?" exclaimed Johnsy. "It's all ours. We'll be so happy together," she continued, as Sue kissed her neck and lips. "It will be just the two of us."
Overhead Old Behrman swept aside the rug in the center of his darkened room and stealthily crouched on the floor, which was pocked with holes about twice the size of those that Sue had noticed. "Yessss," he said hoarsely, eyeing the girls, "just the two of you".