Look… the last day and the next few are going to be rough. I can’t help that. But I’m going to try and provide a little catharsis, by doing literary violence. Updates (which I’m going to call ‘chapters’ so I can be more pretentious) are going to be daily as long as they can be given the other obligations I have. I will keep at it as much as I can and as long as I can, and I will finish this story. And I will never stop being angry that I have to write Whores 2- and neither should any of you. (This story, by the way, takes place directly after the first Whores, the semi-apocalyptic novel where birth control and abortion aren’t just illegal, but are often met with an extrajudicial death sentence- but I’ll try and keep it as new-reader friendly as I can).
.01 Black Hoe Down
“Jez,” Anna said, rubbing her temple, “I’m in no mood, and it wouldn’t be funny even if I remembered how to have a sense of humor after the last few days.” Losing Clint would have been bad enough on its own, but they lost him and Jeanine to betrayal, first. And Ofelia was already on her way North; her injuries made her too recognizable for the kind of underground work they did. And poor, sweet Maria…
They had barely settled into their new location. Mae insisted on calling it their hideout, in a voice like a cartoon gangster. But it was impossible for it to feel like home, and Anna worried no place ever would again, after their last shelter was raided so violently by the police.
“It’s not a joke,” the woman most of them knew only as Jezebel said. “I meant what I said: Black Hoe down.”
“What’s a Black hoedown?” Lisa asked. “Is that like a southern thing?”
Jezebel smiled at her, because she was once the new girl, too. “There’s a sex worker who freelances for us. Her job lets her travel locally without too much scrutiny- the cops care about girls working the corner, but when there’s a chance you’ll catch a councilman in a hotel… your incentives start pointing in the other direction. She’s used that blind eye to smuggle our kinds of contraband- mostly birth control and supplies to run an underground abortion clinic. Nothing like what we have, here, but it’s a smaller town- something like we run,” she stopped herself and winced, “ran, it would get found out in a second.”
“Black Hoe down,” Anna groaned. “I knew letting people choose their own callsigns was a mistake; a callsign should not include any identifying information, let alone race and occupation.”
“The price of freedom is sometimes dealing with other people’s sense of humor,” Mae shrugged her broad shoulders.
“Don’t you have someplace else to be?” Anna asked, glaring. Mae held up her finger to signal needing a moment, and the timer on the microwave dinged.
Mae opened the microwave, removed a plate, and took a comedically large bite of burrito. “Sowwy, buweego.”
“How was she compromised?” Anna asked.
“No specifics, yet. But a sympathetic deputy passed the information to me, and it doesn’t sound like we’ve got a lot of time to act.”
“Do we know if she made her drop?”
“I don’t even have contact information for the pop-up clinic she was supplying. Compartmentalization- her idea.”
“You tell her she’s been made?”
“Can’t. She operates in the cold. She always said that there was too much risk doing what she did of getting found out, so carrying anything that could trace back to us wasn’t an option.”
“And I’m hearing about this now because…”
“Because she’s a stubborn bitty and you weren’t going to convince her. I chose to accept the risk our asset herself proposed.”
“And do you now understand why it wasn’t your risk to accept?” Anna asked, raising her voice enough that the other women in the home poked their heads in from all corners. Jezebel’s eyes tightened into a glare. “Then I will spell it out for all of you: you aren’t in this alone. If you get in trouble, the rest of us here will move Heaven and Earth to help you. You’re never just risking yourself. So no cowboy bullshit.” Jezebel sighed. Anna softened, from her eyes to her jaw, and it echoed in her voice. “I’m not doing this for the sake of meanness. We live and die through our fidelity to one another. And sometimes, yes, we have to compartmentalize, and keep things from one another. But it’s to keep each other safe- not to sneak one over. So what do we know?”
“We have rotating contingencies in place: dead drops, bolt holes, and an extraction point in the event it becomes necessary.”
“So all we have to go on is your love of spycraft?”
“She’ll check the drops before delivery. If she’s told, she’ll go to our bolt hole, and if she’s found out, she’ll proceed to the extraction point.”
“Okay. Do you have an extraction plan?”
“I… have some thoughts.”
“But let me guess, you’re being cagey because you’re not sure how many bodies I’ll give you- and you don’t want to sell your plan short- because a full-court press is more likely to work than an anemic response- but you also don’t want to be so greedy with it I take over. Okay. Everybody listen up. We’re riding to the rescue, only it’s possible we’re riding straight in an ambush. So I’m not asking anyone to come along. Strictly volunteers. But I know from experience we’ll reenact whole scenes from The Fellowship of the Rings if I let you, and time is of the essence. Anyone not interested, whether it’s because you’ve got a tummy ache or a dentist’s appointment or just because you really don’t want to die on a Tuesday, leave the room. No one’s going to look at you sideways, because I will kick them sideways if they do. I mean it. No one makes life or death choices for other people- and that includes any bullshit peer pressure.”
The room was quiet, for a moment, before a creak echoed through, and all eyes turned in the direction of Mae, who was standing still. “Sorry, burrito.”
Anna’s eye twitched, before she continued. “Some of you need to learn to be more selfish; someone has to survive after the idealists get themselves all killed.”
“Would you ever leave the room?” Lisa asked.
“Fine. Everyone’s in. But that doesn’t mean this turns into an episode of the Little Rascals. You can have anyone you’ve got a compelling reason to use. But everybody you add is another person who can get caught- and one of us gets caught we’re all at much greater risk…”
(to be continued…)
(I hope you read those dots like I do, as a dramatic sting, “Dun dun dun!”)