“Fair,” Jezebel said. “We’ve got three main objectives, and I’d propose 3 teams, 4 if we’re being cautious. We need to notify the clinic; they’ll need to shut down and relocate. That’s… probably the most dangerous leg- because they’re the most likely compromised. And it’s my mess, so I’m taking it.”
“You’re not compromising security on all your operatives just because you helped this one shit the bed,” Anna said sternly. “You’re non-operational, and that’s non-negotiable. Volunteers for the extra dangerous leg?” She fixed Mae with a stare. “Priority goes to the newest girls- the less you know, the less you can give up under interrogation.”
“You ever heard you get more flies with honey than with shit?” Mae asked.
“I’ll do it,” Lisa said.
“That’s my girl,” Mae said, and slapped her too hard on the back, doubling her over.
“Stop marking territory,” Anna said.
“Nothing like that,” Mae said. “I could be so lucky.”
Lisa could barely focus through the rest of the briefing, because she was filled with nervous energy. She was eager to prove she belonged, and at the same time, horrified at the prospect of proving that she didn’t. She lingered, even as others started to filter away, and was scarcely aware of Anna’s approach until she said, “She’s a big personality, Mae.”
“I know, she’s like two of me broad.”
“You know what I mean. She loves big. Enjoys life big. But sometimes she’s got a big mouth, and I don’t want it to be making you uncomfortable. I can talk to her…”
“Oh,” Lisa said with a light laugh, “nothing like that. She’s a big goofball. And I get the sense that she’s probably intensely sexual, but there’s no pressure. First boyfriend I had in high school made me feel the exact same way. He told me the first time we made out that he didn’t want anything that wasn’t on offer, and he meant it. He was probably more faithful to my boundaries than I was.”
“And you’re sure he wasn’t just… interested in a different sort of person?”
“I wondered. And then… all I will say, because I am a lady, is I know for a fact he was just very respectful. I don’t know, I guess I just feel safe with her.”
“Okay. But if that ever changes; I know we’re not a conventional workplace in any sense of the word-”
“Including because we don’t get paid.”
“Including that, yes,” Anna said with a smile. “But unconventional though our workplace is, I don’t want it to be a hostile.”
“Maybe don’t glare so much,” Lisa offered.
“Yeah. I walked right into that. And you’re not wrong. I feel… responsible, for all of it. All of you. And I don’t trust Jezebel.”
“You don’t trust her?” Lisa asked.
“Not like that. I mean her judgment. BH, she’s done a lot of favors for us over the years. And she always took risks. And on one level, I love her for it. On another… well, days like today happen. But what I mean, is… I don’t know what she knows. Understand? Her being compromised… it could expose hundreds of people who worked with us, helped us, turned a blind eye- just in the city and the suburbs, and each one of those… put it this way, if any one of the nurses or doctors who’ve performed care just in our clinic alone were swooped up by the police, they could, potentially, implicate hundreds of women across multiple states. I’m terrified of how many people get hurt if those dominos start falling. I don’t even know if Jez knows what this could mean… and maybe that’s on me. Maybe I compartmentalized too much.”
“We can’t do that right now,” Lisa said. “Right now, we have to try to mitigate the damage. We focus on that. Because if we’re caught flat-footed navel-gazing…”
“Yeah,” Anna said. “I know better. Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Lisa said. “If I’ve learned one thing being here, it’s that no one can be strong all that time- and no one should try to be. We have to be strong for each other, because, we all need moments to exhale. I still… Clint’s an ache,” she clasped her hands to her chest. “He was the first man I felt safe with after what happened.”
“I know. And… I don’t judge him too harshly. I ask what would happen to any of us. If the cops picked me and Ellen up, and they threatened her… it’s hard to do the right thing when it’s going to cost the people you care the most about. Or maybe it’s that I knew him a while. He helped a lot of us. What he did after, the way he died… that was the real Clint. What he did before- that’s what happens when you terrify someone enough to do something they normally know better than to do.”
“Shoot. We’re right back to maudlin navel-gazing,” Lisa said with a laugh that came out part sniffle.
“We’ve been through a lot; we’ve still got a lot to process.”
“But no time to do it,” Lisa said. “I’m your ride.”
Lisa followed her out to her car, a faded red and sporty without feeling out of place for Anna. She waited until they were both buckled inside the car. “I thought Jezebel had too much operational knowledge for field work.”
Anna started the car, and pulled out of the driveway, and onto one of the forest roads surrounding the property. They’d chosen the location because it was remote enough to provide some safety, and also some advanced warning in the event that the authorities were closing in.
“I just picked up a hitchhiker,” Anna said, flipping her blonde hair self-consciously, her voice at least two octaves higher, and almost flirty. “I’d never seen her before in my life, but she wouldn’t shut up about how sacred the lives of babies are, She sounded like she either was on her way home from church or her way to an abortion clinic to burn it down- either way, she felt like a kindred spirit.”
The persona melted away, and Anna’s usual demeanor returned, though with a self-satisfied smirk. “My point is I’m faster on my feet. And I will be shocked, and maybe even a little disappointed, if she doesn’t find some way to provide logistical support at least. But don’t worry about me. You’re going to walk in, and tell the woman behind the counter that you ‘Want to buy a box of frosted cupcakes.’ It doesn’t honestly matter how they respond. You’ll tell them, “Orange.” If there’s an organic way, at that point, to leave, by all means do so. Otherwise, act confused and stumble away. Anyone asks, you thought they were a convenience store. Got that?”
“Yeah. Any particular reason that’s the code phrase?”
“Apparently they were BH’s favorite treat, before she had to quit them- troublesome blood sugar. She likes to keep her vices alive in her code phrases. Just be glad it isn’t Friday.”
“Why, what happens Friday?”
“She’ll tell you when we get her back home safe.”
Lisa hadn’t noticed the trees receding, and suburbs creeping back in, but Anna paused the car at the curb. The building was a single story, with a long walkway that took up half the block, and a large, well-manicured lawn cut in half by a paved walkway.
“I’ll circle the block,” Anna said. “See any police, act turned around and walk away, otherwise pass the message, and I’ll stop for you the minute it’s safe. If for whatever reason I can’t, hope the F bus. Now get out. We’re drawing attention.”
Lisa got out of the car and froze. Her body felt new and strange; it took a moment to remember how to make her legs move in a way that didn’t draw extra attention to her. The distance to the clinic seemed unending, that paradoxically it got further from her with her every awkward step.
She saw what was perhaps movement inside, a dark head move behind the kind of posters she recognized from Crisis Centers. Were the police there already? Was she about to be taken into custody all over again?
She was so preoccupied she didn’t hear the man’s approach until she felt his shoulder in her ribs. The slur he yelled before tackling her into the grass seemed to hang in the air, echoing still. He was on top of her, raising a fist, and Lisa curled into a ball, waiting for the blow to fall.
(to be continued…)