.06 The Janes
A truck pulled up to the curb as the Janes arrived at the sidewalk that hemmed the park. Jane averted her gaze and diverted down the street, with Janey on her heels. She heard the sound of a car door open, and a man’s footsteps, and tensed. “It’s okay,” Janey whispered into her ear, “just keep walking.”
“Excuse me!” she heard a man yell not ten feet behind them. Janey pulled her along like they were a team of sled dogs. “Just what the hell do think you’re doing?” this time she recognized the voice, their ‘dad,’ Mitchell. She had never heard him so angry, belligerent, menacing. She knew him as the sweet man who held her as she cried when she first came to the clinic, not because she was ashamed to be there, but because of how terrifying the thought of being discovered either coming or going was.
Even as they gained distance his voice seemed to grow; his words were nearly unintelligible, almost the snarling bark of an angry dog. “I watched you, stalking two nice young ladies through the park. At your age? You should be ashamed of yourself. This is a family park. We don’t appreciate perverts following girls around. Yeah, creep away. Pervert!”
Jane heard the truck door slam, and heard the engine gun as the vehicle roared away. They didn’t stop walking until they rounded a corner, with a building between them and the park. Jane collapsed against the red brick of the building, gasping for air. “He wasn’t supposed to do that,” she wheezed.
“It worked,” Janey said. “If he was a creep, he’s creeping elsewhere. If he was a cop, the attention made him worry more about his cover than what we were up to.”
“And what if he goes and checks the drop? Then we’re blown and so is Mitchell.”
“Fuck,” Janey said. “What do we do?”
Jane exhaled out angrily, pushed off the wall, and yanked them by the hand. “First off, we keep moving. Mitch should circle to make sure no one touches the drop. But… she’s already been there. The coin… it was there, like it was supposed to be. Whenever she checks the drop, she flips the coin. It was tails up, so she’s already been there today. I left the message anyway, just in case some kid or parent happened to turn it over, but… I’m pretty sure we missed our chance to head her off.“
“Maybe,” Janey said. “But from what they said about her… she’s bound to be savvy. When I was just a baby, still, you know, figuring things out, I met an elder. I mean, she wasn’t much older than me, now, but… she was a sex worker, because she lost her office job when hormones got harder to come by, and she couldn’t pass as easily. But she was smart. People hate us, people hate sex workers, she told me once the world was always looking for a place to stick the knife, so she had to be five steps ahead of everyone. Sex workers are survivors, is what I’m saying, in a way most people can’t even start to understand.”
“What are you saying?”
Janey laughed lightly. “I’m saying I’m terrified of the cops, but I’m going to that bolt-hole. If we can get her out, I’m going to. But… if you want, you can get back in Mitch’s truck.”
“Hey,” Jane spun around, and cupped their cheek, “I appreciate the pep talk, and you wanting to protect me, but there is no way I’m letting you go in there alone. Besides, we’re here.”
The apartment building was painted a creamy blue. Jane led them to the last corner apartment on the ground floor. She found the key where Jezebel said it would be, on top of the doorframe. The key fit, and the door opened with barely a jostle of the knob.
“Hello?” Janey called through the still apartment. They bolted the door, noting that it was a different color to the knob. They parted, Janey stopping in the bathroom, while Jane proceeded deeper inside. The bed wasn’t touched. The living space seemed only partly lived-in, like a hotel room minutes after check in. “No sign of her, not in the kitchen, either,” Janey said, rejoining her.
“No signs of struggle, at least. She just hasn’t been here. Got the message?”
Janey reached into their shirt, and produced a piece of paper, folded four times. “And this will mean something to her?”
“Yeah. It’s not in code. It’s just protocol. She’ll recognize the letter, and know that it means to proceed to the extraction point.”
“Yeah… I think I was freaked out enough when they were talking I lost several minutes.”
“I figured,” Jane said. “Your heartbeat hammering through your palm felt like I was being jabbed with a nail.”
“Maybe my hand was just happy to see you,” Janey said, before tensing. There was a soft knock at the door. “Shit. Whatever happens, stay behind me, okay?” Janey squared to the door, raising their fists.
“Suddenly you’re a spinached-up Popeye?”
“I’m butchbidextrous,” they said, but their usual lightness and humor was drained from their voice.
“Hey!” they heard, a whisper, but somehow yelled, from the opposite side of the apartment as the front door. It was Mitchell, speaking to them through a window cracked open enough to let in a breeze. “Come on.”
The knocking at the front door became louder, more urgent. Jane helped Mitch open the window. “Come on,” he said, and supported her as Janey boosted her through. “You, too,” Mitch said, as Janey slid over the door frame.
Mitch’s truck was parked a few feet away, the engine still running. He got in the driver’s side, and gently slid the door closed, giving it one final, firm tug to engage the lock. “Like that,” he said, “to cut down the noise.” Jane slid across the bench, and Janey in after her, then they closed the door as Mitch had shown them.
“This was my fault,” Mitch said as he pulled away. “I screwed it up yelling at the creep in the park.”
“Or maybe it bought us time to make it here,” Jane said. “And we don’t know it was the cops at the door. Neither of us look like an older Black woman. Could have been the super checking in, or a nosy neighbor.”
Janey frowned. “Are we that suspicious?” they asked.
“Could be,” Mitch said. “There’s an older woman, from a distance she looks like BH, who lives a few blocks away. Periodically, she’d go in or out, make the place look lived in. But she’d sneak out the back window; neighbors saw her come with groceries once a week, and just assumed she was otherwise a shut-in.”
“The point,” Jane began, “is the only way we can get the details is to go back and talk to whoever was banging on that door, which was either the cops or could quickly lead to them getting called… I think I’m willing to live with the mystery, if it means avoiding that.”
“Me, too,” Mitch said.