It didn’t take much for Carol to convince her boss to let her interview Janice as well. They weren’t getting anywhere with finding Laura and Karen, the only kidnapped girls still missing. “Someone knows,” Wainwright had said to Carol, smoke trailing behind his cigarette, thrust forward to make his point, “Someone knows.” Not exactly insightful, Carol had thought. Obviously someone had to know where the two girls were. But she could feel the anger behind her boss’ words. He wanted the girls found. They all did. The two girls were out there somewhere, their minds still warped by Copeland, forced into believing that prostituting themselves was what they wanted to do.
Carol realised that it wasn’t strictly the undercover section’s case anymore. Even that thought was bending the truth. She knew it wasn’t their case at all. Regular detectives were working it now. But no good policeman likes stopping work on a case that isn’t solved. Even to hand it over to someone else. It felt like giving up. It looked at you like an abandoned child, all wide eyes and need. Carol knew that Wainwright never gave up willingly. Neither did she. It was their case. Regardless of what the bureaucratic rules might say about jurisdiction. Carol was the one who’d solved it. She’d found out that Copeland was behind the kidnappings. That she’d had to be kidnapped herself to find out was just one of those things that happened when you worked undercover. Without her Copeland would never have been caught. As far as she was concerned that made it their case.
“We’ll find them,” Carol had said to her boss. “Whatever it takes.”
She’d meant it too. She wanted the girls found. Carol hadn’t mentioned the other reason she wanted the girls found. The other reason that she needed to see the last of Copeland’s actions undone. Carol needed to know that he was finished, that it was over. Because of the words.
Ever since that day at the hospital, when she had visited Judy, the words had been getting worse. They crept into her thoughts more and more, in all their banal, polite, insistence. “I want to be a prostitute. I’m happy to be a prostitute. I love it when men use me. I want to be used sexually. If a man pays me he can do anything he wants.” They weren’t always the same. Copeland had varied them, wearing her down.
Carol had tried to follow the advice she’d given Judy. She’d tried to find other words. “I’m Carol. I want to be a policewoman. I love police work”. It had given her some comfort. But it hadn’t driven Copeland’s words away. There was a war now, in her head, between two competing mantras. Sometimes one was ascendant, sometimes the other. Most of the time the policewoman held sway. But not always, sometimes Carol would drift off, and for a few moments that other Carol would be in control. The Carol that dressed in tight clothes, short skirts and wanted what she could never have believed that any part of her could ever want. It didn’t happen often, and only for a few moments, but sometimes it seemed all too easy, like slipping into any of her undercover roles. And when that other Carol was in control she often caught herself muttering the words out loud. That scared her.
She could always feel that part of her that she’d sensed that day, after seeing Judy. That liked the words. That wanted them. That wanted to know what it was like. To be a prostitute, a whore, to sell herself. Carol still believed that part of her was something that Copeland had put there, along with the words. She had to believe that. But she couldn’t deny that it was there.
Carol needed to see everything Copeland had done erased, forgotten like yesterday’s rain. Maybe then she could be free of the words running around her head.
Much as she wanted the last two girls found Carol didn’t think Janice would be much help. Janice had never been a prostitute. Never been forced that far. Carol had rescued her from the boat where Copeland brainwashed his victims. It was unlikely that the girl knew anything that could help them. But good policing meant you didn’t ignore anything that might be useful. Not when you were short of leads, anyway. No, Carol told herself, Janice probably wouldn’t be able to help. Not with the still-missing girls. But she might be able to help with the words. Carol needed to know how Janice was coping. The file said that Janice was back at college. She’d put her life back together. Carol needed to know how she’d done it.
It might not have been their case any longer but Carol could still get access to the reports from the detectives assigned to it. It hadn’t taken much. They knew what Carol had done, a little pleading, a promise that if she saw anything in the reports they hadn’t that she’d let them know. Easy.
If the files were to be believed it was as if Janice’s kidnapping had never happened. Janice was back at the same college. Living in the same apartment. Unlike the other girls, who were still trying to work out what to do with their shattered lives, it seemed that Janice had simply picked up from the point that Copeland’s thugs had snatched her. Carol wondered what happened when Janice started back at her classes. Had anyone said anything? Asked questions Janice hadn’t wanted to answer? Someone must have made the cruel, pointed jokes that would be so appealing to immature, overactive, imaginations. The kidnappings had been big news. Even though Janice hadn’t been forced to prostitute herself her name had been in the papers. Some of the reporting had been lurid, reputations carelessly smeared across a front page. “Girls next door turned into whores” was one of the less offensive headlines. Surely people on the campus must have asked Janice about it. And some of them must have done worse than that. Carol wanted to know, needed to know, how Janice had coped with it all.
The number for Janice’s apartment was in the file. Carol knew that she shouldn’t ring Janice. It wasn’t her case anymore. But she’d cleared it with her boss. She knew that she had to talk to Janice.
It wasn’t Janice that answered. Carol knew the red-head’s voice. This was someone different, but still familiar.
“Hello, is Janice Thornton, there?”
“No sorry, she’s out at the moment.” A slight pause. “Can I ask who’s calling?”
“Detective Carol Taylor.”
Carol could hear a gasp of surprise on the other end of the line “Oh, sorry this is her room-mate Helen.” Carol could place the voice now. She’d spoken to Helen when she was undercover on the campus, trying to learn what she could of the missing girls. She remembered the girl, nervously looking about as she spoke of her missing roommate. Helen had struck Carol as shy, eyes too wide in a too young face, her short stature and blonde hair held back in a ponytail making her look more like a girl still in high school student than a college student.
“You’re the one who rescued her aren’t you?” Carol could hear the trace of awe in the girl’s voice.
Carol frowned. She didn’t want a fan club. Undercover cops weren’t supposed to make a name for themselves. “Yeah, that’s me. Do you know when Janice will be back?”
“Umm, no, ah, I can tell her you called.”
It wasn’t what Carol wanted to hear. She needed to talk to Janice. “If you could. Look, here’s my number. Get her to call me if she’s back before 5.”
But Janice didn’t call. Whether she wasn’t back in time, or Helen didn’t pass on the number or Janice didn’t want to call, Carol didn’t know. She’d have to call Janice again the next day. She’d have to endure another night. Another night of dreams, where the words pursued her, wouldn’t let her rest. Where she could almost see them, where they chased her while an image of herself, dressed as a whore, all short skirt and garish makeup, looked on and laughed.
All through the next morning Carol sat at her desk. She tried to busy herself with reports, memos, all the paperwork that had backed up. She couldn’t help her eyes drifting to her phone, willing Janice to ring. She thought about calling again. But what would that achieve? A second message suffering the same fate as the first? Being too pushy if Janice was reluctant? Instead she forced herself to be patient. It was almost midday when the phone on Carol’s desk rang.
“Hi, it’s me, Janice.” Janice sounded cheerful enough, though tired, or as if she had just woken up.
“Thanks for returning my call.” Carol struggled to keep her voice from betraying her feelings. She didn’t want to push Janice too hard, put her off. She hoped that the other girl’s gratitude for her rescue would be enough to get Janice to talk to her, but she wasn’t taking any chances.
“Oh, no, no, it’s okay,” one word running into another as Janice replied. Carol could hear the anxiety in the other woman’s voice. “Look, sorry I didn’t call yesterday, but I was out, um, late, and I only just saw Helen’s note to call you.”
Carol relaxed. A late night, followed by an equally late awakening, explained how Janice sounded. If Janice was out at night, typical college social life, then she must have really put Copeland behind her. Carol had to know how she’d done it.
Carol gripped the phone a little tighter, forcing her voice to stay calm. “Oh, no, it’s fine. I just wanted to ask if I could come and ask some questions. Just a few things we need to tidy up.”
Janice paused. Carol held her breath, hoping that the girl would agree. She needed Janice to agree. When Janice answered her voice was softer than before, less sure. “It’s, it’s about him, isn’t it? Copeland.” Carol could hear the wariness lurking in Janice’s voice as she spoke Copeland’s name. Any illusions she had that Janice had put the experience completely behind her went up in smoke. Still everything said Janice was coping better than any of the other girls. Carol had to hope there was something that she could learn from Janice.
Carol took a deep breath, hoping what she had to say wouldn’t scare Janice, make her refuse to talk. “Yes, yes it is. Would it be possible to see you?”
“Yes.” Carol could hear Janice draw breath, slowly, a deliberate intake. “Yes, sure. I. I.” Janice stumbled, then seemed to change her mind about what she as going to say, ending with a simple, but firm “Yes.”
Carol’s eyes narrowed. What had the girl been going to say? It could have been anything. Still, she’d agreed, and that was what mattered.
“Thanks. When would you be free?” Carol watched her free hand doodling on a scrap piece of paper, the tension as she waited for Janice’s answer making her grip the pencil too tightly.
“Oh, umm, well. I’ve got a class soon, but I can be back here after that. What about 4.30?” The hesitation had disappeared from Janice’s voice.
Carol wasn’t going to let the opportunity go. “Sure, I’ll see you then.” The lead of the pencil broke with the release of tension Carol wished she didn’t feel.
The building that held Janice’s apartment was, Carol thought, like hundreds of others in the city. Showing signs of age and neglect as it slid down the ladder of respectability. Paint that needed redoing, carpet so worn that in places only bare threads remained. The stairs creaked like a door in a bad horror film as she climbed them towards Janice’s apartment. From one apartment that she passed Carol could hear the sounds of a TV turned up too loud, the last of the day time soaps playing out its melodramatic story. From another the overpowering smell of the night’s meal being prepared. Carol hadn’t expected any better. Students rarely had much money.
The girl that answered Carol’s knock on the apartment door took Carol by surprise. It was Janice. But unlike the other girls she’d interviewed it was obvious that Janice still paid attention to her looks. Her hair was stylishly cut, her sundress, reaching to mid-thigh, clung to her figure, and there was hint of makeup about her features. After the plain appearance of the other girls, their attempts to hide their attractiveness, Carol wasn’t prepared for someone who looked so normal. Well, maybe Janice was a bit too well-groomed, her looks too much on display to be called exactly normal but Carol had seen girls far more provocatively dressed than Janice in her time on campus. Was it how Janice had dressed before? It didn’t seem too far from the few photos they’d had of Janice from before her kidnapping.
Janice smiled at her brightly, “Come in.”
“Thanks” said Carol. She’d let Janice take the lead for now. Then try to see how much of her appearance was reflected in her manner.
“Have a seat.” Janice waved a hand vaguely in the direction of some chairs. “Can I get you anything?”
Carol looked around the apartment. She’d never seen it before. She’d talked to Janice’s roommate, Helen, on campus. The furniture was the typical mismatch of second-hand and cheap that you’d expect in a student apartment. A lounge and a couple of chairs faced a TV, the latter something not every student owned. A mixture of chairs surrounded a kitchen table that obviously doubled as the dining room and study area. The furniture wasn’t new but it was clean and in good condition and there was enough that the apartment didn’t look as bare as many student places she’d seen. Carol hesitated for a moment and then headed for the lounge. She wanted this to be as informal as possible.
“Yeah, a coffee’d be nice. Milk, no sugar.” Carol looked around, trying to get a feel for Janice’s life. She could see text books on the kitchen table. She wasn’t sure if they were Helen’s or Janice’s.
“Okay.” Carol could hear Janice moving in the kitchen area as she settled herself on the lounge. She kept Janice talking while the other girl made the coffee. Nothing important, small questions about how she was, trying to put Janice at her ease.
“I’m not interrupting your study am I?” Carol asked.
Janice turned, saw where Carol was looking. “Oh, no, that?” her tone light, dismissive. “I’ve got an assignment to do, but it’s not due for a while. It’s okay.”
“So,” Janice said as she brought Carol her coffee, “I know this is about what happened to me. About, about him, Copeland.” Carol could hear the struggle on Janice’s voice, the effort it was taking to keep an even tone, but the other girl wasn’t pausing. “But he’s locked up. What else is there?”
“It’s not really about him, or even you, in a way.” Carol replied, “There’s still two girls he took that we haven’t found.”
“Oh.” So much was conveyed in that simple sound. There was relief. Relief, Carol guessed, at the conversation moving to what Janice saw as safer, not quite so personal. But there was fear as well. Janice sat in one of the armchairs near the lounge. She crossed her legs before continuing, not seeming to mind that it rode the hem of her sundress up her thigh. Carol could see the thoughtful look on her face. “Yes. Karen and Laura wasn’t it? Have you got some leads on where they are?”
Carol could see the hope in Janice’s eyes, the way she leant forward. She searched for some way to make her news more palatable, but couldn’t find any. Giving up she simply said “No.”
Janice looked away. She shifted in her seat, her legs still crossed. Her right foot tapped at the air. It beat an uneven time, reflecting the uncertainty Carol could sense in the other girl.
“I, I’m sorry for them. But I don’t know what I can do.”
“Look,” said Carol, trying to find a tone to express the sympathy she felt for Janice, “I know it’s hard going over it and we’ve asked before. But was there ever anything Copeland said, anything about the men he dealt with, that might help us find them?”
Janice frowned, searching her memories. “No, no, he never said anything about the other girls. I didn’t even know you were there until, until you found me.”
Carol looked hard at the other girl. She could see the strain in Janice’s face. It was matched by the constant fight she waged, the words gnawing away at her defences. Carol didn’t want to cause Janice any pain, but she had to push her sympathy aside.
“Nothing at all?” Carol kept her voice neutral, professional. “Anything might help.”
Janice shook her head, “No, no. I’m sorry, but I can’t remember anything.”
Carol kept her face carefully neutral. She’d suspected Janice wouldn’t know anything useful. Copeland was always careful what he said to the locked-up girls. He wanted to control everything that happened to them. She knew that from her own experience. Every word he said to her was carefully considered to bend her mind the way he wanted.
Carol allowed some warmth to show through her studied police blankness. “It’s okay,” she said, trying her best to be reassuring. She held her hand out, a consoling gesture. “I, um, I just had to ask.”
Janice nodded. Carol could see the tight set of her lips. Then a thought struck her. Copeland had been careful in what he’d said to her. But that wasn’t the only time she’d heard him speak when she was in the cell. She’d managed to overhear him talking to one of his thugs. Copeland hadn’t realised that she could hear him. Maybe the same had happened to Janice.
“What about when he was talking to the men who worked for him? Or something they said to him?”
“Oh, I, I didn’t hear them much. And they never said anything about that.” Janice paused for a moment, then sighed. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s okay,” Carol said. She hadn’t expected any more. She was out of ideas now. At last about the reason she’d given for coming. But her real reason, what she needed to get form being here, Carol still had hope about that.
“No,” Janice shook her head, “no, it’s not. I wish I could help. I want to, but…,” She threw her hands in the air, sagged in her seat.
“No, I mean it,” Carol replied, forcefully. “Copeland was careful. There wasn’t much chance you’d have heard anything.” Janice’s expression was grim, but she said nothing. Seizing her chance Carol continued, “How about you? Everything okay?”
Janice looked at her, her eyes wide in surprise, “Oh? Me, y-yes, well, um, I’m good.”
Carol wasn’t convinced by Janice’s stuttering reply. Janice was so different from the scared, broken, girl that Carol had rescued from the boat. There was an energy about her that had been completely missing that day, but some instinct, some police-bred sense, told her there that Janice was holding something back.
Janice relaxed, smiled, “College? College’s fine. It took a little to catch up the work I missed but,” the red-head paused and shrugged. “I’m managing. Won’t know what my grades are like until the end of semester, but I think I’ll be okay.”
Carol filed away the change in Janice’s attitude. Whatever was bothering the other girl it wasn’t college. Carol decided to stick to the topic Janice seemed comfortable with, at least for the moment, “What are you studying now?”
Janice waved a hand at the books on the table, an open, casual gesture. “Sociology, politics, psychology, same as before.” Carol didn’t bother trying to hide the surprise she felt when Janice put psychology in her list. She’d expected the other girl to drop Copeland’s subject. Janice didn’t miss Carol’s expression. “Yeah, a lot of people expected me to drop psychology.” There was a little shake of her head. “Why should I?”
“No reason at all,” replied Carol. Well, she could think of plenty, but she wasn’t going to tell Janice that. “Is, uh,” the policewoman continued, trying to put the sympathy she felt into her voice, “is anyone giving you a hard time?”
Janice looked straight at her, pausing for a moment before answering, “Yeah, a couple. I wish they hadn’t put my name in the paper. But most people are pretty good. Helen really tore into one of the jocks who tried to make something of it.” Janice laughed, Carol could hear the honesty in it. “I can remember her, hands on hips, glaring up at him. He never tried it again.” She shook her head, smiling.
Carol nodded, then, sensing Janice’s mood probably wouldn’t get any better, seized her chance. “Look, I, uh, need to ask you another question.”
Janice put down her cup, she looked at Carol, as if realising that the policewoman was about to ask something important. “Okay.”
Carol tried her best to sound casual, but she knew that she wasn’t succeeding. Desperately she fumbled for the right words to get Janice to open up to her. “It’s um, to help one of the other girls, um, they’re still treating her.” And me. But Carol didn’t want to add that out loud.
“Oh, sure,” Carol could see the concern in Janice’s face.
“The words that, um, Copeland had us say, do they, do they ever still bother you?” Carol knew that she was rushing though the sentence. She had to get to the end before Janice protested, begged her to stop. Carol could feel her imagination running away, images of Janice crying, yelling at her, demanding to know why she asked about that, of all things.
Janice didn’t do any of that. Carol looked at her, saw the other girl sitting there, so still, looking down.
After an awkward time of silence Janice answered. “Yeah, yeah they do.” She looked up, her eyes meeting Carol’s. “I guess this other girl can’t get over them? Still wants to, just, you, you know?” Carol knew what Janice meant. She simply nodded. She heard Janice take a deep breath, saw her look away, out into the distance through her apartment window.
Janice spoke, pausing now and then. Carol could tell that other girl was concentrating, choosing her words carefully. She wondered if Janice was hiding something. “Yeah, um, Copeland wanted me to be just a whore. Well worse than that really, yeah, we were never going to get any of the money were we?” She looked at Carol again, a crooked smile on her face, then away. “So yeah, those words, I can still hear them. But I want to be more than that. I don’t want to be something someone else makes money out of. I want to graduate, and get a good job. It’s, well, whenever I hear the words in my head I just have to tell myself that I believe in me. I can do what I want to do. That I make the choices. Just tell her to keep believing in herself. She can be what she wants to be.”
Carol had to swallow before she could speak, the dryness in her mouth catching her by surprise. “I, I will,” she said, softly. If that was all that Janice had to offer, then she’d have to make do. Believe in herself. Remember what she wanted to be. But she doubted it was enough. If telling herself to ignore the words had been enough she wouldn’t have needed to look to Janice for help. An icy wall of fear loomed up before her. Carol didn’t know if she could face the words by herself. All she could do was try. And try not to think about what would happen if she failed.
“So,” said Janice, sitting up in her chair, “that all you needed?’ Her tone was bright, but Carol could sense a brittleness in it.
“Yeah, I suppose so. Everything else okay? You sounded on the phone like you’d had a big night.”
“Um, yeah, I, I was out.” Janice’s brightness wavered, threatening to collapse as quickly as it had appeared.
Carol knew when someone was being evasive, but Janice was being so obvious she didn’t think that it needed police experience to spot it. She focussed on the other woman, using that to blot out other thoughts. “You sure everything’s okay?” she asked carefully.
“Yes,” Janice quickly replied. “It’s all fine. Um, sorry, but I really need to do some study, so if that’s everything?”
Carol was tempted to press the girl harder, but suspected that it wouldn’t achieve anything. She could tell when someone was about to shut down. Carol needed to think.
“Uh, no, that’s it for now. Can I call you, though, if I think of anything else?”
“Yeah, sure.” Janice sounded genuine enough, but she didn’t waste time in showing Carol out.
Back in her car the more Carol went over the conversation the more she became convinced that Janice was hiding something. Carol couldn’t think what it would be, or how it could relate to the case, but she’d learnt to trust her instincts. She went to turn the key in the ignition but then stopped herself. She had nowhere else to be. If Janice was hiding something then maybe her need to study was just a story. From where she was sitting Carol could see the entrance to Janice’s building. Carol glanced at the clock in her dashboard. 5pm. She could give it a few hours. Maybe it would give her a clue about the missing girls. Or maybe, just maybe, give her something more useful for her fight with the words than Janice’s glib assurances.
Night had long fallen. It was 9pm now. No surprise to Carol. Last time she’d locked at her clock it had been 8.59. The clock was the only thing she’d seen move for hours. Since Helen, Janice’s roommate, had come home around six. If Janice had been lying about wanting to study, then it looked like whatever she was doing she was doing at home. Carol sighed. She was hungry. And she knew that if she sat there much longer, alone, then the words were likely to force their way into her consciousness. She could feel them now, moving around the edge of her awareness. She needed to do something, anything, to occupy her mind. Give them no space to invade. She still thought Janice had been hiding something, but it looked like tonight was a bust. Reluctantly Carol pulled out and drove away.
A few minutes later a red-headed figure, dressed in a knee length coat, belted tightly around the waist, slipped out of Janice’s apartment building and headed off down the street.
Much as she wanted to Carol wasn’t given any chance to follow up her suspicions about Janice. Wainwright hustled her into his office the next day.
“Anything out of the girls?”
“No, nothing.” Carol knew she wasn’t telling Wainwright anything he didn’t already know. She’d known from his tone that he’d expected nothing more. She’d have come straight to him if she’d found anything. He knew that. The rest was formality.
“Okay, we’ll leave it to the locals for now.” Wainwright tapped the ash off his cigarette. Carol knew the gesture. He’d made his decision. She didn’t care. She had to protest. She was sure Janice was hiding something.
“But we can’t just leave those girls out there, I,” Carol protested.
Wainwright cut her off, stabbing his cigarette in her direction. “We’re not just leaving them. It’s still an open case. But we’ve got nothing.”
Carol wasn’t put off that easily. Her suspicions about Janice, that there was something odd about the other girl, ate at her. “Look I think Janice was hiding something.”
“Janice? Janice Thornton? What would she know that she’d keep quiet about? Copeland never even sold her on.” Wainwright looked as sceptical as he sounded.
Carol moved to Wainwright’s desk, leant over it towards her boss, “Yeah, I know, but I’m sure she wasn’t telling me everything yesterday.” Carol could hear herself almost pleading.
Wainwright grimaced. “Look Carol, I know this case matters to you. Perhaps too much. But unless you’ve got something concrete we’re going to leave it until something turns up. So, you got anything?”
Carol shook her head.
“Ok. Anything comes up I’ll let you know. And you do the same for me, right.” The emphasis on the last word gave Carol no room for manoeuvre. Her boss would look sourly on any lone ventures. “But until then, we’ve got other cases. There’s one I need you for. You gonna be able to cope?”
Carol made herself look Wainwright in the eyes. She prayed that her eyes wouldn’t show him her doubts. “Sure, what is it?”
“Illegal gambling.” Wainwright’s features were closed. He’d make a good poker player, Carol thought.
“Uh, what sort? I’m not much of a card player boss.” Carol could play any role that undercover work had thrown at her, but she’d never mastered keeping a straight face when holding a good hand at cards.
Wainwright half-smiled. “I know, but you won’t be playing. George will.”
“George?” Carol didn’t bother to hide her surprise. George was good at undercover work too. Everyone in the squad was. But he’d never struck Carol as having the icy calm of a good card player. His home-town good looks, all dark hair and blue eyes, seemed too open to her.
“Yeah, George. You’d be surprised. If you didn’t skip our card games maybe you’d’ve known.” Carol could hear the reproach buried in Wainwright’s voice. She knew that he wanted her to take more part in the rituals the rest of the team indulged in. But drinking and cards lacked in appeal to her. She knew that as a woman on the team there were times she simply had to try harder than anyone else. But she also knew some of them appreciated her staying out of some things. She’d even been thanked, once or twice, in a back-handed sort of way. She knew why. She knew what sort of talk half-tanked male cops would share over cards. And Carol didn’t want to force them to change just for her. She knew how undercover work meant that you needed the chance to let off steam. So she left them to their lewd jokes over cards. Wainwright would just have to put up with her absence.
“Okay,” Carol shrugged, “but if he’s so good what do you need me for?”
“You’ll be the candy on his arm.” Wainwright smiled, the expression not reaching his eyes. Carol could tell when she was being provoked.
She couldn’t suppress a protest. Again she leant over his desk, but this time in anger not supplication, hands pressing down on the surface. “Yeah? And?”
Wainwright raised his eyebrows. “Who’s the captain around here detective? If I say you’re the candy on someone’s arm then that’s what you do.”
“Sorry sir,” Carol sighed, pulling back.
Wainwright smiled again. This time it did reach his eyes. “Look Carol, I know it’s hard sometimes. But we’re looking at a big operation here. We don’t just need to know where it is and who’s involved. We want to catch them at it. And to do that we need to know what their security is like so we can get in fast when we raid them. George won’t be able to check it out while he’s playing. He gets you two in. But you’ve got the important job.”
Weeks later Carol leant over George’s shoulder as he sat at the card table, her arms casually flung around him. Her dress was short and she knew that with the way she was leaning over it was probably riding up indecently, but that fit with the ditzy image she’d created for herself. Another case, another name. This time she was Melissa.
“Good luck sweetie,” she proclaimed brightly.
“Won’t need it hon.” Carol didn’t need to look to see the distant expression on George’s face. She’d become familiar with it in the last few weeks. She gave him a kiss on the cheek before stepping back to let the game begin. No one was allowed too close to the players once the game started. Anyone suspected of cheating wouldn’t last long around here.
From the safety of the watching crowd Carol looked around. George’s wasn’t the only game going, but it was the one that had attracted the most onlookers. No surprise, it was being played for the biggest stakes. The place wasn’t exactly packed, illegal casinos couldn’t afford to let just anyone in. But there were enough people that Carol had to squeeze between them to get far enough away from the table for the other players to be happy.
She knew that she’d have to watch George for a while so that no-one became suspicious. She was supposed to be his doting girlfriend, so she had to spend some time doting. She’d done that often enough in the time it had taken them to get here. They hadn’t even known at first where this casino was, and even if they had they couldn’t just walk up and ask to play. George had had to spend weeks at lesser games, in the back rooms of bars, abandoned warehouses and seedy restaurants, working his way up the ranks. Making enough of a reputation for himself that he’d get an entry to this place.
The casino wasn’t what Carol had suspected. She’d thought it would be like the games George had played to get them here, only for more money. Held in small rooms, peeling paint and decay all around. But this place wasn’t like that. It was big, it screamed money. Someone, Carol thought, was very confident that they’d be able to run this place for a long time to recover their investment. On one side was a long saloon bar, all polished wood and, behind the bartenders, rows of bottles. The floor was carpeted, something long that deadened the sound of foot falls. Ornate fans hung from the ceiling, their blades rotating lazily, smoke from the ever-present cigarettes drifting around them.
George won the hand. It hadn’t meant much. It was early, the pot was relatively small, the players feeling each other out. He tossed Carol a betting chip.
“Go keep yourself amused, Melissa honey.” It was her excuse to get away, to see if she could find anything out about the casino’s security. Carol knew that there had to be some. No-one would spend this much money on somewhere illegal and leave it unprotected. She wasn’t sorry to go anyway. The looks some of the other players had been giving her she could do without. One in particular, a big-squared jawed type, his accent hailing from some mid-western state, had been leering at her ever since the players had taken their places. Maybe he was trying to put George off. Maybe he was just like that with women. Whatever his motives it was clear that he looked at Carol as nothing more than a piece of meat. Something to do what he wanted with and then toss aside. Carol could feel Copeland’s words, creeping around the edges her mind. She wanted to be away, out of sight of the man, somewhere where she couldn’t feel the man’s eyes roaming over her body.
She pushed her way through the watching crowd. In the clear, beyond the press of bodies, she looked around. A roulette table had attracted a few players. Carol knew that she should use the chip George had given her, in case anyone was watching. She headed over, mincing in her high heels, and carelessly placed her bet. The croupier raised his eyes but said nothing until he called out that no more bets were allowed. Carol watched the wheel spin. Thoughts of the man at the card table, and how he had made her feel, were pushed aside.
Carol wasn’t surprised when the wheel stopped and she had lost. She smiled at the croupier, shrugged and headed over to the bar. Sipping a cocktail she looked around the casino. She could easily spot two cameras, positioned to cover the entrance and most of the floor. Apart from the way they had come in, and the toilets, there were two other doors. From what she knew of the layout of the casino one of them probably led out to the rear of the building. Carol decided to try that one first. It might be another way in, and would certainly need to be watched to make sure no-one escaped that way during the raid. Dropping a cardboard coaster in her purse she took her drink and headed across to the door.
Leaning back against the wall next to it Carol reached around behind her with her free hand and tried the door. She smiled as she found it unlocked. Carol waited for the camera to swing away from the door. Then she quickly slipped inside and closed the door behind her. Concrete stairs lead up and down, a dim light illuminating what was obviously a fire escape. Carol carefully picked her way down the stairs to ground level, her high heels making too much sound on the bare concrete. There was a door there, but it was locked. Carol wasn’t surprised that the casino was ignoring fire regulations. It was breaking so many other laws what did one more matter? Squatting down Carol slipped the coaster under the door. Later she’d check the alley behind the building, the drink coaster would tell her when she found the right door. And if anybody spotted it in the meantime the coaster shouldn’t look particularly suspicious. Before leaving Carol examined the door carefully. If the raid was to come in this way they’d need to have a good idea of how to get the door open quickly.
Back at the top of the stairs Carol opened the door as far as she dared, trying to catch sight of the camera. Again she waited for it to swing away then quickly stepped back inside. Nobody seemed to notice.
For a while Carol watched some of the other games. She wanted to be as sure as she could that she hadn’t aroused any suspicions. When she thought it had been long enough she turned her attention to the other door. Unlike the first door, people occasionally went in and out this one. Big men, in ill-fitting suits. Carol could tell hired muscle when she saw it. She knew that the cameras had to be monitored from somewhere, and that wherever it was had to be behind that door. How carefully did someone watch them? And more importantly, were there any cameras watching the outside? She’d seen the thugs at the entrance, tell-tale bulges under their jackets. Carol hadn’t seen any cameras there, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t any. George would have been looking too, but Carol knew she had to check.
She didn’t like her chances of remaining unobserved this time. Someone might be coming out as she went in. Even if she was lucky and didn’t meet anyone, it seemed too important for her to be able to get away with just walking in and out. Carol decided that a direct approach would work better. She walked up to the door, opened it and went straight on through, making no attempt to hide what she was doing. Inside was a short corridor, lit by the glare of an unshielded globe. There were three doors. The ones on either side of the corridor were plain, that at the end more ornate, perhaps it led to an office. There had to be one somewhere.
From the door to the left she heard a muffled exclamation. Carol took a deep breath and trotted over to it in her best impersonation of a complete ditz. Her luck held, and the door was unlocked.
“Hey, is this the ladies?” Carol asked, pitching her voice as high as she thought would be believable.
One of the suited men was sitting looking at a TV monitor. He was turning around as Carol entered the room.
“Does this look like the john? Get out of here before I throw you out.”
“Oo, er, sorry,” Carol simpered, “Um, where is it?”
The man glared at her. “Door on the other side of the bar. Now get out before you get in trouble.”
Carol put on a scared look and scampered away. Outside she allowed herself a smile. On the screen had been four images, two of the inside of the casino. And one each of the front and back of the building. Annoying, but at least she knew that the cameras were there and approximately where they were focussed. She followed the man’s directions, unwilling to raise his suspicions if he was watching her on the inside cameras.
Her scouting done Carol thought that she might as well head back and see how George was getting on. She knew that neither of them would be allowed to keep any of the money he won, but taking it away from the other players was satisfying in itself.
Carol’s dreams of vicarious winnings were rudely shattered as she pushed her way back through the crowd surrounding the table where George was playing. In front of her partner was a meagre pile of chips, much smaller than what Carol remembered him having. The pot in the middle of the table was large, larger than any Carol remembered George playing for. Looking around the other players Carol could see that none had much left, the betting on this hand must have been fierce. But George’s was the smallest. One by one the other players dropped out until only George and Cal, as the big mid-westerner seemed to be called, were left. Cal had started leering at Carol again as soon as she’d made her way to the edge of the watching crowd.
“So,” Cal said, grinning at George, “you gonna fold too?”
George was impassive. Carol knew that Wainwright wouldn’t be happy if they lost the money. George would know that too. But Carol sensed that was more than that going on here. Maybe George thought he had a winning hand. Maybe the big mid-westerner had got under his skin. Carol couldn’t tell what her partner was thinking, anything could be going on behind his blank stare. But whatever he wanted to do he didn’t have enough chips left. Cal could see out anything George cared to bid.
“Tell yer what,” Cal oozed, “you got no money left. Not enough anyway.” He talks too much to be a really good card player, thought Carol, “But you got other stuff. How much would some time with your girl be worth? Might be enough to keep you in the game.” He leered openly at Carol.
Carol felt her mouth drop open. Her mind reeled. She could feel herself trembling. She knew what the big man meant. Sex. Sex with her. George could bet that in place of the money he needed to stay in the game. Sex in exchange for money. Which was, was, prostitution. Cal was wanting her to prostitute herself to keep George in the game. The words roared through her head.
I want to be a prostitute. I’m happy to be a prostitute. I love it when men use me. I want to be used sexually.
She could feel her lips start to move, silently, forming the shape of the words. Feel her knees start to weaken. A man in the crowd looked at her as she brushed against him, stumbling. Everyone was looking at her. Knowing what Cal had offered, what that meant for her. She looked around, her eyes wide, but she had nowhere to go. She knew that she couldn’t leave, or George would have to fold. She felt as if every man in the room was looking at her, wondering if they too could buy her. She hated that part of her loved the attention, wanted to soak in it, to run her hands over her body, egg them on.
Carol clung to what Janice had said. Believe in yourself, the redhead had said. Do what you want to do. Right then Carol wasn’t sure what she wanted. Part of her wanted to scream no. The image of the whore in her head wanted to scream yes. She knew that the choice wasn’t hers. George would make the call. Intellectually she knew that, even if George lost, she wouldn’t have to go through with it. That George and Wainwright would stop her going through with it. She’d found out enough. The plan was for them to be here when the raid went down, to avoid arousing suspicion and provide more information if needed. That wouldn’t be possible if she had to run out on Cal. But Carol knew that was what Wainwright would order.
In some ways it didn’t matter what happened. It was out, literally on the table, an offer of money for sex. Whether she did or didn’t have to do it, whether George won or lost, wasn’t the point. Carol knew that it was how she felt that mattered. And right now, God help her, she knew that she could do it. That so much of her wanted to do it. And that the rest of her was scared of that part. She couldn’t believe how much of her wanted this. It wasn’t all of her, it wasn’t even the larger part. But its strength frightened her.
“Okay,” through the fog of her thoughts Carol heard George speaking. His voice calm, as if agreeing to nothing more than whose turn it was to buy a round of drinks. “One night, but we call on that.”
Cal wasn’t looking at George. His eyes were fixed on Carol, confidence and lust clear on his features. “You’re gonna have a real man tonight little lady,” he leered.
Carol said nothing, her fear rising higher as she realised that he was looking at her as he would at a prostitute, thinking of her as one. She realised that it shouldn’t have mattered. It wasn’t going to happen and she should be used to people thinking anything of her in the course of her work. She had pretended to be so many things over her time in the squad. Identities merging and flowing together, that was her life, one role after another, slipped on and off like a summer dress. But this was different. The words clawed at her. Part of her wanted this. Part of her, dear God, was becoming aroused by the idea. People were looking at her, they realised that her fate was being decided, she could hear the mutterings, people wondering if she’d go through with it if George lost.
Cal placed his cards down, slowly. Having watched George earn their way here Carol knew enough to know a good hand when she saw it. One after another the cards fell, starting with the seven of hearts, then climbing through the suit, eight, nine, ten, jack. A straight flush. George would need another flush, with higher cards, to beat it. Carol could feel her heart pounding. Feelings she wanted to deny burnt deep inside her. She edged up behind George’s chair, her hands gripped the back of it, tight enough to hurt. Nervously she waited to see what George had.
Her partner hadn’t flinched as Cal put down his cards. Now he started, a card at a time, as Cal had. Spades fell from his hand. Jack, ten, nine, eight, descending where Cal had ascended. A draw, thought Carol, equal. That meant they would split the pot. Where did that leave her? George held the last card for a moment, then placed it down. The Queen. The Queen of spades. He’d won. Relief flooded through Carol. She’d escaped. Just as with Copeland she’d escaped. And later she’d deal with the part of her that was disappointed.
Cal scowled. Then smiled, broadly. To Carol it looked forced. “Ah well, all yours,” he said, and gestured at the pot. “Maybe we’ll play for the same stakes another time.” His eyes lingered over Carol. “But next time I’ll bring my own whores.” Carol bridled at the implication, that she was George’s whore. She scowled at Cal. A part of her, deep in her mind, purred. She recoiled from that part of her mind, tried to fence it off.
That night, Carol lay in the bed of the hotel room she was sharing with George. The lights from outside, neon and the passing cars, flickered on the ceiling. Like the light had flickered in her cell. She tried to remind herself that she wasn’t there. Wasn’t locked in. She could get up, walk out the door. But that wouldn’t help. Because the words would still be with her.
I want to be a prostitute.
I’m happy to be a prostitute.
Cal had called her a whore. She could still see the big man leering at her, her body reacting. She wanted to deny it. But the words were spinning around and around in her head. Over and over.
It was hours before Carol fell asleep.
Tension clawed at Carol as the days to the next game, and the raid, crawled by. The words wouldn’t leave her alone. She and George had reported in to Wainwright, but they had to keep up the pretence of being a gambler and his girlfriend. They shopped, appearing to spend more than they actually did. They ate, at the hotel they were staying at and at restaurants. All the time Carol went over and over her reactions. She couldn’t believe that part of her had wanted to trade sex for money. Had wanted to prostitute herself. That part of her still did. Yes, she had the words running through her head, stronger since she visited Judy in the hospital. But deep down she’d believed, or at least wanted to believe, that it wasn’t real. That when it came down to it she would reject the idea. Now she knew that wasn’t true. That, given the chance, a part of her, a large part of her, really would do it. Whore herself. Be a prostitute. She wanted this case over. She needed time to think, to pull herself out of this.
Once or twice George seemed to pick up on her mood, but she was able to put him off by claiming nerves because of the coming raid. Perhaps he accepted that. He said he did. Whether he really believed her Carol didn’t know.
Wainwright didn’t seem to notice anything. Or, if he, did, he gave no sign. He was happy with the information she had, but he scowled when Carol admitted she didn’t know what was behind the other two doors near the room with the monitors for the security cameras. “How do you know there isn’t another way out?” Carol had to admit that she didn’t. When she’d found the door behind the building, the coaster she’d left peeking out from under it, she hadn’t noticed any other entrances nearby. But that didn’t mean there weren’t any. Carol could tell that Wainwright was thinking about delaying the raid. They still didn’t know who ran the casino. But they were being pressured for a result. Carol pointed that out. She didn’t want to admit why she wanted this over.
I want to be a prostitute, the words taunted her.
No I don’t.
“We’re never going to know everything,” Wainwright concluded eventually. “So let’s stick to the plan. Only a few more days.”
Only a few more days, Carol told herself. Then she’d be able to put this behind her. Forget how she’d felt when Cal made his offer.
Try to forget there was a part of her that agreed with the words. The words that wouldn’t leave her alone.
I want to be a prostitute.