Sunday, January 17, 2010

the seventeenth letter, part 28

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

seated with her hands cuffed behind her in the dark van as it began to move, bettina brownlow felt a little guilty as well as scared. she had been warned many times, especially by her cousin susan, that attendance at any kind of religio-philosophical meeting was a provocation to the police and might bring down the very type of "sweep" that had netted them. but she had started attending the albigensian-darwinist meetings just for something to do.

how she had hated coming home from work at night, making a sandwich and watching the stupid shows, none of which she found the least interesting.

and then susan would come home from her own job, go to her own room, usually without eating, and just lie on her bed and stare at the ceiling.

this got on bettina's nerves a little, but what was really upsetting was susan coming home sometimes with cigarettes!

where and how, especially how, she got them was something bettina did not care to think about. and she would lie on her bed and blow smoke rings at the ceiling. an outlaw! so who was she to be critical when bettina started going to the a-d meetings when she discovered them just down the street?

to be fair, susan hadn't exactly been critical, just saying, in her infuriatingly calm voice, "they might as well get us for one thing as another," and taking another contraband item out of her pocket - "a cry in the wind" by jennifer broughton.

and she had started not only reading romance novels, but leaving them lying all over the apartment.

bettina had never cared for the romance novels. but they were all out of sight when she had rushed into the darkened apartment after running from the meeting when the sweep began.

how lucky that she lived so close! susan held a finger to her lips and pulled bettina into the apartment and closed and locked the door.

they could hear running and shouting right outside the door.
"i feel bad," said bettina. "maybe i should have invited some people from the meeting to come here with me. they'd be safe here."
"are you out of your mind?" susan whispered.

'"it's a good thing you didn't. get away from the door. why don't you go to your room? but don't turn any lights on."

but susan had stayed peeking out the window from behind the curtain, and bettina had stayed silently beside her, listening. the sounds receded from the street, but there was more and louder shouting from further away.

leslie walked slowly up the street, looking for any signs of prosperity in the occupants. as she approached bettina's and susan's street level apartment she thought she saw a slight movement in a corner of the window.

she drew up to the window. it was spotlessly clean. that's something, she thought.

she knocked on the door. "open up. police." she took a light out of her pocket and checked the handcuffs ready on her belt.
"come on, i know you are in there." she knocked again, louder.
she waited one second and kicked the door under the handle. it broke open easily, almost noiselessly.

susan and bettina stood helplessly in the center of the room. leslie swept her light into their faces and felt around for the room light and switched it on.

she closed the broken door behind her as best she could.
"good evening, ladies."
"good evening, officer," susan replied evenly. "we weren't causing any trouble. in fact, we are glad you are here."
leslie looked around the apartment. "i'm glad i'm here, too. come on, ladies, you know the rules - this is a sweep area, there is no refuge in a sweep area. but maybe we can work something out."
"yes," said susan. bettina noticed for the first time that susan had changed into one of her nicer dresses - one of grandmother's old dresses!

'you look like a couple of respectable ladies," said leslie. "what are you, sisters?"
"cool. it must be kind of painful for you, living in a riff-raffy area like this."
"we manage," susan answered.

"i'm happy to hear it. i 'll bet you have a lot of nice heirlooms stashed away." leslie moved closer to susan. "and that dress you are wearing - i really like it.'
"thank you."
the conversation was interrupted by very heavy footsteps outside.

the door opened and sergeant custer walked in.

he looked around.
"everything under control here, officer?"

"totally, sergeant."
"then expedite, officer, expedite. do you need any assistance?" custer looked susan and bettina over. "you haven't even got them cuffed yet. your partner shows a lot of initiative, you could profit from her example."
leslie nodded toward susan. "this one looked like a ringleader, sergeant. i thought some special interrogation might be called - "
"put them both in your van. officer. this operation has gone on long enough, i would like to get it over with."

"roger that, sergeant."
"carry on, officer." custer watched as leslie handcuffed the two women and led them out into the street. then he turned the light off and closed the broken door behind him.

leslie looked back over her shoulder.

"if you had just opened the door for me, and not made me break it in, we might have been good. but sometimes things just don't go your way. "
neither susan nor bettina answered as leslie helped them up into the van. she put bettina halfway down the right side, and susan in the back.

leslie fingered susan's dress as she turned to leave. "we might still work something out," she whispered in her ear.

"dark in here," said the man sitting on bettina's right.

"yes, it is," bettina answered politely. she looked around. it was hard to make anybody out in the dark . susan was now seated by the door, on the other side from bettina, where she had been placed after the blonde girl had boldly gotten up and changed her own seat.

bettina's eyes sought out the blonde girl, who was now seated across from her, two places down to her right.

bettina had often noticed her in the neighborhood, brazenly flouting the human contact laws by strolling down the streets with her two constant male companions - one of whom she was now muttering earnestly to, while the other sat quietly by the door, across from susan. susan seemed to be talking - to him?

the sight and thought of the bold blonde girl made bettina's heart flutter furiously.
she was almost certain, from everything she had heard, that the males and females would be separated when they got to jupiter, maybe even for shipment to jupiter - look at me, she thought, accepting that i am on my way to jupiter! - and when that happened the blonde girl might want a new companion to replace them. bettina closed her eyes.

she could hardly breathe. this could be the start of a great adventure - this could be the start of something she had never dared dream of!
bettina exhaled slowly and opened her eyes. had she fallen asleep?

the van was moving faster, and the noise level inside it seemed higher.
some of the duller looking males were stamping their feet. and the blonde girl was talking loudly - to whom?

"you are asking me?" she was saying, apparently to a nasty looking little man across from bettina. bettina hoped he wasn't an associate of hers! "i don't think she will, no. but don't take my word for it."
more feet started stamping more loudly.

"noise! noise! let's make noise!" someone in back shouted.
bettina looked over at susan. she seemed to be laughing at something - from the man beside her, or the blonde girl's companion across from her?

'let's sing songs!" this from the little ragamuffin girl with the long pigtails, seated in back. "i know lots of songs!"

the man on her right , the biggest person in the van, starting laughing as if this was the funniest thing he had ever heard. "hear, hear, little lady! i know lots of songs too!"

"do you know good king horace and the ninety-nine bottles of wine?"
"who doesn't know that one? all together now -"
"good king horace went out to dine," they started singing
the night was young, he was already feeling fine
he took the train to the end of the line
with a basket of roses and ninety-nine bottles of wine - "
some others, including the blonde girl and the young man beside her, joined in.

"ninety-nine bottles of wine
ninety-nine bottles of wine
a basket of roses and ninety-nine bottles of wine!"

those who didn't join in seemed to be laughing or stamping their feet. even susan was laughing.
bettina was terrified. was she the only one?

"they are shaking the van." said leslie. "and it doesn't feel like it just feels like it."
"don't panic."
"who's panicking? i'm just telling you."

the van was passing a totally black and deserted stretch of waterfront.

"should i go faster or slower?'
"faster. until we come to a pier. i'll look for a pier."

the seventeenth letter, part 29

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