"no rush now," leslie told country girl. "we just missed one northbound bus, the next won't be along for a while."
"all right," country girl moved to the back of the locker room, where the corporals and sergeants had slightly larger lockers.
swan's locker was beside country girl's.
she was changing into her uniform and looked around before speaking.
"how's it going this morning - sister?"
country girl flinched slightly at the forbidden word.
swan laughed. "you think i don't see you? you've got the mark on you, sister - the mark of the walking alive."
country girl met swan's gaze briefly, then turned away. "whatever." she tossed her hat into her locker and started getting out of her blue uniform.
swan moved a little closer and lowered her voice. "so, uh - if you don't mind my asking, how long have you been in this condition?"
"just a couple of nights."
"i see. a couple of nights?" swan looked around the corner. she could see leslie slowly changing into her civilian clothes. "not with the highwayman there?"
"leslie? oh no, no! nobody - in the police."
"somehow i didn't think so. you know, i'd watch out for that one - a little too much of a bold buccaneer, you know?"
country girl shrugged. "i was only with her this one night. it probably won't be permanent."
"uh-huh. so how are you getting along with the other thing - after a couple of nights?"
"cool. with me it's been my whole life. and i'm moving backwards."
country girl looked straight ahead and zipped up her civilian jacket.
swan smiled at her. "you didn't have to answer that." she put her blue hat on and started moving away.
"carry on, corporal."
a message light flashed in front of sergeant fred. he listened briefly. then he moved from behind the front desk and slightly down the row of prisoners.
"the bus to jupiter for the ladies will be here in about half an hour," he announced.
"the menfolk might have to wait a while. thank you."
none of the prisoners spoke or moved. "not a bad group," he said out loud to himself, and went back behind the desk.
country girl and leslie came down the corridor and headed for the side door. leslie glanced behind her just as country girl reached for the door.
"hey, look, fred's on."
"the stars are aligned here," leslie answered.
" i got a plan. don't worry, we've got plenty of time."
leslie headed for the front desk. country girl tagged along behind her.
leslie came up behind fred. "what's up, sarge?"
"what's the matter, leslie, can't get out the door without dealing?"
"how about a 442, sarge?"
"you owe me a little."
"as much as this?"
"no. i'll owe you now."
fred took a one page form out of a slot beneath the desk, signed it and started to hand it to leslie. "who do you have in mind?"
"the first in line. with the white hat."
"doesn't look like much of a trooper."
"as much as me. if she flunks the training, what's it to you? come on, you already signed it."
fred handed the paper to leslie.
"i'd like one too, sergeant," country girl said.
"oh?" fred looked at country girl. "i think i know where you're coming from."
"but you'd think wrong. come on, i'll owe you. two for one."
fred thought for a few seconds, then took another form and signed it.
"and your candidate is?"
"about a quarter of the way down, with the blue hat.
now you have to admit, she does look like a trooper."
"indeed she does." fred stared at country girl.
"it's not what you're thinking. sarge. i did her a bit of an injury earlier, and i just want to make it up to her."
fred laughed out loud. "yes, you arrested her and she's on her way to jupiter. most people would consider that a bit of an injury."
"it's more than that. can i have the paper, please?"
fred handed it to her.
leslie was waving with the paper to susan at the end of the bench. susan looked around uncertainly, and leslie moved a step closer and kept waving.
"susan, come on!"
susan got up and moved over to leslie.
"we're in business, susan. you are now a member of the universal police force. let's go upstairs and get you out of those nice clothes."
"don't look back. let's go."
country girl moved down the bench and stopped in front of tomboy.
she showed her the paper.
"i've got a present for you, tom, if you'd care to take it.'
"oh?" tom looked at her suspiciously.
'"it's your ticket off of jupiter. before you even get there."
"just her?" antonia, sitting beside tom, asked. country girl ignored her and held tom's gaze.
"i guess the rest of us aren't the girl for you," antonia said loudly.
country girl looked down at her. "what's your name?"
'well. antonia, i'll tell you what.
maybe you aren't the girl for me, but if tom here doesn't want this, you can have it, how's that? what it is - " country girl held it in front of her own face - "is an application for the police, pre-approved and signed by the sergeant back there, and it doesn't have anybody's name on it - yet. it's of no use to me, because i'm already on the police."
she took the paper and thrust it at tom. "tom, this is your only chance to find out if i'm telling you the truth about your sib. you're not going to find out on jupiter. "
tom hesitated. "and then i'll be on the police."
country girl leaned down and whispered in tom's ear. "if you want. you'd be crazy not to take the opportunity, but if you don't show up for training tomorrow, there's only one chance in a million that anybody will know or care. there's nothing but this paper, which is your ticket out of here." country girl straightened up. "take it, and you can walk out the door with me."
tom turned and looked at james.
tom stood up and took the paper from country girl. she followed her around behind the front desk.
swan and schweik were sitting on the officers bench. they looked up at country girl
with amused eyes.
"did you see where leslie went?" country girl asked them.
'i think she went up to the locker room with her recruit," schweik told her.
"thanks." country girl turned to tom. "follow me."
elephant girl had just finished changing into her uniform when leslie came back into the locker room with susan.
leslie made straight for her.
"can you help us out, sib? you got any rags that this rookie can change into? i don't have anything that will fit her. we're in just a little bit of a rush here."
"leslie, i've never seen you so energetic." elephant girl stared at susan. "no time for proper introductions?"
"this is susan, i just got her signed up."
"hello," susan smiled nervously at elephant girl. "and you are?"
"ellie." elephant girl looked susan over. "what's wrong with what you've got on? looks pretty good to me."
susan looked over at leslie. "i guess it's too good."
"come on, sib," leslie addressed elephant girl. "let's not waste time with this give the rookie a hard time garbage. i've had a long night and she's had a longer one. can you help us out here?"
"i have some coins," susan told elephant girl. "maybe you could sell me something?"
elephant girl laughed. she finally smiled at susan. "no need for that." she opened her locker. "you can use these." she took a shirt and slacks out and gave them to susan. "you'll need a belt or they'll fall off ."
'i have a belt she can use" said leslie. "we really appreciate this."
"no problem. carry on, officers." elephant girl nodded to them and left.
susan started emptying the pockets of her dress. she had fistfuls of coins and other small objects and handed them to leslie. "i thought these things might come in handy."
leslie looked around. with elephant girl's departure, they were alone in the room,. "susan, susan, this is great. i can see you are like me, you have an instinctive understanding of how the world works."
"can i keep my hat? it's lucky."
"yes, you can keep your hat. keep the coins too. we'll sell this other stuff, and split what we get 50-50. we're in business here. now get changed out of that dress, o k? i'll get you that belt."
country girl and tomboy came in.
leslie looked at country girl and rubbed her hands. "a busy night. but we're on schedule. "
tomboy looked around at the locker room. "could i just walk out of here right now?" she asked country girl.
"you could, but do you even know where you are? get on the bus with us, there's no other way out of here unless you want to start walking."
"come with us to knucks," leslie told her, "there's always people coming and going, maybe you can pick up a ride there."
susan had finished changing.
she was holding her baggy pants up with one hand and gave her dress with the other to leslie, who rolled it up in a bundle.
"how about you, susan?' leslie asked her. "you can come with us, or you can stay here and get some sleep. there's a little bunk room behind this one."
susan's eyes widened. "i think i'll stay with you."