The air smelled strangely to Deborah. It was a stale odor, with a tinge of medical solvents. But there were other smells, too: tobacco, and cat vomit. “I’m sorry,” her doctor said. “The last renter was a slob. But we were lucky to find anyone who would rent to us.” Unconsciously the doctor touched her cheek, and the inch-tall capital letter “A” burned into her skin just below her blue eye.
“It’s okay, Dr. Gerson,” Deborah said. “I’m just nervous.”
“Please, it’s Jolee; and technically they took away my medical license, anyway. But this procedure is completely safe. ”
“Yeah,” Deborah said, unable to meet her eyes. “Procedure.”
“If you’re having second thoughts, we don’t have to do it today. We can reschedule.”
“Again, you mean?” Deborah sighed. “I can only put off for so long before the damn thing’s going to come out on its own and start demanding things, like candy bars or an education. That was an attempt at levity.” Jolee gave her a puzzled look. “This shouldn’t be a morose thing. I don’t want cake and a party, either. But this isn’t shameful- it shouldn’t be.”
“You're right,” Jolee put her hand on Deborah's.
“Peter got me pregnant. We were trying to be safe. Using the rhythm method and fertility awareness. I even still had an IUD that was supposed to still be functional- from back when those were legal.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Jolee said to her. “No method is 100% effective.”
“I’ll lose my job if I have to take maternity leave. I’ve probably already lost Peter.”
“If you’re sure,” Jolee said, hesitant to push her, “we can start prepping you.”
There was a heavy knock on the door. “Open up, this is the police.”
Jolee's expression changed, her features hardened, and her eyes were demanding when they fixed Deborah. “Do you know how to fire a gun?” Jolee asked her.
“What?” Deborah asked.
“The police. If it’s really them, and not just some anti-abortion shitheads, they don’t arrest people at abortion clinics.”
“What?” Deborah asked again, panicking.
Jolee knew she wasn't getting anywhere, so she turned her attention to her nurse, who had been standing silently in the corner. “Take her to the bathroom, set her up with a gun.”
The nurse aimed Deborah’s shoulders towards the door out of the bedroom. She glanced down the hall, to the front door to the apartment, rattling in its frame as someone pounded on it again. The receptionist, Laura, was standing beside the door, holding a shotgun with a pistol grip.
The nurse pushed Deborah down the hall, into the bathroom, and shut the door behind herself. “If we had the time to do this right I’d start you off with a .22 and build your confidence up. But they’ll be wearing armor, and you might as well spit loogies at them as use a .22.” She opened the drawer beneath the sink, and retrieved a pistol. “This is a .45. It’ll stop an armored man in his tracks- provided you hit him. Safety’s already off; you hold it with both hands, steady it, point and pull. It’s got a light trigger-pull, but it’s going to kick. Brace for that. This is your life, and these are our rights we’re fighting for.”
She got under the bathroom sink, and pulled out a carbine. She ejected the magazine and checked it, slid it back in and chambered the first round. Then the nurse locked the bathroom door and shut it behind her; it really bothered Deborah that she couldn’t remember her nurse's name.
She found herself staring at the bathroom tiles, coral pastels in sea shell textures; the effect was far less tacky than she might have assumed. Deborah thought about having her own bathroom, in her own home, or at least an apartment she owned. She wouldn't have chosen the ocean-theming herself, but if Peter had insisted on it, she felt she could live with that.
Deborah jumped as the front door was broken inward by a battering ram. She wasn’t holding the gun up anymore; it was just hanging limply in her hand. She was crying, though she only barely registered that fact.
She heard the sound of gunfire, first ragged, then three quick, concentrated bursts of automatic fire. Idly, Deborah wondered if that had been the nurse firing. The silence that followed the bursts was thick.
The knob on the door to the bathroom started to jiggle. She wanted to think it was the nurse, but she should have known that the door was locked. The thought frightened Deborah enough that she raised the gun, though it now felt far too heavy for her to hold up, let alone use.
There was more jiggling, and the lock opened. The door swung open slowly, creaking. There was no one there.
A man, with his head fully covered by a balaclava, leaned inward. He looked right at her, and at the gun pointed awkwardly at the middle of the doorway. Deborah made no attempt to aim it at him.
He stood up, and leaned in enough to extend his sidearm. “Police,” he said, and fired once.
Deborah assumed she was dead, then. There was pain, blinding and brilliant, and she was falling, uncontrollably. Her head struck the tub faucet, and then she was aware that she was still alive, because, that, too, hurt. She felt warmth and wetness that stuck her hair to her head.
Then she was pulled out of the tub and laid flat down on a small rug. Members of the SWAT team gathered around her, and started opening cases filled with medical equipment. She mistook their chatter for military code, until she heard “BPM,” and realized they were providing care.
One of the men cut open her shirt, and then felt along her side. He used a stethoscope to listen to her breathing. It was only then that panic set in again; she was having trouble breathing. “Sucking chest wound,” the man with the stethoscope said, then, “scalpel.” One of the men peeled away the plastic packaging around one and handed him the utensil. “Vitals?”
“Good,” one of the other men told him, consulting a monitor. Deborah felt more pain, which she assumed was him cutting into her chest to help her breathe. But the incision was too low, in her abdomen. If she’d been able to she would have asked him what he was doing.
Then she felt like the skin was being stretched off her belly, and she realized that the man had his hands inside the incision he’d made. It put her in mind of her first boyfriend- though why she’d ever dated a ‘Ronnie’ she couldn’t now understand- and how he’d gotten handsy one night after taking her out. Except now the awkward pawing was happening under her skin. She was almost thankful that blood loss and shock kept her from the full horror of that moment.
And then he removed them, and it felt like he was trying to drag all of her internal organs back out of her with his hands. “Cutting the cord,” he said. The cut end of her umbilical cord slapped down against Deborah’s neck, and reminded her disturbingly of Peter, and the part of him that had gotten her into this damn mess.
The man holding the fetus stood up. “Seems to be breathing.” He handed the child to the man he was speaking to, his superior, Lieutenant Colson, who was not wearing a mask at all. Deborah wanted to ask to see the child, but she was on the verge of passing out. “The mother?”
“What mother?” Colson asked, and drew his sidearm and shot her in the face.
“And the clinic?” the other man asked.
“If we leave it, sooner or later they’ll set up the abortion factory again. Burn it.”
Colson marched out of the room and into the hall, to where Alex Harmon was standing. Harmon wasn’t wearing tactical gear. He had on a cheap suit, and a tie so loose he was barely wearing it. Colson triumphantly held the child up in one arm. “Detective, that was nice work. We couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
But it hadn't started there- not for me, anyway.
I was a cop for four years before they let me take the detective's exam, and that's still young. I passed it the first time, because I'd been studying for it for four years. Being a uni was fine- but it wasn't what I wanted to do with myself, chasing drunks, issuing traffic tickets.
I'd just got done with my training, on-the-jobbing with robbery, then homicide, vice and narcotics. Gender crimes was a different story.
It was a new department, new as in there were two other detectives in it, working twelve hour shifts seven days a week. They'd been doing that for eight months. The previous two detectives working that desk- the ones who set it up- took early retirement after four and seven respectively.
So by the time I was through with my training, they weren't going to wait around while I learned the ropes. Captain scheduled me for twelve hour shifts, with four hours of overlap so I could absorb a little wisdom from the nightshift guy.
Not that he'd acquired much in the way of knowledge, beyond the best places to get a donut or a burger at 3 am- though there were more than you'd think. I got to know him while I was working vice- he liked talking to vice cops; half the time I suspected he was jerking off under the table to the stories he heard. He wasn't a bad cop- just... fucked up. But in four years, I'd learned that those two little words described nearly every kind of man or woman with a badge.
I remember we did the career day thing in high school, and my tests said I should be a cop. So I met with a department chaplain. I told him, point blank, I didn't think I had the brain damage to be a cop. “They don't start that way,” he told me.
But there weren't a lot of options, once I graduated. The paper mill'd closed. And I had the kind of face they wouldn't let through the doors of an elementary school. So I ended up a cop, anyway.
Which it turned out suited me just fine. I had a knack, as they say. I just didn't want to be walking the streets any longer than I had to. So the moment I had a chance to transfer out of the small-town department I started in to a place with its own chief of detectives, I leapt at it. But success for me was mostly a combination of not actively fucking my career with a drug or whore problem, and luck.
The gender crime desk was a tough assignment. Like I said, it was a new post, and what little history it had was riddled with early retirements and a whole lot of pissy feelings.
At least, that's what chief of detectives told me. “It might seem strange, or silly, to put you through all the other detective desks just to get to what a lot of people still think doesn't deserve its own unit. But gender crimes run the gamut. They involve drugs, they involve theft, homicide and of course vice. I'm still shocked we didn't do it that way, combine the two. They're both mostly women's crimes.” The chief of detectives was a small, older man with white hair, and blue eyes that had kindness in them that disappeared the second he started talking.
“Actually, vice arrests far more johns than women,” I corrected him. “And I think the reason they didn't, is, well, it seems a little... sordid, conflating gender crimes with vice. Almost like we're saying all women are whores.”
“No, you're saying that; what's more, you're saying all women are gender criminals- and that's worse. Points to either you running with the wrong kind of crowd, or you seeing every woman as a gender criminal- and either one says you need counseling.”
“Or it points to me having a healthy dose of cynicism, and never assuming anybody's innocent until I've had a look at them myself.”
“Not a bad recovery, as they go- or a bad philosophy, for a dick. But your first case is on your desk. Deborah Gladstone. Her fiancé suspects she's about to abort his child. Asked us to intervene.”
“Should we interview the girl?”
“Do you walk up to a bank robber and ask them if they're planning on robbing a bank? Christ, tell me it's just because you haven't had your coffee this morning that you're this fucking retarded.”
“Right. And I had a late night.”
“Yeah, eight hour turn-arounds are a bitch- but stop bitching about them. Information on the girl, and everything we've got on the baby daddy, is in the file on your desk. Now get the fuck out and do what we pay you your civil servant's pittance to do.”
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