The next morning, at least she figured it was morning, the heavy door to the room opened once more. Two women stood on the other side, and behind them, the man with the gun. “You’re to come with us then, to get cleaned up.”
“What if I would rather just leave?” Jana stood from her corner.
“Then I’ll kill you,” the man answered.
Jana didn’t think he’d shoot her for not going with the other women. She crossed her legs at the ankle, leaned back, and said, “You know, threatening to kill people isn’t exactly the best way to get them to do what you want.”
He shrugged. “I don’t care. It’s effective, isn’t it? Now, on your feet. Go and get cleaned up.”
Jana reluctantly followed the two women. Not that she had much of a choice with the man with the gun walking behind her, so close that she could hear him breathing. “Do you all have names,” she asked idly.
“Yes.” He didn’t tell her his name, nor the names of the women who led her into the bathrooms.
“Is this a cult?” Jana was alone with the two women now. They didn’t speak, but just shook their heads as they gently stripped her of her clothing. Beneath her coat she wore a pair of spandex shorts and a tank top–far more appropriate for a Manhattan summer than Ryan’s coat. “Take it easy with that,” she instructed the woman who dumped the coat into a wash bin. The coat was a faded parka, and the women looked at her like she was crazy for wanting them to take such care.
The water they dumped over her head was room temperature, so that she stood shivering and dripping. They scrubbed at her hair and body with a sharp-scented soap. One of them stopped and pointed to the small black cat on her upper arm. “Oh, that?” Jana asked. “Ryan and I got tattoos together about four years ago. We were separated.” Again, the women said nothing, but resumed washing her. “You know,” Jana offered, “I’m capable of doing this myself.” They merely shook their heads and continued working. They dumped another bucket of water over her head to rinse away the suds and then came at her with towels and clothing.
Outside the room, the man with the gun waited. “At least you don’t stink anymore,” he offered, placing one hand on her shoulder to direct her further down the corridor.
Jana watched the door to the room where they’d imprisoned her. They passed it, but she figured it was pointless to ask where they were going as she’d find out soon enough. “There are better places to live, you know. Brighter places. Even my apartment is nicer.”
“We can keep this secure.”
“Figures you’d say something like that.”
“I don’t want to be your friend thief. I wanted to kill you. Don’t forget that.”
Jana said nothing else to him as he steered her around the corner and into another room. A wooden conference table sat in the middle, surrounded by a semi-circle of chairs. White paint was chipping off of the walls and she wondered how this place could look like it was abandoned decades ago when the riots only started earlier in the year.
“Sit there,” the man pointed to a chair at one end of the table. He and the women left the room.
Jana sat where indicated and waited. An older man she’d not seen before strolled in and sat across from her, laying his palms on the faded table. He was balding, but it seemed like all the hair that had fled the top of his head took up residence on his eyebrows. For a moment, he sat, back rigid, staring at her. She stared right back, reclining in the over-sized chair, arms folded over her chest.
“You are obviously skilled at stealth.”
Jana shrugged. “Not skilled enough it seems.”
The man waved his hand dismissively. He wore a gold wedding band a gold watch. Jana could see from here that the watch face was frosted white and cracked. “Do not undervalue your abilities. No one gets past them–they were CIA, you know.”
“I didn’t know. What’s your point?”
“Everyone must pull their weight. We have a lot of people here. The group who determined your judgment…they were just the first thirty or so in line.”
“Great legal system you have here.”
The man’s mouth quirked up at one corner, but it didn’t put Jana at ease. “You have three choices. You can either work for us willingly, work for us unwillingly, or suffer the ultimate consequences.”
“You’re going to have to be more specific.”
The man rose to his feet deliberately, as though testing the reliability of his legs beneath him. “Well, if you work for us willingly, you’d be finding information. Finding food. Supplies. That sort of thing. If you work for us unwillingly, you stay here and…and we take something from you. The final choice is to forfeit your life.”
“What’s to stop me from just leaving if I work with you?”
“Every mission you’ll be with the two men who tracked you.”
“You really know how to sweeten a deal, hm? What do you take from me if I choose to be uncooperative? Obviously I’m not going to just let you kill me.”
“Well, that would be your choice. Your hand, your ear, your eye, your nose, or your tongue. The women who bathed you…they chose that route. Plus, if you don’t cooperate, then you will never leave this place.”
“Ah, that’s why they were so silent. Well, as fun as that sounds, I think I will keep all of my body parts. I guess I have no choice but to work with you. Though I’m not too keen on spending my days with those two idiots.”
“They are not idiots. Quite intelligent actually. And what you are keen on…does not really matter. You must be hungry; I will have someone show you to your permanent quarters, and tomorrow, you will begin.”