10/21/2008 09:58 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Chapter Seven: Underground Jeep

"Feeling better?"
It was the woman again. Daylight was filtering through the open door from what she now knew was an empty room. What was she, the housekeeper or something? She was pretty young to be a single woman, even if she was sort of plain. There were hardly any single women around any more, what with the rules about marrying instead of burning and all. Even widows got married off to their husbands' brothers, when their husbands died from one of the new diseases or smoking. That's how she wound up with that awful Arthur. Hard to believe he was related to her beloved father, even if only by half. Of course mom could have said no. They weren't forcing people to marry the brothers at that point. She never liked being poor, her mother, so she didn't have a lot of options. Especially since Lucy was only twelve when her father died. Anyway the woman was wearing a wedding ring.
Lucy moved her head back and forth.
"Much better," she said.
"Do you want to get up and get dressed?" the woman asked. I washed your clothes."
Lucy swung her legs over the bed side.
"Of course you cannot go out. You should not have tried to wander around last night."
Lucy said nothing. Where was the diamond she had hidden? Did they find it when they washed her clothes? It was a secret pocket, but it certainly wasn't supposed to be for smuggling diamonds!
"There's a bedpan under the bed, if you have to go. I guess you forgot we showed it to you last night. You were pretty sick." Her tone was not unkind. But something in it scared Lucy.
"I won't tell, I'll never tell, no matter what they do to me," she avowed.
"That sounds fine," the woman said, "but it's three days now. You're a runaway girl. They must be looking for you. I saw the marks on your back when we took your clothes off. Even if they don't try you for running away, someone's been beating you pretty badly already, haven't they? Think what he can do to you if you're a recapture. Who was it? Your husband?"
"I'm not married," Lucy answered. She was so ashamed of the beating. She hadn't even told David. She drew a breath. "It's my mother's husband. I live - lived with my mother."
"You're sort of old to be living at home, aren't you?"
Lucy didn't answer.
The woman seemed little interested in pursuing it.
"We're going to try to get you out today. I'm not happy that the doctor isn't answering. If they've caught the doctor, this house could well not be safe. We need to move you out. Here are your clothes. Let's get dressed." She walked toward the door.
"Ma'am?" Lucy did not know what to call her.
She smiled a little. She wasn't beautiful like the Angel Man, but she had a sturdy, matter-of-fact air that was somehow reassuring. Everything about her was short, Lucy reflected. She was short, she had short brown hair and short nails.
"It's Harriet," she said.
"Harriet. What is this room? There are no windows . . . "
"I can't tell you," Harriet answered. "I can't tell you anything about this place. If you should get caught, you won't be able to lead them here no matter what they do. It's bad enough the doctor had to know where to come. But we had no choice; the last Parcel was bleeding buckets, abortionist just dumped her in the Toyota, the goddam butcher." She frowned hard. The doctor thing was obviously worrying her a lot.
The door bell rang.
"Don't move from this room," Harriet whispered roughly. "Don't say a word, no matter what. If something happens to me, someone will be here to take you out. This room is completely hidden; you cannot see the door from the other room and it appears on no plans, they would have to burn the house down to find you. Just sit tight."
Lucy ran for her skirt on the chair, feeling for the diamond. There. Pretty good secret pocket after all. Seemed like hours passed. Lucy could hear voices - they sounded like women's voices - from some distant place in the house. She put on the skirt and light blouse she had run away in and waited.
Harriet came back. "Okay, we're going. That was counselors paying a home visit. Could just be a coincidence. We don't have children, and they do come once every couple of months to see if we need help having children or something. Or it could be that they wanted to look around without committing to a police action. They don't like to send the Bureau unless they're sure. But the last thing I need is a runaway if they do decide it's time."
She pulled a white cloth out of her pocket and beckoned Lucy over. "Sit down. I'm going to blindfold you. You may not know how we work."
Blindfolded and still feeling a little strange, Lucy felt herself led across floors and down some stairs. The smell changed and she thought she must be in some basement. They walked a while in the basement smelling place and stopped. She heard Harriet click something and the sound of a door opening. Then the air changed again, damper and dank smelling. Her hands brushed against a wall that felt like earth. She could tell it was dark, although a flickering light indicated her Guide had a flashlight or something. They were in the earthy smelling place for quite a while.
"Arriving so soon?" a new voice asked. Her heart stopped. Had they been caught?
Harriet's voice was steady. "They sent a counselor. I can't tell if it's for real or just to snoop around, but the doc's gone missing, and he knew . . . "
"Oh, boy. If they arrest him, he could bargain us away in no time." It was a female voice. "Okay, give her to me and go back. Just pretend nothing is happening. If they come, we'll say the doctor made it up to buy himself out. If there's no runaway there, how are they going to prove we did anything?"
"Judges aren't so fastidious about proving things since the Agreement, my dear. And they're already suspicious because Howard and I don't have children."
"I know. But they still can't just throw you in jail without any proof at all. Now go back and clean everywhere she touched. They may not believe in DNA, but they still use fingerprints."
"Good by Lucy," Harriet said. "I hope you make it out, and I hope you have a wonderful life."
The other woman took Lucy's hand and they walked along. After a few minutes, the new Guide said, "I'm afraid we don't have such fancy digs as Harriet and Howard do. Especially with the Doc gone missing, I'm going to have to leave you here while we arrange some transit."
Lucy felt panic rise. Leave her in this dank place? Blindfolded?
The woman took the blindfold off and Lucy saw a little canvas chair and a lantern. They were in a tunnel of some sort, under the earth. That's what she smelled.
"Here's a book," the woman said. She was taller than Harriet and prettier. She had the traditional Red State long hair and perfect nose. "Things could always be worse." She handed Lucy a book from a table behind the chair. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
Lucy listened as her footsteps disappeared and, stifling the desire to run after her, sat down in the chair. Might as well see what kind of book they give out on the Rainbow Road. Some Canadian thing. She opened the book at random and began to read. "Nolite te Bastardes Carborandurum. Don't let the bastards grind you down." Well, that's a good start.
Before she could get any further, she heard the woman coming back. "Okay, let's go." She seemed upset, less calm somehow. She kept running her long hands through her silky hair. She hustled Lucy along, the blindfold business essentially forgotten. "Oh, shit, the blindfold." She reminded Lucy a little of Harriet - same no nonsense manner above a deep well of pure terror. Blindfolded, Lucy walked in what she now knew was the tunnel and then heard another door open and the air change again. When the blindfold came off, she was looking at a new red Jeep.
The new woman began to work inside the car, pulling and tugging. The back seat leaned forward -- Lucy had never seen a Jeep do this, and then the woman picked up the whole bottom of the car to reveal a well, covered with a dun colored quilted pad like the movers use, but small, so small.
"I am sorry to do this, but you have to go under this floor. It's a false bottom - we moved the seats up to make it, but we couldn't move them up too much or it would be obvious. Here's a bottle of water, you can breathe - it's hardly airtight, so don't worry about that. Now if you have to go to the bathroom, go now. Once you're in here, you can't come out until we have you over the line."