This is the sixth and final instalment in the Jo Carter series, Betrayal, which I've really enjoyed writing and I hope you enjoyed too! Click here for previous instalments.
(Image: Kate Webb)
By Lily Mulholland
Taking a deep breath, Jo pressed the intercom buzzer and waited, eyes centred on the one-way camera. A beeping noise signalled the frosted glass door had been unlocked, so she pushed it open and entered the safe house.
Waiting for her was the caretaker who kept the place humming and looking normal from the outside. Jo smiled at the plump, middle aged woman she had never met before.
‘You look just like your file photo, my dear,’ said Marjorie, giving Jo a hug. ‘You must be starving. You’ve been off the grid for four days. I don’t suppose you’ve had anything to eat?’
‘Not for a while, no. But what I really need is a shower and possibly a change of clothes,’ said Jo, looking down at the crushed white doctor’s coat and red flip flops. ‘How long have I got?’
‘Spartan will be here in twenty minutes. Why don’t you go and freshen up? I’ve laid out some clothes upstairs. Just head up there,’ she said pointing at a staircase leading up to the next floor, ‘and aim for the first room on the right. I’ll let you know when he arrives.’
The shower was heaven. Jo placed her palms against the tiled wall and let the hot jet cascade over her face and rain down her back. She closed her eyes and breathed.
Dressed in black pants and a black top, Jo was pulling on socks and a stylish yet sensible pair of boots when there was a gentle knock on the door.
‘Jo, he’s here. Please come down into the conference room when you’re ready,’
‘Be right there.’
Jo tossed her borrowed clothes in a laundry basket and checked her reflection in the dresser mirror before opening the door and heading downstairs. It felt like weeks since she’d last seen her handler, yet, according to Marjorie, it had only been four days.
With an encouraging nod, the older woman directed Jo to a large room down the end of a passageway that ran alongside the stairs. Knowing the clacking of her heels on the tiled floor would announce her arrival, Jo adjusted her posture, swung open the doors and entered the room.
Seated on the opposite side of a large wooden boardroom table was Spartan.
Jo smiled. He didn’t.
‘Jo, it’s good to see you back.’
Jo stood there, not knowing what to say. Suddenly feeling very young and inexperienced, she wondered what she had done wrong – his demeanour was anything but reassuring.
Spartan indicated the swivel chair in front of her and, as she sat down, he picked up the handset of a telephone on the table and spoke quietly into it.
Hearing the door open behind her Jo turned around.
Jeremy entered the room, followed by the man she had last seen sprawled unconscious on a concrete floor.
Fighting the urge to vomit, she slowly spun her chair back around as the two men took up positions at either end of the table. Betrayal, shrieked her brain as it tried to assimilate too much new information. She thought about the scalpel and syringe she had left upstairs. Too hard, too far. She was checkmated. Face set with stone, Jo locked eyes with the man she knew only by his code name.
‘You must be feeling a little bewildered, Jo.’ He was Spartan to her Athena. Someone at the agency had a sense of history, if not humour.
‘Not really, but you could say I’m feeling a little PISSED right now.’
‘What do you think is happening?’
‘Honestly? I have no fucking idea.’
At this unexpected answer Spartan’s face exploded. It was the first time she had ever seen him laugh.
‘Good girl. That’s why we selected you.’
‘Jeremy, why don’t you explain?’
Jeremy rocked his chair back and rested his left ankle on his right knee as he locked both hands behind his head, bent arms framing his well coiffed head. The prick looked very relaxed.
‘Josephine, George here recommended you for my unit. I wasn’t sure you had it in you so he suggested a little challenge.’
‘Yes, Stephen and I are recruiting for a special activities branch.’ Stephen, so that was the good doctor’s real name, after all.
‘You mean this whole thing was a set-up?’
‘We prefer to think of it as a recruitment test,’ said Jeremy, sarcasm curling his lips.
‘You bastard.’ She was trying to calculate possibilities and permutations in her mind, but the conversation was moving too fast for her to cross-check the facts as she understood them ... if she understood them at all.
She looked at George, wondering if she had been wrong to trust her mentor unquestioningly. ‘And you were in on this for how long?’
‘We’ve been planning it for a couple of months. Relax, Jo,’ he said, seeing the livid look on her face, ‘we’re the good guys. We planted that ID card in Stephen’s wallet deliberately. Think about it.’
While still not convinced, Jo was beginning to get a handle on the situation.
‘Gentlemen, we need to wrap this up. I have to be somewhere.’
Jo shot the third man a fierce look. He wasn’t smiling either.
‘How’s your arm, Stephen?’
‘Careful now, Josephine,’ warned Jeremy, ‘he’s your new boss.’
‘Yes. Congratulations, based on your test results, you’re our number one pick for the position. You're moving up in the world, my girl.’ He was still a smug bastard, good guy or not.
The three men stood and began making their way to the door. Jo remained seated, head reeling from information overload.
Stephen stopped next to her and flipped his Attorney-General’s Department business card onto the table, his sleeve riding up slightly, revealing a bandage.
‘See you in my office, 9am Monday. Don’t be late. We’ve got work to do.’