This week's #fridayflash is part five of the Jo Carter series. For previous instalments, click here.
By Lily Mulholland
Hunkered down in a booth, Jo scoped out the room from beneath her cap and sunglasses. She was ravenous and inhaled the carbohydrates and sugar without tasting them. It was the first food she had eaten in she didn’t know how long. She had been on the road for a couple of hours, taking the back roads to Canberra, staying away from the highway monitoring cameras that would be sure to pick up the purple van she’d escaped in.
With the fuel gauge nearly on empty, Jo had taken a risk and pulled into the roadside services just outside Yass. The hundred or so vehicles parked outside gave her pretty decent cover. She had found a pair of thongs and an obviously pre-worn pair of lacy ladies underpants in the back. Flipping them inside out, she had pulled the knickers on, conscious that the doctor’s coat only just reached the top of her thighs. Jumping out of the van, she had shut the door behind her, not sorry to leave behind its fluffy dice dangling from the rear view mirror.
Wolfing down a second burger and fries, Jo dismissed the family seated at the table nearest her. She didn’t want to leave them stranded. A trio of insouciant young guys slouched in the next booth along. Jo could hear them bragging about sex, quietly confident that at least two of them were probably still virgins. The third, a quiet one, she wasn’t so sure about. It’s always the quiet ones. They looked like P-platers and young blokes tended to drive shit boxes, so she wasn’t game to lift their keys. Then she spotted a couple canoodling in a booth along the opposite wall. They looked like they were eating each other instead of their decidedly unhappy meals. The guy’s keys were on the table next to his wallet and phone. Perfect.
Licking the salt off her fingers, Jo stood up, adjusted her makeshift dress and belt and headed toward the ladies toilets – a quick pitstop before she grabbed the keys and located her new car. Checking herself out in a speckled mirror, she understood why the girl behind the counter had given her an odd look. Jo looked like a homeless person who’d ransacked a charity bin for clothes. She went into one of the cubicles, put the cracked lid down and sat on the toilet.
Opening Dr Engadeen’s wallet, she pulled out the remaining bills and put them in her coat pocket. The credit cards went into her pocket too, as did his Medicare card. It was the identity card that made her stop cold.
Attorney General’s Department
Attorney General’s Department
With his photo on it. Yet the credit cards had Engadeen on them. Were they a plant? Or was the ID card a fake? A sudden headache descended upon Jo like an avalanche. A metallic taste roared into her mouth and she felt faint. Was he a double agent? Who was he working for? Who was Jeremy working for? Jo’s train of thought was interrupted as a pair of girls giggled into the toilets. She waited for them to bang their doors shut before she tossed the doctor’s wallet and the van keys into the sanitary bin and hustled out of her cubicle and back out into the restaurant.
The canoodling couple was gone. Shit. Plan B.
Jo took a side exit, crossed the car park and headed into the service station. She grabbed a magazine from the rack and started flicking through it, surreptitiously watching the customers in the inside reflection of the window. She spotted a guy in a nice suit wandering through the toy section, talking animatedly on his mobile phone. His keyring was swinging from the little finger on his left hand, punctuating his sentences, with the BMW badge making an occasional exclamation.
As the man wandered toward a row of refrigerated drinks, Jo ditched the magazine and made her move, deliberately bumping him hard as she opened one of the doors. He dropped his phone, the newspaper that had been tucked up under his arm and, most important, his keys. Making a pretence of being shocked and sorry, she helped him pick up his paper and phone, pocketed the keys and walked out the door.
Aiming the remote at the nearest Beamer she pressed the switch. The black sports coupe rewarded her with a flash of orange; she opened the door, jumped in and started the engine. From behind her sunglasses, Jo could see the man run out of the shop just as she whipped out of the bay and hightailed it down the service road and onto the highway.
Jo had plenty of time to think in the forty minutes it took her to reach Canberra’s outskirts. She thought through every possible explanation for the doctor’s double identity – if he really was a doctor. Was he was an agent, like her, with Jeremy his target? Maybe he had been sent to free her and she had attacked him? Or, was he working with Jeremy and had infiltrated AG’s? It all came back to Jeremy. She needed to access more information before she could work it out and that meant getting back on the grid. Priority number one was to set up a contact with Spartan. Cursing herself for not grabbing the car donor’s phone too, Jo trawled the northern suburbs for a pay phone. She finally found one that was working and still accepted coins. She dialled the number for Control.
‘Control this is 3-2-1-5-niner. Patch me through to Spartan.’
‘Wait one...connecting you now.’
‘Jolimont safe house. One hour.’ The line clicked dead.
Jo placed the handset back in the cradle and climbed into the car. It felt like a cocoon. With her forearms draped across the top of the steering wheel, she rested her head on her arms and closed her eyes for a few seconds. The tears came faster than she expected. She was almost home.