A Lucky Penny (chapter 7 10/10/21)

Hey everyone, finally getting the time to write again. This is a commissioned short story, though as discussions continue in the background, the plot is getting deeper and more complex than our originally planned 10 chapters will allow for, so who knows when it’ll be done.

Insert obligatory mention of my Patreon here…

Anyway, have fun with this one. There’s a little inspiration coming from The Handmaid’s Tale, except without all the rapey murdery stuff.


Fear gripped Penelope Russo as she stared at the paper on the wall. Seven years she worked at Donatello, never missing a shift, always coming in to cover other people, and her name wasn’t even on the new schedule for next week. Since the day she graduated high school, she’d waited tables there, while other girls came and went. How could this even be happening?!

“Tony wants to see you in his office, Penny.” Jacky Phillips tapped her on the shoulder, and she nearly jumped out of her skin. The girl was barely twenty, but they became fast friends when Jacky started working there. Well, more than friends on occasion… friends with benefits? But that was behind tightly closed doors, not spoken of at work or anywhere else. The look on Jacky’s face confirmed what Penny already feared; this wasn’t going to be a good conversation.

Jacky gave her a quick hug. “Good luck, hun.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Dejected, she walked through the kitchen, up the stairs, and knocked on the general manager’s door.

“Come in!” the low voice boomed behind the door, with that signature Jersey-Italian accent thick through it. She opened the door and stepped inside.

“Penny.” He shook his head. “Penny, Penny, Penny, what am I gonna do wit’ you?”

“Tony, please, you can’t…”

“Look, you’re a hard worker. You’re polite. You make sure everyone’s drink is full and their food gets out hot. But I’ve told you over and over, the guys have expectations. Parents bring their boys in here looking to get them hooked up. You know this. I know this. And the big boss knows it too, and he says I gotta let you go, because you won’t do it.”

“But Tony!”

“You need a man, Penny. You need to be home making babies for your man. Not here turning into an old spinster. The customers complain, they want their waitresses to be friendly. And young. And the girls, they flirt until they find a guy that clicks, and boom, I’m hiring a new one because she went off and got hitched.”

“Spinster, Tony! I’m twenty five, not fifty!”

“When did I hire you, Penny? You were eighteen. Most of these girls that I hire, they’re fifteen, sixteen. That’s what the customers want to see, young girls they can pair up with their teenage sons to make grandchildren for them.”

“But Tony…”

“Penny, look, I know what you are. Don’t worry, my lips are sealed. But it’s not my world, Penny. I just gotta live in it. Back in my grandfather’s day, no one would even blink over someone like you, but since the religious kooks took over, I mean, what’re you gonna do?”

Penny struggled not to cry as Tony’s words cut through her. All throughout school, she and every other girl was drilled about how the most noble profession and honorable profession for women was being a mother and wife. Only the Barren went to work, because the fertile were needed to keep the population growing. But as much as she tried to like boys, or at least to tolerate them, she lusted after other girls. Boys, they just wanted to squash her tits with their meat-hooks and then hump her like a dog until they were spent. Girls went out of their way to make her feel good, touch all her special places the way she’d touch herself when she thought about them. The dirty, dirty thoughts she had. And she hated herself for it.

“I just… what am I gonna do, Tony? As long as I’m making eggs, they won’t let me work in the factories or go to college or anything! This is all I got!”

“I wish it didn’t have to be like this, Penny. Maybe try being nicer to the boys at another place? Maybe suck it up and get hitched what they expect of you? I don’t know. Maybe…” He leaned over and got much, much quieter. “Maybe I know a guy. Maybe he can get you some of those sticks, you know what I’m saying? Maybe you make a phone call or somethin’.” He slid a piece of paper across the desk with a phone number on it.

Penny shuddered, but took the piece of paper and slipped it into her purse. One of her “girlfriends” in high school tried to get hold of the “egg-breaker sticks” - injections you could take that would turn you up as infertile when you went to the clinic to get harvested every month. But they were as illegal as heroin and cocaine. A cop showed up for her at school not long after that, and no one ever saw her again.

“Th… thanks Tony.” She hung her head, and he stood up.

“I wish you luck Penny. You’re a good kid. Take care of yourself, huh?”

She stood up as well, taking his outstretched hand and shaking it weakly.

“I’ll have your last check ready for you on Friday, okay?”

“Sure.”

“Hey. Maybe… maybe in a few months, I might be needing a front of the house manager, eh?”

Her mind reeling, Penny trudged back down the steps and out the back door, speaking to no one on the way. Tony’s words burned at the back of her brain. Why? Why’d she have to like girls? Why couldn’t she just be normal and find a husband and have a happy life surrounded by kids? It would have been so much easier than what she’d been through since high school.

She thought about the phone number he gave her. God, if she got caught, she’d wind up disappeared like that kid Sarah! But if she didn’t get caught, that was her golden ticket! All she needed was to turn up empty at the fertility clinic three months in a row, and she’d be reclassified as a Barren. No more pressure to get married, no more being a waitress and getting groped by horny teenage boys while their parents laughed about it. She and her little circle of special friends would still have to keep quiet about their little get-togethers, but no one really cared about what Barrens did with their free time. It was only illegal for boys - If a man lie with a man as a woman, it is an abomination, was how the verse went. Girls, well, society thought it was shameful, but the Coalition couldn’t find any biblical justification to outlaw it.

But first she had to at least try to find another job. Even if she could get the sticks, she had to keep her rent up long enough to make it three months…

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“You look exhausted, Penny. Come in and sit down.” Delia’s smiling face at the door was a welcome sight for Penny. She felt stupid, childish, inadequate for coming here, but it was always a place of respite, and she needed respite badly.

“Thanks Dee. I’m just… I’m so frustrated right now.” Delia stepped aside, and Penny walked into the spacious front room and collapsed on the couch. The place was a palace compared to Penny’s ratty studio ten blocks away, but more importantly it felt much more like home.

“Job search not going well?” Delia called from the kitchenette.

“It’s ridiculous. I go in, I fill out the application, and as soon as they see how old I am, they’re like ‘we’ll call you’, in that way that you know they’re not going to. My feet are so sore, you have no idea, I’ve been walking like miles every day. For NOTHING!”

“Well, not for nothing. You’re certainly finding out who the assholes are. How are you handling your bills?”

“It’s not good, Dee. Not like I had a lot of savings anyway, but I won’t last another month if I can’t find work.”

Delia came out with two cups of steaming hot tea. She made the best tea. Having her own rooftop herb farm probably helped. “You know my spare bedroom is open if you need it, sweetie.”

“I’ve already leeched off you enough, Dee! God, you put me up for like six months when my parents kicked me out.” Coming out to her parents was the biggest mistake of her life. All she wanted was them off her back about finding a husband, and all it got her was a screaming match and her clothes and personal belongings bagged up and thrown into the street.

Delia sat down next to her and set the teacups on the coffee table. “Penelope, I told you then and I’ll tell you now, I was lucky. I was always a Barren, so doors were open to me that weren’t for women like you. You weren’t leeching, I was sharing my good fortune, and I’ll continue to do so as long as you or any other friend needs it. I won’t have one of my friends be homeless when I have the means to do something about it.”

Delia had made a good life for herself as a private chef for the upper-class, working in houses Penny had only ever heard about, never seen. The kind of life Penny wanted for herself, not the struggle she had now. “I’m sorry, okay. I just… why did I have to be like this? Why’d God make me lesbian AND fertile? Did he hate me? Did he hate my parents?”

Delia’s arm wrapped around her shoulder, a needed comfort at that moment. “Stop it, Penny. There’s nothing wrong with you, and if there’s a God, he hates everybody, and the damned Christian Coalition is proof of it. So don’t even start that.”

Penny hung her head. In a way, hanging on to the idea of a benevolent God was like a security blanket for her, that somewhere in this fucked up universe was someone who actually cared for people and loved them unconditionally. But Delia was right; his self-appointed representatives now running the government certainly didn’t do any of that.

“Tony gave me a number. Said the guy could get me sticks.”

“Penelope! Don’t you dare speak of such things here. Not even in passing, you hear me?!”

“But Dee, if I’m not making eggs anymore, I can go to school, or work a real job somewhere, be my own woman, and no one will care if I don’t get married at that point. I’ll be free, like you are!”

Dee turned and took both Penny’s hands, squeezing them gently. “Penny, if you go down that path, you’re going down it alone. I can’t help you. If you get caught with those, and you’re living here, they’ll assume I did it to myself too and helped you get them. We’ll both spend the rest of our lives in the labor camps. I love you, but you need to think long and hard before you step out onto that cliff.” With that, the older woman pulled her into a hug.

“I know you’re willing to support me, Dee. But if I can’t find work, what good am I to you or anyone else? I don’t want to just live off you for the next twenty years while I wait for menopause!”

“Well,” Dee’s voice took on a decidedly seductive tone. “Maybe I’ll put you to work as my housekeeper? Get you one of those skimpy French maid costumes, let you shake that cute little tush around while you dust and vacuum and load the dishwasher?”

Penny offered a sly grin. “But how will I get my chores done with you chasing me all over the house?”

“Well, I do have to go to work during the day. You’ll just have to stay in uniform until I’ve had a chance to inspect your work when I get home. Rowr!”

The two friends had a good laugh together. A few cups of tea and a little of Delia’s home-brew herbal smoke later, and Penny got the release she really needed when she arrived at Delia’s door.

Later, as they lay there naked in each other’s arms, Delia whispered, “I know you’re determined to go find work, but that housekeeper offer stands.”

Penny, exhausted and glowing, whispered back, “Thank you, Dee. But you know why I have to try to make my own way.”

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. I get it, Penny. I really do. Just don’t do anything stupid because you’re too proud to accept help.”

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Penny was beyond nervous as she stood there, waiting. Nearly all of her savings was in an envelope, in the hands of some bum down the street in the middle of the worst part of town. The phone call that led her here was so creepy, she almost backed out, but this was her last chance of keeping her independence, after another week and a half of fruitless searching for work. She shuddered as her mind replayed that call.

Who is this?

“I… uh… ‘T’ told me you…“

Shit. Okay, so you want to make an omelette? Six hundred.

“Wait, what?! Omelette?! I…”

It’s six hundred. You want them or not?

“I don’t even know what you…”

Idiot. How do you make a fuckin’ omelette?!

“You… oh… okay… but is that?”

All three. You keep talking, I hang up the phone. Yes or no?

“I mean… Yes! But…”

Good. Tonight at 9, you go down to 56th and Tatus. You give it to the bum in the doorway, in an envelope. I’ll text you after.

“But I can’t…”

You can’t what? You ain’t got the money? Fuck off, I’m hanging up.

“No wait! I can… 56th and where?”

56th and Tatus. Six hundred. You late, you get nothing. Capiche?

“I… yeah… thank you?”

Wear a skirt. I promise, you’ll wish you did.

She spent a good hour staring at her phone after that, second-guessing herself, remembering what Dee told her. But she couldn’t just sponge off her friend the rest of her life, and besides, as much as she was loyal to Dee for all she’d done for Penny, moving in with her would mean being submissive to her, for sure, and Penny wasn’t sure she wanted that life. Dee was a beautiful person, but Dee liked sharing her toys too much, and Penny didn’t want to be part of that sharing thing.

So, she stood there, her eyes darting in every direction, waiting. The raggedy old guy on the corner took her envelope and walked away, and the longer she stood there, the more sure she was that she’d been ripped off. Until her phone vibrated. She read the text.

Row of mailboxes further down the alley.

She looked - there they were, half a dozen old tin mailboxes bolted to the brick. She walked toward them, and her phone buzzed again.

Middle one

She looked around, then lifted the lid. There was a crumpled envelope. She reached in, her hands trembling, and took it, doing her best to try and hide it from anyone’s view. Of course, there was no one. She opened it, and there was a single syringe inside. Furious, she pulled her phone out, but before she could text her anger at being shorted, another text came back.

Stick yourself, and you’ll get the other two. You’re probably an idiot, so you probably don’t know to put it under your belly button.

Why the hell do you want me to do it here?! She texted back furiously.

Cop ain’t shooting shit. Neither is a snitch. You want the other two, you shoot right here, right now, while I’m watching. And I’m watching, don’t worry.

Her hand shook, holding the syringe. The alley may be deserted, but that didn’t stop her from being terrified of someone seeing her, especially since this nameless weirdo said he could see her. But she was in now, there was no choice. If she didn’t do this, she’d have to go to clinic on Monday anyway, but she’d be nearly broke and still no closer to the freedom she so desperately craved.

Penny steeled her nerves; she could do this! She pulled the cap off the syringe and stared at the fierce point for a moment before lifting her shirt. She looked at her flat tummy, looking again at the syringe. There wouldn’t be poison in this thing, would there? Her phone vibrated again. She knew it was him, bugging her to do it. No need to look. She closed her eyes and stuck it in, just below her navel, as he instructed. With her other, trembling hand, she pushed the plunger. It hurt like hell, but the more shocking part was her bladder voiding into her jeans. Her phone vibrated again as the shock of pissing all over herself sank in.

Idiot. Told you to wear a skirt. The other two are in the box at the end. Take them 4 weeks apart. Good luck.

Wait, what do I… she started to type back, but she stopped when she saw a phone hit the pavement maybe twenty feet away and smash to pieces. She looked up, but all she saw was a fourth-floor window closing.

Nothing left to do now but go forward. She looked in the other box; another envelope greeted her. She pulled it out and peeked inside; two more syringes. Nothing left to do now but walk home, wet crotch or not. She surveyed the damage on her jeans; the wet spot was huge, covering the inner half of her thighs. The alley was still deserted, thankfully. She stuffed the envelope into her purse and did her best to act natural, as natural as she could with soaking wet pants anyway, as she walked back out toward the street. She stared at the ground ahead the whole way, feeling the eyes of passers-by on her and struggling not to blush.

It was a long, humiliating, and miserable walk home. And her shower was never before such a welcome sight when she got there.

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Exhausted and sore, Penny turned the hot water on, then stripped her shirt, bra, and jeans off. But just as she squirmed her way out of the damp and sticky panties, she was wracked with the most violent cramps she’d ever felt in her life! Buckling to her knees, she moaned in agony. What the hell had this guy given her?! It felt like a meat grinder in her guts, grating away at her insides, even into her back! She doubled over on the floor, writhing in pain, hugging her stomach.

And then she felt it. She was pissing herself again! God, what was even happening?! She dragged herself over to the toilet, writhing in pain, and when she hoisted herself up, she panicked. It wasn’t urine on the floor behind her, but blood! Huge gobs of it, in and amongst the trails. Listening to it drip away into the toilet convinced her; she’d been poisoned or something! She needed a doctor, or she’d surely bleed to death! Tears filled her eyes as she threw herself at the door; her phone was still in her purse, all the way in the living room. Cramps wracked her body; the mess was no longer a thought, just finding a way to get help.

Fighting through the pain, Penny crawled out of the bathroom, not even looking at the trail she could feel she was leaving behind. Piss, blood, shit, it didn’t matter anymore. Survival instinct overrode the pain and any sense of dignity. She needed a doctor, and she needed him now. Her purse was in reach, and she threw herself at it, her shaking hands fumbling as she dialed 9-1-1.

“Hello, what is your emergency?”

“I’m bleeding! Everywhere! I need a doctor! I’m gonna die!”

“Okay, try to stay calm. Tell me what happened before you started bleeding?”

Fear of being caught went out the window against fear of dying. “I took something. And it made me bleed so bad. Oh, god, it hurts! Please help!”

“Okay, I’m here, and I’m gonna try to help you. Did you take a birth control pill?”

“No! It was a needle! Fuck! I’m bleeding everywhere!”

“Alright, I need your address, can you tell me your address?”

“I’m in… FUCK!” A fresh round of cramps hit her, and she gasped for air. “Three-oh-four-see… West… FU-huh-huh-huck!”

“It’s alright honey, I’ve got your location triangulated. You gave me your apartment number, so the emergency team will know where to find you. Hang in with me, tell me where you got this injection.”

“Some guy… I called him and he… FUCK! He… I never saw him… and… FUCK! He threw his phone out the window…”

“I know you’re in pain, sweetie, but I need you to try to calm down a little bit and tell me your name.”

“Penelope… Russo… It hurts, so bad… and I’m bleeding everywhere… I’m gonna pass out…”

“Stay with me, Penelope. People are on their way to help you, it’ll be okay.”

In the distance, Penny could hear sirens. But they weren’t ambulance sirens; they were police car sirens. In the midst of her agony, a new panic rose up inside her. “I need a DOCTOR, not a COP, goddamn you! FUCK!” The cramps just kept coming, in wave after wave.

“Penelope, please, I need you to stay calm. There’s an ambulance on the way! The police were just closer, that’s all. It’ll be okay, we’re going to get you the help you need.”

Penny closed her eyes as the world around her began to spin.

When she opened them again, she squinted against a bright light overhead. She instinctively tried to cover her eyes with her right arm, but it was held fast by something… metal… She sat up, fresh panic surging through her. She found herself in a hospital bed, an IV attached to her left arm, her right wrist handcuffed to the bed rail.

“What the fuck?!” Her eyes darted around the room as she struggled to get her bearings. No one was here but her, though a second bed was directly across from hers, and there was a track for a curtain. The “call” button was on her right side, so she couldn’t even reach it!

“Hey! Anyone out there?!”

Someone walked in, but it wasn’t a nurse. It was a cop. “Cool your jets, missy. Nurse will be back through in probably…” he looked at his watch, “…5, 10 minutes.”

“Why am I handcuffed?! What is this?”

“It’s a hospital, and you’re cuffed because you’re under arrest, and as soon as the doctor releases you, I’m taking you in for booking.”

“But I didn’t do anything!” The lie was pathetically transparent, but she had to try. Or at least know how much they knew. Panic was rising within her rapidly.

“Cute, kid. We found your sticks in the apartment, and we got your confession on the 911 call. You’re going away for a very long time, little girl.”

Her heart began to race as she struggled to form words and fight back tears. This couldn’t be happening! She couldn’t go to prison!

Beside her, the heart monitor machine sounded an alarm. Within seconds, the door burst open, and a nurse walked in. She looked at the cop disdainfully. “I told you when you got here, she’s my patient until we release her. Get out.”

“Hey, she woke up, I have every right to interrogate her.”

“As long as she’s setting off alarms, she’s staying here! Now out!”

“Fine, fine, whatever.” The cop walked through the open door and disappeared from view.

“I… he can’t! What do I do?! I need to get out of here!”

The nurse took her cuffed hand and held it with both of her own. “Honey, first of all you need to calm down. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen whether you freak out about it or not.”

“But he said…”

“What he said is what he said, and it doesn’t mean anything. Right now, you need to get well, and you’re shooting your heart rate through the roof panicking like this. If I have to, I’ll give you a sedative, but I’d rather not do that.”

Tears came freely as something snapped inside Penny. “I’m gonna go to prison. I’m gonna be in a labor camp! My life is ruined! All because some asshole gave me bad drugs! Dammit!”

“He definitely didn’t give you bad drugs, Penny. That stuff is supposed to do exactly what it did to you - trigger an immediate, violent period that flushes the eggs out of your system. All the bleeding you normally do over three or four days happens all at once. Which is one of the reasons it’s illegal! People have died taking that stuff!”

“But… this isn’t fair! Why do they want to ruin my life over it?!”

“Honey, calm down. No matter what that cop said, there’s a lot that’s going to happen before anyone sends you to prison, if that even happens. But you gotta hold it together, or you won’t stand a chance, you understand?”

It wasn’t what Penny wanted to hear, but somehow she felt like she needed to hear it. She nodded, wordlessly, as the nurse continued.

“Now look, your vitals, other than that little heart rate spike you just had, look good. But I’m gonna talk to your doctor about the heart rate, and see if maybe he wants to keep an eye on you for a few more hours because of it, okay?”

“Th… thank you…” She didn’t want to be lying here, naked but for a flimsy gown, cuffed to her bed, but the next step in this journey was much, much worse. Delaying it would definitely be better than not. The nurse left without a word.

An hour or so later, the door opened and the nurse reappeared. The look on her face told Penny that the news wasn’t good.

“So, I talked to the doctor, and he said that the best thing to do was give you some medicine to help keep you calm, and turn you over to the police.” Penny’s eyes got wide, and she could hear her heart rate rising on the monitor.

“And it’s okay, Penny. It had to happen, okay? It’s just another step, that’s all. I’m going to give you this shot, and I’m going to talk to the officer outside about the prescription the doc wrote, and I’m going to check back in on you in a few minutes to make sure you’re okay, alright?”

Penny flinched, trying to keep her emotions together, as the nurse withdrew a syringe from her pocket.

“Turn over on your side for me?”

“Oh… okay…” Penny turned her back to the nurse, trembling not from the shot, but from the ramifications of what was to happen after it. She felt a sting in the fleshy part of her buttocks.

“There we go, all set. Now, I’m going to take your IV out and get you bandaged up, and I’ll be back in a few minutes, alright?” Then she leaned in and whispered, “No matter what the cops say to you, just say, ‘Lawyer’ until you get one. Remember that.”

The nurse removed the IV, bandaged Penny up, and then left the room. When she returned, she had a pile of fabric in her hand. And Penny, while still lucid, was definitely not nervous anymore. She was in a fog, one where nothing outside of the fog mattered, even when she tried to focus on it.

“How are we doing, Penny?”

“I’m… good…”

“Good. I’m going to help you get these scrubs and socks on, okay?”

“Okay. Why?”

“Because you don’t want to be walking out of here in just your gown and in bare feet on the street, do you?”

“No…” There was no emotion about it, just that she was aware that it wouldn’t be a good thing. “Thank you… for being kind to me.”

The nurse shook her head, and Penny could swear she saw pity in the woman’s eyes. “I figured someone needed to show you some kindness, because there won’t be much of it for you from here out.”

After the nurse helped her get dressed, she poked her head out the door and said, “She’s ready.”

The cop came back into the room, joined by another one. He unlocked her handcuff from the bed. “Need you to get up now, Penny. Time to go.”

The cops helped her off the bed, cuffed her hands behind her back, and marched her through the ward. Everyone seemed to stop to look at them as they walked, pity in their eyes. And then she was out into the sunshine, and then into the back of a police car.

Somewhere through the fog it occurred to her that she had no idea how long she’d been in the hospital…

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Penny stayed blissfully in the fog all the way through being fingerprinted, uncuffed, and unceremoniously deposited in a room at the police department with a mirror on one wall, two chairs, and a table. And the fog was still with her a while later, when someone in a suit came in. He sat down at the chair opposite Penny, opened a suitcase, and started talking as he pulled file folders out, shuffling through papers in them.

“Miss Russo, I’m going to tell you this very simply. We have everything we need to convict you of trafficking and possession. That’s a felony and a misdemeanor, good for 30 years in a labor camp. You want that?”

Penny remembered the nurse’s words. “Lawyer.”

“Look, kid, I don’t give a fuck what happens to you. I’m here to save me some time, but if you want to play hard, I’ll play hard with you. Now, you want to hear my offer?”

She wasn’t so confident in the nurse’s advice anymore, but she tried to hold firm… “Lawyer…”

“You want a lawyer, huh? Okay, here’s what happens if you get a lawyer. I walk out of here, and tomorrow at your arraignment, I’m going to ask for bail. Unless you got fifty grand laying around, you’re going to be staying in jail until your trial, probably about three months or so. And you’re going to lose at trial, because I have your confession from the nine-one-one call, and I have the other two sticks you bought, which are currently at our lab being analyzed. So I don’t need to negotiate with your lawyer. I’ll have you shoveling garbage on Fresh Kills until you’re grey-haired and half dead of skin cancer. Now, you still want a lawyer, or you want to play ball?”

Panic cut right through Penny’s little fog, and her resolve broke. “Okay, okay, so what happens if I talk?”

“Smart, kid. You give me the guy who sold it to you, and you walk out of here on probation.”

“But… I never saw him! I don’t even know his name!”

“Alright, then you tell me what you do know, and maybe we can still work something out.”

“All I have is a phone number! And… I saw him throw his phone out a fourth-floor window!”

“Where was the window?”

“Fifty-sixth… and Tatus… Down the alley… He put the sticks in the mailboxes right there… he made me shoot the first one before he’d show me the other two… the window was on the opposite side of the street, third one from the corner of the building…”

“That all you got?”

“Yes… Well… I gave my money to this homeless-looking dude at the corner when I got there, just like the guy told me… He was old, like 50 or 60 or something, with a beard. Smelled like booze, and his clothes were dirty.”

“Alright. I’ll tell you what. You plead guilty to the possession charge, I’ll drop the trafficking charge, and I’ll ask the judge for a suspended sentence contingent on you completing rehab.”

“Wait, rehab? I’ve never done drugs before in my life!” As scared as Penny was of the labor camps, the idea of going to drug rehab and losing her apartment anyway wasn’t much of an improvement.

“Rehab or thirty years. Your choice.”

“How long do I have to stay in jail?”

“Like I said, your arraignment is tomorrow. I’ll submit the plea deal during that hearing. If he approves it, you’ll be on your way to rehab straight after the hearing. You do the program, you get out of there in three months, and your record gets expunged. Like it never even happened.”

“Alright. I’ll take it.” It wasn’t hard for Penny to understand that having a conviction on her record would make it even worse trying to find work. But at this point, even being Dee’s live-in maid was preferable to working a garbage dump.

He stood up, gathering his files and stuffing them into his suitcase. “Good. I’ll have the paperwork ready at court tomorrow.”

Without another word, he strode over to the door and pounded on it. It opened, and he stepped out, passing a cop coming in. “Alright kid, are you going to behave, or do I need to cuff you?” He was tall and imposing, his frame muscular, not fat like the cop that stood guard at the hospital. Against her petite, barely five-foot frame, this guy was a monster.

“I’m okay,” she offered nervously.

“On your feet. Let’s go.”

She stood, and he grabbed onto her arm, leading her out of the room and down the hall, through a door made entirely of bars, and stopping in front of a female guard at a counter, not much taller than Penny, but very fat, and looking not particularly happy.

“All yours, Mildred,” the big man said, handing her a file folder, then leaving and slamming the barred door behind him.

“Strip, kid.” Mildred boomed, pulling a pair of latex gloves over her hands, one at a time.

Penny was shocked. “What?!”

“You stupid or somethin’? I said, ‘Take your clothes off’.”

“I… uh… all of them? Why?”

“Look, kid. I ain’t askin’ again. Either you take them off, or I’ll take them off, and I promise you will NOT enjoy that.” Mildred dropped a pile of orange fabric on the counter and came out from behind via a locked half-door. She pulled what looked like a riding crop out of it’s holster on her belt and began tapping it on her open palm.

That got Penny moving. “I’m… I’m sorry!” she said, the fog from that morning’s shot having worn completely off. Her hands trembled as she pulled the scrubs down her legs, pulled the gown off, and nearly fell over trying to pull her socks off, tossing them aside like they were covered with the plague or something.

“Stand straight and do not move!” Penny stiffened while the woman walked around behind her.

THWACK! Penny yelped in pain as the crop bit into her tender backside. “That’s for not doing what I tell you the first damn time! Now bend your ass over, spread your legs, and grab your ankles!”

The searing pain in her buttocks was plenty enough motivation for Penny to comply with the terrifying request. Trembling with fear, she struggled to maintain her balance in the awkward position as she endured the first and what she prayed would be the only cavity search of her life.

Now clothed in an orange pullover dress and feeling very much violated, Penny found herself led to a cell. “Lucky you, kid. You get to be the only resident of Hotel Bitch today, at least for the time being. The door slammed behind her, and Mildred grinned at her from outside the bars. “Dinner’s in three hours. Enjoy your stay.”

The woman walked away as Penny scanned her new surroundings. A bed chained to the wall with one pillow on it. A toilet with no lid. A TV in the corner of the ceiling, which was on, some televangelist preaching a sermon squawking away. She sat down on the bed and yelped as the sting from the crop refreshed itself. The mattress was hard as a brick! Stretching out on her side, Penny lay there and tried to go to sleep, tried to forget where she was, why she was there, where she was going.

It didn’t work.

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As an aside here, sorry for the long delay. Had surgery on my right arm, which put me out of commission for a while. We’re gonna go hard at this one to get it finished as quickly as possible.

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6

Penny lost track of how many hours had passed, but all that mattered now was the pain. The pain, and apparently every word coming out of that television set. Her bladder was screaming for relief, her backside was on fire, and her knees pulsed with a dull, cold ache from the concrete. Still she kneeled, her head bowed, her hands folded in front of her, and her back as straight as she could manage, Mildred’s riding crop at the ready should her posture falter or she fail to respond with timely “amens” when the televangelist demanded them of the audience. It started with what Penny thought was an innocuous comment about how they all sounded the same. When Mildred launched into a tirade about blasphemy and how if Penny “had a little more Jesus in her life”, maybe she wouldn’t be a worthless drug addict convict like she was about to become, Penny realized just how wrong she was.

Let us read together the inspired word of God, from his prophet Trump, chapter 7 verse 4.

Penny cringed. Another call-and-response.

It never stops, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It never stops, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Penny’s trembling voice squeaked out, punctuated by a sniffle.

I try to learn from the past,

“I try to learn from the past,”

But I plan for the future by focusing exclusively on the present.

“But I plan for the future by focusing exclusively on the present.”

Yes, my children, Jesus wants us to live in the moment. In Matthew six, he tells us, “Worry not about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself.” All Jesus wants from us is our faith in his plan for us today! Let us pray together for the inspiration of the word of God.

The sound of keys in a distant lock and the groan of iron distracted Penny from the insipid prayer blaring from the TV set. She looked up, and yelped as Mildred’s crop bit into her backside. THWACK! Worse, a trickle of urine streaked down her leg. Despite the pain, Penny doubled down, squeezing her thighs together to stop what seemed to be the inevitable.

“Nobody told you to stop praying, heathen!” Mildred shouted as fresh tears filled Penny’s eyes. “Don’t you dare move from that spot until I tell you!” Mildred’s footsteps walked toward her cell door. Keys opened the lock, and an identical sound of groaning iron reached her ears from much closer. The door slammed shut, and she heard Mildred’s boots march down the hallway, followed by hushed tones of a conversation she couldn’t understand.

An eternity later, she heard boots approaching her cell. Flinching just for an instant, she resumed her praying posture, bracing herself for what was coming. The sound of a man’s laughter took her by surprise.

“Get up, Russo. Church is over.”

At first she dropped to the cold concrete, her legs exhausted from holding that position for so long. Then fatigue gave way to panic and she scrambled to her feet, bracing for the sound of keys in her cell door. Another tiny spurt leaked out of her as she turned to look at the body attached to the voice; he was tall, heavy-set, a bald middle-aged man with unremarkable features other than the glint of his brilliantly white teeth as he grinned at her from through the bars.

“So you talked shit about Mildred’s favorite TV pastors, eh? Bad move, kid. Anyway, lights out in five. I suggest you take care of business and get comfortable.”

Penny didn’t need a second invitation. She staggered toward the toilet, and, thankfully, the guard turned his back as she straddled the bowl, terrified of the filth, and let loose. She wiped down afterward and collapsed on the bed, gritting her teeth against the protests of her sore bottom. She dared not ask what time it was, for fear of more retribution.

“I hear you missed dinner. I’ll make sure breakfast is here early.” He laughed again and strode down the hall. Penny heard the loud click of a light switch, and the cell went dark including, thankfully, the TV screen.

Unfortunately for Penny, while the noise from the TV stopped, it raged on in her head as she struggled to sleep. Eyes open or closed, it didn’t matter, all those preachers pointing their fingers at her, calling her things like “heathen”, “harlot”, and “degenerate”, seemingly in time with the bite of Mildred’s riding crop on her backside. No matter how she lay on that hard bed, the welts Mildred left behind protested the pressure she put on them, until she finally gave up and lay flat on her stomach.

It didn’t help her sleep, but at least the welts just stung in the background in this position. Every time the voices quieted and it felt like she was going to drift off, that ominous pair of boots made their way down the hall, their echoes on the concrete jolting her back to consciousness. And so went the cycle, over and over, until the first light of daybreak through the window opposite her bed cracked the darkness.

Shielding her eyes, Penny groaned at the dawn. The only good thing about this moment was the realization that she had in fact survived a night in jail. Which meant that in a few hours she’d be leaving this place, so long as that DA kept his word. From what she could recall, it seemed like the guard came through with that infernal flashlight not long before, so she took her chance and relieved both bowel and bladder, scrubbing herself with as much toilet paper as she dared use before flushing. She sat back down on the bed gingerly, her backside still sore, but not as much so as a few hours before.

The light switch down the hall clicked loudly, and now the cell was fully lit up. Boots coming toward her; the same guard appeared in front of her cell door with a tray. He bent over and shoved it through a slot at the bottom of the cell door. He stood back up and said, “sorry, kid, Monday means vending machine breakfast. Enjoy.”

Penny stared at the tray. A sad looking muffin wrapped in plastic and a small cup of what looked like black coffee stared back at her. Still, she was hungry, and she ate quickly and quietly while the guard watched. When she finished the last of the bitter, lukewarm liquid, the guard unlocked the door and stepped in. Penny flinched as he approached.

“Don’t worry kid. I’m just getting you ready for transfer. Stand up and face me.”

Penny silently obeyed his commands, and he secured cuffs back onto her wrists, sliding chains through what she thought were belt loops on her dress, then affixing similar cuffs to her ankles.

He led her down the hall, where the tall, muscular cop that brought her here was waiting. They chit-chatted while signing paperwork, and the tall one led her out to a waiting van. He helped her climb into the back, closed the door, and soon they were on the road. A short while later the van stopped, and the cop led her back out of the van on the side of the municipal courthouse. He handed her off to a bailiff after signing some more paperwork, and then he was gone and she found herself seated in a conference room.

“Excuse… me… Sir?” She looked up at the bailiff nervously.

“Can I help you?”

“What happens now?”

“The DA will be here shortly. Your hearing starts at nine.”

She looked at the clock. 7:45. She sighed, slouching a bit in her chair, and folded her hands with a faint jingle. The next 45 minutes took an eternity to pass, but there finally was a knock on the door next to the bailiff, and he opened it. In came the DA.

“Good morning, Miss Russo. I have the plea deal all ready for you to sign.” He sat down, opened his briefcase, and withdrew a folder. He opened the folder and turned a document around to face her, then handed her a pen.

“You understand that, by signing this document, you are pleading no contest to the charge of possession of a controlled substance. The mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years will be suspended so long as you successfully complete a rehabilitation program of not less than three months, and your judgment will be set aside so long as you do not commit any further crimes in the next calendar year.”

“I… I understand.” Penny scanned the document, but she had no idea what she was reading. With a trembling hand, she signed, praying that what he was telling her was the truth.

7

Less than half an hour later, Penny found herself in a courtroom behind plexiglass. The bailiff that led her in stood just a few feet behind her, but at least her shackles were off. A second bailiff in the courtroom called, “All rise for the Honorable Judge Martin!”

Everyone stood, including the DA, who was sitting at what Penny presumed was his usual spot at a table on one side of the courtroom. The judge walked in and took his seat, as did everyone else except Penny, who had nowhere to sit.

“Good morning everyone!” The judge’s voice boomed across the courtroom as he leafed through papers in front of him. “What’s our first case this morning?”

The DA spoke up. “People versus Penelope Russo, your Honor.”

“People’s position on bail?”

“We’ve reached a plea agreement with the defendant.”

“Let’s see it. Approach.” Penny was a little nervous; she didn’t know the judge had to approve what she just signed. What if he didn’t? She shuddered at the thought.

The DA brought the paperwork up to the judge and handed it to him.

“Ms. Russo, you understand that you are pleading no contest to the charge of first-degree possession of a controlled substance?”

“Y… Yes, your Honor.”

“And by doing so you understand that you are waiving your right to a trial, and you agree to be remanded to the Haven Hill spiritual rehabilitation clinic?”

Spiritual?! Penny thought she was getting sent to a drug rehab! What were they going to do, beat her over the head with a Bible until she promised not to do drugs anymore?

“Miss Russo?”

“I… um… I’m sorry your Honor, I just… thought they were sending me to drug rehab.”

“Are you saying you wish to withdraw from this plea agreement?” The judge raised his eyebrow.

The DA stood. “If I may, your Honor, I think I can clear this up fairly quickly.”

“Go ahead.”

“Miss Russo, the center named in the plea agreement handles a variety of behavioral issues, not just drug rehabilitation. But they do have a highly regarded drug treatment program, which is what you’ll be enrolled in. Does that make sense?”

“Um… yes, that’s fine.” She still didn’t like the religious connotation of the name, but it seemed like her only alternative was to back out of the deal and go to trial, which she definitely didn’t want to do.

“Good. Unless there are any further objections?” The judge looked back at her.

“No, your Honor.”

“Then I do hereby remand you to the custody of Haven Hill spiritual rehabilitation clinic for a period not less than three months, followed by nine additional months of probation, at which time this case will be dismissed with prejudice.” His gavel smacking the desk made Penny jump a little, but it was as though a huge weight fell off her back all at once. She took a breath and exhaled slowly as the guard led her back through the meeting room and back down the hall toward the rear exit. She didn’t even care that much about him putting the shackles back on her wrists and ankles.

It was a much longer ride in the windowless van before she saw daylight again. But when she did, it was an awe-inspiring sight.

The building was drab, white, not very interesting, though it looked clean, well-kept. Surrounding it, though, was trees and grass everywhere, a landscape Penny had never witnessed before. She turned around, and a forest (briefly) met her eyes before she was herded forward toward the entrance. Living in New Gomorrah her whole life, she’d only seen foliage like this in pictures.

“Let’s move it, Russo. This ain’t a nature walk.” The cop gave her a shove toward the walkway which led to the building’s front entrance, and she stumbled a bit, but kept her balance.

The two cops marched her to the double doors, and a tan-skinned woman about Penny’s size opened the door with a smile. “Come in, come in.” Her voice was disarmingly soft and friendly, a welcome change from how law enforcement had treated her the last several days.

They led her in and stopped in a spacious reception area, the door shutting behind her with a loud click. One cop handed the woman a form and a pen. “Just sign here and she’s all yours.”

“Thank you. And welcome, Penelope. My name is Adweta, and I’ll be your primary nurse and case worker during your stay here.” She signed the form and handed it back to the one cop while the other unlocked Penny’s shackles.

“Th… thanks…” was all Penny could muster, still expecting a hammer to drop on her here somewhere.

“Miss Patricia, would you hand me Penelope’s file and a gown and buzz the officers out, please?” the tan-skinned woman said.

“Sure, Miss Adweta. Got it all ready for you here.” The woman behind the reception counter stood up and passed a pile of cloth and a remarkably full-looking file folder, from Penny’s perspective, to Adweta.

“Thank you Miss Patricia. Right this way, Penelope.” The woman put her hand on Penny’s shoulder and aimed her toward a large, heavy-looking door with a small safety glass window set well above Penny’s head. A buzz sounded behind her, and the two cops exited the front door. The heavy-sounding click as the door shut behind had an ominous finality to it, and Penny shuddered a bit.

“Umm… please call me Penny.”

“Alright, then, Penny. We have a few minutes before the weekly dorm discussion group starts, so you’ll have time to get changed.” She flashed a keycard in front of a panel, and the door clicked.

“Um… can I just lie down or something? I’m exhausted,” Penny said as Adweta opened the door.

Adweta turned and put both her hands on Penny’s shoulders, looking her square in the eyes. “I’m sorry, Penny, but because of your specific circumstances, full compliance is absolutely necessary.” The nurse’s face took on a somber appearance, but there was no anger that Penny could detect. “I have to report anything you miss - a group session, a counseling session, therapy, whatever it happens to be, to the DA for review, because technically it’s a violation of your plea agreement. He has the discretion to revoke that agreement and send you to the work camps. I don’t want that for you, and I’m sure you don’t either, right?” Adweta’s little head-cock and sad smile were disarming, but her words were like boulders falling on Penny’s shoulders.

Whatever fatigue Penny was suffering from swept right out of her. “No!”

“Good, then let’s hurry, okay?”

As they marched down the wide hall, doors on either side, the idea that this “rehabilitation” was not going to be as easy as it sounded in court began to set in.

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this is a really interesting story. I had thought that penny’s friend would be the one to take her in a rehabilatative context seeing as she was so weahty and I figured that maybe she had connections that Peny didn’t know about. Maybe she’ll show up after the three months?

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