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THE SEX CLUB
By L.J. Sellers
Spellbinder PressCopyright © 2007 L.J. Sellers
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTuesday, October 19, 9:32 a.m.
"You can put your clothes back on, then we'll talk some more."
Kera gave the girl a quick smile and stepped out of the examining room. Jessie, if that was her real name, claimed to be sixteen. But Kera suspected she was younger, maybe all of thirteen or fourteen. The girl was slender, with the small breasts and flawless skin of someone who hadn't grown into her adult body yet.
Kera lingered in the clinic hallway and jotted some notes on Jessie's chart. Genital warts (HPV) on the inner labia treated with liquid nitrogen. Clearly, her client was sexually active, but there was no sign of bruising or abuse. Yet her tender age made Kera wonder if the sex was truly consensual. Sometimes she walked a fine line between respecting a client's sexual privacy and ignoring a potentially abusive situation. She would ask a few probing questions just to make sure Jessie was in a mutually consenting relationship.
Kera gave the girl enough time to get dressed, then knocked lightly and stepped back into the windowless room. Crammed into the eight-by-ten space was an examining table, a cabinet-sink combination, a wheeled stool, and a simple black-cushioned chair. The pale cream walls failed tomake the room seem bigger.
"How long have you been sexually active, Jessie?" Kera took a seat on the stool.
"For a while." The girl flipped her waffle-iron-straight, blond hair off her shoulders and stared defiantly. "Why?"
"Is someone forcing or pressuring you to have intercourse?"
"No." Jessie rolled her eyes.
"This is a safe place to talk about your sexual situation. Everything you say here is confidential."
The girl's gray eyes flashed with irritation. "I said there's no pressure. I like hooking up."
"Do you use contraception?" Sometimes her questions were so routine, Kera felt more like a waitress than a healthcare worker.
The girl shrugged. "Sometimes we use condoms."
The way she used the word "we" gave Kera pause. "Have you had more than one partner?"
Now Jessie hesitated. "Nicole said I didn't have to tell about them."
Kera noted the plural use of "them," but the reference to "Nicole" also caught her attention. She had treated another young girl with genital warts last week, and her name may have been Nicole. It bothered Kera that she didn't remember for sure. But she saw so many young women, and often only once, for about twenty minutes. They came, picked up their pills or antibiotics, and went on their way. Kera knew the work she did was important in a big-picture way, but she wished she saw more proof of it in the everyday details.
"You don't have to tell me about your partners, but you do have to tell them about the genital warts. It's very important that they get treatment, so they don't spread it to others."
"Okay. I'll tell 'em."
"Where do you go to school?"
Again Jessie hesitated. "Spencer High."
Kera was doubtful. But Spencer was only a block away from Kincaid Middle School, which suddenly seemed more likely. And a little disturbing. The girl she had seen last week was a student at Kincaid. And two months earlier, a fourteen-year-old girl from the school had come in for emergency contraception.
Kera made a mental note to look back through the files to see how many kids from Kincaid had visited the clinic in the past six months. And how many of them reported having unprotected sex. Maybe she needed to call the school, find out what kind of sex education they were teaching-if any. Perhaps even conduct an outreach program there, if the school's administrators would let her. Even if young teenagers thought they were ready for sex, they certainly weren't ready to be parents. And nobody was ever prepared to find out they were HIV positive.
"Are you aware that the HIV virus is sexually transmitted?" Kera asked, expecting more eye rolling.
Instead, Jessie seemed to deflate, then spent a long moment looking at her fingernails. When she looked up, she had the same expression Kera used to see on her son's face when he wanted to tell her something, but couldn't. On impulse, Kera pulled a business card out of her jacket pocket and wrote her home e-mail address and cell phone number on the back.
"This is my personal contact information. You can e-mail me if you have questions or concerns that you feel you can't discuss face to face."
Jessie took the card, then quickly looked away.
"I'd like to talk to you about birth control options." Kera handed her a pamphlet from the rack of educational materials on the wall.
"I can't." Jessie shook her head. "You don't know what it's like in our church. If my mother ever found the pills, my life would be ruined." Her distress was palpable.
"It doesn't have to be pills, there are other-"
The girl jumped up and grabbed her backpack. "I gotta go. Thanks for the medicine."
"Wait," Kera called after her.
But Jessie was already out the door, blond hair swinging as she turned into the hall. Disappointed by her failure, Kera finished writing notes on Jessie's chart. Perhaps the girl would come back. She flipped the manila folder closed and scooted off the stool. As Kera moved toward the door, she noticed a tiny pink cell phone on the examining table next to the discarded birth control pamphlet. Jessie must have left it.
Kera grabbed the phone and headed toward the front of the building, hoping to catch Jessie at the front desk. She turned left in the middle of the building where the two main hallways intersected under a giant skylight.
The clinic staff had moved into the new building a few months ago, and Kera loved everything about it. The creamy yellow walls were freshly painted, the stainless steel shined, and nothing was scratched or dingy, yet. Compared to the metal sheds and mud huts she'd worked in during her years in Africa with the International Red Cross, the building was a dream. And compared to the chaos and heartache of the years she spent working in the ER, her time at the clinic felt stress free.
Near the front, the walkway opened on the left into a small reception area where daylight filtered in through opaque floor-to-ceiling windows. Directly in front of her stood the building's entrance, a small enclosed plexiglass foyer with a camera and a locked inner door. Nobody came in without telling the receptionist their name and their business at the clinic. Security was a top priority. Behind the wall to the right was the surgical area where two non-staff physicians performed abortions on Tuesday and Friday mornings.
Beyond the entrance and across the grass, a small group of protestors gathered on the sidewalk. Kera had counted seven as she hurried into work this morning. Now they were lowering their signs and preparing to leave. Like clockwork, they showed up every Tuesday and Friday before 7 a.m. with signs that said things like "Choose Life" and "Don't Murder Your Baby." The group was mostly female, although occasionally a middle-aged man joined in. Kera had come to recognize two of the protestors who participated every week: a young woman of around twenty who looked half starved and always wore red-a symbol of blood, Kera thought-and a tiny middle-aged woman with close-cropped hair who often carried a Bible in addition to her homemade sign. The anti-abortionists called out with cries of "We can help," hoping to attract the attention of the women who entered the clinic in the early hours.
But those activities were over for the day. The protestors were getting into their cars and heading home, and the clinic was unusually quiet. Two young mothers with babies on their hips stood at the counter, where Roselyn, the young Hispanic receptionist, silently stared at the computer screen, searching for information. Another young woman waited in a chair near the front windows. Jessie seemed to be long gone.
As Kera spun around, intending to place Jessie's chart in the to-file basket, thunder boomed, the building shook, and the glass in the front windows blew out. Stunned by the blast, she lost her footing and went down. As she fell, Kera hit her head on the corner of the reception counter and, for a minute, her world went dark.
Chapter TwoTuesday, October 19, 9:45 a.m.
She woke to wailing babies and the sulfur stink of burnt gunpowder. Kera's temple pulsed with pain, but she ignored it. She pushed herself up, felt a cool October breeze blowing through the lobby, and promptly became so dizzy she had to lie back down. What the hell had happened?
Pounding footsteps charged down the hall. Most were muffled, the soft thud of work shoes. Only the director's pumps made sharp staccato sounds as they approached. In the background, the babies kept crying.
"Kera. Are you hurt?" Sheila Brentwood kneeled next to her, the tall woman's voice sounding far away. Lavender-scented hands touched Kera's forehead.
"I don't know." Her own voice seemed distant. "I think I hit my head."
"You did." Sheila turned to someone and said, "Bring some gauze and some ice."
"Has anyone called 911?"
"I am right now."
The excited voices jumbled together, and footsteps thundered in from the reception area. "A client is hurt."
Kera desperately wanted to sit up, to rush to the aid of the injured, but she knew she wasn't ready. "Am I bleeding?" The fog in her brain began to clear, replaced with a sharp sting at her temple.
"Just a little."
Sheila still had the bedside manner of a nurse, but with her black blazer and auburn hair pulled tightly into a bun, she looked like the administrator that she had become.
"Was that a bomb?" Kera asked.
"It blew out the front windows." Andrea, the clinic manager, pressed gauze to Kera's forehead. Andrea's perfectly balanced Japanese features showed worry for the first time since Kera had known her. Kera reached up and tried to push Andrea's hand away. "I'm okay. Go help the others."
"Only one young woman is injured, and both Janine and Julie are with her."
"There's a three-inch chunk of glass sticking out of her neck." Andrea's voice was soft, but her enunciation was always perfect.
Sirens sounded in the distance. Sheila and Andrea breathed a collective sigh of relief, and Kera willed their young client to hang onto her life. If the girl made it into the emergency room, the ER doctors would save her. Kera had witnessed that miracle many times.
She shuddered to think how many people could have been hurt if this had been a busy Friday afternoon instead of a quiet Tuesday morning. Who could have done such a horrible thing? What were they thinking?
THE WOMAN blinked as the windows blew, and she missed seeing the full effect of the explosion. But the sound was overwhelming. Even from across the street, the noise was bigger than she had expected. It was only her second pipe bomb. The first one-for practice-had been a bit of a dud, so she'd apparently over-corrected this time. But bigger was better. It was the only way to get through to these people. The political channels were too slow, and hundreds of babies' lives were at stake every day.
Accessing the clinic had been quite a challenge. It was new and built with security in mind. There was a camera mounted on each side of the building and not much in the way of shrubbery to hide behind. She had cased the clinic during its first few months from the safety of a group of regular protesters. After methodically planning her moves, she had stopped coming with the group. Today, the navy-blue hooded sweatshirt, jeans, and backpack she had worn made her look like a kid-if the camera even caught her.
Now the sweatshirt and backpack were stuffed under the car seat, and she was just another middle-aged woman in the parking lot at the shopping center across the street. She knew she should get moving, but the sight of women and girls running from the building transfixed her. Upending their ordered little world where they encouraged promiscuity and discarded life was immensely satisfying. She could feel God's approval.
Out of the chaos, a young girl emerged, moving quickly across the parking lot and up the sidewalk toward Commerce Street. For a moment, she thought it might be Jessie Davenport, a young church member and close friend of her daughter. But it couldn't be. Not Jessie, not here. Just someone who looked like her.
The wail of a siren sent a bolt of anxiety through her, and she almost lost control of her bladder. She put the Tahoe in reverse and sped away from the shopping center. She had to hurry home and change before her volunteer shift at the hospital.
DETECTIVE WADE JACKSON turned down Commerce Street and was relieved to see the clinic still standing at the end of the block. The report of a bomb had stunned him. He had lived in Eugene, Oregon, his whole life and had been on the police force for half of it, but had never dealt with a sizable explosion. A few years back, a young male ecoterrorist had set fire to a car lot full of SUVs down near the university, but overall, Eugene was a safe, mid-sized town with a hundred and forty thousand people, many of whom drove around with bumper stickers that said "Visualize World Peace."
As the most experienced detective in a group of sixteen, Jackson typically investigated homicides rather than sex or property crimes. But he didn't have an active investigation at the moment, and the supervising sergeant had asked him to take the lead. A wave of guilt hit the pit of his stomach. Now that he was a single father, every time he took on a new case, for the first few days he effectively abandoned his daughter. And Katie was still struggling with her parents' separation and the fact that her mother chose to continue drinking rather than be part of their family. If this bomb case turned out to be long and complicated, he'd have to give up the lead to another detective.
Jackson pulled into the long narrow parking lot, where he passed a group of women-assorted sizes and ages-huddled on the sidewalk near the street. Two young girls each held a baby on their hips. One wept openly, shoulders heaving, but no one in the group looked bloody. Tension drained from his shoulders. Maybe this would not be as awful as he'd expected. The nightly news for the last three years had led him to associate bombs with body parts scraped off the pavement.
Only a dozen cars, including a black-and-white police unit, were scattered throughout the lot. Jackson slammed into the first open space. He felt for his Sig Sauer and evidence collection bag, then jumped out of the car.
He jogged up the sidewalk toward the main entrance. The intentionally nondescript gray brick building sat on the back curve of the street and sported good visibility on all sides. Its one vulnerability, the windows in the reception area, had been blown out, and a gaping hole exposed its soft yellow inside. A twenty-something Asian woman in light blue scrubs ran out the front door, spotted him immediately, and sprinted down the sidewalk.
She grabbed his arm. "We need an ambulance. Someone's hurt badly."
Jackson started to reach for his cell phone, but in the distance he could hear the wail of the ambulance screaming up West 11th Avenue. Another patrol unit careened into the parking lot and almost hit a blue Toyota pulling out of its space. Jackson motioned for the officer behind the wheel to roll down his window.
"Secure the perimeter," he yelled. "Don't let that car leave. And don't let anyone in that group near the sidewalk leave."
As he looked over at the huddled clinic workers, his eye caught a group of protestors across the street, at the edge of the shopping center. Their signs hung limply at their sides as they stared back at the clinic. "And bring those protestors back over here for questioning."
Then it hit him. This bomb seemed almost inevitable. A few months earlier, one of Portland's abortion clinics had been rocked by violent protests, followed by several pipe bomb explosions. The statewide group that sponsored the Portland protests had a chapter here in town. In hindsight, it was only a matter of time before they turned their attention to Eugene's new clinic. Jackson was glad that his daughter was only fourteen and that he didn't have to worry about her coming to Planned Parenthood for many years.
He turned back to the clinic and started up the front walkway. Shards of white-tinted glass and mangled azalea branches covered the narrow lawn and spilled onto the cement path. The smell of gunpowder wafted past on a warm gust of wind. The combination reminded him of summer afternoons at the firing range.
Once inside, Jackson found himself in a small glass-walled foyer with a camera mounted above the door. But the security system was unmanned at the moment, and he pushed through the unlocked door into the waiting area. Near the massive hole in the front wall, two clinic workers huddled over a young female client, who, from where he stood, looked lifeless. Blood pooled in the area around her head. Jackson rushed over, past the twisted chairs and scattered debris, desperately trying to recall his first aid training. The women weren't wearing white, so Jackson asked, "Is either of you a nurse or doctor?"
Excerpted from THE SEX CLUB by L.J. Sellers Copyright © 2007 by L.J. Sellers. Excerpted by permission.
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