It hadn’t taken long to learn that this young woman was significantly younger than Jess herself. Besides being petite, which oughtn’t to have been an indication, she was stubborn as a child.
“The Watch can’t do nothin’,” she insisted, all but stomping her foot. “Can’t and won’t. I’m not big ‘nough to have a payroll.” She spat on the ground. “Not that they’d be on it if I did.”
They had left the men far behind them, and her earlier fear seemed almost entirely forgotten. Jess held the girl by the shoulders and fixed her with a stare that her grandmother had said could soften rock. “Those men hurt you. Someone will have to do something.”
“You already did.”
“Yes. Well. I’m not enough.”
“Oh, I think you’re more than enough.” The girl relaxed in Jess’s grip as though it were the most natural place in the world to be.
Jess let go with a sigh. Children were exactly like this. “At least tell me your name.” She could file a report with the Watch on her own. Even if it wasn’t likely to make an impact without the victim there with her.
“Aphrodite Cloudburst. And what’s your name, hero?”
The smile was infectious to the point of toxicity. Jess released her grip, trying to keep from smiling back. “Jessaminica. Listen, if you won’t go to the Watch, will you at least let me take you home?”
For a moment, Aphrodite looked taken aback. “Huh. I guess I was right about the hero thing.” She furrowed her brow, then broke out in a smile that was unlike the others. It was less sparkly. More genuine. “I live on Dire Street. In the pleasure quarter. Big house, lots of windows.”
As she led the way, she went on talking. About the weather, her hair, how expensive it was to live anywhere. Everything but what had happened in the abandoned house. Jess gritted her teeth and focused on following her and keeping anything else from happening. Perhaps part of Aphrodite’s blasé attitude was due to having faced many similar incidents.
The idea of the pleasure quarter did not escape Jess. It did not exist among the tribes, but she had to admit that they had no need for it. Sex was treated with respect, but had very few rules. According to what her mother had told her, the higher up one went, the more repressed men and women became. She almost found herself asking how the business fared under such conditions.
They reached a large house with many windows, and Jess nearly laughed. It had seemed such an absurd thing to say.
Aphrodite put a hand on the knob, then paused. “Would you… That is, I feel I owe you a cup of tea. We should have biscuits.”
Her pitch never rose, but Jess could hear the question. She chewed the corner of her bottom lip. The men had to have cleared out by that time, and she wouldn’t get anywhere with the Watch on her own. True, it was clear what Aphrodite’s career was, but that didn’t seem like sufficient reason for two men to accost her with such single-minded hostility. They were too efficient for it to be random, or small.
“I would love to.”
She followed the girl inside.