Jett married at seventeen just to get away from home. She and her equally young husband called it quits after less than a year, their union ill-fated from the start. But Jett got a baby out of it; she got Brittany. She found she loved Brittany in a way that was new to her. She’d do anything for that little girl.
At eighteen, she had to move back home with her folks. She needed a babysitter and her mother was delighted to help out. Well, more like take over. When she got a job at McDonald’s, her Mom tended Brittany every day. Jett fell back into her familiar slot in her parents’ home, only now she was a child with a child. But the day that Brittany called her grandmother Mama was the day Jett knew it was time for a change. Planning was never her strong suit, but this was her life, dammit, and her kid. She had to take charge.
She needed a better job than flipping burgers, but she had no particular skill and no patience for spending time and money to learn one. Jett, true to her name, liked to move fast, and she was not over-burdened with scruples.
So: something illegal, then? I don’t think I’d be very good at robbery. Murder? No, I don’t have the stomach for that. What about a con game of some kind? Victimless, because the mark will want what I’m offering, something that’s a step outside the margins. Harmless, because no one will get hurt. Well, not physically hurt, anyway.
She toyed with a few ideas, like faking a fatal illness to get money through a GoFundMe page. But a glance in the mirror confirmed there was no way to disguise the bloom of health and youth. Could she pretend to be a Russian mail-order bride? Probably not, she wasn’t good at accents. What about a womb-for-hire scheme? She’d already been through a pregnancy, so she could easily feign one. Get some of those foam pregnancy bellies in escalating sizes, collect money as her “condition” progressed, then disappear with the cash before the due date. People who were that desperate to have a kid wouldn’t care about the money. They’d have already tried everything legitimate, and would be ready to color outside the lines to get what they wanted. She’d relieve them of some cash, then she’d take Brittany and get the hell out of Dodge. Leave behind her girlhood bedroom, bossy mother and, best of all, that horrible hamburger grill. Start over someplace new.
Jett told no one her plan. She needed secrecy and knew that a secret told to one is told to all, so she kept her mouth shut. She placed an ad on Craig’s List: “Healthy young woman in desperate need of money. Willing to conceive and carry your baby.” She added her e-mail address.
She got a response within fifteen minutes. “We are a couple in our forties, been trying for a baby for ten years. Very interested in your offer. Can we meet?” Jett typed back: “Name time and place.”
She saw them the minute she entered the coffee shop. Well-dressed, carefully-groomed, obviously nervous, Richard and Gabriella sat together on one side of the booth, never taking their eyes off the door. She saw their faces light up with hope when she headed toward them. Jett slid fluently into the story she’d rehearsed: how she was a single mom, had already had a healthy pregnancy but now needed money for her mother’s operation. She described – truthfully – how much she hated her job and how little money she made from it. The couple nodded at all the right places. At one point, Gabriella reached across the table and squeezed her hand sympathetically. Jett could tell they believed every word.
“We’d need you to donate an ovum,” Gabriella said. “And then you’d be artificially inseminated.”
Jett was prepared for that, too. No reason to give good money to a lab when it could be coming to her. “Doesn’t that cost a fortune?” she asked. “Why spend all that money when we could do it the old-fashioned way for free?”
She didn’t miss the spark of interest in Richard’s eyes, quickly extinguished when he glanced at his wife.
“No emotional commitment,” Jett hurried on. “I know exactly when I’m fertile. It’d be one and done, and then I’d be carrying your baby. And in nine months, you’d have a son or daughter in your arms, I’d have money to help my Mom, and we’d all be happy, right? I don’t want any future contact. We’d never see each other again.”
Gabrielle and Richard exchanged a long look. Richard shrugged.
“How much money would you need?” Gabriella asked, and Jett knew she had them.
“Twenty-one thousand,” she said. “Payable in three installments.”
“We need to think about this,” Gabriella said.
“Sure. But tomorrow is my peak day for fertility. If we wait, it’ll be another month.”
They went for it, as Jett’d known they would. Now, wearing only a robe, she waited for Richard in a utilitarian motel room off the interstate. She wished it was a more seductive space. Because, actually, Richard wasn’t too bad. Steady job, owned a home, nice car…He just might be her ticket to ride, good for a lot more than twenty-one grand. Forget about faking pregnancy; she’d go for the real thing. She’d score a nice big house, a new daddy and a sibling for Brittany in one swoop.
She heard Richard’s knock, pushed her robe off one shoulder, fluffed her hair and went to let him in. To her surprise, Gabriella was with him. They hardly looked like the same couple. Gone was the careful grooming and nervous aura. They pushed past her without a greeting. Richard was carrying a small black bag which he set on the bed and unzipped immediately. From it he pulled a roll of duct tape and a scalpel. They eyed Jett, standing open-mouthed in her robe, and exchanged amused looks. Richard snapped off a length of tape like a man who’d done it many times before.
“Looks like she’s been waiting for us,” Gabriella said. “Do you want to carve first, darling, or shall I?”
“After you, sweetie. I went first last time.”