He nodded and asked, “What happened then?”
Josie scooted forward and lowered her bare feet into the water. “We drove home and never spoke about it again.”
“When did you start making regular trips to Duluth?”
Josie held in another sigh. She’d opened a can of worms, and wasn’t sure how to put the lid back on. “After Gloria’s house burned down, she moved here to the resort, and started passing out condoms to the girls who rent out rooms during large parties. Some of them were from Duluth and wanted to take condoms back to other women they knew, especially after Gloria pointed out all the benefits. How they not only prevent pregnancy, but the spread of disease. Up until last year you still had to have a prescription to buy them and even now, most places only allow men to purchase them.” Josie splashed her feet into the water, hoping it might help alleviate the sting in her cheeks. The subject usually didn’t embarrass her, but discussing condoms with Scooter was different than discussing it with the ladies from the society or her sisters.
She took a deep breath. “Gloria started purchasing cases of them and Colene and Hester Williams started making regular trips to Duluth to give them to the girls, but walking the piers and streets near the docks became too exhausting for them. They are both rather elderly.”
“That’s when you started dressing up as Anita Weatherby?”
She nodded. “It was Colene’s idea.”
“What happened then?” he asked.
“Nothing. I drove up there a couple of times a month at first, then weekly.”
She shrugged. “Because it got me out of here. By then Father was deep in his war with Galen and kept us all close to home, but because I was attending with Gloria, he let me go to the society meetings.”
“That’s a long drive,” he said. “It takes over three hours to get to Duluth.”
“I know. I’d leave around eight in the morning and be home in time for supper.”
“So what changed?” he asked. “When did it become more than passing out condoms?”
“Shortly after Galen was arrested last fall, Francine Wilks moved to Duluth. She’d lived in St. Paul and New York before that. Francine has someone behind her, someone with a lot of power, because she’s taken over the entire prostitution ring up there.” Josie’s cheeks were no longer burning. Her insides were now on fire because of the number of girls that had become involved since Francine had moved to Duluth. “Believe it or not, Scooter, she’s worse than Galen Reynolds ever was.”
“Girls are no longer being shipped in and out of Duluth, but the port is busier than ever with J. P. Morgan’s US Steel company booming. In order to keep up with the demand, Francine found a new supply of girls.”
Scooter was frowning. “I don’t follow you. A new supply from where?”
“Francine is hauling in young girls from the reservations near there. No more than thirteen and fourteen years old. It’s awful,” Josie said. “And the law won’t do anything about it.”
“So you’ve set your mind to do something,” he stated.
“Someone has to.” Turning to face him, she explained, “We’d set up a secret code of sorts. If the girls asked me for two boxes, I knew either they or someone they knew wanted to escape. I’d give them one regular box and another box that contained a train ticket to Cloquet. There’s a woman there who will transport the girls back to the reservation, or help them get a different job.” Josie stopped herself from saying that’s what she intended to do, set up another safe house, right in Duluth.
“Somehow Francine learned about that,” Josie said. “The day I was arrested, I’d asked a regular why no one had wanted two boxes for several weeks. She told me it was because Francine was keeping the new girls locked up in a warehouse. Wouldn’t let anyone get close to them until they were ready.”
“And you decided to try and rescue them by yourself.”
“No,” she said. “I just wanted to figure out which warehouse they were in, but one of Francine’s men saw me. I ran to my car. He jumped in a car and started to chase me. I was afraid he’d catch me, so I drove past the police station, going as fast as I could, hoping I’d get arrested for speeding. And I did.”
“So this guy saw you, he knows what you look like,” Scooter said.
“No, I took off my Anita disguise before I started snooping around the warehouses and put on my young-boy clothes.”