Chapter One

Ruben wasn’t supposed to leave his motel room until they told him it was time to make the drop, but they were supposed to put a pack of Twizzlers in the bag for him, so “supposed to” didn’t seem to count for much. What, was he supposed to wait in his cage like a dog? He’d left the bag in the room for safekeeping, so it’s not like there was any real risk. The nearest 7-Eleven was only two blocks down; he’d be out and back before anything could go wrong. 


There are a couple of hicks in the parking lot playing at toughness, cussing and shoving and posturing to each other. Amateurs. Ruben can feel his lip curl into a sneer as he approaches, and he can see their posture change as they recognize his energy, if not his face: they hunch their shoulders, go quiet, turn sheepish. It takes a big fish to show a small fish just how small they are. 


As he swings the door open, pointedly ignoring the fearful corn-fed fucks behind him, he can hear them scurry away in disgrace. Ruben flashes a rare smile, showcasing the tooth-shaped hole that an old colleague had left in his mouth after a disagreement of theirs. Ruben had the money to get it fixed, but he sort of liked it. Ever since he lost that tooth, he liked to tell his associates, he could drink a Big Gulp through a straw without ever opening his mouth. 


As the door jingles shut behind him, Ruben can immediately tell that something is wrong. There’s an energy in here, the kind of buzz like he used to feel back when his crew was still pulling big jobs. Something is going down. 


Ruben considers turning around, just going back to the motel and waiting for his orders. That bitch cop had cut him a hell of a deal in exchange for the work he would do for her today, after all. He really shouldn’t fuck up an opportunity that could cut a decade behind bars down to four months plus community service. But he really wants those Twizzlers. Anyway, if whoever’s in here is really dangerous, they should recognize Ruben Plant. 


He moves calmly and expressionlessly, cutting through the tension in the air like a shark through water. From the back of the store, he can see the cashier shouting at him with his eyes. There’s someone behind that desk with a gun trained on the poor fucker, no doubt, but that’s not what he’s here for. 


“Just this,” he tells the cashier, nudging the Twizzlers across the counter to him. The cashier is youngish, stringy and pimply, and so scared Ruben can see white all the way around his eyes. 


“That -- that will be t-two ninety-five, sir.” To Ruben’s horror, the kid tries a wink, trembling with furious determination. Jesus, kid, Ruben thinks disgustedly, do you love your job this much? Give them the money and you’ll be fine, probably. He turns, disinterested, and heads back for the front door. 


He’s halfway down the aisle before the kid shouts at him again. “Sir! Are you -- did you forget this?” 


If it’s a fucking note that says “help,” so help him, he’ll finish the kid off himself. Against his better judgment, Ruben turns back. Maybe working with the cops has turned him soft, he muses. 


“No,” he tells the kid flatly, before he sees what’s he’s holding: it’s his wallet, god dammit. Did the kid palm it just to get another shot at roping him into this mess? Ruben sighs. “Yes.” 


As he leans forward to take back what’s his, Ruben finds himself looking square in the face of the man crouching behind the counter. He’s a stranger, sweating, terrified, and all the more dangerous for it. 


He hears the gunshot before he feels it: a roaring, deafening nuclear blast of a sound that knocks him backwards -- or is it the blow to his chest that does that? He looks down. There is a hole in his sternum, all the way through to his shoulder blade.


“Fuck,” he says. 


Ruben Plant has seen a lot of gunshot wounds, but never from this angle. He knows how fast he is losing blood. He knows that if he loses consciousness it’ll all be over. They didn’t even use a silencer, he thinks. He survived Chavez and he survived Wilson before that, and now some fucking amateur-hour loser who hasn’t even invested in a proper weapon is about to have killed him. He looks down and finds the floor closer than it was before. He’s fallen to his knees, it seems. 


“Mother fucker,” he adds, a coda on his whole miserable life. And he dies. 


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Durga had never liked Ruben Plant. He wasn’t a cowardly, sniveling snitch like the rest of the informants she had manipulated throughout her career. He had been a real force in the San Diego underground, one whose natural suspicion had helped him elude capture for years. They’d had to recruit Durga specifically for the case -- given enough time, her patented technique was the closest thing their department had to foolproof. Over the ensuing weeks Durga wove a web of fictional aliases into Plant’s community, each with their own unique background and their own network of contacts, each new identity vouching for the validity of the last and connecting him with an exciting new opportunity. She’d had him indicted within the month.


On the day they’d brought him in for his briefing, cuffed and scuffed and looking more than a little worse for the wear, he’d asked her to look at the tattoo on his shoulder blade. Durga loathed to listen to anything he had to say, but they were trying to cut a deal; she had to make him feel like they were on the same team. Reluctantly, she’d walked round him to squint at his tanned right shoulder. Etched into his flesh was a luridly colored sketch of a man (undoubtedly Plant) shoving a cartoonishly oversized penis into a buxom blonde in an SDPD hat. “Get it, Officer Rao?” he’d leered at her over his shoulder. “Cause I fuck the police.” 


The blonde is still there, her mouth puckered in the same innocent “o” of confusion, but where the lecherous little man once swung his enormous cel-shaded genitals there is now only a hole, thick with gummy half-congealed viscera and rimmed with ragged-edged skin. Guess you’re done fucking the police, asshole, she thinks for a moment, before shame reflexively follows. Have some compassion, D. No one deserves this. 


“Can you believe this shit?” John Lincoln, her partner, gestures at the corpse before them. “You ever think you’d outlive this fuckin asshole?” 


“Yes.” A beat, and then: “...did you not?” 


“Plant? This slippery fuck was gonna outlive us all.” John laughs, angrily. “Can you believe he managed to fuck us one more time? All he had to do was make this one drop and we would’ve had Chavez and the whole filthy ring.” He spits on the ground, a thick wad of mucus stained tobacco-brown. 


“You’ll compromise the crime scene,” she tells him reproachfully. 


“Fuck the crime scene, Rao. This is a year of my life down the shitter.” 


It’s not like anything you did in that year helped to find him, she doesn’t say. Anyway, it only took me a month. “We can still win this.” We have to, she thinks miserably. Durga hasn’t gotten as far as she has in her career by losing a case. “We can still reach out to Chavez without him, right? Might not look as good, but we can… we can pose as Plant’s killer, let his contact know that the deal’s still on, that we’ll be sending a courier. We’ve just got to get the--” 


But of course John is already gone, talking to one of the local cops who set up the perimeter. She hates when he does this. Before going after him, Durga does a quick sweep of the aisle on the off chance that there’s anything the local PD has missed. On the floor behind the dead thing that was once Ruben Plant, a jumble of gas station miscellany arcs out from the shelf in a chaotic spray: Mike and Ike’s, Red Vines, a pack of earplugs, two single-serving packs of sugar-coated Advil, Wild Mint travel deodorant. The shelf has been pushed slightly off-kilter by the weight of Plant’s body, widening the crack between the structure and the dusty floor beneath. Durga peers under and is rewarded with the characteristic gleam of metal: a key. Motel 6. She pulls on a plastic glove before picking it up.


By the time she catches up to him, John’s already shouting. She half-remembers that when she was first assigned to this case, she’d found his voice sort of sexy, in an outdated, cowboys-and-Indians Americana sort of way. That had lasted about eight minutes into their first patrol. She’d never have done anything about it, anyway. She’s far too sensible to mix business and pleasure. 


John is advancing on a cowering beat cop, who was clearly not equipped for this kind of assault. “What do you mean, this is all the personal effects?”  


Durga nods sympathetically at the kid from a few paces back, but doesn’t intervene. John squares his jaw. “What’s your name, kid?” 


“Offic--” His voice cracks; he coughs sheepishly. “Officer Ramirez, sir. Sorry, sir, why is the DEA investigating a--”


“Officer Ramirez, sir, does a pack of Red Vines and a handful of crumpled bills look personal to you?” 


Ramirez’ forehead furrows. “I don’t think that’s what ‘personal effects’ refers--”


John advances another step. “Does this look like the kind of man who goes around the corner with nothing on him but the clothes on his back and some damn Twizzlers?”


Ramirez looks down at the corpse and then back up. “No?” 


“Well then I need you fine young officers of the law to give me something more, or--” 


Durga steps smoothly between them, a little closer than she’d like. Her partner smells like Wild Turkey and menthol dip. “John.” 


“Rao?”


“They don’t have the bag?”


“They do not.” 


Durga can feel a ringing in her ears, somewhere between the tenor of a beehive and the inexorable rush of an ocean wave. It’s a familiar sensation -- a tinny, buzzy souvenir from her last military tour, one which only makes its presence known when the worst has struck. She’d expected as much, of course. Why else would someone take out Ruben Plant now, of all times? She blinks furiously and pulls in one long, slow breath, deep into her stomach. 


“They said he hadn’t been robbed,” she tells her partner, her voice miraculously level. “On the call, they said local PD had his personal effects, anything of value.” 


John snorts. “Apparently they were talking about the twelve bucks in his wallet. Now they’re saying that the tapes show that he was wearing a backpack, and that the backpack is gone.” 


On the ride over, she’d meticulously compartmentalized her preemptive panic. There’s no reason to waste emotional energy reacting to a crisis before it’s struck, she told herself; she had to stay sharp, keep her actions and reactions steadily metered. In all likelihood, Plant would have left The Bag at whatever little foxhole he was hiding out at while waiting for the drop. If the tapes had shown him holding a bag, she’d thought, it would have been in the report. But now… They should have just held him at the damn precinct, she thinks despondently. They’d overthought things, worried he’d be watched, thought it would be safest to stay the hell away from him before he met up with Chavez. They should have known he couldn’t be trusted to sit still for two goddamn days. And now The Bag is missing.


The Bag -- simple unadorned black leather, clamped shut with a thin silver clasp -- contained the spoils of her last major bust, the high point of Durga’s career: over a liter of the highest-grade concentrated LSD on the market, over a million dollars in value. The chief had wanted to destroy it, but Durga (high on her recent victory) was insatiable. “We can use this to go even bigger,” she’d told him. “I hear Chavez is looking to branch out into psychedelics -- apparently these days, the real money’s in college students.” 


Chief Barnes had laughed. “Okay, but we’re not giving him everything, all right? It’s too risky. Start him with half, send the first courier without a bug so he doesn’t get suspicious, and we’ll bag him on the second shipment.” 


She can still see John shouting something angry and unhelpful, but he sounds like he’s speaking through water. She has to fix this. Through sheer force of will, she refocuses on John’s idiot noise.


“--but it’s both our asses if we can’t find the damn thing. Hah” -- bitterly -- “And since we’re the dumb fucks who let a junkie thug talk us into letting him book his own goddamn room, we’re gonna have to pull a hell of a hat trick if we want to--” 


Wordlessly, she holds up the key. John’s eyes go wide. 


“His?”


“No question.” She turns to Officer Ramirez, who’s doing his best impression of an inanimate object but snaps to attention when addressed. “At ease, soldier, this is an easy one. Can you find me an address for the closest Motel 6?”


The motel is only four blocks east and around the corner. John refuses to wait until they’ve done due diligence, of course. Durga presses her lips together in a thin line.


“We haven’t even watched the tapes yet, John, much less gathered every statement. We’re not done here.”


“Fuck the tapes, Rao. It’s the bag we need.” 


He’s got a point. The body’s been cooling for hours and with each moment that passes, it grows likelier that Plant’s room will be cleaned out and this last lead eliminated. She can’t leave until she’s seen what the local cops might’ve missed on the tapes -- the murderers are still their likeliest suspects, of course -- but they can’t move forward before they’ve cleared the motel room as an option, either. They’ll have to split up.


Twelve minutes of grainy footage later, Durga walks out into the amber light of sunset with even fewer answers than before. John took the car, she notes without a trace of surprise, and sets off toward their next lead on foot. 


She runs through what they know. The camera feed showed two dark-skinned men in masks, but their clothes and builds weren’t particularly distinctive. Most interesting was the fact that they had arrived before Plant, and that their guns were already drawn on the cashier before he even opened the front door, indicating that the murder was a case of bad timing, not gang rivalry. The pack on his back was theoretically big enough to have contained The Bag, but she can’t deny that the murder is looking more and more like (as much as she hates to think it) a coincidence. Durga hates coincidences. 


Her hackles rise as she approaches the Motel 6. She can’t hear anything over the hum of the central air, but she can see a flicker of motion in the lobby, like shadowplay against the curtains. A struggle. She picks up her pace. 


As she bursts through the front door, she’s met with a familiar sight: John, puffed up and red in the face, with a stringy, lanky stranger bent over the front counter, his brown arms twisted uncomfortably behind him. Dammit, John, can you keep your cool just once? 


John turns, waving her in with one arm while pinching the other man’s wrists still with the other. “Found our guy.” 


A wash of relief, immediately tempered by doubt. “Where’s the bag?”


“We’ll know as soon as this little shit starts talking.” 


The little shit in question peers over his shoulder to see who’s entered, and she’s startled to find that it’s just a kid -- 21, or 22 maybe, unshaven and dark-eyed and vibrating with rage. Jesus, John, really? Do you just see brown skin and lead with your fists? She counts to five before responding. Coolly, not letting her overwhelming doubt trickle into her tone: “And what makes you think that he’s our guy?” 


“He’s lying to me! Been talking in circles. He’s mocking us, D.” 


For the first time, the boy speaks, clearly identifying her as a voice of reason. “Please, ma’am, I do not want to mock anyone, I do not understand what you want, I only want to help.”


She recognizes that accent, though she hasn’t heard it in six or seven months, not since the last time she visited her dad in the home. South Indian, she’d bet on it. “John?” 


“He’s lying! He said he’d never seen Plant, but the name’s in the logbook in his handwriting.” 


The kid interrupts again, squirming in her partner’s grasp. “I’m sorry, sir, I did not recognize him -- he was a white man, you understand, he looked like every other white man I see here.”


“And now he’s being racist!!”


“That’s not racist, John.” She sighs, massages her temples. What they need is more data -- something more to implicate this lead. “What’s his name?” 


“I, uh…” 


The boy in his arms speaks up again. “Kishore, ma’am, Kishore Naidu, I go to school at--”


“Christ, you do not know when to shut up,” and John shoves his elbow into the base of the kid’s spine, forcing a yelp from his gut. 


“Jesus, John! We’ll take him in, okay? A nice well-lit interrogation room.” John glares at her. “A coerced confession won’t get us anywhere. Both our asses on the line, remember?” 


“Exactly,” he mutters, more to himself than to her, and snaps his handcuffs around the kid’s bony wrists. 


She makes eye contact with the boy as John walks him past her. She wishes she could say something -- extend some expression of kinship; let him know that the lilt of his voice makes her think of steaming biryani and sizzling bhindi and her mother’s long braid, just about the only thing she can still remember about her mother -- but John has declared him a suspect and she is a professional, so instead she looks down and away. From her peripheral vision, she can see him screwing his eyes shut, clearly trying not to cry. 


“You okay, kid?” 


He looks at her with desperation in his eyes. “Please, if you would tell my boss where I am going -- I need, I -- I could lose my job--”


John barks another laugh. “Last thing you should be worried about.” 

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The interrogation room is maybe the only place John shines: kneading and nudging and plucking at the human psyche until it unravels entirely. His methods would never work for her -- that kind of carefully-metered imbalance, the gleam of mania behind his eyes, modulating his voice low till he sees a crack in a facade and then pouncing with the full force of intimidation -- it would make her look weak, not frightening, but damn if it doesn’t work for him. 


She would’ve liked to be in there herself, of course. She’s not sure she trusts John to keep a level head under the circumstances. But unfortunately for their suspect, she trusts him even less to deliver the bad news to the chief. 


Special Agent Barnes is a legacy cop. His father was Chief Barnes, beloved and cantankerous head of the SDPD; his father before him was Detective Barnes, who led the Quantum raids and cracked RJM in the early 80s, and his father before him was Officer Barnes of the LAPD. A Barnes is born with a nose for justice, she’s heard him explain to a dozen different rookie cops, all of whom feigned interest with varying success. “Chief” isn’t even a title used by the DEA, but when a man’s got a handlebar mustache like the chief’s, what else are you supposed to call him? 


Durga can feel her stomach squirming at the prospect of telling Barnes what had happened: with their snitch dead and their payload gone, they’ve lost every advantage they had on Chavez. Worse, the chief was heavily invested in this particular case -- Durga’s virtual network and on-her-feet thinking had laid the trap, but it was Barnes’ last-minute intel which snapped it shut around their quarry. The chief has a knack for delivering the right information at the moment it’s needed most, though he’s always been tight-lipped about his sources. Durga has been in this business for long enough to know not to ask.


When she steps into the listening booth, Barnes is already waiting for her, his broad shoulders and thick thighs somewhat too big for the chair that held him. “So,” he says to her, gruffly. “Who died?”


“Only my reputation, sir.” A beat, and she forces herself to elaborate: “And Plant, sir. Along with his...personal effects.” 


“Tell me you don’t mean what I think you mean.” 


“I’m afraid so, sir.” 


He sighs, massages his temple. “You know this is unacceptable, D.” 


“Yes, sir.” She does know. In all her career, she has never fucked up this bad. If she really thinks about it, she’s not sure she’s fucked up at all: Durga Rao is a sure thing, every time. She’d thought maybe she would have more to say to him -- some excuse, some desperate explanation -- but it’s not in her nature to try to weasel her way out of discipline. Durga only avoids punishment by never making a mistake. So they sit together, in silence, and watch her partner go to work.


Behind the two-way glass, John is pacing slow, languid circles around his quarry. Interrogations bring out the shark in him -- he’s always in motion, even at rest. “So you come to America to make your fortune, right? But working your way up was too slow. You saw what the rich kids had and just couldn’t help yourself.” 


The boy is still handcuffed, though at this point they’re more symbolic than functional -- there is little he could do in the sealed interrogation room, and he can’t be more than half John’s total body weight. “No, sir.” 


“You saw an opportunity -- you’d show ‘em all you’re a big man. No victim, no witnesses. What’s the harm?” 


“No, sir, I did not think that.”


As John circles, Kishore shifts uncomfortably, shrinks away, looks down and around and everywhere but into her partner’s eyes. Durga knows that she’s not great with people, but she’s damn good at people: at learning what drives them or what irks them or how they sleep at night based on how they string together a sentence, how they take up space in a room. Watching Kishore pick at nail beds rubbed raw by an evening of anxiety and uncertainty, Durga feels a wave of assurance -- the boy is innocent, her instincts say. Her instincts have been wrong before. She keeps watching.


“What do you do, Kishore?” 


The kid looks down. “You saw my job. At the motel. I answer the phone, check people in--”


“You clean rooms.” 


“No, sir.” 


“But you did today.”


“No, sir.” 


No, sir,” John repeats, cloyingly. Durga rolls her eyes. She, too, was taught to emasculate the suspects, that defensiveness yields confessions, but she does wish her partner could be a bit subtler with it. Kishore doesn’t take the bait; John’s lip curls. 


“Can’t you say anything else? Do you even speak enough English to know what you’re denying?” 


“Yes, sir,” he replies promptly, not missing a beat, “I can.”

 

Despite herself, she finds herself liking this kid. There’s something defiant in him, albeit swaddled in countless layers of caution and courtesy and a defensive kind of diffidence. If she hadn’t spent a thousand or so hours watching her partner slap his dick on the interrogation room table, even she might not notice, but there’s a confidence -- an arrogance, even -- behind Kishore’s scared eyes. She wonders if John has noticed. 


She refocuses on their suspect. He’s deft and concise with his words, trimming the fat from his every response: “No sir.” “Yes sir.” “In 2011, sir.”  But she feels no suppressed violence in the hateful glances he thinks no one sees, and senses no greed in the way he speaks about his future (from a distance, as though describing a stranger’s). There’s hunger in him, no doubt, but if anything it is a hunger to prove himself by his own labor. It’s ambition, not avarice. 


Even as Durga relaxes, John is winding himself tighter. Like a chained dog trying to pull free by circling its post, he’s only working against himself. She should step in, she thinks, right before the chief interrupts. 


“Well, this kid is useless.” 


“I was thinking the same, sir.”


On the other side of the glass, John is frothing at the mouth. “What’s in your pockets? What are you hiding in there? Drugs?” 


“No, sir, there are no drugs in my pockets, there is only--”


But John’s hands are already on him, burrowing like termites into Kishore’s pockets. Durga springs to her feet, ready to intervene, but the chief holds up his hand: “I want to see where he’s going.”


John has pulled out a wad of crumpled bills. “Only your drug money?” 


“Only my paycheck, sir!” 


“That you were paid for the drugs you stole?” He’s crowing, half-manic, and Durga can no longer tell if it’s for effect or in earnest.


“No, sir, that I was paid for doing my job.”


John snarls. “Are you mocking me?” 


“Chief,” Durga says to the chief. “Surely…” 


Her partner thrusts the money into his own pocket. “With the haul you stole, you won’t be needing this.” 


For the first time Durga sees Kishore look genuinely panicked. “I do need my paycheck, sir--”


“Are you contradicting me?” This time he grabs the kid, pinches him by the soft nook of meat where shoulder meets neck, and she can see Kishore’s face twist with pain. Durga slams her hand against the buzzer, startling John and Kishore both. She speaks into the mic.


“John. Can I speak to you for a minute?”


Outside the room, John looks feverish. “He knows something, D. I can smell it, I’m fucking sure of it. Nose for justice, right, chief?” He blinks over at Barnes, eyes dewey with exhaustion. Christ. She should have called this off hours ago. She exhales. 


“He doesn’t know anything, John.” 


“But he--!”


Barnes cuts through, his tone frigid. “That smell is internal affairs crawling up my asshole. Get some sleep, Lincoln. Tomorrow you have to track down 800 grand in narcotics.” And as he turns to leave, Barnes remembers: “Oh -- and give Durga the kid’s paycheck.”


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Kishore accepts her offer to drive him back to the motel, though she can tell he’d walk it if he could. She’d invited him to sit in the front seat as a sort of peace offering, but in the face of his rigid, icy exterior -- equal parts fear and fury -- she half wishes she’d left him in the back. Silence doesn’t usually bother her, but against her better judgment, she finds herself trying to fill it. 


“So, you’re a student?”


She can see the twitch of his eyebrow reflected in the passenger window. “Is this still the interrogation, Officer?”


“No, Kishore, it’s small talk. It’s very popular in America.” She steals a glance at him and finds him stone-faced. Hard to take it personally, considering the kid spent the past three hours of his life being tormented by her partner. She tries again: “Look, I know my partner’s methods are unconventional.” Shit, no, that’s too close to questioning her colleagues -- united front, Durga, don’t forget your training. She swallows her words. “I mean -- you should be careful in how you talk to the police, Kishore. The system will only protect you if you respect it.” 


He rolls his eyes at that, but facing the window, where he must think she can’t see him.


“I was the same way at your age.” It isn’t true. When she was his age, she was a consummate rule-follower. She completed her assignments to the letter; she participated in class exactly when needed, but not so loudly as to make a splash. Her teachers either loved her or couldn’t remember her name. “When I was your age I felt invincible, too, but in America there are consequences to our actions.” Christ, what is she saying? It’s unusual for her to ramble like this, she’s always been very precise with her words. She tries again. “You’re South Indian, right? Where are you from?” 


Kishore pauses, deliberates, waits to determine that nothing in his answer can incriminate him before speaking. “Hyderabad.”


Durga almost laughs aloud in delight -- Hyderabad is her parents’ home city, too. Aside from her father, she doesn’t know a single other Telugu-speaker in San Diego, and she only has time to visit him in the care facility once a month or so. She worries that her speech may be slow and halting from lack of practice, but she can’t resist. In Telugu: “So you’re Telugu?” 


For the first time, he looks directly at her. “Yes.” 


“I thought so.” 


Frowning: “You have no accent.” 


This time she does laugh. “Well, I was born here. My parents came over when they were your age, when my mother was pregnant with me. My father was going to study physics.” 


“He didn’t?”


“After my mom died, he didn’t really study anything.”


For a moment he is silent. Then: “I’m sorry.”


“It’s nothing.” She’s not sure what she’s looking for. “It’s been decades.” They sit in silence until the light turns green. 


It’s 4:46 am when she pulls into the motel parking lot -- nearly sunrise. 


“You’ll be okay from here?” She asks. “You don’t want a lift back to your--”


“No thank you, officer.” The door slams shut. That could have gone better, she thinks as she pulls out. Nothing to be done about it. She needs to focus on what really matters: tracking down that bag.


In the parking lot, Kishore is lit scarlet by Durga’s receding tail lights for a lingering moment, and then all is dark save for the sliver of fluorescence flickering from the front window of the Motel 6. Kishore’s hands are shaking, though they were steady back in the police cruiser. His eyes look hollow in the half-light. He’s dehydrated. It has been the longest night of his life. 


When he opens the door, he can see his boss sitting behind the front desk. For a single hopeful beat, Kishore prays for sympathy -- and then the boy who runs the counter after Kishore’s shift sweeps between them and ushers Kishore out the front door.


“Mr. Ghojwani does not want to talk to you, Kishore.” Through the closing door, Kishore can see Ghojwani’s mustache bristling with rage. 


Kishore wrings his hands “But I--”


“Mr. Ghojwani got here three hours ago and found no one staffing the counter, Kishore, and he had to hear from the guests that you were taken away by the police in handcuffs.” 


“If he would just talk to me, I could explain--”


“I don’t think there is anything you could do to explain this. Mr. Ghojwani said to tell you that he took a risk employing you here, and,” the boy thinks for a moment and then adds woodenly. “Oh -- and that to repay him for his kindness, you brought police to his door.”


“They weren’t even police, they were DEA--”


“That is the drugs one, Kishore. I think that is probably worse.” He shakes his head. “I’m sorry, but you do not work here anymore. Mr. Ghojwani says to tell you to never come back, please.”


Kishore’s heart sinks. “I need this job, I--” 


The other boy shrugs. “There is nothing I can do. Sorry, Kishore.”


So he leaves. What else is there to do? He sits heavily on the stoop for a few minutes, until the motion-sensitive lights at the front of the motel cease to sense him and flicker out. 


As the first rays of sunrise creep over the edge of the horizon, Kishore stands, walks to the dumpster at the back of the lot and heaves it open with a tortured grind of metal. He looks over his shoulder one more time and then, as if satisfied with the cold clear solitude of the space, extends his arm deep into the dark recesses of the dumpster. The morning sun reflects yellow-white off the thin silver clasp of his prize: a black leather satchel, its contents clinking softly in the stillness of dawn.

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