The Girl Who Fought to Kill: A gripping crime thriller
A vanished girl. A lost diary. A heinous crime no one saw.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Goodreads Reviewer: “Best of the series! A fast-paced suspense thriller that delivers the promised action from the previous books. This is the best book of the series and MUST be read! ”
Asha has lost everything.
Everyone who gets close to her ends up in danger of their lives, she begins to believe she's cursed. And this time, it's personal.
This time, it's her cousin, her only family left in the world.
She was barely sixteen when she disappeared. The only clue to where she's gone is in a secret message tucked inside a long, lost diary. But no one's talking. Least of all her vile, drunken husband who has taken another wife.
Can Asha unscramble the lies in time to find her cousin alive? Or will she find her dead?
She has 72 hours to find out...
If you enjoy gripping thrillers with flawed but gutsy heroines, vigilante action and suspenseful twists that get your pulse pounding, you'll love this crime series by award-winning Canadian novelist, Tikiri Herath.
Get this page-turner now!
“Heart beating, fear, courage, anger and boldness, love, gratitude and kindness are all the emotions I have felt reading this amazing book which is the most daring of the series so far.” ~Advanced Reader.
The Girl Who Fought to Kill is the third novel in the addictive Red Heeled Rebels international mystery & crime series.
Release date: May 8, 2020
Publisher: Nefertiti Press
Print pages: 363
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The Girl Who Fought to Kill: A gripping crime thriller
I swung around.
It’s a cop!
My heart beat a tick faster.
No, it’s an immigration agent.
I was sure of it, given his peaked pilot cap and that gun hanging from his belt. If we hadn’t been in an airport, I’d have thought he was a paunchy, middle-aged police officer, rather than someone who checked passports for a living.
He marched toward us with a deep frown on his face. I watched him stride up with a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Does he know who we are?
I glanced over at Luc. His face had gone pale.
My gut screamed to turn and run. But where would we run to? We were in the international terminal of Mumbai’s airport—a wide, open hall as big as a ballroom. There was no way we’d escape him. Plus, the man had a weapon.
At least my friends were with me.
Katy, Luc, Win and I had just disembarked after an exhausting thirteen-hour flight from Marseilles. Other than a stopover in Amsterdam where we’d had a panic attack when we thought Win had been kidnapped again after she’d gone to the washroom without telling us, the journey had been uneventful.
We were bone tired. None of us had slept or ate or even talked on the plane. After what happened in France, all we could do was shift in our seats, struggling to come to terms with what we’d just done.
I’d only seen Tetyana’s back for a moment before the French police whisked her into the police car. I’d wanted to run after her and scream at them to let her go, but Luc and Katy had grabbed me and pulled me away before I did something stupid.
We can’t help her if we’re all rotting in jail, they told me.
They were right. But all I could think of was how I’d abandoned a friend who’d been ready to kill for us.
How could we leave her like that?
When the plane finally landed in Mumbai, we stumbled down the staircase in a daze. India enveloped us in a steamy tropical fog that smelled vaguely of jet fuel and cow dung. I struggled to breathe.
Funny, I thought as I staggered across the hot tarmac that was threatening to burn my soles, everything’s so foreign. India was my second home. Well, sort of. For three years of my childhood, anyway. Have I been away that long? It was a relief to get inside the air-conditioned terminal.
A few people stared as we shuffled in. We were a conspicuous crowd. Katy the redheaded Canadian, Luc the lanky French guy, Win the petite girl from Laos and me, the half-Indian woman.
Our plan had been to pretend to be clueless tourists and ask for visas on arrival. Luc had suggested Win hack into the Indian immigration system beforehand to get us all proper visas, but our departure had been so rushed, it hadn’t been possible.
We’d been lucky so far.
Katy and Win had cleared customs with no questions asked.
The officer who took my Indian passport handed it back with a cursory glance. I’d forgotten to remove Preeti’s letter tucked between the pages before passing it to him, but he hadn’t even noticed. Luc was last in line. He was standing right behind me.
I surveyed the area.
Katy and Win were waiting for Luc and me under a sign that said Baggage Retrieval.
We had nothing to retrieve. We were each carrying our worldly possessions on our backs, in the small hiking backpacks bought in Luxembourg only a few days ago. We had our passports, a change of clothes, toiletries and a few bars of dark chocolate Luc had sweet-talked the first-class flight attendant into giving us.
We were on the run. This meant essentials only. And chocolates counted.
So far so good. No one had followed us. Nothing had seemed out of the blue.
“I am talking to you!” The man in the white uniform stepped up to Luc and glared at him.
A second man in a white uniform was walking toward him with a long-snouted beagle on a leash.
This is not good.
“Me, sir?” Luc said, giving the officer an innocent look.
“Yes, I talk to you!”
What do they want from him? I was the one with a false visa and a passport made by someone who faked these things for a living. Everyone else had proper documents. If anyone was liable to get arrested by a customs officer anywhere in the world, it had to be me.
“Merde!” I heard Luc say under his breath. Shit.
“What’s going on?” Katy mouthed silently at me. I shrugged.
“Did we tell you pass the gate?”
I turned around to see the officer standing five inches from Luc now, breathing heavily as if the exertion had been more than he could muster.
“I’m so sorry, Officer, but I thought we were done.” Luc spread his hands. “Was there anything else?”
Respectful words. I noticed he emphasized his French accent, which usually charmed everyone he met. But this officer didn’t seem impressed.
“Yes, there is very good reason,” said the man, his face stern. “You know very well why we want to talk to you.”
Luc’s eyes flickered. He gave me a nervous sideways glance. My stomach sank. I hoped Luc hadn’t brought any of his white stuff with him. He couldn’t have made that mistake, could he?
The second officer with the dog was standing a few feet away, one hand on his hips, where he kept his gun.
“I will ask you again now,” the first officer was saying, enunciating each word slowly. “Do you have anything to declare?”
Two local men stopped to look at the commotion. They smirked to see a foreigner in trouble. One whipped out his phone to take a video but bolted as soon as the second officer waved him away.
Thank god. The last thing we needed was our faces splashed on the Internet.
My heart raced. I’ve got to do something. But what?
“I’m, I’m clean,” Luc stammered. “I’m really clean, sir. I have nothing to declare.”
With a snort, the first officer reached over and yanked Luc by the shoulder.
“Hey!” Luc cried, pulling away. “What are you doing?”
I found my voice.
“Let him go!”
Ignoring me, the officer pulled a struggling Luc toward the back area, followed by his partner and the dog.
Motioning Katy and Win to stay right where they were, I rushed after them.
“What do you want with him?” I called out from behind.
The first officer gave a grunt.
“Where are you taking him?”
“Not your concern,” he barked without even a glance at me.
“Yes, it is! You can’t just arrest someone like that!”
He stopped and turned around, wringing Luc’s shoulder as he did so. Luc grimaced in pain.
“Let my friend go!”
“Your friend is going to jail for very long time.”
I stared at him in shock.
“And he knows exactly why.”
Luc went limp and a look of resignation crossed his face.
I gave him a desperate look. “Luc—”
Before I could say another word, the men hauled him through a doorway into a darkened corridor behind the customs desk.
The door slammed in front of my face.
The sign over the doorway said, “Immigration Police. No Entry.”
Katy and Win were staring at me from across the hall, their faces a picture of fear. I didn’t know what to say.
“Miss, you come with me.”
I looked up to see the younger officer with the dog, now holding the door open. One hand was hovering over his holster, as if daring me to disobey.
I gaped at him.
He turned and looked over to where Katy and Win were standing.
“Miss,” he called out, motioning to them, “you both also. Please to come right now.” His words were polite but his tone said he meant business.
We looked at each other in alarm.
Around us, people were shuffling, rustling passports, too jet-lagged or anxious to catch their next flights to care. But a few had perked up when Luc got pulled away. They were gawking at me now. I turned away, feeling like a criminal. I guess I was. Only, no one was supposed to know.
With cautious sideways glances at each other, Katy, Win and I silently followed the officer through the Immigration Police doors.
We stepped into a busy working area. It was a messy place with half-opened suitcases and boxes carelessly lying on the ground. Paperwork was spread all over desks and old-fashioned phones and walkie-talkies sat on the tables. Uniformed men and women bustled around, all talking at once—a cacophony of official talk in a language I didn’t understand.
“In here.” The officer was pointing to a small side room with its door ajar.
“Where’s our friend?” I asked.
“You’re with that white boy, no?” the man replied, ignoring my question.
“You mean Luc?” I asked.
“We must better understand the purpose of your visit.”
I looked at him, trying not to blink, my nervous tick. Did we escape traffickers in Europe to only get arrested in India?
The guard opened the door wide for us. “You will wait here.”
I followed Katy and Win inside.
It seemed all interrogation rooms looked the same. Bare. Stark. Intimidating. They made you feel like a felon for just being here. Though it was warm, I felt a shiver run down my back.
We reached into our bags and pulled out our documents.
Every time I looked at my passport, my stomach churned. I was sure I was only minutes away from getting hauled into a detention camp—one with barbed-wire fences, spotlights, and armed guards. People with no countries, I used to think whenever I saw them on the news. I was one of them now.
“Please to take a seat.”
We scraped back the metal chairs and sat down quietly while the officer flipped through our passports. He didn’t seem too rushed.
I turned to Katy, my fiery, redheaded friend. Her face was flushed and the worry lines on her brow had deepened. She looked exhausted and a lot older than her nineteen years. But she was sitting ramrod straight, alert, observing the officer carefully from the corner of her eyes, ready for anything like she always was.
Katy was the only person I trusted with my life. We went back all the way to Toronto, where we’d worked for Dick and Jose at the drug-dealing enclave fronting as a bakery. We’d gone to high school together, taken the same classes. We’d even lived in the same apartment. I knew her better than she knew herself, sometimes.
Luc was different. I’d wondered how he’d ended up in a seedy brothel in London with Tetyana and Win, but he never told us his story. Come to think of it, I hardly knew Luc.
I looked over at Win, who was sitting across the table from Katy and me. She gave me a wide-eyed look, like a baby deer caught in a snare.
She was the youngest among us, but she’d gone through more than any normal adult would in a lifetime. Born in Laos, sold by her father to Chinese traffickers, and brought over to Europe to work at a brothel, she still held on to life like she believed in its promise. But she lived in fear. Ever since our escape, she’d clung to us like glue. Can I trust her to do the right thing?
“I will have to ask you to please give your bags for secondary inspection.”
I looked up. The officer was holding out his hands. “I will take them now, please.”
One by one, we passed our backpacks to him.
Thank goodness I put Preeti’s letter in my pocket.
They could take my bag and even my passport, but I couldn’t lose the two most precious links I had to my cousin, the only living family I had left now.
Preeti’s letter and the ankle bracelet she gave me the night before my fateful wedding day were my lifelines to her. She gifted me two anklets that night, but I’d clasped the second one around her right foot. “Like a friendship bracelet,” I’d told her. “We’ll stay connected then, no matter what.”
She hadn’t known I’d get on a plane and be out of the country the next morning. I hadn’t known that was the last time I’d see her either.
“Is this some uniform?”
I looked up to see the officer staring at our feet. We were all wearing the same red shoes we’d bought in Luxembourg. I instinctively pulled my feet back. Win had already tucked hers under her chair, looking even more frightened than before.
“It’s our college color,” said Katy, casually. She sounded friendly but her eyes were sharp.
“Your college color is red?” the officer asked, slightly amused.
“It’s our volleyball team’s official color.”
“Ah,” he said, giving an appreciative nod. “Volleyball is very good game for girls.”
I tried not to make eye contact with Katy or Win.
“Stay here, please.”
Without another word, the man turned around and left the room, taking our passports and bags with him. The door closed with a click.
Did he just lock us in?
Win looked like she was about to burst into tears.
“Is Luc gonna be okay?”
“It’s just routine checks,” I said, unconvincingly even to myself. “We’ll figure it out soon.”
“I don’t want him to get hurt,” said Win, her voice rising.
I squeezed her arm.
A tear rolled down her cheek. “I’m so scared for him,” she said. “I’m scared for Tetyana too. Do you think she’s okay?”
Tetyana had been our leader. Of sorts. At twenty-one, she was a couple of years older than Katy and me and the most experienced of our group. Being trained as a soldier, she could handle a gun. She could also tackle the men following us. If there was anyone who knew how to get out of a bad situation, it had to be her.
“It’s the police, sweetie,” Katy was saying. “Not some crazy gang. They won’t do anything illegal.” She squeezed Win’s hand and gave her a weak smile. “This is the Indian immigration office.”
I looked away.
Sometimes, I thought, it was the authorities who were the worst, who turned a blind eye and even took part in the evil for their own benefit. But I didn’t say anything. This was not the time to get paranoid or make things worse for us.
“I’m so glad you let me come with you,” Win replied, wiping her tears. She reached out and clutched Katy’s hand and mine. “I don’t wanna lose you guys too.”
I felt a pang of shame for doubting her. She’s just a kid.
“It’s gonna be okay,” I said. “I promise we’ll stick together. We’ll find a way to get Luc and Tetyana out.”
“Pinky finger promise,” said Katy with a small smile, grabbing on to Win’s smallest finger. I did the same.
Holding tightly to our fingers, Win put her head down on the table and closed her eyes. We sat silently holding each other across the table for a long time.
The only other person I’d been close to like this was my cousin Preeti.
There was only one reason I was in this country—a reason that had pulled me from continent to continent ever since I’d discovered her letter hidden in Mrs. Rao’s home two years ago.
Since then, I’d made new friends, escaped some tough places, raced across Europe, and fought the men who’d captured us. A heck of a lot of crazy things had happened between then and now.
The door banged open. We all looked up.
It was a female customs officer wearing the same peaked cap and a pistol on her belt like the officer who’d taken Luc. Her face looked tight and cold.
“So, you are all accompanying Mr. Segal?”
Katy and I glanced at each other.
“Yes?” She seemed impatient. “Answer my question, please.”
“Yes,” I spoke up. “We’re traveling together.”
She looked me up and down. Her eyes moved over to Katy and then to Win. She squinted.
“How old are you?”
“Fif…fifteen,” Win stammered.
The woman shuffled the papers on her clipboard, pulled out Win’s passport and flipped through it. She looked up with a frown.
“Who is accompanying you? Where are your parents? What about adult guardians?”
She spoke fast and in a thick accent I had to strain to understand.
“Er…” Win gave Katy and me a desperate look.
“She’s with us,” I said quickly. That much was true. We were Win’s family now.
“We are her guardians,” added Katy.
The woman raised her eyebrows.
“Where are you all traveling to?”
“Goa,” I replied.
The woman turned to me, her face stony. She didn’t look convinced.
I cleared my throat. “It’s my hometown. I’m visiting my family and they’re all my guests, including Luc.”
Her brows knotted.
I guessed I didn’t look like a typical girl from Goa, or from India for that matter. I’d cut my hair and died it reddish brown to make it harder for anyone to spot me. Instead of a beautiful, colorful sari or traditional dress, I wore US Army cargo pants and a plain white T-shirt.
I wasn’t the only one who’d gone through a transformation.
Win had cropped her hair short and dyed it purple. Katy had her long red hair jammed under an oversized baseball cap. We were all wearing the same army cargo pants and T-shirts we’d picked up at the Luxembourg sports store, but given the grime we’d accumulated sleeping in airports and planes, we probably looked like we’d come from a weeklong boot camp.
“Can you tell us where our friend is, please?” Katy asked in a polite voice.
“What did you do to Luc?” Win asked plaintively.
“Your friend,” the officer said and paused, “has an arrest warrant from the Netherlands. We’re putting him on the next plane in handcuffs.”
We stared at her in shock.
“Are you sure you don’t have the wrong person?” I asked.
“Luc’s never done anything wrong,” Katy added, half-truthfully. “He’s a nice guy.”
“He may be a nice guy.” The officer smirked. “But he’s a known criminal.”
She looked us over, one by one, a stern expression on her face. “And I want to know what you were doing with him.”
Win looked like she was about to hyperventilate. “He’s our friend,” she wailed. “He’s my best friend!”
With a sigh, the officer pulled a chair and sat down at the table, her holster making a clanging sound against the metal.
“What do you know about your friend?”
No one said a word. Whatever Luc had done in the past, it had been to save his own skin. Just like all of us.
The woman sighed again. “Did you know he had an international arrest warrant?”
We shook our heads.
Luc was a small-time drug crook who only used his bad habit to get out of sticky situations. He was nothing like Zero, Vlad, Franky, Mrs. Rao or any of the black-hearted men and women who dealt in human trafficking and brothel running. Rape and murder were their business. Now that was real crime this officer should be going after.
Win looked at her with pleading eyes. “Can you please let him go? Please? He’s always been there for me. He’s…”
I nudged her under the table with my foot, hoping she’d get the point and not say too much. We couldn’t afford to get locked up. Not in a foreign jail. Not now.
“The evidence is clear,” said the officer. “He was arrested because we found a packet of cocaine in his bag.”
Win gasped loudly.
Katy took a sharp breath in.
I stared at the officer wordlessly, an angry knot forming in my stomach. How could you do this, Luc? If he’d been nearby, I’d have slapped him.
“It’s less than a gram, but it’s enough for us to keep him and do a search.” The woman looked at her clipboard. “Your bags came clean though.”
No one spoke.
“How are you all related?”
Win opened her mouth to say something.
“We go to college in Toronto,” I replied quickly. “That’s where we all met. I promised to show them India for spring break.”
“Really? Where’s your home?”
“Vasco da Gama.”
“You speak Hindi?”
I shook my head. “Some Konkani and a bit of Tamil.”
I shared the apartment number and street name of my grandmother’s old home. The woman grunted but took it all down.
“How long do you plan to stay?”
“Just one week and then we have to go back to Canada. School starts soon.”
I was really stretching things and it took some effort to maintain eye contact. Her phone rang and she looked away before I was forced to.
We waited silently as she spoke rapidly into her mobile. Then, she pulled back her chair and got up. Cradling the phone between her head and shoulder, she walked out of the room. Before we knew it, the door closed with a click behind her.
The three of sat still, staring at each other, not daring to breathe.
“I guess we’ll be here for a while,” Katy said.
She was right. It was a full two hours later when the officer returned. We had our heads down on the table when she came in, opening the door with a bang like before. I lifted my head and looked at her with bleary eyes.
“Here.” She plopped our passports on the table. “We can’t keep you.” Her voice was as cold as before but was laced with irritation now, like we’d wasted her time.
I blinked and looked at Katy, who gave me a confused look back.
“You may go.”
“But what about…what about Luc?” Win asked.
“Can we see him?” I asked.
Someone knocked on the door.
The officer turned around impatiently. “Yes?”
It was the younger officer who’d escorted us here earlier. “Madame.” He hesitated. “The boss…er…wants to talk immediately, madame.”
She gave him a nod and turned back to us.
She leaned across the table, her eyes steely, her mouth in a thin line. “Your friend is going straight back to Amsterdam. Unless you want to join him in jail and get deported too, you should leave now.”
We stared at her.
“You two.” She pointed at Katy and Win. “You are only permitted to stay in this country for seventy-two hours. Do you understand?”
Katy and Win nodded.
“Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Katy quickly. Win nodded her head mournfully. The officer gave them a satisfied look.
“You.” She turned and pointed at me. “Remember, you’re back in India. This is not America where you can play around.” She gave me a flinty look that reminded me vaguely of Mrs. Rao. My throat felt dry.
“Obey the rules or I’ll have the entire Indian police after you.”
She scraped her chair back and stood up, still glaring at me. “Our jails are overflowing, but I am sure they will be very happy to take you lot in.”
We stumbled out of the airport in a daze.
The heat hit us as we stepped out of the sliding doors and onto the tarmac. I felt like I’d walked into the world’s largest outdoor sauna.
Outside, taxis, shuttles and private cars were pulling in and out, honking loudly as they did. People were rushing around us, hurrying to find their ride home. The noise of so many people talking all at once made my head hurt.
My mind was still racing. What’s going to happen to Luc? Are they really going to send him to Amsterdam? And what in god’s name made him think it was okay to bring contraband when we were running away from thugs and the police?
The three of us stood for a minute, trying to take in the pandemonium around us.
I felt Katy and Win step closer toward me. It was comforting to have them near me. They were all I had now. And Preeti. I knew she was still alive. Somewhere in Goa.
“We have to find Preeti,” I called out over the din.
Win gave me a wild-eyed look and shook her head. “But we can’t leave Luc behind.”
“Let’s go find my cousin first,” I said. “Maybe she’ll know someone who can help us get Luc out.”
Win’s eyes screwed up. “Let’s go talk to that policewoman again. Maybe if we—”
“I don’t think it’s smart to argue with her,” Katy said, shaking her head. “I’m sure Indian jails are worse than hell.”
I nodded. I hadn’t seen inside a jail yet, and I didn’t want to start here.
“How do we even find your cousin?” Katy asked, looking around with apprehension in her eyes. “And how the heck do we get anywhere in this mess?”
By now, Win had traveled through two continents and I’d been on three. We would have called ourselves part of the jet-set crowd, except our trips had typically been in shipping containers, stolen vans, or in coach class with fake passports. But at least we were used to seeing different places.
Katy was different. Born and raised in Toronto, she’d never left her hometown until recently. Neglected by her mother, abused by her uncle, she’d run away at nine only to land in the hands of small-time drug dealer, Dick, and his Colombian partner, Jose. Katy had hopelessly fallen for the suave Jose. It had been a rude awakening for her to learn he’d been negotiating to sell her to the highest bidder all along. Now here she was bruised inside and out, standing in the most foreign land she could imagine.
“Hey,” I said. “Don’t worry. I know my way around.”
For the hundredth time that day, I wished Tetyana was with us. I had the piece of paper she gave me at the Marseilles airport just before they hauled her away. It was safely tucked into my pocket. I took a deep breath in. She’s not here, so I’ve got to take the lead. This was my father’s country after all. It was mine too in a sense, though it had rejected me in so many ways.
I stepped off the curb and walked toward the taxi line, gently pulling Win and Katy with me.
“You want car?” said a slimy voice.
I jerked my head around, on full alert.
“Hullo, preetty girls.”
“Where you going?”
In a matter of seconds, five scruffy men surrounded us.
“I can give you good ride, haa?”
“You come with me, nice girls.”
“No, thanks,” I said. “We don’t need a ride.”
One of the men leaned dangerously toward Win. She huddled closer against me.
“Thai?” He leered at her.
“Leave her alone,” I snapped, glaring at him.
He didn’t seem to hear. He got closer, so close I could smell his curry-laden breath. He smiled a wicked smile.
I scanned the area, looking for a police officer, someone to call for help.
I jerked my head around. A second man was standing a few inches from Katy, his black eyes focused on her like laser beams. His hand moved up as if to touch her lips. Katy withered next to me.
“Don’t you dare touch her!” I shouted.
He stepped back, rattled that I’d call him out.
“Leave us alone, you creeps!”
The man who’d been near Win gave me an evil look and spat on the ground. The others stepped back, their ogling eyes replaced by angry, sullen expressions.
“Go away or I’ll call the police!” I shouted. “Git out!” My heart was beating fast. I was ready to fight if I had to.
A few passersby glanced our way but scuttled along as if this was not their problem. Still, that seemed to unnerve the men.
“We only want to help,” growled one man, giving me a disgusted look.
“We don’t need your help,” I snapped back.
“Stupid American girls,” he muttered as he stepped away.
We’ve got to get away from here.
The sound of a bus revving its engine nearby made me turn around. From where I was, I couldn’t see any signs to say where it was heading. Like most public buses in India with no air-conditioning, the doors were open. The driver signaled to pull out and turned the wheels.
“This way!” I yelled, running toward the bus.
“Wait!” I shouted.
I jumped in and grabbed on to the steel bar, just as the bus rolled out.
The airport bus driver didn’t blink an eye to see a trio of foreign girls jump into his vehicle while it was moving.
He was too busy maneuvering around people and cars that weren’t obeying any rules. He wouldn’t answer any of our questions or take the dollar bills we offered for our fare.
We sat close to the front door waiting for a good time to get out. As soon as we spotted signs for a train station, we jumped off.
I looked to see what Katy was pointing at. The sign said Currency Exchange in English. It was above a hole-in-the-wall shop in an alleyway next to Mumbai’s main train station.
“Let’s go,” I said, running toward it.
Before we got to the booth, I pulled my friends into a nook nearby. While Win and I shielded Katy, she pulled out one thousand dollars from her bra. Most of the money we carried was split into hundred and five hundred euro and dollar bills. Each of our chests had expanded a few inches since we’d left Brussels, but Katy’s had grown the most.
I walked up to the grimy glass counter and paid a hefty fee to buy rupees. I breathed a sigh of relief to have local currency in my hands. It made life so much easier.
The first items we bought with our new money were three burner phones from a nearby street stall—in case we get separated, insisted Katy. Then, we walked over to the train station to get two-way tickets to Goa.
We found a quiet corner on the platform to wait for the train to arrive. The three of us huddled on a bench, tired but alert, still coming to terms with Luc’s sudden arrest.
Win sat staring at her hands, her face a picture of sadness. Katy looked out into the distance with an expression of confusion, overwhelmed by the strangeness of this new place. The smells and sounds were overpowering even for me, who’d lived in this country for a few years.
But things had changed during my absence. The roads looked cleaner. Swanky new high-rises were going up everywhere and luxury cars weaved in between the three-wheelers and errant motorcycles. Yet, the din of traffic, people and hawkers was still as loud as I remembered. And there were still cows wandering along the streets, although not as many as I saw as a child.
I felt a peculiar mix of emotions as I watched people hurry by. It was as comforting as unsettling to be back in India.
The trip from Mumbai to Goa would take eight hours. We could have taken a flight. We had the cash, but we didn’t dare return to the airport in case the border guards changed their minds and wanted to arrest us too. We had less than seventy-two hours before Katy and Win were due back, and I desperately wanted to find Preeti before then.
“What about Luc?” asked Win. “We can’t just leave him like that.”
“We can’t go storming into the airport either,” said Katy thoughtfully. “I mean, can we?” She gave me an inquiring look.
It wasn’t a silly question. After everything we’d gone through in London and Brussels, it seemed like anything was possible now.
“We’ll need weapons and ammo,” she added. “And we’ll have to think of a fast escape.”
“We’ll need a really good plan,” I said. “And a way to—”
“But maybe they’ve already sent him back to Europe!” Win cried out. “Maybe we’ll never see him again.”
“They can’t make him disappear like that,” replied Katy. “It’s the Netherlands, not Russia or India.”
“Holland’s good news,” I said, nodding.
“How’s that?” asked Win.
“A jail in Holland is so much better than a jail in India. Plus, we’ll have more options to appeal and all that. Things will be aboveboard over there. Luc will be safe at least.”
“But he’s not going to get away easily if he brought crack with him,” said Katy, frowning. “Do you think he really did that?”
My headache returned in full force.
“I think it was a mistake,” said Win. “Don’t we all make mistakes?”
I nodded. “Shall we try this one step at a time?” I said, massaging my temples. “That’ll give us time to figure out how to get him out.”
If it had been Zero, Vlad, Jose or even Franky, we could have fought back. We could have done something to stop them. But when it was the authorities who—
“You know what Luc did for me one day?”
I looked over at Win. Her eyes were filled with tears.
“He stopped Zero beating me.”
I stared at her. Every time I heard about her past, I felt like throwing up. It made me believe the entire world was evil. How can humans be so cruel? How can this kind of thing happen?
Win wiped her nose. “This client wanted me to go into a room with four men and I said no. Zero said he was going to thrash me to pieces but Luc saved me.”
I shivered. All I could do was nod numbly.
“I’m scared they’re hurting Luc right now,” said Win. “I’m so scared for him.”
“Tetyana would know how to deal with these border police,” Katy said quietly. “She work—”
“Oh my god!” I sat up. I reached into my pocket.
It’s still there!
I pulled out the piece of paper and unrolled it on my palm. Katy and Win leaned over. I held the paper gingerly in my hand like it was a precious artifact. I had to smooth out the wrinkles carefully before we could make out the numbers. They were already fading. I’d been so busy brooding over Luc’s arrest, I’d forgotten all about this.
Katy pulled out her phone and turned it on. “What’s the number?”
“Seven-oh-five-eight-eight-one-eight,” I read the numbers aloud while she dialed with trembling fingers.
“Not working,” Katy said.
I repeated the numbers.
“Did you use the international code?” Win asked, taking the phone from Katy. She punched in a series of codes and asked for the number again.
She dialed and handed the phone back to Katy.
When we heard the first ring, it was like a jolt of electricity passed through us all. I sat up, praying to hear Tetyana’s voice. Anytime now.
The phone rang and rang. No one breathed. We let it ring for thirty seconds. Then tried again.
“Text her,” Win said.
Katy brought up the messaging app. Within seconds she’d sent off a note saying, “Hey, are you okay? We are in Mumbai now.”
“Should we tell her about Luc?” she asked after hitting send.
I shook my head. “Not now. She’s got enough problems to worry about.”
Katy turned all notifications on and was just about to pocket the phone when it buzzed, making us jump again.
With shaking hands, Katy turned on the screen and read the text that had just come.
“Are you all OK? Urgent. Need $60K. Email to [email protected]. Can you do it? Repeat urgent.”
To be continued….
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