The Girl Who Made Them Pay: A gripping crime thriller
A kidnapped girl. A forbidden house. Evil that lurks right under your nose.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Goodreads Reviewer: “I'm blown away by this book.... Well written, well researched and if this was a movie, I do believe it will be a blockbuster! I strongly recommend this read.”
After a terrifying transatlantic flight, two best friends land at Heathrow International Airport. Asha believes they've finally escaped the men trying to force them into cruel bondage.
But did they let their guard down too soon?
Within minutes, Katy is abducted. In the middle of a crowded airport.
With one thin clue to Katy's disappearance, Asha races across London to find her. But every step embroils her further in the back alleys of Europe's red-light districts.
Asha's terrified of discovering the truth, but she'll never back down.
Not until she finds her friend. Alive or dead.
And time is running 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!
“I could not put down this exciting road trip adventure!” ~Advanced Reader.
The Girl Who Made Them Pay is the second novel in the addictive Red Heeled Rebels international mystery & crime series.
Release date: March 31, 2020
Publisher: Nefertiti Press
Print pages: 370
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The Girl Who Made Them Pay: A gripping crime thriller
The man in the black suit pushed Katy toward the airport doors.
“Hey!” I hollered.
He ignored me. She didn’t even look my way.
“Let her go!” I yelled louder.
Two smartly dressed businesswomen walking into the executive lounge in the terminal, glared at me as they passed by.
Why can’t they see what’s happening?
“I said, stop!” I shouted, waving my arms.
I wasn’t watching where I was going and hit a trolley piled with luggage. The handle bar whacked into my stomach and I doubled over.
The trolley rolled toward a man reading the flight display screens, but I didn’t stop. I couldn’t.
I straightened up and kept running. I dodged a bunch of kids with their noses stuck to their phones. They didn’t move aside an inch. They didn’t even look up.
“Stop!” I shouted again, my voice getting hoarse.
Who’s this guy? Where’s he taking her?
From the corner of my eyes, I saw the vague shape of a man in a blue uniform at the other end of the corridor.
For half a second, I thought of turning around and sprinting that way to ask for help, but the brief distraction cost me. My heel buckled and I tripped. I caught myself before I hit the floor and looked up to see the man in the suit pull my best friend outside.
Why isn’t she fighting back?
Ignoring the searing pain in my ankle, I crashed through the main doors, just as he pushed Katy into a black London cab.
“Katy! Come back!”
The cab door banged shut, catching Katy’s bright red scarf on the door well. The man jumped in front and the car pulled out.
“No-ooo!” I screamed. Everyone turned to look. “Stop that car! Help!” I spluttered, pointing.
A group of businessmen waiting in the limousine line looked over with smirks on their faces. Others turned away as if embarrassed by the spectacle. I didn’t care. I dashed across the road.
With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I watched as the cab gathered speed. Katy’s red scarf fluttered from the door well like it was giving me the finger.
“Katy!” I screamed as the car turned the corner and disappeared from view.
None of this would have happened if Katy had followed me inside the café.
But a fancy shoe store had distracted her and shoes for Katy were like crack for addicts. She didn’t make a lot of money at Dick’s Next Day Catering Company back in Toronto, but she’d rather starve than forgo a pair of sexy new heels even when the world was crashing around us.
Only a day earlier, four men had chased us across the city of Toronto to the airport, where we’d hunkered down in a women’s washroom overnight. We’d barely evaded them on our way to the boarding gate.
On the plane, I tried to forget our worries while Katy switched on the little screen to get lost in the movies. But I never relaxed, and I saw Katy’s eyes flit from the screen to the aisle and back again as if she was afraid the men would somehow appear in midair. When the plane finally touched down at London’s Heathrow Airport, we stumbled out, burnt-out and nerve-racked.
My hastily packed backpack weighed me down and the wheels on Katy’s fake Louis Vuitton suitcase made a racket to wake the dead. It was a relief to find our departure gate to Goa, but that was when Katy spotted the flashing red sign over Air India’s check-in counter.
“Oh, no!” she cried out.
We’d been so desperate to get out of Toronto, we’d taken the only seats available, which were standby. This meant everyone else had first dibs and the airline could bump us as they wished.
I ran up to the desk. I hated these high service counters because they made me feel even smaller than my five feet. I got on my tiptoes. “We’ve got boarding passes, but they’re standby. Could you find seats for us, please?” I asked, with a smile on my lips and hope in my heart.
The attendant didn’t even touch my ticket. She wrinkled her nose like it smelled of bad cheese. “Do you not see the sign?” she said, pointing up. “The flight’s full.” Her tone was crisp. Final.
“Is there any way you can squeeze us in?” I asked, unbeaten. “It’s just two of us.”
“We’d fit anywhere. We’re on the smaller side,” I heard Katy say from behind me.
The attendant didn’t look amused.
“It’s an emergency,” I said. That wasn’t a lie. Dick and Jose, who owned the bakery in Toronto where I baked cakes and Katy kept the books, had plans to sell us like we were nothing more than lemon tarts or plum pies. I had no idea how far their reach was, but I didn’t want to hang around to find out. “It’s really, really urgent,” I said to the attendant.
She sighed and snapped her fingers. “All right, passports and boarding passes please.” Her fingers flew across the keyboard while we stood by, our own crossed tightly.
“Sorry,” she said, turning to us. “There are absolutely no seats on this one. But—” She stopped to squint at the screen. We waited, holding our breath.
“I see a couple of seats in the next flight departing to Delhi. You won’t be sitting together and I can’t promise anything because you’re on standby. That flight’s tomorrow at thirteen hundred hours.”
“Tomorrow?” I said. That would give Dick and Jose ample time to figure out where we’d run off to and catch up.
“Don’t you have anything today?” Katy asked, in a plaintive voice.
“Booked passengers get priority,” the ground attendant said. “Here are your new boarding passes, and ladies, don’t be late tomorrow.”
I took back our papers with shaking hands.
“If you need a place to stay the night, the airport Sheraton’s right up—” She paused and looked us over. Our wrinkled, hand-me-down clothes were a dead giveaway. Lowering her voice, she said, almost sympathetically, “Girls, there are quiet lounges in Terminal Three if you need some rest for the night.”
She glanced at the line that had formed behind us and snapped her fingers. “Next, please.”
Katy and I stumbled to the closest waiting area and collapsed.
I swung my feet out and leaned against the back of the seat, my right foot clinking as I shifted. My ankle bracelet had been a gift from my cousin Preeti, a gift for my wedding day three years ago, back in Goa, the day I made the biggest escape of my life. That was also the last time I saw Preeti.
“What’re we gonna do now?” Katy asked.
Dark circles ringed her bloodshot eyes, making her look years older than nineteen. I was only six months younger than her but I must have the same ragged look, I thought.
I pulled my bag off my back and rubbed my eyes. “Find a place to sleep, maybe?”
“Way too stressed for that.”
“We could go hide out in the washroom again,” I said with a weak smile.
“Don’t even think about it,” Katy said.
We sat silently on the stiff bench seats for an hour, leaning against each other, not sure of what to do or what to say.
Around us, businesswomen and men in sharp suits marched up and down, pulling their laptop bags behind them. Families hurried by with fussy kids in tow, toward departure gates. Couples with arms intertwined walked by on their way to honeymoons or romantic destinations. Occasionally, a harried soul stumbled by looking as jet-lagged and beat as we were, but they were few, and they seemed to know where they were heading, unlike Katy and I who felt totally lost and alone.
We must have looked a strange pair.
She was a sinewy redhead in a miniskirt and her signature three-inch red stilettos, all found in a consignment store, but as good as new. She’d dressed for a date with Jose, a date that never took place. And never will, now she’s found out what he really wanted to do with her.
I sat next to her, a petite half-Indian girl in a hand-me-down miniskirt and more sensible red pumps. I couldn’t afford to wear high heels like Katy, because while she sat at her desk in the bookkeeping anteroom most of the day making client calls, I spent most of mine bustling between the bakery’s kitchen counter and oven.
Right now, my skirt was streaked with white because I’d had only enough time to throw off my apron before running out of the bakery. After that, more important worries had crowded my mind than flour on my skirt or icing sugar in my hair.
Katy let out a loud sigh. She looked like she was asleep, but I could see her scan the crowd from under half-closed eyelids.
“Hey.” I nudged her gently on the elbow.
“Hmm?” She stirred and opened her eyes. Her face looked pale and drawn and I could see visible lines on her forehead.
“We can’t lounge here all day.”
“They’ve probably got a shoe sale over there.”
“I’m tired, Asha.”
“For shoe sales?”
She sat still for a minute, surveying the surrounding area. People were pushing trolleys, pulling suitcases, heads lost in phone conversations. Announcements blared from the loudspeakers: pre-boarding calls, boarding calls, final calls, final-final calls. It seemed like this airport never stopped.
Katy sat up. “I’m beginning to spot Jose and Dick everywhere.”
“Me too,” I said. “But I don’t think they’ll come here.”
“Because—” I paused to find the right words. I’d been ruminating over this for the past few hours. “They only picked on us because we were right there in their store. They won’t spend a fortune flying all the way here after us.”
Katy raised an eyebrow.
“We were convenient,” I said. “Plus, you and me have nobody to call for help. They knew no one’s gonna notice if anything happens to us.”
“You think so?”
“Who’d we call for help?”
Katy looked down at her hands and shook her head.
“We’re not worth the trouble. They probably already found other girls to make money off of.”
“What a bunch of basta—”
A loud bang resonated inside the terminal. We both jumped.
But it was only a suitcase that had dropped from a luggage trolley to the floor. Katy and I sighed in relief.
I sat up. We had to find something to do, a distraction, any distraction, or this paranoia would overtake us both.
I touched her shoulder. “Hey, let’s get out of here. Come on.”
With another sigh, Katy unraveled her legs and stood up slowly.
We spent the next two hours strolling the length of the airport. We had time on our hands now. We stopped for a sandwich and tea at a takeaway booth and walked through the terminals, mindlessly window-shopping.
Very soon, we’d left the airport’s security zone and stepped into the shopping plaza to gawk at the high-end clothing stores, luggage shops, and shoe boutiques that carried gorgeous things we couldn’t afford even if we worked a lifetime. But looking at them helped us to forget our worries if only for a little while.
We’d just stepped out of one of these luxury shops when I spotted the café.
I grabbed Katy’s arm. “Look!”
“What?” Katy whipped her head around. “Are they here?”
“Over there.” I pointed at the red-and-white striped awning of the bistro in front of us.
She looked confused. “You still hungry?”
I paused. I’d seen photos of Chef Pierre’s cafés in the glossy magazines at Mrs. Rao’s upscale, suburban house in Toronto.
Her home was where I first landed after I ran away from India. I wasn’t the first girl to become a slave housekeeper and cook to Mrs. Rao who’d promised my wages would be sent back to my family in Goa. She’d known how to keep me under her thumb. Experimenting with the recipes in Chef Pierre’s magazines had been my only escape from that hell.
But I never dreamed to see his cafés in real life.
The lettering on the window was unmistakable. Inside, pastries of all kinds weighed down glass shelves that extended the length of the store. Golden croissants, colorful fruit tarts, shiny sugar buns, mousse cakes, cheesecakes, caramels, and éclairs sat side by side looking rich and pompous. The heavenly smell of oven-fresh baked things wafted my way. I took a deep breath in and closed my eyes.
It was my mother who came to my dreams every night, bringing memories of us baking together on lazy Sunday afternoons in Tanzania a long time ago. She’d been in my life for only a short time, but I never forgot her captivating smile, her contagious laughter, and those sweet cakes she loved to make.
When I was confined to Mrs. Rao’s house and later, when I was stuck at Dick’s bakery, it was Chef Pierre’s recipes I immersed myself in. I could get lost in his cookbooks and foodie magazines for hours. He’d kept me company on days when I felt like the whole world was against me. Everything I learned about the art of baking after my mother died, I learned from him. And it was this skill that had saved my skin every single time.
“What’s so special about this place?” Katy asked, walking over and pressing her face against the window.
I stepped up next to her. “It’s Chef Pierre’s café.”
“He’s famous. I used his recipes at Dick’s place.”
Katy pulled her face from the window and gave me a dubious look. “Six euros for a ping pong-sized sugar ball? Seriously?”
“They’re good. You liked them.”
“Don’t remember,” she said, frowning at the cakes on display. If Katy could go through life without eating so she could preserve her skinny thighs, she would, so I forgave her for saying that.
I peered inside. “Wish I could work here. I’d wash their floor if they’d let me in.”
“Who needs all this sugar and fat?”
“All our clients loved them, remember?”
She made a face. “I’m gonna gain ten pounds just by looking at these. How you stay so small with the sweets you stuff yourself with, I don’t know.” She sniffed as two thin European women walked into the café. “You and those French girls.”
“Small portions,” I said with a smile. Katy always complained about her hips, her thighs, and her waist, which was ironic because she’d been the prettiest girl at our Toronto high school. She was almost selected by a modeling agency and all the boys would have given an arm and a leg to date her. I worried on those days when she locked herself up in the toilet after supper. If I pressed my ears to the door, I’d hear her retching, but I never knew how to bring the topic up.
“Yeah, right.” She turned away from the coffee shop. “Oh my god, look!” Her eyes flashed. She’d caught sight of the shoe store next door. “Jimmy Choo!”
It was her turn to grab me and pull me away. She marched inside and toward a pair of four-inch black boots studded with Swarovski crystals. They had a sticker price that could have bought a used car.
“Can I try these on?” she asked the store attendant, who barely acknowledged us. Katy didn’t seem to care. She plopped down on the nearest bench with the boots in her hands and let out a happy sigh. This was her heaven. Mine was next door.
“Hey, Katy,” I said, “I’m going to check out some of the pastries, okay?”
“Join you soon as I’m done,” she said, but she was already lost among the crystals and plastic.
I felt goose bumps on my arms as I crossed the threshold of the café.
Chefs in Europe are like royalty. They usually come from regal lineages with noble blood and even nobler connections. They grace the covers of flashy magazines and hang out with fashion moguls and film stars. Chef Pierre, though, was an anomaly. He was the son of a coal miner from the south of Belgium who’d fought his way to the top, armed with his grandmother’s recipes, a whipping whisk, and a big dream.
His story had a happy ending when he finally made it big and married his true love, Andre from the Netherlands, in the biggest, fattest, gayest wedding of the century. In those snazzy magazine photos, handsome and buff Andre looked like he’d just stepped out of GQ. Next to him, plump Chef Pierre looked like a village boy, out of place in any high society club.
Like him, I was different. I didn’t fit anywhere. I was born in Africa but wasn’t truly African. My parents were from Asia, but I wasn’t truly Asian. I’d lived in Canada for the past three years, but I wasn’t really Canadian. I was a strange, mixed-up girl who’d been everywhere but belonged nowhere. And just like Chef Pierre, all I carried with me were a whipping whisk and a big dream.
I dreamed of the day when my cousin Preeti, Katy, and I would set up our own bakery in Goa near the beach among the waving coconut trees. With the first money I’d make, I’d return to Tanzania and visit my parents’ graves. That was my plan.
At the back of every Chef Pierre’s coffee shop was a rack that showcased his foodie magazines. I walked over to it and picked up the latest edition. Following in the tradition of Oprah, Chef Pierre’s magazine covers featured only him in his signature hat and apron, holding the pastry of the month. This month’s cover had him showing off a beautiful soufflé. The side caption read, “Perfect dessert for the perfect royal party.”
I picked up a copy and stepped up to the shelves. My mouth watered as I wondered which to try first. The éclair covered with dark melted chocolate or the cheesecake with fresh raspberries on top?
I’d been so preoccupied I hadn’t noticed the tall man in the black suit sidle up to Katy in the shoe shop next door.
It was only after I paid for my order and sat down at a table near the window that I remembered. When I peeked into the shoe store, Katy wasn’t inside anymore.
I squinted through the café window. Where is she?
There. I saw her. Katy was near a recess in the corridor, standing with a man—a tall man with dark skin and a curly, scruffy beard. He was wearing a black suit and dangling a cigarette butt from his lips.
For as long as I’d known Katy, she’d been a big flirt. While all the boys at school wanted to date her, she had eyes only for men. “Real men,” she’d told me. And no man was out of bounds: our teachers, the head of security, even the principal.
This thing she had for older men got her into hot water more than once and was one reason we were running away from Toronto. I watched Katy with this man now, their heads close like they were in deep conversation. The man’s hand was on the small of her back. He looks creepy. What’s she doing with him? She doesn’t even like beards.
With a start, I remembered she had the stolen money packet on her. Twenty thousand dollars minus an airline ticket. Blood money, Katy had called it.
I watched them with a frown on my face, recalling what happened minutes before leaving Toronto. We’d been waiting in the plane for it to take off when Katy’s phone rang. It should have been turned off and she shouldn’t have picked it up, but she did.
Dick’s voice came through loud, clear, and furious.
“You think you can get away with this?”
Katy’s face went white. My heart sank.
I reached for the phone, but she pulled away, giving me an I-got-this look.
“Oh hi, Dick.” Her voice was uncharacteristically calm. “How’re ya doing?”
I leaned in to hear.
“You frigging bitches!”
I glanced around, my heart beating a tad faster. A passenger in the aisle across from us had noticed Katy turn on the phone and was frowning at her, but no flight attendant rushed over to shut us down.
“I know you took my money, you little shits!” Dick’s greasy voice flew through the airwaves.
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,” Katy said, her voice dripping with honey.
“I’ll call the police, you hear? Your fingerprints are gonna be all over it. They’ll catch you, you goddamned—”
I signaled to Katy to hang up. She ignored me.
“You’ve got bigger problems, Dick. I don’t believe you’ll call anyone.” she turned on the same voice she used on our most difficult clients at the bakery. “It was really nice to chat. You have a wonderful day now.”
“You damn bi—,”
Katy hung up and looked at me, her lips tight and thin. She looked vaguely satisfied. I could just imagine Dick on the other end, red-faced, swearing at the phone with the blood vessels on his neck about to pop. He wasn’t going to have a wonderful day.
The jet engine roared and the PA system crackled. “Cabin crew, please take your seats for takeoff and prepare for departure.”
I sighed with relief. Thank goodness we were leaving this city and this part of my life for good.
“We should throw that phone out,” I whispered.
Katy leaned in and whispered back, “I wanted to know how mad he’d get, knowing there’s nothing he can do about it.”
“You know this is dirty money, right?”
It had taken me more than a year to save up for my air ticket to Goa. I’d need more to pay off Preeti’s nasty husband and the marriage broker to let her go free, but when we dashed out of the bakery, I had to also think of Katy. Our two standby tickets to India had cost over two thousand dollars. The money we’d taken from Dick’s safe had already come in handy.
“This is back pay,” I heard Katy say, more to herself than me. “He owes us.”
Dick had gotten away with a lot, paying us next to nothing while we slaved away so he could visit strip clubs and gambling dens. Katy had seen this money packet go back and forth across the Canadian-American border many times. She’d thought it was to pay for legitimate supplies. It was only later she’d learned what it was really used for. Contraband. This was how Dick and Jose smuggled their money and their drugs.
How that packet got through the airport X-ray machine was a mystery. The only thing I knew was the last place Katy and I wanted to end up in was jail.
I looked up, startled to see a server at my table. She placed a dessert plate embossed with Chef Pierre’s gold logo in front of me. On it sat a wafer-thin crêpe topped with cream and strawberries.
“Merci,” I said and picked up my fork, but my mind was elsewhere.
I looked back at Katy and the man in the shadows of the corridor. It was hard to see, but it looked like she was burying her face in his chest. I dropped my fork on the plate. Something wasn’t right. Katy was a flirt, but not that easy.
That was when I saw her move her shoulders like she was trying to wriggle out. I scraped back my chair, barely remembering to pick up my bag before I crashed through the café doors and ran out.
I could see them better now. Katy was trying to push the man away, but he kept pulling her in. He was using a handkerchief to wipe Katy’s face. Very strange.
The man looked up and scowled. He pulled Katy away from the wall, and with that, her suitcase fell down with a clatter. I broke into a sprint.
“Hey! What’s going on?”
In half a second, the man had wrapped his arms around Katy’s shoulders and pulled her away. She hung, limp like a rag doll, and didn’t even look my way.
“Katy!” I was screeching now.
A few people shot me disapproving looks, but no one said or did anything. My heart was pounding. Do I call for help? Can someone get the police? Something stirred in the back of my mind reminding me of the stolen money and my fake visa.
The man in the suit tore out of the main airport doors, dragging Katy behind him. Whoever he was, he was fast and strong. Within seconds, the sliding doors closed and they were gone.
“Hey, come back!”
I ran outside, hollering my lungs out. I sprang across the road when a blue sports car zoomed by, missing me by two inches. Before I could react, a hand dug into my shoulder and pulled me to the curb. I looked up to the scowling face of an airport security guard.
“You wanna get killed?” he said.
“My friend…that taxi,” I spluttered, pointing to the disappearing car.
“The line’s over there. You’ll have to wait for a taxi like the rest of ’em, miss.”
“No!” I shook his hand off my shoulder. “It’s my friend. You’ve got to do something!”
“Just because someone jumped in line and stole a taxi doesn’t mean you get to do that too. I’m tired of people cutting in line.”
“I’m not cutting in line. That’s my friend, I tell you! He took her!”
“I don’t have time for games, okay?”
I felt my throat tighten. “But that man. I saw him. He, he kidnapped….”
The guard wasn’t listening anymore. A handful of college girls had just burst through the sliding doors. “Please get in line like everyone else, miss,” he said in a gruff voice before stepping toward the girls. “Taxi, ladies? The line’s over there.”
I looked helplessly at the road where the cab had disappeared, my legs weak and my breath shallow. What just happened? Who’s that man? Where’s he taking Katy? What do I…
Just then, a taxi screeched to a stop right in front of me. A man got out, threw money on the front seat and sprinted toward the airport doors, clutching his briefcase. Without a second thought, I jumped into the backseat and slammed the door shut.
“Oi!” I heard the security guard yell behind me.
“Go!” I yelled at the driver. “Follow that cab!”
“What’s the rush, ma’am?”
The taxi hadn’t budged. The back door clicked open. I looked up to see an agent in blue, like the one I’d spotted walking along the terminal corridor earlier. He was towering over me now. The first things I noticed were the UK border agency insignia on his uniform and the black gun strapped to his belt.
My brain kicked in.
“Help me! A man took my friend!” I yelled, pointing at the road. “We need to catch him. They went in a cab. Do someth—”
“Ma’am, I’d like you to lower your voice.” He gave me a look that said he didn’t have much patience.
“But…but…” I stammered. “He took Katy. That man...”
“Your passport?” It was like he hadn’t even heard me. I stared at him open-mouthed.
He put out a hand. “Now, please.”
With trembling hands, I pulled my passport out of my bag and gave it to him.
“Hmmm,” the agent said, flipping through the booklet. I waited silently, but I could hear my pulse pounding. Didn’t he hear me? Will he do something? I noticed the taxi driver up front watching me through the rearview mirror. He winked when he saw me notice him. I looked away.
“Step out of the car, ma’am.”
The agent moved a hand toward his gun belt. “This is not a request.”
I got out, my legs feeling like jelly.
“Follow me, please,” he said, signaling with his hand. “This way.”
From the corner of my eye, I saw the security guard watching with a self-satisfied sneer on his face.
I turned to the agent as soon as we were inside the terminal, away from the mocking eyes of the guard and the taxi lineup.
“Excuse me, Officer. I really need to talk to you.”
He looked at me, hands on his hips, his face impassive.
I cleared my throat and spoke in a low voice. “I need your help. My friend was taken.”
“Taken?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, this man took her. I saw him push her into a cab. He kidnapped her.”
“Is that right?” The eyebrow remained raised.
“Yes. Everyone saw it happening, even the taxi guard outside.”
“Hmmm...” He hesitated, surveying me from top to toe. “Let’s go into our offices and we’ll see what we can do about that, shall we?”
Without another word, he turned around and marched into the main thoroughfare.
I stared at him. If I ran out now, I wouldn’t get too far. I had no choice. I followed him, trying to keep up with his strides. A handful of people glanced my way curiously. I didn’t have handcuffs on, but I might as well have. I walked with my head down, wishing I could disappear through the floor.
We walked into a part of the airport I hadn’t seen before. The insignia on the agent’s uniform was plastered everywhere here, including on a poster about smuggling, which featured a photo of a woman in a solitary cell, her head buried in handcuffed hands.
The agent opened a door. “Step inside, please.”
I stepped cautiously into a stark room with fluorescent lighting and just enough space for a desk and two uncomfortable-looking chairs. It looked like one of those interrogation rooms in the movies where they browbeat you before they send you to the back to get strapped down and tortured.
I sat down with my bag on my lap. The agent closed the door halfway and pulled out a chair for himself. My throat felt dry and a nervous tick had started on my right eyelid.
He flipped through my passport again. “Hmmm,” he said as he found my Canadian immigration papers inside. He removed the staple, unfolded the document, and held it up to the light.
My heart sank. Mrs. Rao in Toronto had given me these papers, papers I’d later learned were fake. What do they do to people with fake immigration documents? Is it worse than smuggling thousands of stolen dollars?
“You don’t have the proper visa to enter the United Kingdom, you do realize that?”
I gulped. “I guess so.” I wiped my palms on my skirt.
“Yet, you were ready to depart the airport and head into town.” He gave me a piercing look.
“I was trying to follow my friend. I told you, she was taken. We need to find her!” I felt my face go warm.
Ignoring me, he pulled out a yellow legal pad and pen from a drawer and started scribbling.
“What’s your final destination?”
“So this is a layover?” he asked, scanning my ticket and boarding pass.
“Are you traveling alone?”
“No, with Katy.”
“And Katy is?”
“My best friend,” I almost snapped.
“Does she have a family name?”
“She’s going all the way to Goa as well?”
The agent didn’t look twenty-five. He must be new. Otherwise, why is he wasting all this time, instead of hurrying up and trying to find Katy?
“Where’s she now?”
I felt a hot flash in my chest. “I’ve been trying to tell you she got kidnapped just now!” I snapped fully this time.
He gave me a long stare, enough to make me wither in my seat.
I swallowed and mustered up my calmest voice. “It was a man in a black suit. He took her from the shoe store inside the airport, next to Chef Pierre’s café. That’s why I got in that cab. I’ve no idea where she is. I’ve no idea who that man was or why he took her but she’s in trouble, and you need to do something about it. Please.”
The agent sat back and stared at me for five full seconds. I looked nervously back.
“I’ve got some important questions to ask you,” he said, finally. “I need you to answer truthfully, okay?”
“Okay?” he asked, with force in his voice this time.
I nodded quickly.
“What’s your profession?”
“Er, I don’t have one.”
“What do you do for a living? Are you a student?”
“No.” I shook my head. “I’m a baker.”
“Baker?” Raised eyebrow again. “And where’s your bakery?”
I hesitated. He waited, pen raised over the notepad. “Toronto.” My mind raced. Did Dick call the police? Will they find out about the money?
“Where’s your family? In Toronto?”
I looked down at my hands. I hated that question.
“Are they back in India?”
“No.” I paused. “I don’t have...my parents died when I was twelve.”
“Do you have any other family?” His voice had softened.
How do I tell him Aunty Shilpa died of her sickness, Grandma died from heartbreak, and Preeti’s now stuck in a deranged marriage, all because of me?
“I have a cousin. Her name is Preeti. She’s in Goa.”
“Is anyone paying you to go on this
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