1998, Arizona, U.S.A.

Lucia lay on the well-worn couch, its cushions drenched with her sweat. Her shirt was hitched up exposing her swollen belly to the hot air. It was July and storm season. The normally dry air was as pregnant with moisture as Lucia was pregnant with child. The swamp cooler chugged away trying to lower the temperature, but it gave little relief. Perspiration pooled beneath her breasts, heavy with milk. Lucia felt like a stuffed turkey roasting in the oven.

She rubbed her naked stomach. I hope you don’t plan on stayin’ too much longer, Lucia thought. It had been a week since her due date passed with not so much as a quiver of a contraction.

Though she was hot and uncomfortable, Lucia didn’t have much else to complain about. She’d gone from living on the street to this small apartment on the base that had been her home for more than nine months now. The apartment wasn’t fancy but it was clean and furnished with simple but well-made furniture. Meals were delivered to her door like room service. It was a prescribed diet that tasted a bit like bark bathed in dirt, but it was free and she didn’t have to cook it. The first thing I’m gonna’ do when I get this thing out of me is eat a double bacon cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate shake.

A nurse visited her daily to take her blood pressure and give her prenatal vitamins. Lucia even got a massage once per week. “It enhances blood flow to the fetus,” the massage therapist had explained.

But instead of feeling like a pampered princess, Lucia felt more like a girl locked in a tower. She’d had no contact with anyone from her former life, such as it was. And the armed guards outside her door reminded her that she was not free to go.

Lucia had willingly given up ten months of freedom. It was a small price to pay for the promise of what lie ahead for her. Easy street.

Lucia had never known an easy street. She had been walking on the sidewalk just outside the food bank from which she’d come when a black sedan with darkly tinted windows pulled up beside her.

Instinct told her to walk faster and she did. But the car kept pace. Lucia knew better than to look behind her. “Keep you eyes forward and never make eye contact,” her friend Melina had told her. Curiosity got the better of Lucia. She looked back at the car.

A clean-cut white guy in a white shirt and dark suit was in the front passenger seat. He rolled down his window. “Do you need money?” he asked.

“I’m not that kind of girl,” Lucia said. Her threadbare shirt and stained jeans had been hand-me-downs when she’d gotten them. She wore sneakers that were one size too small and no makeup or jewelry. Lucia didn’t carry a purse to steal and no one would mistake her dirty well-worn clothes as the threads of a streetwalker. So what do they want with me?

It was nearly evening in the worst part of town. The sidewalks, normally full of people loitering in front of small mom-and-pop stores, were now empty. There was no one around to see it if the men in the car decided to snatch her.

Lucia broke into a run, wishing there were more people around. Lucia felt the car still stalking her. Her heart hammered away in her chest and a thin film of sweat covered her back. Lucia’s hands were so sweaty and her arms so shaky that she dropped the bag of food that she’d gotten from the food bank. It was all the food she had to get her through to the next week, but she couldn’t worry about that now. All she could think about was putting one foot in front of the other.

When Lucia got to the crosswalk, the light was red. The man in the car shouted out to her, “It’s not like that. We’ve got honest work for you. A thousand bucks just to sit down and talk about it.”

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