Chapter 3

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The concrete hut that serves as Danielle's cell is about ten feet square. The corrugated aluminum ceiling slants upwards, six feet high at one end and nine at the other, attached to rusted prongs of rebar that protrude every eight inches or so from the rough concrete tops of the walls. The wall on the shorter side has a window about a foot square, barred by an iron cross. Opposite the window is a door, exterior-hinged, locked by an iron bolt that thunked loudly into place after Danielle allowed herself to be pushed inside. Being locked in had almost been a relief. When you are a woman captured by six armed men of unknown allegiance and motivations, solitary confinement is far from the worst available option.

Red sunlight spills into the hut from the window, the uneven gaps between the aluminum roof and the concrete walls, the cracks around the door. A wooden bench and two metal buckets, one empty and one full of water, are the only furnishings. She can tell by the smell that the empty one has been used as a latrine. Thankfully the hut is well ventilated. An iron ring is set into each side wall. Danielle doesn't like the look of them. And there is a thick lace of dark stains on the walls, floor, and bench. Stains that might be blood.

The hut stands like a sentinel near the lip of a high westward-facing bluff, and through the barred window she can see the sun set over the jumbled boulders of the alien landscape. She sees no other buildings. To get up here, the Jeep had had to turn off the dirt track into one that was virtually nonexistent, then fight its way up five minutes of brain-rattling trail. After she was put in the hut, the Jeep drove away. She knows they have left men on guard outside to watch her, she can hear their low voices, footsteps, the rasp of matches when they smoke.

They're just trying to scare you, she tells herself, trying to stay calm. Nothing terrible is going to happen or it would have happened already. She forces her hoarse breath under control, puts pranayama lessons from yoga classes to use. She sits down on the bench, but her fear produces too much nervous energy; after a moment she gets back up and paces, despite the hut's oven-like heat that soaks her in sweat. It is the not knowing that is worst. Who these men are, what they want, who or what they are waiting for, and why they took her to this godforsaken outlook rather than a real prison. Right now, prison would be a relief.

When she hears the growl of an approaching engine, she presses herself up against the door, trying to see through the cracks. Only a very narrow wedge of the world is visible, through which a Jeep passes before rumbling to a halt. A car door opens and shuts. Men exchange a few words in an Indian language. Footsteps approach. Danielle takes a step back, breathing heavily, her body trembling with tension.

The bolt slides and the door swings open. The uniformed leader, the man who planted the drugs, stands next to another Indian man, this one taller and slightly pudgy, dressed in casual but expensive-for-India shirt and slacks. The other uniformed men cluster behind them. The taller man takes the uniformed leader's lathi and walks into the hut. Danielle has to step back to avoid a collision. The door closes behind him.

"Sit," the man says.

Danielle, eyeing the bamboo club in his hand, obeys.

"You are in very great trouble, Danielle Leaf." His English is accented but good.

"They put that bag in my pack. It isn't mine."

"What are you doing here?"

She has already decided on her answer. "I'm visiting a friend."

"Who?"

"Her name is Jayalitha."

The man frowns. "How do you know her?"

"I don't really. She's a friend of a friend. Our mutual friend told me I should come see her if I was in the area."

"And who is your mutual friend?"

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