Part 5: America, three months later - Chapter 27

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Danielle has rarely been so relieved to return to her apartment. Her feet hurt, her little black cocktail dress has been decorated with half a spilled Cosmopolitan, and the taxi that brought her home smelled of vomit. She totters into her building's foyer and waits for the elevator. Her apartment is only two flights up, but high heels, exhaustion and alcohol make those thirty-two steps seem like the Empire State Building. Once home, she leans against the wall to remove her shoes, and nearly knocks over the ornate wooden coatrack that once belonged to her grandparents. Collapsing onto her bed is a physical relief. She knows she must undress, shower, and drink as much water as she can stand before allowing herself to pass out, but right now it is so good to close her eyes and just lie here. Even if she is all alone.

Her phone rings. She ignores it, lets it warble five times and switch to voice mail. But it rings again, five more times, and again, and again. She tries to tune it out. Even getting up and walking across the room to unplug the phone seems like an unbearable effort. But the sound bores into her brain like a barbed drill bit, and eventually she forces herself to her feet, steps to the glass table, and on impulse, angry now, who dares call her at three AM, she answers.

"Who is this?" she demands.

At first there is no reply. She is about to hang up, thinking it a prank caller, when a woman's voice answers, accented and tentative: "Hello? Is this Danielle Leaf, please?"

"Yes, what do you want? Do you know what time it is?"

"I am so sorry to call you at this hour. But it is necessary."

"Necessary for what?" The woman's accent is Indian. A telemarketer? If it is, Danielle vows, she will call the Better Business Bureau come morning.

The woman says, "My name is Jayalitha. I was a friend of Angus McFadden. I believe, if you are the Danielle Leaf I seek to contact, you will recognize that name?"

Danielle takes a moment to digest that. Then she retreats to the bed, sits on it, and says, "Yes. I knew Angus."

"Oh, thank goodness. Thank goodness."

"What are you – Wait. Are you, was I supposed to deliver your passport? To Kishkinda? Like, six months ago?"

"Yes."

"You're supposed to be dead," Danielle says.

"Yes. I am sorry. That was necessary."

Danielle hesitates. She doesn't want anything to do with this. But she can't just hang up. "Why are you calling me?"

"Please, Miss Leaf," Jayalitha said. "I know no one else in this country. I have no money left. I am here without papers or visas. I fear there are men hunting me. Please can you help?"

"This country?" Danielle now notices the absence of a transoceanic call's tiny but perceptible time-lag.

"Men hunting you? Where are you?"

"I am in the city of Los Angeles."

"What are you," Danielle pauses, not sure what question, if any, she wants to ask. She tries to collected her frazzled thoughts, but they won't stop unravelling.

"Please. My telephone card will soon empty. I beg you, Miss Leaf. You are my only hope."

"Don't go confusing me with Obi-Wan."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Shit," Danielle says. "Call me collect."

"I am sorry? Collect?"

"Reverse charges. We call it collect here. Call me collect in ten minutes and I'll try to figure something out."

Danielle takes advantage of the pause to have a quick shower, as cold as she can stand. She is drunk, but not too drunk to know that Trouble is rearing a monstrous and many-fanged head, and she needs to be as sober as possible.

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