“What’s my name?”
“I do not know.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I never know. Never.”
“You’re lying. I’m going to put you back in the box.”
“I’ll turn up the music. Bring back the needle.”
“Por favor! No!”
“I want to hear my name. Tell me my name!”
“I do not know!”
Luciana raced across the four-lane highway, oblivious to the oncoming traffic. Even this late at night, cars buzzed over the hill at eye-blurring speed, unrelenting.
Her eyes were wet and unfocused. She could barely see anything. The roads felt slick and her feet were bare. Her gown was torn and filthy.
Didn’t matter. She had to keep moving. They were coming for her. ¡Correr!
A car slammed on its brakes, slowing as quickly as it could, skidding to a stop only a few feet from her. It spun sideways, screeching and infusing the air with burnt rubber. She froze.
She could barely make out the headlights of another oncoming car. She stumbled backward just in time to avoid a tailspin, falling to her knees, skinning the palms of her hands.
She rose again and rushed forward, only to see another pair of headlights careening toward her. She increased her speed, rolling forward, diving. She tripped and fell, scraping her knees, but the car skidded past, missing her by inches.
Her knees bled badly, but she scrambled back to her feet and ran. She hit the lawn and kept moving. Something sharp dug into one of her feet. She ignored it. She had to keep moving. She wasn't going back. She would never return to him, to that life, what they had forced her to do. How long had she been a slave? How long had she been powerless? Her mind raced, trying to put it all in order, trying to make sense of what was happening, what she was doing. The needle made it harder. Everything did.
Don’t give in, she told herself, but the fog would not subside.
She had to escape, had to find her way south. The only thing worse than what had happened to her was the knowledge that it would soon happen to somebody else.
She glanced over her shoulder, still running as fast as she could. She was miles from the box now, or so it seemed to her muddled brain. Was someone back there? She thought she heard something, but she couldn't be sure. What did it matter? She knew they would come for her. Soon.
Her only hope was to find her sister, but she wasn't sure where to look. Somewhere. Near here. She raced down the sidewalk, passing the coast and brilliant neon signs. Where was she? She tried to remember, but it was so hard. Everything was so hard. Her mind was disintegrating and she knew it. If she didn’t escape this time, she never would.
The bright lights blinded her. Her mind was flooded with a series of disconnected images. It was almost as if her whole life passed before her eyes. But she wasn't dying—was she? She remembered her mother, so long ago, back in the old country, cradling her. Her mother told her to be strong. Her mother told her to fight. But she hadn't fought. She had conceded. And she was destroyed.
She was alone now. And no one should be alone. Not one. Never.
She saw a bright fountain in front of a big hotel with water dancing above it. She was suddenly overcome with thirst. But the grass was wet and her bare feet slipped. She tumbled forward, falling on the stone ring encircling the fountain. Her head made a sickening cracking sound.
Lights ignited behind her eyes. Blood dripped down the side of her face. She lay on the grass, stunned, barely able to think. ¿Qué he hecho?
She didn't know how much time passed before the people arrived. The one who had tormented her so long, and the new one, the friend. She feared him most of all.
“See what happens?” one shadowed figure said. “You're only making this worse on yourself.”
“Kill me,” she whimpered. “Please. Show mercy.”
“Wish it were that simple. But it's not. You’re on the books. Too many people watching.”
“Just make sure she doesn’t talk,” the other figure said, in a slow flat voice.
“In time.” The needle appeared. “Don't move.” She tapped all the strength she could muster, squirming from side to side. Her head was still swimming, like she had severed a vital connection in her brain.
“You move, it's only going to hurt more.” A hand clamped down on her mouth. “Do you need to be unconscious? Because I can arrange that.”
She stopped squirming. The needle entered her arm. She felt a hot liquid coursing through her veins, radiating throughout her entire body. It hurt.
“You have become far too dangerous. I hope you weren’t stupid enough to talk to anyone. Not that anyone would believe you if you did.”
She felt darkness creeping across her like a spider. Was this the end? Finally? Her mind was bruised, ruined. She should just bash her brains against the wall and end this torture. She raised her head—
And a strong pair of hands grabbed her, immobilizing her.
“Back to the box for you.”
“What’s my name?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Please stop this. I cannot bear it. I want to die.”
“If you die, you know what will happen to the girl.”
“What’s my name?”
Dan scrutinized the man in the witness stand, Michael Herrin. Herrin’s testimony could convict his client and send him to prison for eight years—depending upon what happened in the next five minutes.
His favorite law school professor told him that if you observed a person carefully, you could learn everything you needed to know. So that’s what he did, every time he met someone new. He took photos with his eyes and filed them away, then used them later to make connections. Connections that led to greater conclusions.
He scanned Herrin top to bottom. Comb-over. Crow’s feet. Crooked tie, didn’t match. Leaning forward.
As it turned out, Professor Tepker was right.
“Mr. Herrin, do I understand that you were seated at your desk, staring out the window, around eleven p.m. on the night of October twenty-third?"
“That was my testimony." The man straightened slightly. He was obviously apprehensive. Which meant nothing. Everyone was apprehensive on the witness stand, and especially during cross-examination.
“Awfully late to be working, wasn't it?”
“That's why I'm the second associate vice-president,” Herrin said, with more than a hint of pride.
“But despite how late it was, you could still see outside clearly?”
“The streetlamp illuminated the sidewalk.”
Herrin had testified that he’d seen a drug deal go down across the street, and that the dealer in question, the man later arrested with over ten thousand in cash in his pockets, was his client, Emilio Lòpez. The prosecution’s case hinged on this ID. All the other evidence was circumstantial at best. In fact, the prosecutor, Jazlyn Prentice, a generally savvy lawyer, would not have bothered bringing charges but for this one eyewitness. Destroy the eyewitness, destroy the case.
He pulled a document out of his backpack. He preferred backpack to briefcase—easier to carry, didn’t slow you down when you needed to move fast. “Mr. Herrin, would you please look at defense exhibit number fourteen?”
Herrin thumbed through the heavy evidence notebook till he reached tab fourteen. “This is the statement I gave the police just after I contacted them.” He raised his chin slightly. “That's my signature at the bottom.”
“You're sure that’s your signature?”
“Of course I am. I can see it plainly with my own eyes.”
He smiled. “Yes, that's the crux of this whole case. What you saw, or could see, with your own eyes.”
He felt a stir in the courtroom, some of it from the prosecutor’s table, some of it from the bench. His reputation preceded him, it seemed. They all knew something was about to happen. They just didn't know what it was.