Crouching behind the plywood wall of the film set, Sukanya waited until silence echoed through the cavernous warehouse. Her skin was clammy and covered in goosebumps. Sweat sprang from every pore in her body. She hugged herself, shivering, listening, her heart pumping hard from the last injection of whatever it was.
When the silence and the cold became too much, she peered around the edge of the film set, shading her eyes from the white blaze of an upended light, and stepped out to survey the scene. Cold air floated down from the high, dark ceiling. Shadows loomed over the muted chaos below.
Chairs, tables, and cameras were strewn across the concrete floor. The legs of tripods, toppled in the struggle, poked up like spikes. The wall of the set was bashed and splintered.
Umbrella lights and soft boxes, open-faced halogens and LEDs threw light in crossed directions. One of the knocked-over key lights sizzled and popped, darkening a swath of the set. Another light winked off without a sound, deepening the dim expanse of the warehouse.
From the top of the sets to the high ceiling, the air barely moved. There was no longer anything to hide from.
Sukanya walked forward, careful of the broken glass strewn in front of the mock living room. The lingering smell was the usual—airless, sweaty, and coarse—though mixed with something different. From small, dark pools across the smooth concrete floor rose a metallic scent she remembered from the back of street stalls in Bangkok’s markets.
She tried to catch herself, but doubled over and vomited. She hadn’t eaten much the past three days in the warehouse, but she gagged and heaved, again and again, until she was all out. She spit and spit, tongued her teeth, spit again and started to breathe.
She forced herself to look at the bodies. Her insides jumped, but her legs stayed rooted in place. She stood there wishing she could take off and soar away, wishing she could scream.
She slipped her bare feet into a pair of plastic sandals at the edge of the set floor. They were a men’s size, but she clenched her toes and shuffled them against the concrete, testing the traction. She could run in them.
From a gym bag on a bench beside the set wall, she dug out a towel. It smelled clean, so she wiped herself dry. She dug inside the bag and found a pair of running shorts, sizes too big, but she pulled them on and yanked the string tight around her thin waist. Her shoulders filled out a large blue soccer jersey that hung down to her thighs. She packed her long hair into a tight ponytail with a wristband.
Where was the other girl, Celeste? She was younger and called herself “Celeste,” insisting that was what she would go by. She’d been more cranked by the shots. She sweated, twitched, and didn’t eat after the assistant first injected them.
And where did that assistant go when things went berserk?
The third girl, Ratana, left hours before it started, with one of the men who’d driven them from the boat dock. Ratana had kept the three of them going on the boats, in the hotel, on the sets. She knew how to win concessions and dispute details, to resist and acquiesce, for better food and clothes, more sleep and showers.
Ratana might be back at any moment with one of the men, or Ratana might not be back at all.
To stop shivering, Sukanya pulled a leather jacket from the director’s chair and slid inside it. Rolling up the sleeves, she surveyed the back braces and cheap plywood walls. The front door where they had come in a few days before had to be somewhere outside the maze of sets.
Peering down the path between the sets, she saw Celeste. Kneeling beside her, Sukanya checked for breathing and a pulse, but nothing moved under Celeste’s smooth skin. Beside her, one of the tripods, folded tight, dripped gore.
Sukanya brushed the hair off Celeste’s face. She went back for the towel and knelt down to wipe the blood off her face, neck, breasts, and arms. Sukanya had envied her dark eyelids, curved nose, and thick lips when they’d shared a bed on the boat and in the hotel, chatting and giggling until Ratana shushed them. After that, they were driven to the warehouse where they worked constantly, too tired to talk, too drugged to sleep.
Sukanya took a blanket from a mock bedroom. The cartoon-themed blanket had bright animals laughing big-mouthed and silly. She spread it over Celeste and pulled it over her thin, pretty face. She closed her eyes, placed her hands together and recited a prayer she’d learned from her brother long ago.
She blinked her eyes, dry from the drugs, and turned to an older man’s body, careful not to step in the blood. She’d wondered at him taking photos the whole time, his fleshy face red from drinking. She leaned down to rifle his fancy, roomy suit. He had a lot of bills, but she didn’t know what Japanese money was worth. She tucked them into the inner pocket of the leather jacket.
The director was bent in half, his glasses smashed to shards from the blows. She looked away as she rummaged through his pockets for his wallet and scooped out his cash. Beside him on the floor was the laptop where all the footage was saved. It was still recording from a toppled camera.
As she looked at the blank sideways screen, the big metal door on the first floor of the warehouse creaked. Footsteps on the metal stairs sent a hot whip of panic through her. She bent down, clicked off the laptop and shoved it into a shoulder bag. Under the fat man’s round belly, an iPad poked out. She snatched it and popped it in beside the laptop and slung the bag over her shoulder.
She sprinted toward the front wall and crouched behind a cart stacked with chairs from where she could see the door. The same man who had stopped by the day before poked his head through the door and walked across the open expanse of warehouse. His white suit glowed in the gray emptiness. He walked slowly toward the off-kilter lights and pulled up short not far from the bodies.
He leaned forward, leaned back, rolled his head around, and fumbled for his cellphone. He put it to his ear and wrapped his hands, and his body, around it, as if trying to disappear inside.
When he appeared lost in the call, Sukanya padded softly to the door and slipped out to the stairs. She tiptoed down to the front door and nudged it open a crack. The murky light outside revealed a gravel parking area. Near the street was a car, but it was hard to see inside. She ducked back and waited before easing the door open again for a better look. To the right, a gap between the warehouse and the next building looked just wide enough to slip through.
The door on the second floor above the stairs crashed open.
Sukanya put her head down and let the drugs propel her. She slipped out and started running. The gravel slid and shifted under her plastic sandals. At the end of the building, she squeezed through the gap and sped up. Her shin hit something and she flew forward, clawing the air until she landed on her knees.
It was a metal bucket, full of gravel. She twisted to see if anyone was following. Her wrists and knees were scraped, but she stood up, reset her feet in the sandals, and limped to the end of the buildings.
The long, narrow gap opened onto a wide sidewalk and a four-lane road. She rubbed her knees and elbows, and turned right. She wanted to keep running but managed to slow herself to a steady walk, turning at times to see if anyone was coming.
They weren’t yet, but they would be soon. With her wrong-sized clothes and Thai features, her awkward foreignness, and not knowing where to go, they would find her even in the vast unknown of Tokyo.