I’m twenty-three chapters into my first crime thriller. There’s seven more to go, and the falling action is as exciting as the setup. Hopefully this is the payoff readers are hoping for.
In the meantime, allow me to introduce you to another member of our ensemble cast: Fatma, an enterprising student, on the verge of several discoveries. In this excerpt, we see her visiting a family owned labor camp to get an interview for a class assignment. What she discovers triggers a cascade of events from which she cannot turn back.
“Here,” she repeated. They were stopped across the street from the entrance to the worker accommodation for her father’s company. What Fatma could see in glimpses, as other buses kept rolling by, looked like an anthill. There were men streaming from buses outside the gates, blocking the guard station, but backlit by lights mounted on the top of a fence that rose several meters. They were dressed alike and of similar build and height that they blended, one into the other, like an endless column. The bus driver hunched over a wheel the size of the GMC’s tires, his eyes closed, as if the effort to get everyone offsite was his only animation.
Fatma took a deep breath. I’m fine she reminded herself. This is the safest country in the world and I can get home any time I want. At the sound of the door opening, Babu turned in alarm.
“Madam, where are you going?”
“Inside,” Fatma retorted with more confidence than she felt. The SUV’s mechanized running board hummed into place. She hovered on it for a second before stepping on the dirt beneath.
“No, no, no, no,” Babu said. He also climbed down. “This not allowed.”
Fatma began walking, knowing that Babu would not reach out to touch her. She crossed the street. Most of the men had filed inside the compound. A few stragglers were moving more slowly toward the accommodation. She walked quickly, her edges of her abaya swirling in the dust, thankful she had worn her Converse. The guard took a step back in surprise when she rapped on the window of the office.
“Yes?” There were three of them.
“I’m Sheikha Fatma,” she said, swallowing again, clenching and unclenching her hands behind her back. “And I want to see our facility.”
The men looked from one to another. The first one to speak to her had a handle bar mustache that he smoothed on either side before speaking. “No one is –“
“I own this camp!” She said. “Our family,” she corrected. “And I will see it now.”
Babu arrived, out of breath, next to her. He exchanged words with the guards, both men becoming increasingly agitated. She knew their dilemma. It was the dilemma of servants all over the country: if they let her in, they could be in trouble later. If they didn’t let her in, then there would be in trouble with her right then.
The back door to the office was cracked. Another guard came in, taking a step back when he saw Fatma.
“I call supervisor,” the first man said.
“No, it’s fine,” Fatma said. “I’ll be very quick.” She darted through the exit before anyone else could say a word. Babu called out for her but she kept going, stepping down the concrete blocks assembled as a dismount from the portacabin. A distinct splash sent fetid water shin length on her abaya. Fatma saw smaller pools, glinting green in the intermittent light, scattered around the ground in front of a squat, two story structure, that looked more like a forgotten motel than worker accommodation.
Her heart sank at the sight of so many blue uniforms hanging up on the guardrail out front. This was how they dried their clothes? She moved quickly, into the nearest staircase, lest Babu lead a charge of people after her. There was a door open on the ground floor. Without a glance to the left or right, she entered. She put her hand to her mouth, as much as for the smell of her skin to mask the odors in the room, as in surprise. The room was a concrete rectangle, with light blue gas tanks on the floor, plugged into hot plates on the counter. Nearly all the surfaces were tinged black, as if there had been a fire. And there had, she realized, dozens of little ones, likely on a daily basis. There were discarded skillets and a large pot that had once been red, handles on opposite sides. A flashlight whose protective cover had broken or long been discarded exposed the only light, hanging from a socket on the wall. A few meters high on the wall were spatters of hot oil and spices. Blue tape held together the top of the pipe descending from the skin. She breathed lightly, not wanting to take in any more air than necessary. This was a kitchen, where the men cooked. She took a series of photos, without the flash, on her phone, without pausing to focus. Fatma heard voices outside passing by and swept from the room. She took a left, away from the front entrance, towards the back staircase. Her long legs allowed her to take a two steps at a time, moving soundlessly through the unlit stairwell. She shivered, despite the humidity. On the backside of the building, there was no light from the street or the office flittering in. The doors were shut, under a low roof that looked like a sulking lip. She tripped on a knot of discarded plastic bags. Fatma caught herself before falling, scraping her hand on the unfinished concrete. I should go home she thought. Yuba would kill me if he knew I was here. She turned to go, sucking the knuckle of her forefinger where spots of blood were appearing.