The grumble of a car interrupted his daydreams about glorious arrests and impending promotions. The constable shuffled out of his seat, turning to him for a cue. Najib might have walked to the station's only window, a cutout in the wall split by three vertical bars, but he would see no car from there. What imbecile had placed the single lookout point facing the desert instead of the road? He stalked out of the station, the younger man on his heels. A sand-colored Mercedes was slowing down by the station. It dipped onto the shoulder of the road, kicking up dust before coming to a stop. Najib's eyes fell on the hazy veil of blood on the grille, the red-streaked hood, the spiderwebbed windshield. Inside the car was the strangest mix of folk. A stunning yellow-haired woman caught his eye first, then an urban type at the wheel and a cluster of Kochis in the back. It occurred to him that these might be the outlaws he had been waiting for.
He hooked his thumb into his holster and stood still. He would let them come to him. The driver stepped out. Above the man's right eye was a swollen, bloody gash. His shirt was stained, too. The blonde woman emerged, moving with a determination that reminded Najib of one of his wives. The last time this many people had turned up at once was when some hoodlums had organized a pack-beast race and a luckless camel had tried to outrun a big rig instead of the other animals, an unanticipated yet exciting twist that ended with the parched beast collapsing in a heap on the highway, making the asphalt look like it had grown a hump, and the terrified driver swerving off the road, his eighteen-wheeler belly-up like a giant bug. Luckily, there had been no deaths. Except a woman who had worn a chaderi
, a blue burka, whose name no one knew and whose age no one could guess because they made sure she remained covered as she died.
Daniel had passed the solitary police outpost before, paying it little mind as he drove toward the fields of Fever Valley. As he stepped out of his car, the breeze rising from the desert was like a whisper from the poppies to the north. The policeman studied him with narrowed eyes, his hands behind his back. An airplane glided over them, leaving a feathery wake in the sky. The officer tilted his head and spoke.
. You have some business for the police?"
"There's been an accident."
The officer nodded at the Mercedes and called him sir again. "I see, saheb
. Why are there Kochis in your car?"
"A girl was run over. I brought her here."
Daniel shook his head.
"Are you the one who killed her?"
A psychedelically painted eighteen-wheeler downshifted as it passed, curious heads poking out of paneless windows, a dozen men sitting tailor-style on the tarp-covered cargo. It lumbered up the highway amid puffs of diesel. Daniel closed his eyes. A series of images surfaced in his mind like sepia photos in darkroom chemicals. He was driving. You never think of how it is for me
, Rebecca had said. An accusation. She was wrong, he told her. She cried. Sometimes I wish we hadn't come here
. He tightened his grip on the wheel. More accusations. All the while, that wretched sonata played on. He fumbled in the glove compartment, looking for a tape. A stupid Neil Diamond tape, which would lighten the mood because she thought he was corny and it would make her laugh. He looked away from the road, only for an instant. He had wanted to make her laugh, and instead he'd made her scream. A thin scream, not more than a single note, yet so vast it could not be contained by the car, slamming against the windows and breaking right through the glass.
"Daniel." Rebecca sounded far away, and when he opened his eyes, he found that he had wandered into the road, where he stood wrapped in the lingering vapors of the vanished truck's exhaust.
"Come inside," the sergeant said.
Daniel shook his head. "We can't leave the girl in the car."
The man shrugged and went inside. Taj and Baseer lifted Telaya's body out, her toes dragging against the metal doorframe. Her dress bunched up around her knees, and Taj covered them back up as if they betrayed a lack of modesty. Daniel watched through the haze of the brightly lit day, his eyes falling on the child's mangled arm.
This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book Lola on Fire by Rio Youers.