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.
Hubs loves roasted veggies. In our fridge, depending on the day of the week, there is at least one head of broccoli and cauliflower. The established flavor of roasted broccoli is a crowd favorite. Cauliflower is a taste I’m not as familiar with. Imagine my surprise at the creamy goodness of cauliflower sauce on pasta.
Easy to whip up and healthy – make sure you eat it straight away or the sauce will need reheating. The recipe gives you steps to make your own zucchini pasta, if you’ve got an extra bit of time and a spiralizer.
Have you been surprised by any new flavors?
If you’ve heard of NaNoWriMo, then you know that 20,000 words isn’t that impressive. In actuality, someone writing 1,666 words a day should have 25,000 words in 15 days. But, as my students are fond of saying, I have a million things to do, so 20,000 is a goal post I’m willing to celebrate.
This is the as yet unnamed novel-in-progress, my first crime thriller, set in the Arabian Gulf, featuring an ensemble cast. This snippet takes us into Manu point of view. He is a young man from Nepal, who arrives in-country, hoping to earn enough to help halt his ailing mother’s decline.
Tell me your likes/dislikes about the genre – so much to learn and write.
“You! Where you go?” The man in the robe was back, making a straight line for Manu.
“Toilet,” Manu said. He didn’t stop walking, lest he embarrass himself in front of all the eyes, now watching.
The man in the robe grumbled but matched Manu’s pace. He entered the bathroom, amazed at how clean it was, compared to the latrines he used in Nepal.
When he re-emerged, the man in the robe was waiting for him. He looked up from his phone and indicated with the radio antennae he was to rejoin his group. Manu walked, as slowly as he could, taking in the glittery countertops on the other side of the visa line. There were perfumes, chocolates, and toys.
“Okay, now,” the FBJ representative was shooing them all like schoolboys towards a roped column in front of the visa desk. “One by one,” he said. “One by one.”
They stepped forward. Manu looked at the young man who was stamping their documents. He took each passport from the ledge above his desk, flicking through the pages, his eyes passing over the face in front of him in an instant, before the heavy stamp descended.
The FBJ rep scuttled them through the baggage area, where the men wandered through a heap of rice paper bags and taped boxes, trying to identify their own.
Manu turned not understanding.
“Your bag?” The rep asked, eyeing Manu with suspicion.
“I lost it,” he said.
The rep shook his head but handed Manu a piece of paper. “Sign,” he said.
Manu looked at it, wishing he had stayed in school longer, as Amita had insisted. He couldn’t make out much anyway, the contract was in Arabic. But there, above the signature, he could make out numbers, since they often used the same ones in Nepal for license plates.
“This says 1,000,” Manu said. “What’s this? The salary? They promised me 1500.”
The rep clicked his tongue, peering at Manu as if seeing him for the first time. “You don’t want this job? You can go back.”
The other men were signing their contracts, passing the one pen among them.
“I want to work,” Manu protested. “But for the amount they said.”
The rep began walking, the column of men following him as they left the brightly lit airport into the warm night. They walked the length of the parking lot, to a dark corner, where a bus waited for them, lumbering in the dark.
Manu climbed the steps, promising himself he would speak to the rep later.
“Sign,” the man said, putting an arm across Manu’s chest. The contact and the pen were pressed at him.
Manu signed. His legs quivered after so much time standing. He collapsed into a seat, his shirt sticking to him. Unlike the airplane or the airport, the bus had no air conditioning. Humidity rolled through the open window and up and down the aisle like a beast with moist breath. They creaked their way through the city, mostly at sleep, and largely in the dark. The bus followed roads that snaked away from the bright lights of the perimeter, until they entered a neighborhood with dusty streets, and grey bricks made of concrete. There was laundry hanging on drooping lines and smashed vehicles waiting outside of garages. Men were walking around in collared shirts, and lungis, the cotton loincloths of the Indian subcontinent.
When they shuddered to a stop outside a chain link fence, running around a group of squat, brown buildings, spotlights illuminating the guard station at the front gate, the pit of dread in Manu’s stomach grew.
We eat soup as often as we can in our house, regardless of the season. Now that cooler temperatures are in the air, even in the desert, soup will be on the menu two nights a week: the night it was made and the next day for leftovers. Tonight will be no exception with this Slow Cooker Root Vegetable stew.
The best part is that once you’re finished chopping all the veggies (there’s about 4 pounds worth here) you can let the slow cooker aka crockpot do the rest! Parsnips, butternut squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes: they all blend together for tender deliciousness. If you like your soups with more broth, I recommend adding more of the stock. For our leftovers, we’ll be making some on the side and reheating on the stove top.
And if you’re really inspired by the idea of veggies, then try this Chocolate Beet cake, the original recipe called it Unbeetable Chocolate Cake. Giggle. I’ve left my Bundt pan somewhere (if it’s at your house, could you let me know?) so a square pan did fine. That’s right, you’ve seen me experiment with Black Beans in Brownies, and also Chickpeas in Peanut Butter Bars. Beets in cake makes for a moist batter your family will overlook as they reach for more slices.
I’m doing #NaNoWriMo, that crazy month of writing pell-mell, towards the goal of a 50,000 manuscript by December 1st. This is my fourth time taking the plunge to write 1666 words a day. I’ve only ‘won’ or finished on time once and that was for the award winning novel Saving Peace. The very first time I was distracted by Thanksgiving. Another year, when I was working on The Dohmestics, I was tied up in revisions for the paperback version of another project. Needless to say, whether or not I’ve finished, NaNo has been extremely productive.
The book is as yet untitled, so those suggestions are welcome as well. This is a new genre for me, crime thriller. Let’s begin with Ali, our detective who has a secret. And a very boring day job. Or so he thinks.
CHAPTER ONE WIP
On his way to the station, Ali’s mobile rang, filling the vehicle’s speakers with its metallic ring. “Get down to the mall bridge,” Omar said, after a terse greeting. “There’s an accident.” Ali groaned. He made a sharp U turn at the next roundabout, cursing the position of his father’s house, a mere minutes from the busiest cross-city artery. He was their first call for this area and there was an accident on or near the bridge every weekend. When he arrived, traffic was already crawling up the bridge like burdened ants. “Send a tow truck,” he texted Omar. He drummed his fingers on the dash, inching forward, regretting not taking the marked vehicle they offered to everyone on the service. He despised the way others abused the blue, white, and grey SUVs, putting on their flashers to get past slow drivers, or turning on the siren to careen through crowded streets. He drove his white Nissan like hundreds of others on the roads but the siren would come in handy in times like now.
After twenty minutes of bumper to bumper, he pulled over in front of where a white SUV had rammed into the back of pick up truck. The force of the impact from the much larger Land Cruiser flattened the truck bed like a piece of pita bread. Ali strode to the first vehicle; on the other side, squeezed between the passenger door and the bridge’s railing were two skinny cinnamon colored men. “Okay? You okay?”
They looked up, their eyes wide, stunned like camels that had fallen off their transport, taking in his full height, crisp blue and black uniform. “Fine?” The men looked at each other, then turned to him, doing the side to side head movement that always confused him. Did it mean yes? Or no? From the way they used it, apparently the head lilt could be both at once. Horns were starting to sound of the other drivers who wanted to get onto the bridge. Ali reassured himself he saw no blood or bones. He kept walking, to check on the other driver.
The other man was talking animatedly on the phone, his head visible behind the deflated airbag which had popped like a child’s party balloon. Ali rapped on the window, expecting a litany about how Indians didn’t know how to drive. Instead, the boy, for that’s how he revealed himself, hung out of the driver side window, his hands shaking.
“This is a new car,” he said in local dialect, the sun glinting on his braces. “My father is going to kill me.”
“Are you hurt?”
The boy shook his head. Ali could see the purple knot forming on his forehead, pushing to the surface. That was going to hurt. He nodded, indicating the boy should stay in the car. He didn’t bother asking for a license. There was no sign of facial hair on the boy’s angled cheekbones or curved lip.
“No one has been hurt,” Ali reported to Omar who grunted a blessing. “This is going to be a mess in ten minutes.” He hung up, trying in vain with the Indians to get the pick up to start. The engine protested, failing to turn over, the belts screeching like a cat being stretched between two poles. They were on the tail end of the bridge, slightly past the ascending slope on this slide, so that ruled out pushing the vehicle two hundred meters to the other end. Going backward made more sense, as they could find room to stash the vehicle under the overpass. But that would mean heading into oncoming traffic. His Nissan could tow the truck but the captain would frown on his getting personally involved. They watched traffic halt on either side for at least 2 kilometers; the drivers of oncoming traffic braking to see what happened. When the tow truck arrived, night blanketed the city, the call to prayer rising from the mosques in the area like fresh bread. He turned over management of the accident to the officer who arrived with the tow truck driver. “Don’t tell my dad,” the teenager pleaded. His cousins, around the same age, judging by their narrow shoulders, had shown up, taking photos of both vehicles with their shiny Smartphones.
That he had been sweating the two hours they waited for the tow truck soured Ali’s mood as well as his uniform on the way to the office. He sat at his desk, or at his station on the long slab of plastic counter, his hands at his temples. His eyes angled downward, towards his phone, like so many of the other policemen in the station. Well, when there were others. In the middle of the afternoon, as the desert heat rippled the air outside like a shimmering wave, he was the only one around during the shift change. Anyone entering the office would think he was watching a YouTube video or reading the Qu’ran and maybe take a seat, waiting for someone else to show up.
Cooler weather has found us, even in the desert. This time of year, I find the urge to eat soup every day and no room in the cupboard. That calls for an inventive soup in the slow cooker. I love crock pots because you can toss everything in with fairly little effort, leave it alone for hours (I went out to a reading event with our four year old) and the house smells like you’ve been laboring all day.
I began with wanting to use up a long stored can of red kidney beans in this recipe and then improvising with whatever veggies I had in the fridge which included carrots. After a few hours, when I tasted the broth and found it had quite a kick (and there were some yellowing potatoes on the counter) I threw those and a can of diced tomatoes in add more flavor. So delicious we will be fighting over leftovers !
I married a man who everyone assumes is Chinese because of the epicanthic folds of his eyelids. I didn’t know Laos was a country until I heard my husband explain over and over again that no, Laos was not another name for Cambodia. That was the beginning of the idea of a book, loosely based on the experiences of my Laotian in-laws as they immigrated to the United States. I say “loosely” because in the tradition of Hollywood, the inspiration for the story then veered into characters who behaved other than the real life events.
Nearly 3 years later, and on my 8th wedding anniversary, here’s a look at how history can bring us together and life tear us apart in the Land of a 1000 Elephants where more bombs were dropped during the Secret War than ever before.
I generally have a policy to say yes whenever it makes sense. In the last week this led to my serving as an auctioneer for a breast cancer fundraiser, and also a guest at a dinner discussing health care experiences.
The dinner was hosted by Possible, a non-profit that is offering high quality care to the world’s poorest populations. If this sounds too good to be true, it isn’t, but it is complex work. If you’re wondering why others haven’t done it before, perhaps it’s because they don’t have the passion you see shimmering in the eyes of Possible’s staff, including CEO Mark Arnoldy, who is among Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 list of global changers.
Here’s some information about the amazing impact Possible is having in Nepal. I am going to make them my holiday charity for 2014: instead of gifts, I’ll ask people to consider making a donation. Consider doing the same this holiday season as a way to engage your friends/family in being a blessing to causes you care about.
1. Why Nepal?
4. What’s the future look like for this program?