Maria’s text is stark and quite frankly irritating “Hurry up” it saysEven

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Maria’s text is stark and, quite frankly, irritating. “Hurry up,” it says.Even though I don’t want to, I still find myself picking up my pace as I walk towards Second Street. Maria is my boss after all. But after months of working late nights at a bar, my body finds it hard to adjust to the morning hours required of my new job as a jewelry store clerk. And of course, there had been Dmitri. I hadn’t seen him in several weeks, so we’d enjoyed getting reacquainted last night.My face cracks into a wide grin as I think about how he’d woken me with a kiss earli-er. Dana, I gotta go, he’d whispered, his deep blue eyes peering into my own. But I have a surprise for you tonight. The start of something new. I’ll give it to you, before your shift at the bar.He’d left before I had a chance to tell him that I’d been fired from that bar. That I’d started a new job in the weeks he’d been away. Oh, well. There was time. I’d tell him lat-er.When I step into Jenkins Diamonds, the bell jangles over my head in its irritating way. Maria, a petite Latina dressed in her customary dark blue suit, glares at me. “Dana, you’re late,” she says, pointing rather dramatically to her watch. “I expected you here fifteen minutes ago.”Fifteen minutes late doesn’t seem so bad to me, but I bite back a retort as self-preservation kicks in. I really can’t afford to lose another job, and Maria knows that. I have debts, bills to pay, and unfortunately, I like nice things, which means I really need to stay employed. Besides, she hired me despite the fact that I had no background in retail, so I just give her an apologetic smile. “Sorry,” I say. “It won’t happen again.”“I have a big client meeting later,” she says, touching her sleek black hair. Apparently mollified by my contriteness. “Off-site.”I shrug, not as impressed as I’m sure she’d like. Her big client was probably some rich North Shore woman seeking to pawn her cast-off jewelry to maintain appearances. I’d learned early on that’s what most of those “client meetings” entailed. We were really nothing more than a high-toned pawn shop, tricked out in a veneer of wealth and glam-our, with our sparkly carpet and dazzling displays.Sighing, I go behind the long counter, reaching for the rag and blue glass cleaner which were always stored in convenient reach. I begin to wipe the glass top of the show-case, removing the non-existent fingerprints and grime from the glass. The owner, Mr. Jenkins, was kind of fanatical about fingerprints, I’d learned. Like a few fingerprints would really keep someone from buying a diamond bracelet.As I move the cloth in indifferent circles along the glass, Maria comes over and un-locks the large sliding doors behind the long counter. Since not everything will fit in the display cases, the extra stock is stored in rows of individually locked storage trays stacked in drawers beneath the case.“Inventory time,” she says, handing me a stack of printed pages stapled at the corner and a set of little keys that fit each tray. “Just compare the items in all trays in each draw-er against the stock list. Start on the bottom row.”Taking the list, I crouch down behind the counter. As I insert the key into the bottom drawer, I am startled to discover that it’s already unlocked.That’s not good. When I had first started the job, I was told repeatedly that all draw-ers must be relocked after trays are taken out to show a customer. Forgetting to re-lock a drawer was a firing offense.I stifle a groan when I realize this drawer is the one that contains trays of sparkling tennis bracelets. I remember removing a tray the day before, to show the bracelets to some hippy chic retro-wannabes. Ugh. I’d probably forgotten to lock the drawer when I was done.I glance at the rotating camera swiveling around the room, and then I pretend to un-lock the drawer. Saying a slight prayer to a god I’m not even sure about, I pull the top tray out. Thankfully, all twelve tennis bracelets still gleam on their plush purple cushion, as do those in the tray below. A careful check against the printout shows that each brace-let is present and accounted for. Hopefully no one will ever know about my mistake.But then, when I try the next drawer, I discover that it too is unlocked. This one is full of men’s Rolexes, and I don’t remember showing any the day before. I frown, glancing at the camera again. Once again, I pretend to unlock the tray before pulling it open.A quick survey of the contents of the tray shows me that nothing is missing in this drawer either. Still, it’s strange. I weigh calling Maria over to tell her, but I squash the idea. Why borrow trouble, I remember an old lady shaking her finger at me once. For the first time, I understand what that old lady had meant.As I move on to the third drawer, which contains Lady Date Just Rolexes for women, the bell above the entrance rings again.I expect to hear Maria’s chirpy greeting, gushing over the early morning customer in her own particular way.Instead, I hear a sharp intake of breath. “¡Dios!” she says in Spanish, her voice unex-pectedly strained and hoarse. “What are you doing?!”Without thinking, I stand up quickly, causing blood to rush forcefully to my head. For a moment, I am too dizzy to focus and I shut my eyes.Then, when I open my eyes again, I cannot make sense of what I am seeing. Maria is facing me, her face expressing intense fear and shock.A man in all black stands between us, his back to me, a hoodie pulled over his head.Two thoughts surge into my mind. Robber. Gun.And then, a question tears at my heart. Will this be the day I die?An icy shock runs over me, and my knees start to buckle. Across the room, Maria’s ter-rified eyes meet mine.The man tosses an olive messenger bag to Maria. “Fill this up,” he says. “Be quick about it.”I inhale sharply. That voice! It couldn’t be!“Dana, run!” Maria cries.Hearing her words, the man whirls around and stares at me.I take him in, his stance, his size. And through the mask, deep-ringed blue eyes. Eyes that I had just looked into this morning. My boyfriend’s eyes. Dmitri.For a long moment, we stare at each other. I see him take in my dressy top, read my nametag. Dana Miller, Sales Associate. Only when Maria begins to sob does he break the intense silence.“Bitch!” he says, turning away from me.At the ugly word, my throat closes up and I stumble back against the wall, trying to keep from falling. “Oh my God,” I hear myself say, distantly through the great rushing in my ears.The man—Dmitri!—begins to pace. Then he glares at Maria. “I didn’t tell you to stop,” He nods to where I was standing, without looking at me again. “Now those cases. With the watches.”Maria crosses the room and hands me the bag, her hands trembling. “Please, Dana,” she says. “Do as he says.”I take the strap. “He won’t hurt us,” I whisper to her, before starting to empty the watches into the bag. I say it more to myself, than to her, but her eyes widen.“How do you know?” she asks.I shake my head and continue to fill the bag, my fingers clumsy and numb from fear. I am trying desperately to make sense of what is happening.“Dana,” she says, more loudly this time. “How do you know he won’t hurt us? Why do you say that?”“Enough talking!” Dmitri snaps. He cracks his neck. I know his anger is growing. I’ve seen his before. Once when he was angry at our upstairs neighbor for playing music too loud. Another time when he wasn’t satisfied with his cell operator’s customer service. This is worse though. He needs to calm down.“Please,” I whisper, transfixed by his waving gun. “Don’t!”“You wanted a witness? Is that it?” He turns back to Maria. “Well, we don’t need you!”Then with that, he shoots Maria, before turning to look back at me. Is there a pleading look in his eyes? I can’t say for sure.Senseless, I can only clap my hand over my mouth as I stare at the blood flowing from Maria’s head, onto the sparkly gray carpeted floor. It’s hard to make sense of what I’m seeing.“Oh hell.” He looks down at Maria, before turning back to me. He leans over the coun-ter and I hand him the bag with the jewelry and watches. He sees me shaking. “Just keep your mouth shut and it’ll be alright.”Did he wink then? I’m not sure.He unlocks the front door and walks out onto the street. When the door shuts, the bell jangles above.I crawl over to Maria, whose eyes are fluttering. “I’m so sorry Maria,” I say beginning to cry. I take her hand. “I didn’t know he would shoot you.”Her eyes are confused, terrified, and already clouding over. She whispers something then, which I can’t quite catch. I think it was in Spanish. Then she takes two last great breaths, and her chest stops rising at all.It takes everything I have to lay my ear near her chest.She is dead.I don’t know how long I’ve been kneeling beside Maria’s body. But dimly I hear the bell when it jangles again. I begin to crawl away, fearful that Dmitri would return. Should I hide? Where should I go? My legs aren’t working right at all. Now they are made of jelly. Wobbling jelly. I begin to laugh to myself as I imagine my knees as jelly. Better than thinking about Maria’s brains as jelly.“Excuse me?” A man calls out, his voice oddly cheerful. “Anyone here? I’m looking to get a gift for—” Then, “What the hell?”I just stare at him. I manage to say some words but they sound muddied, distant, as if I am lying in the deepest dregs of a swamp.The man had pulled out his cell phone. “Hang on. I’m calling 9-1-1.”I sit back then, unable to look away from Maria’s still form.More time passes, but I don’t know how much. Someone throws a blanket around my shoulders.“She’s in shock,” I hear someone say.Someone else tries to put something hot into my hands, but I cannot unlock my arms from around my knees. I need something to hang on to, something to keep me upright in this low staggering nightmare.“Miss, can you tell us what happened here?” someone asks, crouching down beside me. Places her hand on my shoulder and shakes me. Evidently reads my nametag. Speaks more forcefully. “Dana! Who did this? Was this a burglary? Did you see where the bur-glars went?”I latch onto just one of the questions. Who did this? Dmitri’s eyes looking back into mine. That wasn’t the Dmitri I knew. I shake my head. I didn’t know that man. I don’t know where he went or what he’s doing.“I don’t know anything,” I murmur. “I mean, yes. It was a burglary. I don’t know where he went.”“He?” The police seize on the gender. “A man? Just one man? Can you describe him?”“He wore a mask. Please,” I plead. “I need to call my boyfriend, Dmitri. I need to speak with him.”“We can call him,” one of the uniformed officers says. “But first we need to take you to the hospital. You’ve had quite a shock.”When another officer enters the store, they turn their attention from me. I hear muffled bits of conversation. “Jenkins is on his way. He’ll pull up the security footage.”I stand up, still clutching the blanket around me, and move toward the door. I want to be away from the cops looking behind the counters. Away from the photographer snap-ping pictures of the store. Away from the body.Avoiding eye contact, I slip out the door, that infernal bell jangling as I step onto the street. Every movement is labored. Everything around me seems in slow motion. One thought overrides everything now. Must find Dmitri. I hope I didn’t say it out loud.I can’t shake the image of Dmitri shooting Maria, of the blood seeping from her wound. Of her life ebbing away. I make it halfway down the street before I begin to vomit.“Are you all right?” a passer-by asks me.I shake my head, and the gesture worsens my nausea. I lose my balance, and the ground swarms up to meet me.I wake up at the hospital, an IV line in my arm. I feel my forehead, touching the bandage that someone has wrapped around the sore spot.“Just a minor concussion,” the nurse says to me, having noticed my eyes were open. She continues to check my vitals. “We’re giving you something for the pain. And we’ll have to hold you overnight for observation. Is there someone I can call for you?”“Dmitri, my boyfriend,” I gasp. Then, the events of the morning wash over me. “Alt-hough, maybe not. I mean, he might be away.”“Away?”“He might have taken a trip. I’m having trouble remembering.”“That’s to be understood. Concussions can cause short-term memory loss.” Her tone offers a studied professional comfort. “You’ll remember. How about your parents? Or a friend?”No, no, there’s no one. My parents died when I was a teenager, and I really didn’t have any friends. “I’ll be fine,” I say. Dmitri had been my friend, these last few months. My other friends had slipped away, and I don’t even know how it had happened.“Some detectives have been waiting to speak to you,” she says. “I’ll bring them in.”A man and a woman step into my hospital room, and flash me their badges. The male detective introduces himself as Detective Wilson. He looms over his partner, Detective Lee. They both wear rumpled suits and serious shoes, just like detectives do on TV. Their demeanor is friendly and solicitous but their smiles don’t reach their eyes when they shake my hand. They inquire after my health, and then begin to ask the same questions I remember answering earlier. Could I describe the burglar? Had he been alone? Which di-rection had he gone? Was he on foot?Then the bombshell question. “Did you know him?”A stabbing pain seared through my forehead. “Did I know him?” That murdering thief was not my Dmitri. Not the friend who’d held my hand when we’d had to put my dog to sleep. Not the man who’d made me laugh when I was down about my family. Not the man I’d shared a bed with. “No, of course I didn’t know him.”In the morning, when I am released from the hospital, I find Detective Wilson waiting for me.“We have a few more questions for you,” he says. “It would be best if we could talk down at the station. Just a few things we were hoping you could clear up.”“I’m hungry,” I mutter. Besides I needed to know if Dmitri was back at our apart-ment. I just had to speak to him. “Can’t this wait?”“How about I buy you a donut on the way.”The donut turns out to be a stale mistake. One bite and I’m retching into a police station wastebasket. With a grimace, Detective Wilson puts the trashcan out in the hallway no doubt to keep the smells at bay. Detective Lee joins us, and leads me into a small room with three chairs and a table. Is this an interrogation room? Am I being interrogated?