She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window.

The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf. Her face wore no expression and she stared meaninglessly into the distance. There was hardly any sunlight on that grey, glum morning and the traffic seemed to be moving slower than usual. Occasionally a man on the pavement would stop to steal a second glance at this woman. She was tall, slender and had beautiful brown eyes. She had a soft voice and a gentle touch. And of course, there was the other side of the coin – she was a cold blooded murderer.

“Miss. Sanjana Ramesh?” her name rang out, breaking her out of her reverie. She looked up. The waiter was holding up the brownie she was ordered. She exhaled a sigh of relief. Even the smallest sounds seemed to startle her that morning. She rose up and walked over to the counter. She collected her brownie and returned to her seat. She needed to think out a plan.

The previous night had been bizarre. Sanjana had learnt the true meaning of stranger danger. What started out as a normal night, soon turned unreal and downright horrifying. As always, she walked into a bar, and started to look around for drugs. She had a good eye for dealers. She spotted one and scored marijuana, went into the ladies room and smoked up. The world was always more colourful with a little help from weed. She sat at the counter of the bar and waited for someone to notice her. Sure enough before long, Vinay, a tall, dark and well-built man, made his way towards her.

“Can I buy you a drink?” and by that of course he also insinuated that he wanted to spend the night with her. She gave a wide smile and a nod, which was a response for questions asked and unasked.

The night went slow. The usual small talk. Drink after drink. Sanjana longed for the time he would quit the charade and just take her back to his place. Her routine was simple. Once she was back at his place, she would offer to make him a drink. She would slip a little something extra into the drink and once he was out cold, she would make away with his possessions. But tonight it just wasn’t that easy.

“My friends are having a party” said Vinay. “We should go.”

Sanjana tried not to sound exasperated. “I’m tired Vinay. Lets call it a night”

“I insist. You’ll love this party.”

Sanjana contemplated leaving him and trying to land a new target. She glanced at the time. 11:43. She looked around the pub. Almost everyone had another on their arms and they were all leaving. It was too late to start over now. She cursed under her breath and stood up. She begrudgingly got her coat and walked with Vinay out the door.

The ride to Vinay’s friend’s house was short and uneventful. Neither of them spoke in the car or so much as exchanged a glance. When Vinay pulled over, Sanjana jumped out and stretched her feet.

“I want to leave soon” she said sullenly. “The sooner, the better.”

Vinay simply took her by the arm and lead her into the small dilapidated looking house, without any response. The door opened with a loud creak and a cheer broke out.

“More company!” someone shouted. Their coats were quickly taken and they were ushered inside. Random people greeted them. Vinay returned all their greetings while Sanjana merely stared back at them with a frozen expression. The house was falling to pieces. Everything inside seemed to be worn out and almost destroyed. The house smelled strongly of whiskey. This was the last place she wanted to be that night. But it had been a while since she had had a good haul and she was running low on cash. So she knew she had to ride this one out.

She walked to the middle of the room and started to dance. The music sort of lulled her into a trance and she seemed to move faster and slower at the same. Maybe the alcohol and weed had finally hit her completely. She spun around faster and faster, until she was dizzy and had to stop. She looked around vaguely for Vinay. When she couldn’t find him, she proceeded to pour herself a drink.

“You are quite the dancer” said a hoarse voice behind her. Sanjana turned around slowly. A bald man with a huge paunch stood uncomfortably close to her. He was breathing heavily and his eyes constantly moved over Sanjana’s body.

“Who are you here with?” he continued.

“Vinay” Sanjana replied.

“Who’s Vinay?” he wheezed.

“Good question” Sanjana thought. Without actually replying, she turned to make her way to the kitchen where Vinay had probably gone.

“I asked you a question”

Sanjana hesitated. She turned around again and grimaced to find the bald man closer to her than he had been before.

“I met him at a bar tonight” she replied. She walked swiftly away into the crowd and out of sight before the bald man could follow her. Vinay was at the far end of the kitchen, engaged in what appeared to be a heated argument. Sanjana acknowledged his presence with both relief and resentment. She walked up to him haughtily.

“I want to leave” she said in an uptight manner.

Vinay ignored her and so did the man he was arguing with. Sanjana was not used to trying so hard to get attention. She grabbed Vinay by the shoulder and forced him to turn around and face her. She repeated what she said.

“You can leave when I tell you that you can leave” Vinay seethed. The man he was arguing with turned to face her. Sanjana gasped a little when she noticed a nasty gash on his face.

“This is her?” the man with the gash said.

“Yeah” Vinay replied. “She could do it”

“She feels like trouble. I can feel it in my bones.”

“You place too much faith in these nonsensical beliefs, Sandeep. She’s fine”

Sanjana listened to all this bewildered. Sandeep, the man with the gash, was studying her face closely. Vinay was regarding her with an air of complacency.

“What am I to do?” Sanjana asked with a hint of sarcasm. She was so tired of this place, she was ready to storm out any second.

“Of course you didn’t bother briefing her” Sandeep sneered. Vinay looked like he was going to break into argument again.

“You’re our money mule” said Sandeep before Vinay could open his mouth. “It’s simple. You’re not on the police’s watch list, so it won’t be a problem.”

“And what do I get in return?” Sanjana’s voice reeked with sarcasm.

“A decent meal and a small cut in our earnings” said Vinay. “We know who you are, so we know you won’t turn this deal down.”

“And who is it that you think I am?”

“A thief. Look around. You’ll see a few familiar faces.”

Sanjana turned around confused. Her heart jumped to her throat when she saw the man she had duped three days ago. He grinned at her.

“Don’t worry, love. I don’t want my stuff back. I just need you to do this job” he said.

Sanjana sank into the chair next to her. Her head was throbbing. She didn’t really have a choice now. She had stolen from these people. It wasn’t like they were just going to let her go. She looked around the room again. All eyes stared back curiously. A lot of faces seemed vaguely familiar now. She wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

“Be more specific. Where should I take the money?” she asked.

A small mutter went around the room. Someone whistled and said “She’s in”.

“The drop is at Mylapore. Five kilometres south of here. Deepak will pin it on your phone” said Sandeep.

At this, the man who she had stolen from, grabbed her phone and punched in something. She got it back with coordinates flashing.

“You will leave this house now. The money is hidden in the back of Vinay’s car. The police will follow and you will let them catch you. Tell them a sob story of how you got picked up at a bar and you weren’t treated right here. That will make them want to barge in here. After all they’re only interested in getting us. They won’t be interested in the car anymore after hearing this” said Sandeep.

“And if I do get caught?”

“Say the money is yours. Never let the cat out of the bag. There are consequences worse than jail.” He flashed a threatening smile. Sanjana flinched slightly but tried not to show it. “Lets get this over with then.”

Vinay escorted her back to the living room. On the way he gave her instructions on how to let the receiving party know that she was one of theirs, the exact words she was to say. After briefing her completely and making sure she had a driving licence, Vinay lead her back to the car they had arrived in.

“Registration and all relevant papers are in the glove compartment” he said. “Good luck.”

And with that Vinay quickly disappeared back into the house, not bothering to look back or say even good bye. Sanjana fumbled around with the keys and finally got the engine started. She looked around at the back seat. There was nothing there. The money was probably in the trunk.

She slowly revved on to the road from where the car was parked, her heart beating erratically. The GPS on her phone showed her which direction to go. She slowly made her way according to the instructions. And sure enough, as predicted a police car soon caught up and a strong, burly policeman questioned her. She repeated the planned story mechanically. And as expected he had hastily rushed off to the house to check what was going on and hopefully arrest some people.

Sanjana continued driving, slowly picking up pace. A sense of serenity crept over her. What was she doing? She had cold, hard cash just lying there in the back of the car. And after all, what was she? A thief. They had said so themselves. She looked around to see if the car had GPS. If so, they might be tracking her. But she couldn’t find anything as such. So they had just decided to trust her? How desperate were they?

She looked at the directions on her phone. Two kilometres to the destination. She calmly closed the app and stepped on the accelerator. She knew an abandoned parking lot nearby. There was a bus station close to that. She would take the money from the back, ditch the car at the parking lot and walk to the bus stand. By the time they suspected anything, she would be long time. She might even skip town. Running into an old target had really shaken her up. Maybe she had overstayed her welcome in this place. The money from this escapade would give her the chance to start over.

The parking lot loomed into view. Sanjana drove over and turned off the engine. She jumped out of the car and went to the rear, her hands trembling with excitement. She opened the trunk and in it was a big suitcase, presumably filled with money. Except it wasn’t resting on the floor of the trunk, but rather on the torso of a man. Sanjana nearly screamed.

“Shhhh” the man motioned her to be quiet. He had curled himself up in the most uncomfortable way to fit into the trunk. “Don’t scream. Just quickly give them the money. They… Wait. Where are we?” Realisation dawned on him rather slowly, as he looked around the deserted parking lot. He reached for a knife that he had concealed in his belt, but Sanjana was faster. She punched him square in the eye, and grabbed the knife before he could. The man writhed around in pain.

“Curse you” he spat. Sanjana pointed the knife towards him, her hand slightly shaking.

“Never held a knife before, have you?” he sneered, still holding his eye.

“You’ll be surprised” Sanjana said quietly. “Give me the money and you can go your way.”

The man laughed. He swore at her and lunged forward. Involuntarily, Sanjana stuck the knife out. She closed her eyes. She heard an unnatural scream of agony and felt warm sticky liquid run down her hands. She let go of the knife and heard a dull thud as something fell against her feet. She slowly opened one eye. The knife had been driven right into his heart. The life had already left his body and he lay motionless on the ground.

Sanjana heart was racing so fast, she thought she might collapse as well. She pulled the knife out of his body and put it aside. She was glad she was wearing a coat. Her clothes beneath were still clean and free of blood. She removed her coat and wrapped it around the wound. She then hauled the body with all her strength and put it back in the trunk. She wrapped the knife in her favourite blue scarf which she always carried in her handbag but never wore. She put this carefully into her bag. She would first get rid of this and then get rid of the body separately at a different place.  She covered the blood on the ground with mud, so there was no trace that any such thing had ever happened. She looked around for a restroom in the parking lot and soon found one. The water that came out of the taps was slightly murky, but she didn’t care. She got around to cleaning the blood off of her hands.

Once her hands and face were clean of blood, she went back to the car.  She held her handbag close to her. She looked at the time. It was close to 5 am. She drove over to the nearest Starbucks and parked in their lot. There was not a soul in sight. The only source of illumination was from the street lamps and the only sounds were the distant barking and howling of the dogs. Sanjana closed her eyes. Murder was after all quite a tiring thing to do.

She awoke to a security guard rapping on her window, telling her that she couldn’t sleep there. She signalled that she awake. The day had already started with vehicles honking loudly and drivers swearing. She got out the car and walked sleepily into the Starbucks. She ordered a coffee and a brownie, and took a seat near the window once she got her coffee. She removed the scarf from her handbag, which concealed the knife and placed it next to her. She needed a plan to dispose that and the body. She looked out the window trying to think of a fool-proof idea. But all that filled her head, was the suitcase full of money, waiting to shape her new life.