Derrick Miller stared down at the two open suitcases in front of him, closed his eyes for a few seconds, and slowly opened them again.
It was insane but, in the back of his mind, he had hoped they would disappear. Maybe the suitcases—one filled with multiple stacks of hundred-dollar bills bound neatly with multicolored rubber bands, the other stuffed with packs of white powder that was more than likely cocaine—were figments of his imagination, mini mirages right here at the Branch Avenue Boys’ Youth Institute dormitories.
But of course, they weren’t; the suitcases didn’t shimmer then disappear like a waterfall floating in the desert. They were still there with their lids yawning open, and what they contained was bared for all the world to see.
This was real, too real for Derrick’s liking.
“Come on, man! We gonna be late,” someone shouted in the hallway, shaking Derrick out of his stupor.
His eyes darted to the dormitory’s open door as two boys jogged by, probably on their way to their morning classes. Derrick’s eyes snapped back to the suitcases. He couldn’t leave them here. He certainly couldn’t let any of the boys at the Institute see them. He didn’t know whom they belonged to, but he suspected Cole, the student who was assigned to the bunk where he’d found the suitcases, knew who the owner was. He’d talk to Cole later, but his first mission was to find a place to hide these damn things.
Derrick quickly flipped both of the lids closed, zipping each of them with shaking hands. He grabbed the handles and yanked them off the bed. They landed on the linoleum floor with a thud. They had to weigh about a hundred pounds each.
Derrick gritted his teeth as he lifted the suitcases and lugged them to the door, one in each hand. He walked straight down the hall to the stairwell. A few students eyed him curiously. Several boys had a questioning look on their faces, probably wondering what the Institute’s director was doing, carrying luggage down the hall in the middle of the day like he was heading to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport fifteen miles up the road.
“Hey, Mr. Derrick!” one of the boys—dark skinned and stocky—called out as he held open the stainless steel door for him. His dark eyes dropped to the suitcases. “Damn, those look heavy! You need some h—”
“No!” Derrick barked between bursts of breath.
The boy’s ready smile disappeared.
“I mean . . . I mean, no. I-I got it. Th-thanks for asking though,” Derrick stuttered with a slight grimace.
The boy nodded just as Derrick disappeared into the stairwell and made the slow trek down the stairs to the floor below. With each step, the suitcases felt heavier and heavier. Sweat erupted on his forehead and rolled down the bridge of his nose. The short bursts of breath came out faster, making a faint whistle between his clenched teeth. The tendons and muscles in his arms started to jitter. His heart was beating fast from the stress and the strain. When he finally pushed the steel door open and reached his office, he didn’t lower the suitcases to the floor as much as hurl them.
He shut his office door behind him, locked it, and looked around frantically for a place to hide the suitcases. The office didn’t have a storage closet and the suitcases certainly wouldn’t fit in any of his cabinets or shelves. The only spot where they could possibly fit was a corner beside his file cabinet. He shoved them both into the dusty, dark space.
By now, not only was his brow sweaty, but pools of sweat had also formed under his armpits. His palms were slick with it. Sweat even dripped down his back and the crack of his ass.
When Derrick finally finished shoving the suitcases into the hiding space, he dragged across the floor a potted fiddle-leaf fig tree his fiancée, Melissa, had given him for his birthday to add a little softness to his sterile office. He set it in front of the suitcases. He then stood back and surveyed his handiwork.
It was a questionable hiding job—the plant barely provided any coverage—but it would have to do for now.
He flopped back into his rolling chair and let out a slow, long exhale. It took another ten minutes for his heart to finally return to its normal pace, for his hands to stop shaking.
How the hell did those things even get here?
How had the boys managed to smuggle something so heavy and massive into the dorms, right under the noses of the instructors and security guards? When had they done it? It must have been recently because the suitcases certainly would have been noticed during their weekly inspections of the boys’ bunks and lockers. Had someone else brought them?
Cole knows all the answers, he thought, staring at the fig tree. And that boy better tell me the damn truth!