Cast into Doubt

PROLOGUE

Prajit Singh didn’t want any drama on his shift. He needed time to concentrate. So far, it had been a quiet night, and that was the way he preferred it. Drivers came and went, coming in to use the restrooms, and pay for their gas. Kids hung around drinking slurpees from the machine at the back of the store, and harried moms came in to pick up a quart of milk for breakfast, or some small bags of chips to toss into the kids’ lunches. Old people bought newspapers and poor people bought lottery tickets. Prajit used the in-between time to work on his studies. He was in medical school, and the work was grueling. He always had a textbook open under the counter. The venous systems, or the lobes of the brain, or grimace-inducing photos of virulent skin conditions were always peeking out from the shelf under the cash register. Prajit was a juggler of time and responsibilities and other people’s needs. He was so used to being exhausted and overburdened that it almost seemed normal to him now.

The door to the convenience store opened, and a young guy came in. Short hair, blue work shirt, angry expression. One of those white guys, born to the privilege of being an American male of Anglo-Saxon descent, who looked unhappy with the way the world was going these days. Prajit knew that he, with his brown skin and accented English, was probably seen by this guy as part of the problem. Prajit also knew, with a secret sense of satisfaction, that someday he would be a cardiologist or a urologist or a thoracic surgeon, and this guy would be sitting politely in his examining room, waiting for his help. Every time Prajit got discouraged, or fed up with the whole routine, he reminded himself of that. The customer approached the cash register and paid for his gas. Prajit thanked him politely. The guy grunted in reply, and then headed down the first aisle toward the back, where they kept the beer. Prajit went back to his reading. Tonight it was diseases of the gastrointestinal system. There was a lot to absorb, he thought.

Pun intended.

All of sudden it began. The raised voices. As soon as he heard them, Prajit remembered the two kids he had seen slipping in earlier, hunched under their hoodies and watch caps, and speaking in whispers that occasionally became harsh, muffled laughter. They had headed down the beer aisle too. Prajit had forgotten they were there. He glanced up at the tilted mirror above the cold case and saw that the two kids and the straight arrow guy were getting into it.

Prajit’s heart sank. He didn’t need this tonight. It was late. All he wanted to do was to finish his shift and go home. Not that it would be peaceful there. His young wife, Ojaswini, and their baby seemed to have taken over the entire apartment with diapers and bottles and toys everywhere that the baby was even too young to play with. Prajit tried to stay sanguine. These were the difficult days. They wouldn’t last forever. One of these days the boy would be old enough for school, and Prajit would be a resident, working twenty-four seven in the hospital rather than in this twenty-four hour a day market. His nights as a clerk would be just a grim memory.

Prajit heard a shout, and looked up at the mirror. The straight arrow had shoved one of the kids out of his path, and he wasn’t going to get away with that. Not without a fight. Prajit came