IN THE WRONG HANDS • by Santosh Kalwar

Nobody believes you. Why would they?

You stand in court. The jury, their faces shining in the artificial light, stare at you, inspect you, look for the slightest twitch, sigh, or exhale to show that you’re guilty. To show that you’re lying.

But you’re not. You’re telling the truth. But the truth is so absurd that it will fall on deaf ears. The truth sounds like every weakly-told lie that gets cooked up in court. It sounds more like a TV show-truth than real life.

It’s a shame, but you don’t blame them. They’re just doing their job as the jury. And their job is not to find the truth; that would be ideal, of course. But it’s unreasonable. Unreachable. The truth exists out there. You can touch it. You know it.

But you can’t share it with these people, no matter how hard you might try. No matter how sincere you sound. No matter how genuine your tears are. The truth does not win in court, and don’t let anybody tell you differently. What wins is the best story. The story people want to believe. And yours, not a soul, wants to believe.

Of course, you are guilty of something. You’re guilty of breaking in. You’re guilty of trying to steal the crown jewels. The priceless centrepiece of the museum. That you freely admit to; after all, you took an oath.

But you didn’t steal them.

As you sit in court, your mind invariably goes back to that day. Driving the nondescript black van through the inky-black night, every now and then illuminated by streetlights. Stepping out into the blistering cold, each exhale sending a great plume in front of you.

Putting on gloves. A mask. Preparing your equipment. Considering your plan, the one you’ve been tweaking, refining, and perfecting for months. Then, mentally rehearsing it for the millionth time.

Your heart was pounding. You thought back to the very first thing you stole: a pack of gum from the gas station when you were eight. You remember the exhilaration, the satisfaction of knowing that you got it for free.

You remember wanting that feeling more. Craving it. Needing it.

You think of your rise through the thievery underworld. Banks, clothing stores, armoured trucks. Hold-up after the hold-up, and not a hitch. You became fabulously wealthy, but soon it was no longer about the money. Instead, it was about the game, the thrill, the rush of taking what wasn’t yours.

It became a drug, and you sought hit after sweet, sweet hit. But you needed more. The jobs had to keep getting bigger, or you’d feel that you’d stagnated.

So you settled on the white whale, the golden goose: the crown jewels. Years of practice, months of planning, weeks of anticipation, culminating in one night.

You got in just fine. Everything went according to plan. You managed to slip in through the roof. Sneak down through the system of ducts that you knew like the back of your hand. Manage to find your way to the security control room and slip some Ambien into the main guard’s coffee. And then shut off the security cam, disable the lasers, and cut the telephone and internet lines.

You slowly made your way to the central exhibit room, where the jewels were on 24-hour watch. You used your tranquillizer to take out the guard; he went down without fighting.

You snuck and slunk your way through the museum-like it was your own home, and finally, you were there, standing before the jewels. You put your gloved hands on the case and began to remove it.

And then you heard him. The security guard you hadn’t expected. The one who wasn’t scheduled for that night but stuck around a bit longer. You turned around to see him, right behind you, gun to your head. You failed.

Now, in court, that security guard stands before you. And he testifies, telling the jury how you’re guilty of stealing the jewels. As he does, he sneaks the slightest, slyest smile at you. A smile you recognize well. A smile that haunts your dreams.

It was the same smile he wore that night. It was the smile he wore as, gun to your head, he approached the case himself. As he grabbed the jewels. As he took them for himself.

Santosh Kalwar works as a poet, writer, teacher and researcher. His stories, poems and articles have appeared in Mad Swirl, unFold, Rusty Truck, New Polish Beat, Chiron Review, and others. For more info, please visit:

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