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Roger had always considered himself a donut connoisseur. From bear claws to beignets, he had made it his life mission to try as many flavors and variations as he could. On his travels abroad, he sought out bakeries and patisseries like others sought the Coliseum and Great Wall. He had tasted kkwabaegi in South Korea, zeppole in Italy, and picarones in Peru.

Geni, his wife, had joked that if there was a donut god, he would’ve knelt at its altar.

Back home, he worshiped exclusively at Winnie’s Winsome Bakery. It was an institution of the West Hartland community, maintaining its imprint on the corner of Main and Crook for the past 123 years. Every day at 7:36 A.M. on the dot, Roger strolled through its glass-paned door, and planted himself in front of the counter, his eyes taking in each of the delectable treats in the cases. As a child, Roger would drool over the sweets from the seat of his stroller as his Grandpa Auggie pushed him, pointing to the crullers, brioche, and Auggie’s go-to, the classic vanilla iced long john.

“Morning, Rog,” Bernie, the shop’s owner, said as the cash register before her rang with another sale. Wisps of hair fell out of her graying braid, as splotches of flour freckled her cheeks.

“Morning, Bern,” Roger called.

“I’ll be right with you.”

“Don’t make me wait too long,” Roger joked, receiving a hearty chuckle from Bern in return. Passing frescoes of bakers wearing pillowy white hats, Roger stopped halfway down the glazed gallery in front a tray of maple-dipped fritters. Just like Grandpa Auggie had his favorite, this was Roger’s, the perfect combination of fluffy pastry and subtly sweet flavoring. He had been craving one ever since coming home from work the night before, exhausted and in need of comfort.

While Bernie asked most customers if they wanted a bag or a box, Bernie grabbed the pink bakery box off the rack, walked right over to Roger, and opened the fritter case. “How many today?”

“Let’s do three of those.”

“Three?” Bernie dropped her jaw in surprise. “Rough morning?”

“Preparing for a rough day,” Roger said, leaning his arm against the case. The truth was, he hadn’t slept well last night, anxious about what was to come at work, like he generally was before days like this. Pressure-cooker days that were a volatile combination of anxiety, tension, and unpredictable emotion. So much hung on the outcome of today, his future, his coworkers, and dozens of ripples extending out to family and friends.   “Only two are for me, though.”

“Good. Now I don’t have to call your doctor,” Bernie replied, sliding each of the donuts into the box. Considering Bernie was married to Roger’s practitioner, Dr. Ferris, he didn’t doubt that Bernie would place the call. “What else can I get you?”

“Let’s go with those Boston creams and blueberry glazers,” he said, listing off a half dozen or so more until the box was heaping and heavy with donuts. Bernie sent Roger off with a promise to not eat the whole box on his own, and another jingle of the cash register.

On his 20-minute commute, Roger broke into the box and pinched off a piece of the fritter, and then another.

The sugar caked on his fingers transferred to the radio dial. To enter the right headspace, he couldn’t play music. That would be too lively, too happy. Instead, he turned to talk radio, the words not translating over the low volume, but their diction, their anger, was palpable nonetheless.

By the time he pulled into the business park, Roger had steeped himself into the necessary darkness, akin to the black of his t-shirt and jeans. Cleaning his fingers with a cloth, he swept them through his salt and pepper hair, and gave one check in the rearview mirror. Although so many have described his eyes as a bright and vibrant green, in this moment they lacked any warmth, frigidity rightfully taking its place.

Aside from the smudge of maple on his cheek, Roger was the picture of pristine, unflappable, unwavering, uncaring—four of the ingredients key to doing his job not just successfully, but with finesse.

Donuts in hand, Roger opened the peeling metal door of his building, and was greeted by his coworkers with subdued hellos and smiles as they eyed monitors and typed at computers. As promised, Roger did not eat all the donuts by himself. On his way to the back of the building, he doled out the pastries: a cronut to Darrell, and a Bavarian cream to Mila, until all he had left were his two remaining maples.

Drawing a steady breath, Roger punched in the code, and pushed in the steel door. Anxiety had formed a tight coil around him from head to toe—a common feeling on the harder days of his job. But just like those days, he couldn’t let it show. This had to be done, and a flicker of weakness from him would destroy that.

“How we doing in here?” he asked, carrying the pink box like he was a 1950s’ waitress toting a tray. He placed it down in front of the singular chair and table in the room, and opened the lid. “Hungry for anything? I know I am.” He picked the fritter from the box, and bit off a mouthful. “Nothing to say?”

Across from him, a man sat bound in the chair, his wrists tied to the bars at the chair’s back, his ankles to its metal legs. His jaw clenched around the gag in his mouth. Blood streamed down his face from a gouge at his hairline, the crimson dying his blonde hair shades of red and orange. While his cheeks bore the tracks of tears, his eyes showed no sign of them. All they carried was anger.

“You know, the sooner you give us what we want, the sooner we get you out of here?”

No response.

“Hmm.” Roger chewed, and cocked an eyebrow. “You sure, Jake?”

A blink. Roger hadn’t planned on getting anything more from his detainee.

From all their research, from all their interactions, Jake Ramirez was stalwart, a cool customer, in almost every aspect of his life, from his decisive business acumen, to nearly all his relationships. Nearly and on that singular word weighed an expectation worth millions. Millions that would better Roger’s life, and every one of his comrades outside this room.

“Okay.” Taking another bite, Roger closed the box, and he didn’t miss how Jake’s gaze followed. He was indeed hungry, but fighting it.

From his back pocket, Roger slipped out the print out Mila had handed him on his way in. It was creased, but the subject was still clear. No doubt about it, even if for his own benefit, Roger wished it was less so, the subject’s fear less stark, less painful to witness. For Jake, it was necessary.

Roger laid the paper on the table, and spun it. “How about if it’s to save your son? Want to talk now?”

Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

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