She was still holding my phone. I resisted the urge to grab it.
“Madeleine . . . why did Frankie kill those women?”
She made a fist in the quilt, pulled it over her lap. “You know why. My dad did the same thing when he was young. He liked having power over them. With Frankie . . . it just went too far.”
“No,” I said. “That’s your father’s excuse, but it wasn’t about power for Frankie. Frankie strangled his victims. It was about hatred.”
Madeleine said nothing. She rubbed her arms, as if she could still feel the bruises that used to be there when she was ten years old.
“Frankie hated your father,” I said. “Your father drove your mom to an early grave. Frankie couldn’t take out his anger on his dad, so he took it out on everyone else. Teachers and police. You. Finally, the women along Mission Road, the same area where your father once preyed. Frankie couldn’t hold your father accountable. He didn’t have the courage or strength for that. So he killed those women instead. It was the best he could do.”
Madeleine stared at the letter jacket on the security camera. “I hate this room.”
“Your father put you in that treatment facility partly for your own protection,” I guessed. “He was worried what Frankie might do to you.”
She didn’t answer.
“Don’t try to please your dad,” I told her. “Don’t try to follow in his footsteps.”
“Who says I am?”
“Walk away. Move. Go out of state. Wouldn’t he let you?”
Madeleine smoothed the quilt over her lap. “You moved to California for a while, right?”
“Did that work for you—just leaving?”
“Alex is jockeying to take over the operation,” I said. “Once your dad dies, he’ll either force you to marry him or kill you. He’ll have to.”
“He wouldn’t dare.”
“He as much as admitted it,” I said.
Madeleine stood, steadied herself on the bedpost. “Your friend’s wife, the cop lady—she’s getting better.”
I had to make an effort not to look at the hole in the wall. “Is that what the call was about?”
“The call? No. Her condition is a secret. My dad has strings he can pull. Even with doctors. Well . . . especially with doctors, these days. They’re keeping her sedated to keep an eye on her heart rate, but they’ll probably try to bring her around late tomorrow, maybe Monday.”
“And she’ll tell who shot her.”
Madeleine nodded. “And maybe who shot Frankie.”
“Who else knows this?”
“Just the cops, I guess.”
That didn’t make me feel better, after all the things Maia had told me.
“The lady who was here earlier,” Madeleine said.
“You two . . . serious?”
Madeleine said, “Oh.”
She picked up her champagne, staggered toward the door.
“That’s who called,” she threw over her shoulder. “She wanted to talk to you. I said you were busy.”
“She must have loved that.”
“She sounded pretty desperate. Guess that’s why she trusted me with the message.”
“‘The news is coming early.’ ”
“I thought she meant the news about the police lady in the hospital getting better. But now . . . I’m not sure. She said you needed to meet her as soon as possible. I got the feeling she wanted you out of here—fast.”
I tried to look puzzled instead of scared for my life. I’m not sure I pulled it off. I glanced at the bedroom door behind Madeleine, and wondered, briefly, if she were drunk enough for me to overpower her and make a break for it. Probably she wasn’t.
“Why would your girlfriend want you out of here?” she asked.
“Jealousy,” I speculated. “Because I’m having too much fun.”
Madeleine studied me. “You’re weird.”
“You wouldn’t consider letting Ralph and me out?”
“Another two prisoners running across the lawn in the middle of my dad’s party? I don’t think he’d like that. I delivered the message. That’s my risk for the evening. G’night.”
“Hope it works out with you and Maia. Depending on this . . . news.”
She closed the door behind her.
I waited for five seconds, then checked the deadbolt. Blessed be the inebriated. She’d forgotten to relock the door. I was thinking about how to jam it open when I heard Virgil’s voice outside, talking to some other guy.
I stayed still, waited.
The guys were right outside the door. Virgil grumbled something about Madeleine. The other guy laughed.
Neither of them checked the lock.
I could bust out and surprise them, but two against one, me with only a baseball bat and fashionable silk pajamas—I didn’t like the odds. I could take down two men, maybe, but the house was still full of people. Armed people. I wouldn’t get far.
I went back to Frankie’s bed. Ralph was calling my name through the hole in the wall.
“You catch all that?” I asked.
“Most,” he said. “Ana—she’s—”
“Gonna make it, yeah. But the news coming out early—”
“The DNA.” He hesitated. “Vato, I was about to tell you before . . . something I gave Maia, from Titus Roe.”
He described the police printout with Maia’s personal information and my address.
Once the news sunk in, I was tempted to put a few more holes in the wall. “Goddamn it.”
“I’m telling you, vato. It’s Kelsey.”
I tried to wrap my mind around the idea. It still seemed wrong. But who else? Hernandez? I thought about the lieutenant in his Armani suit and his fatherly smile. It seemed even more unlikely.
Then again, I thought about the client I’d killed a couple of days ago, Allen Vale, the well-dressed physician with the friendly smile and the loaded shotgun.
What had Maia said? Tres Navarre, impeccable judge of character.
“We gotta get out of here,” I said.
“Claro. You got any ideas?”
I told him about my door. “You want to try it?”
A long pause. “Yeah, but wait a few hours. Let the party die down.”
His voice sounded heavy.
It made me realize how tired I was. The long day was catching up with me—too much adrenaline, too much worry. As dangerous as it was to wait, if I tried to pick a fight in my present condition, I’d be committing suicide.
“You’re right,” I said. “A few hours sleep.”
I lay back on Franklin White’s bed and stared at the ceiling.
I told my body to wake me up at 3:00 A.M. Then we would make our escape. With luck, Ana would be conscious tomorrow. She’d get us all off the hook.
I had a bad feeling in my stomach as I fell asleep. Maybe I knew, even then, how incredibly wrong things would go.
ETCH WAS UP WHEN THE CHURCH BELLS STARTED RINGING.
After thirty years in the neighborhood, he could anticipate St. John’s sunrise service. Every Sunday, he rose before the bells and dressed in coat and tie, though he hadn’t been to mass since Lucia died.
It wasn’t that Etch had stopped believing in God. He just figured the two of them had nothing more to say to each other.
Still, the bells comforted him, the way watching family picnics comforted him when he was riding in a police car. He liked knowing some people could have a normal life.
He chose a brown wool Italian suit, teal shirt, mauve tie, leather loafers. The temperature outside had dropped below freezing. He could tell from the knock in the water pipes, the color of the sky out his window. A Blue Norther had rolled in—a snap of Arctic air that had no business in Texas.
He turned and stared at his empty living room.
He was down to a coffee table and sofa. No television. No knickknacks. No photos.
Over the last year, anticipating retirement, he had slowly pared his possessions down to nothing. Every week, another box went down the street to the church’s donation bin, until his entire life seemed to have dissolved.
Travel had been the idea, originally. Etch told his colleagues he was buying an RV, striking out to see the United States. Except for his college years, and a few business trips here and there to pick up fugitives, Etch had never left San Antonio. He deserved to travel.
The problem was Etch never bought the RV.
He kept just minimizing his possessions without making preparations for anything new. He felt like he was erasing himself, a little at a time, and something about it felt satisfying.
He loaded his nine-millimeter, attached the silencer.
Not many people in San Antonio owned silencers, but Etch had a collection. He enjoyed shooting in the early morning.
The parishioners didn’t want their prayers interrupted. The neighbors didn’t want their dreams punctuated by small arms fire. Etch tried to be sensitive to their wishes.
He loaded a fresh clip. He went out the back door.
Etch’s house sat on a stretch of Basse Road that hadn’t changed much in the last three decades. To the north, the city grew like a cancer, eating up more rural land every year, but here on the West Side, nobody much cared about progress, or strip malls, or adding a Starbucks to every block.
The boulevard was lined with weeds and cactus and scraggly live oaks. The houses on either side were shotgun shacks on huge lots. Etch’s own was a two-bedroom clapboard, painted the color of provolone cheese. It wasn’t really so small, but it looked that way surrounded by fields of spear grass.
In the spring, the back acre would be flooded with bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush, but now, in the winter, there was nothing but yellow grass.
Etch’s target range was an old olive Frigidaire, sitting in the field between his house and the church. At least once a week, he opened the refrigerator and loaded it with cans, bottles, boxes, whatever he had left in the pantry. Etch still did grocery shopping, though somehow he never got around to eating much. He liked to shoot the contents of the refrigerator, then hose out the remains.
He worked his first clip. He took out three cans of sardines, blew up a two-liter soda bottle, plugged a few shots into the door and watched the recoil whap it back and forth on its hinges.
He knew he was putting off what he had to do this morning. Eight o’clock already. He had to get going before people started waking up and the hospital shift changed. He had arranged to take over starting at nine. That would give him a good hour before the doctors came in to check on Ana—plenty of time to make his decision.
He imagined Lucia, sitting just behind him. If he looked back, she would be there at the picnic table under the huisache tree. She’d be holding a cup of coffee, wearing her patrol uniform.
You can’t murder my daughter, Etch.
“She betrayed you. She isn’t yours.”
She is, Lucia said. You’re not going to win, love.
He feared she was right. He couldn’t carve a victory out of this. He’d been buying time for eighteen years, but if it came down to keeping himself alive or keeping his secrets hidden, he wasn’t sure which he would choose.