“Look, Tres. I can’t…” Alex ran his hands through his hair. His fingers were trembling. “I can’t handle this right now, okay? The hotel is falling apart around my ears.”
“You haven’t found Chris?”
“Not a sign. The guy’s disappeared.”
“Then I’m glad you arranged a dinner,” I said. “We need to warn the others. They need to know.”
“You’re going to scare the hell out of everyone because someone slipped an envelope under your door?”
“Alex, if this guy Calavera is trapped on the island, he’s got no way off until the ferry tomorrow night.”
“Well, I guess, unless—”
“He can’t afford to have anybody get in the way of his escape.”
“What are you saying? He’s going to kill us all?”
“That’s what I would do,” Maia said.
Alex and I both stared at her.
“If I were a cornered assassin,” she amended.
Alex shook his head miserably. “A nice dinner. All I wanted was a nice dinner to take everyone’s mind off things.”
He ripped off another piece of duct tape, slapped it across the doorway like a bandage, then trudged off down the hall.
“He’s hiding something,” I told Maia.
“Maybe you just don’t like him.”
“Yeah, I don’t like him. But he’s also hiding something. He used to make fireworks when he was a teenager. Fuses. Timers.”
“Tres, a hit man using explosives and a kid playing with fireworks are two very different things. Something is a little fractured about Alex. I’ll give you that. But he doesn’t seem dangerous.”
“I don’t believe he’s never heard of Calavera.”
“What if he’s the one who gave you the articles?”
“That doesn’t make sense either,” I said. “I don’t think Alex reads.”
Maia rolled her eyes. “You really don’t like him.”
The plastic and boards and duct tape billowed and creaked against the ruined door, like some kind of artificial lung. I wondered if it was my imagination, or if the wind sounded like it was lessening a bit.
“If Calavera is here,” Maia said, “he’ll need to leave. And if he knows that we know he’s here—”
“Somebody knows.” I tapped the envelope in her hand. “And Longoria was shot. We have to assume Calavera is already desperate.”
“He can’t have us raising the alarm. He can’t risk getting quarantined on this island.”
“We’re in serious danger. All of us.”
She took my hand. “Want to go to dinner?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Dinner sounds good.”
Benjamin Lindy pointed his gun at the mirror.
How had he gotten so old? He recognized his eyes, sharp as ever, but his hair was thin and ghostly white. His face looked like the moon’s surface, all scars and craters. The year he’d met his wife, 1963, seemed like yesterday. So did his daughter’s birth. How had he allowed so many years to pass? To get this old and have nothing to show for it…Nothing but desolation, the loneliness of having outlived everyone he’d ever cared about.
The gun shook in his hand. He swung it to the left, then the right. He found that if he did this, he could swing the barrel back to center and find his mark. He’d practiced on the ranch, just to be sure.
Thunder shook the mirror and his reflection rippled. He lowered his hand. He hadn’t realized how tight his finger had been on the trigger.
The photo album lay open in front of him. All the happy moments were there. He tried to concentrate on them, but what he saw were other scenes: faces from photographs he’d burned. He saw his wife the day she left. The sun caught her hair and turned it from brown to gold. She wore a white cotton dress that showed off the freckles on her shoulders.
The baby was crying in the house, but Benjamin ran out the front door, after his wife. She didn’t turn when he called to her, but he caught her in the driveway and tried to grab the suitcase—the same brown leather case she’d taken to Italy on their honeymoon. It spilled open and her few possessions tumbled out—a few extra dresses, some lingerie he’d never seen. The only thing he recognized: a photograph taken of her on vacation, standing in front of the Bray Mansion on Rebel Island.
“Goodbye, Ben,” she said.
He was too stunned to stop her as she got in the car, leaving her things behind on the front lawn. Afterward, what stuck in his mind were her earrings: silver seashells. She never wore the jewelry he gave her. But she was wearing those, a gift from another man.
I told you not to trust her, Jesse Longoria’s voice spoke in his head.
Longoria thirty years ago, sitting in his San Antonio office, cigarette smoke swirling through the hot light slanting through the window. He looked smug and confident in his caramel suit, his eyes black as a crocodile’s. Longoria had counseled revenge.
You let her walk out on you…You’re going to live with the fact that she’s laughing at you every day, sharing another man’s bed, raising his children instead of yours?
Benjamin had refused, but the words irritated him for years, like a grain of sand at the core of a pearl. And this spring, he had called Longoria again.
This time, Longoria said, we do it my way.
Benjamin remembered the hotel staff dragging Longoria’s body through the kitchen on a plastic tarp. Longoria’s eyes had still glittered darkly, as if being alive or dead made absolutely no difference to him. The gunshot wound was right where a tie clip should have been.
So much for doing it Longoria’s way.
Benjamin heard footsteps in the hallway outside his room. “Mr. Lindy?”
It was one of the college boys: the burly one, Markie. The boy seemed like the calmest of the three, the most polite, but there was a cruel light in his eyes that Benjamin didn’t trust. Markie reminded him strongly of a young Jesse Longoria.
“You lose your way, son? The liquor cabinet is in the parlor.”
Markie’s eyes registered the gun. “Dinnertime, sir. You want me to say you’re not coming?”
“I’m coming,” Benjamin said.
He set down the gun. He closed the photo album, still seeing the picture that he’d burned long ago: his wife smiling in front of the Rebel Island Hotel, smiling for another man.
I had to give Jose and Imelda credit. It’s difficult to set an elegant dinner with the dining room windows boarded up and the floor littered with broken glass, but they’d done their best.
Most of the furniture had been scooted aside, leaving one large table with clean white linen and settings for ten. Apparently Jose and Imelda would not be sitting with us, which I thought a bit formal for a natural disaster. On the other hand, two more chairs would’ve brought our number to twelve, like the disciples, and I wasn’t anxious for this meal to resemble the Last Supper.
No electricity, so the food was nothing fancy—bean tacos, Vienna sausage and crackers, apples and cheese, still-cold beer, wine, bottled water.
As Maia and I took our places, Mr. Lindy was in deep conversation with one of the college guys—the big bald one, Markie, who looked like a bodyguard version of Humpty Dumpty. Lindy was drawing on a napkin, showing him something like a football diagram. Garrett was telling Lane Sanford a joke, and Lane was actually trying to smile. Alex Huff was pouring Chase a glass of wine, explaining the difference between merlot and pinot noir, and Chase was looking very confused. Imelda and Jose bustled around setting out plates and trying to keep candles lit, since the flames kept sputtering and dipping. There was no dinner music, but the storm against the plywood provided a rhythm track of pops and thuds and atonal moans.
There were two empty seats. One for our missing manager Chris Stowall, I guessed, and the other…Ty, the third college guy, was also not here. Maybe I shouldn’t have put off Chase when he wanted to talk about his friend.
Once everyone was served sausage and fruit and wine, Alex got to his feet and tapped his glass with a fork.
He’d taken a few minutes to wash up. He’d bandaged his cuts, so his face now looked like it had been properly barricaded for the storm. “Well, here’s to…making the best of it.”
“And the body in the basement,” Markie added.
“Hey, c’mon,” Garrett said. “Everybody relax. Listen outside. The storm’s lightening up.”
“That is the eye coming ashore, señor,” Jose said as he refilled Garrett’s glass.
Everybody looked at him.
“I have been in hurricanes before,” Jose explained uncomfortably. “That is the eye.”
“Well, whatever it is,” Alex said, “we can use the break. We need a little time to just relax and forget about…you know.”
He glanced at me, silently pleading. Being the heartless guy I am, I said, “We shouldn’t relax.”
Now everybody looked over at me. I had a general idea how a cancer doctor must feel coming into a waiting room. Nobody wanted to hear what I had to say.
“Somebody slipped this under my door.” I set the envelope on the table. “It would be helpful to know who.”
Facial expressions are important. In those first few seconds, I tried to register everyone’s. Alex I’d already tested, and unless I had completely misread him, the envelope was a total mystery to him.
Chase looked confused and uneasy, but he’d looked that way before. His friend Markie glared at me, holding his fork like a dagger. Benjamin Lindy narrowed his eyes. He barely glanced at the envelope, and seemed much more interested in what I might be thinking. Lane Sanford looked terrified, as if her ex-husband might leap out of the envelope at any moment. And Jose and Imelda…they stood in the background, trying to be inconspicuous, but I saw them glance at each other. I wasn’t sure what they were communicating.
“A death threat?” Garrett asked me. “The killer wrote to you?”
“This isn’t from the killer,” I said. “This is about the killer, a man called Calavera.”
Again I checked everyone’s reaction. I couldn’t tell much.
Jose cleared his throat. “Señor, this is the …hit man they talk about?”
“Everyone, señor. The newspapers, sometimes.”
“I know who you’re talking about,” Mr. Lindy told me. “Calavera the assassin. He kills with explosives.”
“Did you ever work on a case that involved him, sir?”
Lindy shook his head. “I retired long before he started. But I know the name. I know he’s murdered many innocent people. You believe he’s here?”
I felt the weight of everyone’s eyes on me. I knew how badly they wanted me to say no.
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “But someone…probably someone at this table, gave me this information for a reason.”
I told them about the newspaper articles and showed them the message: FIND HIM.