The printout read:
We can talk, but it has to be in person. Specify a time and place.
Below that, apparently clipped from the email to which Berry was responding:
At least twelve names. Payments. Instructions. Enough to put my employers in jail for a long time. But I need ABSOLUTE assurance. Any leak, broken promise or hint of betrayal, and I vanish.
I was still sitting on Chris’s bed, staring at his picture of Waikiki Beach, when Alex came in and yelled, “You did WHAT to my boat?”
I didn’t so much placate him as wear him down. He was too drunk and tired to do much more than yell and complain and throw Chris’s clothing around.
“Damn it,” he muttered at last. He sank on the bed and buried his head in his hands. “That’s it. That’s just about everything gone now.”
I felt no satisfaction at his misery. As much as I’d begrudged him buying Rebel Island, I knew he’d be facing hundreds of thousands in repairs, assuming we weathered the storm at all. He had his life savings tied up in this hotel.
I thought about Chris Stowall’s diary, his descriptions of Alex’s drunken paranoia. I’m afraid what he might do if I left.
“Alex, when we first got here you wanted to ask a favor. What was it?”
He laughed—a broken, unhappy sound. “Doesn’t matter now. I was going to ask you to help me convince Garrett.”
“I’m selling the island. Or I was, before this storm.”
“Selling the island? You’ve wanted to own this island since—”
“I know.” He stared at the boarded-up window. “I used to believe in this place. Now…I don’t know, Tres. It’s falling apart. This was my last weekend for guests. I have a couple of potential buyers. Thing is…I’d rather you and Garrett have it.”
“What? The island?”
He nodded. “I thought Eli would’ve liked that. The idea of you guys keeping it running. You could do better than I did.”
It seemed unnecessary to point out just how crazy that idea was. How could Alex think we’d have the money? How could he think I’d want Rebel Island? Still, I couldn’t help feeling a little honored.
I remembered all the summers I’d come here before my parents got a divorce, in that small window of years when my childhood had seemed somewhat normal, before the day Alex took me out in that boat.
“Neither of us has the money,” I told him. “Even if I did…there’s too much history here for me. This is a goodbye visit.”
I hadn’t thought about it until I said it, but it was true. I’d come here to bury a lot of things—my memories of Dad, my PI work, my years as a bachelor. The whole idea of possessing this island made me feel kind of like Ty—like the walls were closing in.
A cracking noise echoed through the house. Alex closed his eyes, as if he were trying to sense where the damage was. “I’d better go check that.”
“Tell me about Chris,” I said. “Were you two getting along?”
He hesitated. “I told you, we’ve known each other forever.”
I waited, but Alex didn’t add anything.
“Did Chris have a personal computer?”
“He used the office computer,” Alex said. “That’s it, I think.”
“Do you have one?”
“A computer? Hell, no. I hate the things. Chris did most of my spreadsheets and stuff.”
“I need to check the office.”
“The power’s out. Computer won’t work.”
“I still want to look around. Maybe sift through paperwork, any printouts Chris might have made.”
“You’re not thinking Chris murdered that marshal.”
“I don’t know.” I held his eyes. I didn’t mention the cash in the duffel bag. If Alex had heard about it, he didn’t mention it either.
“All right,” he said. “I’ll get Jose to show you. He helped Chris sometimes. Knows more about computer stuff than I do, anyway.”
He took a deep breath, like he was preparing for another round of battle. “Now I gotta get upstairs. I think the damn roof just blew away.”
Maia hated the staircase. It seemed to get steeper every time she climbed it. She wasn’t sure why Imelda decided to escort her, but she welcomed the help. Imelda held her arm, steadying her, encouraging her when she was out of breath.
“I feel like an invalid,” Maia said.
“You are doing well, señora. Someday you will tell your child about this weekend.”
“He’s never going to hear the end of it.”
“It is a boy?”
Maia stopped for a breath. “Imelda, I don’t know. I just started calling him ‘him.’ I think so.”
“My abuela used to dream the gender of babies before they were born. She told me—” Imelda stopped herself. “She was never wrong.”
“About your own children?” Maia asked.
Imelda nodded reluctantly. “We are almost to the top, señora. A few more steps.”
They took the rest of the climb in silence. Maia imagined she was back at the house in Southtown, just going upstairs to the bedroom. No storm. No killers.
Her doctor had thought she was crazy for agreeing to this trip. Tres didn’t understand either.
“It’s just Garrett,” Tres had told her. “We can say no. Hell, we should say no.”
But Maia had convinced him to accept. The last few months she’d felt stifled. Not by the house or by her marriage or even by her decision to put her legal career on hold. She felt claustrophobic within her own skin. Just her and the baby, stuck in here for so many months, waiting.
The idea of going somewhere new, seeing a place that was part of Tres’s past, had intrigued her. Especially since it was a place Tres had never mentioned before. Not even once.
“You spent every summer here?” she’d asked.
He nodded reluctantly.
“You know. The usual stuff kids do at the beach.”
Maia imagined things from movies and books, or things she’d witnessed at the beach when she was an adult. Her childhood had had no beaches. No family vacations. Her only escape as a child had been climbing the mulberry tree to get away from the misery in her family’s one-room shack, her father’s depression and her brother’s illness.
“I want to see Rebel Island,” she’d decided.
“No,” Tres said. “You really don’t.”
But the more he tried to dissuade her, the more curious and determined she’d become. With Tres, she always felt as if she were fighting to keep hold, always competing with his roots here in Texas, a place she had never understood. She was determined to weave herself into his territory, to be part of his landscape.
Even after all that had happened this weekend, Maia did not regret her choice. She just wished she understood why Tres disliked this old hotel and Alex Huff so much.
Imelda helped her into the suite. She turned down the bed, but Maia didn’t feel like lying down. She walked a slow circuit around the room, steadying her breathing. Water dripped from the ceiling, falling into the cup she’d placed on the dresser. The candle sputtered on the nightstand.
“Señora, do you need anything?”
“Probably many things,” Maia admitted. “Can you tell me how you came here?”
Imelda blinked. “To the hotel, señora? We used to live in Nuevo Laredo. It became too dangerous. We came north to Corpus Christi because I had a cousin there. We were very lucky to find Señor Huff.”
Maia didn’t ask if Imelda and Jose were in the country illegally. In South Texas, she’d learned, that was like asking someone what denomination of Christian they were. It hardly mattered.
“And how did you find Alex Huff?”
Imelda smoothed out the comforter, trying to make the corners perfect. “By chance. Jose had been working construction, but work was slow. We went to the fireworks, for the Fourth of July, to cheer him up. They have fireworks at the beach in Corpus Christi. Señor Huff was there, next to us, and he began telling Jose how the fireworks were made. Jose…he liked Señor Huff immediately. They both liked the fireworks. By the end of the night, Señor Huff had offered us jobs at the hotel.”
From the little Maia had seen of Alex, she could believe he’d do something impulsive like that. Chris Stowall, the manager, had struck her as a similar hardship case Alex had taken in. Still, something about Imelda’s story seemed incomplete.
“Imelda,” Maia said. “Your grandmother—your abuela. What did she dream about your children?”
The maid’s face darkened. “Señora, I should go. The other guests…”
She closed the door behind her so carefully the latch didn’t even click.
Maia stood at the dresser. She looked at the old photo hanging on the wall. It was black-and-white, in a frame made from pieces of driftwood. Tres hadn’t said a word about the photograph, and so at first Maia had paid it no attention. She assumed it was just another rustic decoration, no different than the stuffed fish or the nets with seashells. But when she studied it, she realized the photo was much more.
It showed three men standing at the docks, the mansion looming behind them on a gray morning. The man in the middle had white hair and milky skin. He wore a dark robe over what looked like pajamas, as if he’d just been dragged out of bed. He squinted in the light and his posture was stiff. The man on the left was a little younger, mid-forties perhaps, with a weathered face and sad eyes. He wore a Greek fisherman’s cap and a plaid shirt and faded jeans, and he held a boat line in his hand. He had Alex Huff’s crooked smile and beak nose. Alex’s father, Maia guessed. The third man dominated the picture. He was a large man in a crisp white shirt and dark slacks, eyes as black as gun barrels. He smiled, but there was no kindness in it. His face was flushed from drinking. A lawman—Maia could see that just from his posture, the expression of power. He was used to people getting out of his way. He had Tres’s face—but so different. It was Tres without his sense of humor, his self-doubt or his kindness. Maia had known Tres for years, and this was only the second or third time she’d ever seen a picture of his dead father, Sheriff Jackson Navarre.
Maia wondered why Tres hadn’t even commented on the photo, or tried to remove it from the wall. She doubted it was an accident the picture was hanging here. Perhaps Alex had put it here as a reminder: Our families are tied together. Or maybe something less charitable. Maybe the message was more: You owe me.
Before heading to the hotel office, I reread Chris Stowall’s journal. One entry caught my attention, because it was one of the few written in detail. It described how Lane Sanford had convinced Chris to take the job as Rebel Island hotel manager.
Lane Sanford had just gotten engaged. Chris was cryptic about the details, but he clearly wasn’t happy.
They were walking together at the seawall in Corpus Christi. Chris didn’t record the time or the weather, but he wrote very specifically about what Lane was wearing. Her sleeveless dress was pastel blue. Her sandals were decorated with cowry shells. Her hair hadn’t been dyed blond yet. It was ginger brown, braided down her back.