“Peter,” I noticed. “First name.”
Lindy stared at me. Slowly he nodded with grudging appreciation. “You missed your calling, sir. You should have been a trial lawyer.”
“I married one,” I said. “That’s good enough.”
“If you think Calavera could be shaken up, if you think he had any conscience at all, you clearly haven’t read enough.” He picked up a yellowing newspaper from the table and handed it to me. It was a copy of the Kingsville Record, Lindy’s hometown newspaper, dated almost three years ago.
Before I could ask Lindy what this happened to be doing here, there was a tentative knock on the door: the maid, Imelda, stepped into the library, looking frazzled. “Excuse me, Señor Navarre. It’s your wife. I think you should come.”
Maia was lying on her side, a pillow between her legs, two under her head, one hugged against her chest. She looked uncomfortable and a little pale.
“Too much excitement,” she said. “That’s all.”
“She is having mild contractions,” Imelda said. “Pre-labor.”
I tried to keep my panic from showing. “Are you sure, Imelda?”
“I’ve had children, señor,” she said, like it was a subject she preferred not to talk about. “The señora needs to rest and be very still.”
“She might deliver.”
Be calm, I told myself. Keep it upbeat.
“You can’t deliver on Rebel Island,” I told Maia. “I want our child to have U.S. citizenship.”
Imelda looked confused. “But, señor, this is—”
“He’s teasing, Imelda,” Maia said. “Tres, the baby is fine. I’ll be fine.”
“We’re all fine,” I agreed. “Sure.”
Maia sighed. “Imelda, could you find some more pillows for my husband? I think he’s going into labor.”
Imelda looked more confused. “But—”
“She’s teasing,” I said.
“Ay, too much teasing,” Imelda scolded. “You should rest, señora. Perhaps some red-raspberry-leaf tea?”
“That sounds wonderful. Can you do that?”
“We have some in the kitchen, señora. And a portable heater for the water.” She fussed with Maia’s pillows a little more, then trudged off to get the tea.
“Don’t go anywhere,” I told Maia.
I followed Imelda and stopped her in the hallway.
“Hey,” I said, keeping my voice down, “if it came down to…you know—”
“Delivering the child, señor?”
“Yeah. Could you help?”
She tugged nervously on her wedding ring, which I didn’t figure was a good sign. “I would try, señor. But this is the señora’s first child. She is older. There could be complications.”
“How many children do you have?”
Imelda twisted the cords of her apron. She had brown hair streaked with gold and white, like marbled fudge. If her husband’s face was fashioned for smiling, Imelda’s was made for stoic suffering. She had the pinched expression and weathered skin of someone who might have spent her life toiling in the fields, squinting against a hot sun.
“I will help if I can,” she told me. “I have done it before back in…back in Mexico. I think I could. I remember.”
“I will get the tea.” And she shuffled off like the hot fields were waiting, just at the bottom of the stairs.
I sat on the bed and massaged Maia’s feet. Her ankles looked swollen. I tried to remember what that meant. A normal thing? A danger sign? Maia and I had agreed on one thing about the childbirth process: the standard “how-to” advice and facts about what happened when stayed with us about as well as Japanese VCR instructions.
Early on, Maia had decided to listen to her body and just go with that. What the doctors had to say was too scary, anyway. She’d refused amniocentesis. Too risky. There was nothing it would tell her that she really wanted to hear.
The baby was at high risk for muscular dystrophy. We both knew that. Maia carried the genes. Fifty-fifty chance our child would have it. The possibility of MD was like the loaded gun Maia kept in her underwear drawer, or the blackmail file she kept on her enemies. We both knew it was there. We knew it might come into play someday. But there was no use talking or worrying about it, so we didn’t.
At least that was the theory.
“Take my mind off the cramps,” Maia said. “Tell me what’s happening.”
A murderer running loose in the hotel was the last thing I wanted to talk to Maia about, but I could tell she needed distraction. Her conversational tone was forced. I’d never seen her look quite so worried, or rather try so hard not to look worried.
I kept massaging her feet as I told her about my trip to the boathouse, the bag of money, then finding Chris’s diary and the email to the U.S. Marshals Service. I told her about my conversations with Jose and Benjamin Lindy.
Maia focused on my words the way she did in Lamaze class, as if this were another breathing exercise. “You really think Chris is the killer?”
“I don’t know what to think. You met Chris. Does he strike you as a bomber?”
“Bombed, perhaps. Not a bomber.”
Maia pressed her toes against my hand. “But it certainly looks like Chris was talking with the marshals. And the money makes it look like he was planning an escape if things went wrong.”
“If Chris brought Longoria here, why would he kill him?”
“Perhaps Longoria reneged on the deal.”
“Doesn’t make sense,” I said. “I know this other marshal, Berry. If I were him, trying to negotiate a delicate surrender, Longoria is the last person I would send. Longoria would never let this guy Calavera skate. He’d kill him first. Berry certainly wouldn’t send him alone.”
“And yet Longoria came here. Alone.”
I nodded. It made about as much sense to me as childbirth manuals. Or maybe I was just too tired to think. As I sat on a comfortable bed with Maia, my body was reminding me just how long it had been since I slept. I had no idea what time it was. Close to midnight, probably.
“What’s in the newspaper?” Maia asked.
I looked at the copy of the Kingsville Record that I’d set at the foot of the bed. I’d completely forgotten about it.
“Old news from Mr. Lindy,” I said. “We don’t want to know.”
“Sure we do,” she said. “Go on.”
And so reluctantly I picked up the paper. The story Mr. Lindy had wanted me to read was easy enough to find. It had been front-page news in Kingsville, three years ago.
The meeting was held in a closed club called Gatsby’s on the north side of Kingsville. Someone, perhaps to prove they’d actually read the Fitzgerald book in high school, had duplicated the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg on a billboard outside. The parking lot was marbled with weeds. The front doors were elegant mahogany with beveled glass, which did not at all fit the plain white building that might have been anything—a warehouse, a beer barn, a pawnshop.
Three cars arrived within fifteen minutes of each other. Two new Mercedes sedans, each with Coahuila license plates, and a red Ford F-350 that belonged to Papa Stoner, one of South Texas’s most notorious middlemen in the heroin trade.
Stoner was sixty-two. Thirty-three of those years had been spent in prison. He was called Papa Stoner because he had a son, Eduardo, “Stoner, Jr.,” who had gone on to an illustrious career as a gang leader on the South Side of San Antonio. Eduardo had been murdered by rivals shortly before his twenty-fifth birthday, but Papa was still proud of him. He’d avenged himself ruthlessly on his son’s killers, and still wore Eduardo’s name tattooed on his arm, encircled in snakes and flames.
Papa Stoner came to the meeting alone, unlike his guests. Mr. Orosco and Mr. Valenzuela each brought two guards. Traveling with any less would have been suicide for such important men.
They met in the restaurant’s bar, which still smelled of stale beer and cigarettes and lemon furniture polish. Papa Stoner had personally inspected the place that morning. He’d found no traps, no wires. He’d taken care of bribing the right cops to make sure their meeting would not be disturbed. When you’re entertaining guests from across the border, after all, you want to show them hospitality.
Orosco was the nervous one. His operation was still small. This was a bold play for him, going behind the backs of the major cartels. He dressed too well for the meeting—an Armani suit, leather shoes, a new Patek Philippe watch. His hair was parted in the middle, well oiled, so he looked a bit too much like a maître d’.
Valenzuela was older, more confident. He wore beige slacks and a white guayabera as he did every day. He was a large, messy man with unkempt hair. Everything about him suggested disorganization, but he ran one of the tightest drug operations in Central America. Not a kilo escaped his notice, and he never forgot a name or an insult.
The men talked for almost an hour. They agreed that the border war between the cartels was a major opportunity for smaller players. They could form a new pipeline, quadruple their profits within the year. With the cartels at each other’s throats, the border could become a free trade area, a NAFTA for drugs.
Stoner just about had Orosco and Valenzuela convinced. Everything would be fine. They didn’t need to fear reprisals. Orosco started to relax.
Lunch arrived, specially catered from Stoner’s favorite Kingsville deli. The four guards took the meal boxes from the delivery boy at the door. Valenzuela and Stoner were breaking out the cold beer when Orosco’s phone rang.
No one knew where he was. Only a select group of people had his mobile number. He answered the phone.
A man’s voice said, “Go to the bathroom.”
The line went dead.
Orosco hesitated only briefly. He’d been in the drug trade most of his life. He knew that some things went beyond logic. Most people would ignore something like a random phone call, but Orosco’s gut instincts had saved him dozens of times. He excused himself from his colleagues and went to the restroom.
He was standing at the urinal when the restaurant exploded. The restroom door blew off its hinges and smoke billowed into the room. Orosco dropped to the tiles and curled into a ball. He was shivering like a child when he stood up.
He looked into the dining room, which was now in flames. Papa Stoner, Valenzuela, the bodyguards—all sprawled motionless on the floor, their clothes smoldering and peppered with holes. The walls bubbled with fire.
Orosco ran for the exit, tripping over bodies. His eyes stung with acrid smoke. He made it outside and ripped off his smoldering jacket. Thank god he had his own car keys.
He opened the door of his Mercedes and found a note on his seat, next to a sugar-candy skull.
The note said, They are watching. Never again.
Orosco was whimpering. His hands couldn’t work the keys. He heard sirens getting closer. He had to get away. He got in the car and slammed the door. He didn’t know why he’d been spared. Perhaps he was too insignificant to the cartels. Perhaps they wanted him on their side, so they had let him keep his life.