She wasn’t showing too much yet. She had white paint flecked on her fingers. She’d spent the morning painting the baby’s room upstairs, even though I’d told her she should take it easy.
I checked my email. I had a lot of messages. My boss at UTSA, asking again if I wouldn’t reconsider taking another course. They were shorthanded as usual. He could easily move me to a full-time position. He mentioned the magic words: health care.
There was a message from a client, thanking me for finding her runaway daughter. There was an email from Ana DeLeon, Ralph’s widow, with a photo attachment of their baby girl, Lucia. Lucia had her father’s crazy grin as she dumped the candy out of her Christmas stocking.
Worst of all, there was a Happy New Year e-card from Rosa Gomez, the lady who had hired me to find her fugitive husband. I didn’t know why Rosa kept me on her holiday list. She claimed I was the only one who listened to her, the only one who even tried to help her husband. I’m not sure I would’ve been so generous in her position. I had failed her miserably.
I shouldn’t have tortured myself, but I found the file on Julio Gomez and looked through it again. Like homicide detectives, PIs get certain cases that just won’t let you go. They are never resolved. They haunt you.
I’d never even met Julio Gomez, but I knew him well.
His photo showed a thin Latino in his late twenties. A good smile. Intelligent eyes. He didn’t look like a criminal. You wouldn’t latch your door if you saw Julio Gomez walking down your street. When he was seventeen, he’d been messing around on a highway overpass with some friends, throwing rocks down at cars. One rock went through a Ford pickup’s windshield with the force of a cannonball and killed a passenger. Julio had been tried as an adult, but he managed a plea deal—involuntary manslaughter. Light sentence. That had been his first strike. When he was twenty-one, he’d gotten in a fight at a bar. Unfortunately, the man had been an off-duty cop. This got Julio an assault conviction and a bad reputation among the city’s police.
When he got out of jail again, Julio married his longtime sweetheart, Rosa. Julio tried to go straight, despite the fact that the cops often harassed him, knowing he had a short temper. Julio was doing all right—holding down a job, thinking about community college. Then the gas station where Julio worked was burned to the ground a few days after Julio had argued with his boss. Julio was brought up on arson charges. He made bail, panicked and ran. He told Rosa he couldn’t take another felony count. More jail time would kill him.
Rosa was our down-the-street neighbor. She passed my business sign every day on her way to work. She came to me, begging me to find her husband. Julio was innocent of arson. Julio had to come back and stand trial.
I never found him. Within a few days, rumors started surfacing about Jesse Longoria. The marshal had been asking questions about Julio, following the same trail I had. Except Longoria had been more efficient and more ruthless.
What bothered me most was that I never found the body. I couldn’t prove what had happened. I couldn’t give Rosa any closure. All I had were suspicions. But that morning at the cemetery, Longoria’s smile had given me all the proof I needed. I thought about his pleasant eyes, his black wool coat, his gold college ring. He was a hunter with no remorse. He had found Julio Gomez, probably put a bullet through his head, dumped the body and gone out afterward for dinner and a show. He would’ve done the same for Ralph Arguello, or me for that matter, if we’d happened to cross him.
Why did I want people like that in my life?
I slipped Julio Gomez’s file back into my cabinet. I stared at the picture of my dead best friend’s daughter Lucia on my computer screen. Ana DeLeon’s brief note: Love from both of us.
I closed the email program.
In the living room, Maia hung up the phone. She sat with her fingers laced, staring at the coffee table. I knew she was gathering her composure before she came to talk to me. Especially during the first trimester, pregnancy had played hell with her hormones. She got emotional much more easily than usual, and she hated it. She spent a lot of time alone at the coffee table.
In six months, give or take, I would be a father. When I thought about the legacy I had from my own dad, what did I come up with? His old service revolver, a warped view of law enforcement and some painful memories from a childhood spent on Rebel Island.
I stared at the telephone. Then I picked it up and dialed my boss at UTSA. I told him I was thinking of going full-time. He said he’d start the paperwork immediately.
Benjamin Lindy watched the sunrise through a hole in the wall.
He’d always been an early riser. When he was a child, his job had been to tend the chickens on the ranch. He’d get up before first light and check for eggs, remove snakes from the hutch when necessary and let the chickens out to feed.
Early rising had been bred into him. It was a physical need. Around four in the morning, his feet would start to tingle and the sheets would begin to feel itchy. He had to get out of bed. On the rare occasion when he overslept and woke up to daylight, he felt sluggish and out of sorts, cheated of his best time.
This morning, he’d had several hours to think before the sun came up. He’d decided he would have to kill someone today.
The room he was standing in had been a parlor suite. Sometime during the night, a telephone pole had pierced the wall—crossbeams, wires and all. It stuck about five feet into the room, hanging crookedly in the ragged hole it had made, the top of the pole pushing against the ceiling. Lord knew where the telephone pole had come from. There were none on the island, as far as Benjamin could recall. When he came into the room, his first impression was that a sailing ship had rammed the building with its bowsprit.
He slipped his hand into his pocket. The gun was still there. It was his spare sidearm, too small for his hand, but now he was glad he’d brought it. Years ago, he’d bought the gun for his wife, but she’d never touched it—one of the many things she’d left behind. He supposed there was some sort of justice in him using that gun today.
He watched the sky turn from black to steel. He still burned from the indignity of having his .45 taken from him, as if he were a child. A year earlier, the state had tried to take away his driver’s license, simply because he was old. Then a murderer had taken away his daughter, as if old age did not rob a man of enough. Navarre had no right to rule over him. Benjamin had been wrong to trust Navarre. He would do no more than the law.
He remembered his last conversation with Peter Brazos, who of all people should’ve been his ally. Peter had turned all his attention to prosecuting the drug lords. He poured his rage into his work. But Calavera…Peter saw the assassin as a tool, not the real target. When Benjamin had tried to warn him what the Marshals Service was doing, tried to suggest they take action before the assassin could cut a deal, Peter had shut him down.
“Not another word,” Peter snapped. “Ben, this conversation never happened. If they can bring the bastard in, I’m all for it. I want his bosses’ names. All of them. But you will do nothing outside the law. Do you hear me? Nothing.”
Benjamin backed down. He pretended compliance. And they had not spoken since.
Outside, the rain still fell, but the storm was dying. Today Calavera would try to escape. Benjamin wasn’t sure how, but he could not allow anyone to leave the island, not until the assassin was dead.
He would have to watch.
He replayed last night in his mind. His brief conversation with Ty had bothered him. Those boys were up to no good. Ty knew something about Stowall’s murder, but he’d wanted to talk to Navarre. He wouldn’t tell Benjamin anything.
Then there was Alex Huff, the way he’d left abruptly last night. And now where was he? Every time Benjamin looked at Huff, he had to constrain his anger. It could not be a coincidence that the trail to his daughter’s murderer had led here, to this vile hotel. The very existence of the place was an insult to him. And Alex Huff…he would have to be found.
Benjamin rested his hand on the telephone pole. He would have to be patient a little while longer. He would have to control his anger. But when the time came, he could not hesitate.
Blood for blood today. No one would take that away from him.
As dawn broke, I stood at one of the many shattered windows on the second floor and surveyed the aftermath of Hurricane Aidan.
It was still raining hard, like white noise rather than water. The northern stretch of the island had disappeared under the waves. As far as I could see—which was only about two hundred yards—the Gulf churned in a foamy gray soup that blurred into the sky.
The main bulk of the island had been reduced to a few acres around the hotel. The path was scoured away. The remaining palmetto trees were stripped of fronds. The boat dock had vanished, but as the waves swept back, the tips of the old pilings peeked above the water.
In front of me, the lighthouse rose dark and undamaged. Even the glass of the lantern house seemed to have survived the storm, which seemed impossible—insulting, really. But no light flickered in the windows. No sign of movement. I still needed to check out the light I’d seen the night before, but I wasn’t anxious to brave the rain again. I was steeling my nerves to go downstairs when I heard a cough behind me.
“Is it over?” Lane Sanford asked.
She was standing bleary-eyed in the doorway. Her hair was flat on one side. She had pillow-wrinkles on her cheek.
“Looks that way,” I said. “What brings you here?”
“This is my room.”
I might’ve blushed. I hadn’t even noticed the dresses hanging up in the closet, the makeup kit on the bathroom sink. The door had been open, the room soaked with rain like all the others. I’d just walked right in. The past night in the hotel had eroded my sense of private property.
“Sorry,” I murmured.
“It’s okay.” She came to the window and looked out.
The sky was getting incrementally brighter. I still couldn’t see the sun, but there was a yellow quality to the gray, like butter in oatmeal.
Lane looked healthier in the light. The wrinkles around her eyes might’ve been from smiling rather than weariness. Her blond hair had a silky sheen.
“When will the ferry come?” she asked.
“It’s more likely the Coast Guard will get here first. They’ll have some fast boats riding out the storm.”
She strained her eyes toward the horizon, as if trying to imagine such a boat. I could relate. After last night, the idea of rescue—the notion that anything could exist beyond Rebel Island—seemed as fantastic as pink elephants.
“My ex-husband was never here,” she said softly. “I owe you an apology.”
Out in the ocean, something surfaced—a gleaming white arc of fiberglass, the bottom of a capsized boat—and sank again instantly beneath the waves.
“Why did you run from him?” I asked.
“He murdered a man.”
Lane hugged her arms. “I don’t even know his name. Isn’t that terrible? He was…a migrant worker. Bobby and I lived near the train tracks outside Uvalde. One afternoon in March, while Bobby was at work, this man knocked on the kitchen door. He asked me for a drink of water. I shouldn’t have let him in.”