“You let a stranger into your home?”
“He was thirsty and hungry. He was about to collapse. I didn’t see why not.”
I could think of a lot of reasons. A young woman alone in the country, letting a strange man into her house. But the way she said it made it sound like the most reasonable thing in the world.
“I was alone most days,” she told me. “It was hot. I had the kitchen window open and I was slicing apples. The whole house smelled like wheat from the fields. The man who came to the door…he had dark skin. He wore an old denim shirt, beige pants. His tennis shoes were worn through. He spoke good English. He said he’d hitched a train all the way from Piedras Negras. He had a wife and four children. He wanted to find work so he could send them money.”
I pictured the scene—Lane at one end of the kitchen table, listening to the immigrant’s story. It wasn’t hard to see why the man had opened up to her. When she wasn’t terrified, her face was kind and open.
“He ate a turkey sandwich and some apple slices and a glass of milk,” she remembered. “Then Bobby got home.”
She fell into a kind of trance as she told the rest of her story. It was as if she’d practiced it in front of the mirror many times, trying to make herself understand.
Bobby never came home before dark, she said. But that day he did. He’d had an argument with his foreman and walked off the job. He stopped at a store in Uvalde, bought a six-pack of beer and downed three of them in the truck on the way home.
When he found the Mexican sitting at his kitchen table, he turned on Lane. He struck her across the face, called her a whore. The Mexican man rose and told Bobby to stop.
Bobby grabbed a kitchen knife, the same one Lane had been using to slice apples, and the Mexican man lifted his hands as if that would stop the blade.
Hours later, after dark and a lot more alcohol, Bobby buried the Mexican. He forced Lane to help. They dragged the body to a creek bed behind their rented property and spent hours digging a hole in the wet black earth. Afterward, he told Lane he had only been protecting her. He drove the point home with a good beating. He’d only done what he had to do, killing that Mexican. If she told anyone, he would kill her. Lane had no doubt he meant it.
Three months later, she finally got up the nerve to run.
“I knew he’d never let me go,” she told me. “He’s still looking for me.”
“Go to the police.”
She shook her head. “They’d put me in prison, too. I’ve stayed silent for months. I helped him hide the body. If I just hadn’t let that poor man inside, or if I’d told him to leave a little sooner—”
“What Bobby did wasn’t your fault.”
She brushed the rain off her face. “I told Garrett all this. I told him he shouldn’t get involved with me.”
I didn’t answer.
“I like him,” Lane admitted. “I don’t know what to do. He’s the kindest man I’ve ever met.”
“You need to get out more.”
She pursed her lips. “I understand you don’t approve. You don’t want him to get hurt.”
That stunned me. I’d been so worried about Garrett taking advantage of Lane, I’d never thought about Garrett getting hurt. But as Lane said it, I realized she was right. I didn’t want my brother falling for anyone. I’d seen him do that before. His depression when he was dumped—and he was always dumped—was terrible and dangerous.
And yet, looking at Lane, I felt like some chances might be worth taking, even if they were dangerous. Maybe it was the right thing to unlatch your screen door for a stranger once in a while, let them inside for apple slices and milk.
“I know some good lawyers,” I said. “I’m married to one. We can help you work a deal with the police.”
“You barely know me. You would do that for me?”
“Yeah, I would.”
She rested her hand on my arm. “Garrett was right about you.”
“What did he say?”
“That you could solve any problem. Or you’d die trying.”
“I’d like to avoid the ‘die trying’ part.”
She smiled. “I should go check on Garrett, leave you in peace.”
“It’s your room.”
“I just came to salvage my things.” She looked around helplessly, as if she’d already decided that mission was no good.
“Lane,” I said. “Did you know Chris Stowall was in love with you?”
Her eyes became unfocused. She stared into the storm. “Let me know if you spot the Coast Guard.”
Then she turned and left me alone with a window full of rain.
I stood in front of Lane’s closet and looked at her drenched clothes. A dozen cotton dresses, all pastels, all the same utilitarian style. Four pairs of simple flat-soled shoes. Two small brown suitcases. I had a feeling Lane had brought everything she owned.
At the back of the closet, next to Lane’s shoes, a black electrical cord curled like a snake, frayed copper wires sticking up at the end. I knelt to pick it up, but it seemed to be attached, crimped between the wall and the floor. It took me a minute to process why this didn’t seem right. Then my skin turned cold.
I remembered last night—Lane screaming, swearing she’d seen a man in her room. A man who had vanished into the closet.
I pushed aside Lane’s dresses. I stepped into the closet and ran my fingers along the sides of the back wall. The latch was in the top left corner—a simple mechanism. I pulled it: the wall swung away from me.
A secret door, just like Garrett had suggested. The latch was much too high for him to have found it last night.
I backed out and found my flashlight. When I shone it into the closet, I saw that the secret area was narrow, no more than a few feet deep—a landing on a steep stairwell, crude wooden steps leading up and down, sandwiched between the walls of the guest rooms.
At my feet was the loose piece of electrical cord that had caught my attention. I picked it up. I wondered if it had been caught under the door last night when the man had fled in haste.
I swept the flashlight beam around the rest of the closet and into the stairwell, but I didn’t see anything else suspicious. Just the frayed cord.
I stepped into the secret doorway. Down below I could see the flash of water. The flooding had not discriminated. Along with everything else on the first floor, it had found this hidden stairwell. I decided to go up and began to climb.
The steps were so steep they were almost a ladder, and they dead-ended at another door-size sheet of wood. I found the latch and opened it.
Voices. I was in someone else’s closet. And judging from the smell of the clothes, I guessed it was a college guy’s room.
“It’s gotta be now,” Chase was saying.
“Have you looked outside, man?” Markie’s voice.
“I don’t give a damn. It has to be now or it’ll be too late.”
“All right,” Markie growled. “Christ, point that someplace else!”
“You’re both crazy,” Ty said. “Please, Chase, just let it go.”
“Shut your mouth,” Chase snapped. “You’ve screwed things up enough already.”
Something went crunch. Unfortunately that something was right under my foot. Conversation in the room stopped. I had two choices: back down the stairs or jump out and say “Ta-da!”
Given that Markie had just accused Chase of pointing something at him, I decided on discretion. I backed out and in the darkness relatched the wall panel.
I could hear the closet door opening on the other side. I was sure Chase and Markie were going to kick in the back wall and find me, but there was silence.
“It was nothing,” Chase said. “Damn storm making noises again.”
“Huh,” Markie said. He didn’t sound convinced, but the closet door closed, and I climbed down the stairs as quietly as I could.
Apparently, it was not my day for visiting closets. When I came back out of Lane’s, I found Benjamin Lindy standing by the window.
He turned as I emerged from the rack of dresses. He didn’t look particularly surprised.
“Miss Sanford told me you were here, Mr. Navarre. I didn’t realize she meant in the closet.”
I couldn’t think of another explanation, so I told him the truth.
He stepped past me and checked the passage for himself. He peered up into the gloom. When he came out again, he looked troubled. “The boys’ room, you say?”
“I could hear them arguing. I couldn’t tell what about.”
He fixed me with that courtroom gaze. “They’re drug dealers, Mr. Navarre. Surely you’ve figured that out. Now I’m wondering if they are murderers as well.”
“They’ve got nothing to do with Calavera.”
“Mr. Navarre.” Lindy’s voice held a touch of desperation. “We are entering the most dangerous hours of the weekend. The storm is passing. Sooner or later, a boat will come. Calavera will be getting restless to leave this island. He cannot let us leave as well. He cannot afford to have the authorities alerted.”
“You don’t want the authorities alerted, either,” I said. “You want to resolve this yourself.”
Lindy didn’t answer.
I looked down and realized I was still holding the frayed piece of electrical cord. I felt it was important, but I didn’t know why. It bothered me almost as much as the statue up in Alex’s room.
“How did Chris know to contact you?” I asked Lindy.
“We’ve been through this.”
“He didn’t know you personally?”
Lindy hesitated. “I assume he saw the news about Rachel’s murder.”
“You hadn’t been to Rebel Island before? You didn’t know Alex Huff?”
“Alex wasn’t friends with your daughter? They didn’t go to school together or anything like that?”
“No,” he said coldly. “Why are you asking this?”
I thought about Rachel Brazos’s face, carved in wood. The face of a grown woman carved while Rachel was still a child. A new mother.
“What about your wife?” I asked.
Lindy’s expression hardened. “What about her?”
“There were no pictures in the scrapbook. Who was she? Did Rachel look like her?”
There was a sudden electricity in the room that had nothing to do with the storm. I knew I had crossed a line Mr. Lindy would never forgive.
“That has no bearing,” Lindy said.
“You said you asked Longoria’s advice about your wife. She ran away, didn’t she?”
Lindy stared at the suitcases on Lane Sanford’s bed. The rain in the window made a frame of static behind him.
“My wife was a troubled woman,” he said. “Rachel’s birth left her deeply depressed. Unbalanced. She disappeared and left me to raise our daughter alone.”
“You never found her?”
“I stopped looking. That was Marshal Longoria’s advice. She was better gone. He was right.”
The bitterness in his voice was so fresh his wife might’ve left yesterday.