“Tres,” Maia said, “we need to check it out.”
“We’re on vacation. They have a staff here. Alex can handle it.”
“Fine,” Maia said. “I’ll go.”
“No, you won’t.”
“Hand me my dress.”
“All right,” I relented. “I’ll go. Just…stay put.”
There was a knock on our door. Garrett yelled, “Y’all arguing in there? Thought I heard a gunshot.”
Maia did not stay put. Neither did Garrett.
They followed me down the hall as if I knew where I was going. Garrett was in a wheelchair I’d never seen before. Apparently he kept a spare on the second floor, which told me he’d been visiting the hotel a lot more than I’d known.
On the stairs we ran into the older gentleman I’d seen in the lobby. He was taller than I’d realized, almost seven feet. With his shock-white hair and his black linen undertaker’s suit he was a bit disconcerting to meet in a dark stairwell. That, and the fact he was armed with a .45 Colt Defender.
“I heard a shot,” he explained.
I wasn’t sure what bothered me more—the gun, or the way his hand shook as he held it. He must’ve seen the way I was looking at him, because he slipped the gun into his pocket. “I thought the sound came from upstairs.”
“I was thinking downstairs,” I said.
“I’ll follow you, then.”
Great, I thought.
We trooped into the lobby and I got plowed into by the blond woman I’d seen crying earlier.
“Whoa,” I said. “Where are you going?”
She pushed past me and raced up the stairs.
Chris the manager came out of the office in hot pursuit. He stopped short when he saw us. “Hi, uh…”
His ears were red. He was breathing heavy.
“We heard something,” I told him. “Sounded like a shot.”
“A shot? No, couldn’t have been a shot.”
“Did you hear it?”
“No. I mean…no. Who would have a gun?”
I thought about that. The old gentleman had one. So did Maia. She never left home without her Lamaze pillow and her. 357. Who else?
“The marshal,” Maia said, following my thoughts. “What room is he in?”
Chris paled. “Oh…uh…”
“Come on, man!” Garrett growled. “I got margaritas melting upstairs!”
You don’t argue with a no-legged man who wants a margarita.
“Room 112,” Chris said. “End of the hall on the left. Now if you’ll excuse me, I, uh—” He ran after the blond lady.
“Busy place,” Maia said.
She started to lead the way down the hall, but I put my arm out to stop her. “Pregnant women do not take point.”
“Pooh,” she said.
We found room 112. The door was ajar. I knocked anyway. “Longoria?”
Maia and I exchanged looks.
“Go ahead, point man,” she told me.
Trespassing in Longoria’s room didn’t sound like the safest idea. On the other hand, I had Maia, Garrett and an old guy with a .45 for backup.
I opened the door.
The first thing I noticed was the broken window. Glass was strewn all over the room. Rain blew in, soaking the carpet, the dresser and the open suitcase.
Jesse Longoria was sprawled at the foot of the bed, half wrapped in the blanket he’d clawed off as he fell. He was staring at the ceiling, a pained expression on his face, as if embarrassed that he had not managed to cover the bullet hole in his chest.
Chris ran down the hall. The wind shook the walls. The storm had taken him by surprise. After surfing the Gulf Coast waters so long, he thought he knew the weather. But he’d anticipated nothing like this. It wasn’t natural the way the hurricane had turned toward them, bearing down on Rebel Island with a malicious will.
If he’d known, he never would’ve arranged things the way he had.
When he caught up with Lane, she was in his bedroom, looking through his dresser.
“Stop it!” he said.
She looked up, her eyes still red. Her blond hair was stringy and wet from the shower.
“What have you done?” she demanded.
Chris balled his fists. He stared at the picture on his dresser mirror: a photo of the beach at Waikiki. Thinking of Hawaii usually calmed him down, but now his dream of moving there seemed childish. Had he really believed he’d be able to get away from here?
“I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Chris, I know you better than that.”
“I would never…I’d never hurt you, Lane.”
She looked down at the drawers she’d pillaged and sobbed in frustration.
Chris wanted to hold her. He wanted to apologize for bringing her here, but he’d needed to see her so badly. And she needed protection. He knew that better than anyone.
“I’ll make it all right,” he promised.
She shook her head miserably. The bruises on her face had faded weeks ago, but he could still imagine their shadows around her eyes.
“How many more people are going to die, Chris? You’ve been saying it’s all right. You’re going to fix it, but—”
“I will. Right now.”
He held Lane’s gaze, trying to make her believe him. Whenever he had trouble sleeping—and that was often—he would imagine her eyes, the way they shone when she was happy. He would remember the times he’d made her laugh when they were younger, in high school, before everything went wrong. Since then, he had messed up over and over. His plans had failed. But tonight it had to end.
“Stay here,” he told Lane. “I’ll be back.”
Without waiting for her answer, he headed down the hallway. He knew where he needed to go. How many more needed to die?
One, he thought. Only one.
At least Jesse Longoria was having a worse vacation than I was.
He’d been shot once at close range. There was no visible murder weapon in the room. Longoria’s holster was empty.
“I need to get out of here,” Maia murmured.
I nodded. Pregnancy had made her queasy about things that had never bothered her before—strawberries, hamburger meat, corpses.
“Garrett,” I said, “take her back to the room, please.”
“Jesus,” he said. “That’s like a dead cop.”
“Very much like one.” I looked at the old gentleman in the black suit. “Sir, would you go find the owner, please? Alex Huff. Tell him to call the police.”
After they were gone, I debated the wisdom of walking farther into the room. Glass shards were everywhere. Blood and rain spattered the bed and the carpet. Whatever crime scene integrity there had been, the storm was rapidly blowing it to hell.
I stepped inside. Two beds. There was an outside door. It was closed. I couldn’t tell if it was locked. As I recalled, few rooms in the hotel had private exits. On the second bed were an open suitcase and something else—a small curl of red like a ribbon. I stepped closer. It was a set of plastic handcuffs. They’d been cut.
A cold feeling started in the pit of my stomach.
Alex Huff ran into me from behind. “I heard…Oh, crap.”
He looked only slightly better than the corpse. He had a bruise under his left eye, and superficial cuts on his arms, like he’d been sprayed with glass. His clothes were soaking wet.
“What happened to you?” I asked.
He tore his eyes away from the dead marshal. “The—the windows in the dining room blew out. I was boarding them up, but…Jesus. What happened to him?”
“You mean aside from getting shot dead? I’m not sure. Any idea what he was doing on the island?”
“No, I mean…” He faltered, apparently considering something he didn’t like. “Chris checked him in.”
“Yesterday? It’s been so crazy with the storm and…”
“Nothing. Just…Damn it. Why did he have to go and die in my hotel?”
I studied Alex’s battered face and wondered what he wasn’t telling me. “Call the police. Who’s got jurisdiction here? Aransas Sheriff’s Department?”
“I—I can’t call the police.”
“The phone lines are down.”
“We’ve never had mobile service out here.”
“Email? Smoke signals? Message in a bottle? What do you use for emergencies?”
Alex’s eyes got unfocused, like he was going into shock. I wanted to slap him. He needed to take charge. This was his problem, not mine.
“I don’t…Wait. The radio. It’s in the lighthouse. I was just out there checking the backup generator. I didn’t even think about it—”
“We’re on backup generator?” I interrupted.
“Yeah. Regular power is down. But it’s cool. We got enough juice to get through the night, assuming the house stays in one piece.”
As if on cue, a piece of driftwood flew in the window and slammed against the wall.
“We need to get out of here,” I told Alex. “Radio first. Then we’ll try to seal that window.”
He nodded hazily. I steered him out of the room and made sure he locked the door behind us.
In the hallway, the older gentleman was talking to three college guys, trying to convince them to go away.
“Dude!” one of them said to me. “Is it true?”
He had a mop of red hair, yellow shorts and a white T-shirt, so he was the same colors as a candy corn. His shirt said OU SUCKS, a little diplomatic statement from the University of Texas football department.
Thunder rattled the building.
“You all need to get to the center of the hotel,” I said. “Alex, safest place for storm shelter?”
“Parlor,” he said. “Right in the middle of the building, no windows.”
I looked at the old man, who seemed pretty calm. “You are—”
“Benjamin Lindy,” he told me. “From Kingsville.”
“All right, Mr. Lindy from Kingsville. Would you mind rounding everyone up, getting them into the parlor? We need to make sure everyone is safe. Then we need to have a group talk.”
“Dude!” the redheaded kid said. “A guy got shot? That is freaking awesome!”
Mr. Lindy turned on him and the college guys all took a step back. The old man’s expression was hard and cold as a blue norther.
“I hope,” Lindy said calmly, “that you are using the word ‘awesome’ in some fashion I do not understand. I would hate to think you were treating a man’s murder as entertainment. Now, why don’t you all help me notify the other guests?”
He held out his arms, and without touching the college guys, swept them toward the parlor.
I watched Lindy walk away and wondered what he would’ve been like forty years ago, before his hair turned white and his hands began to shake. I imagined he rarely needed his Colt .45 to make his point.
“Lighthouse,” I told Alex. “Let’s go.”