“Garrett,” I said. “There could be more explosions. We need to get out of here.”
“This bastard killed Alex in cold blood.” Garrett’s voice trembled. “You didn’t stop him? You let him?”
I wanted to protest, but he was right. After months of reliving Ralph Arguello’s death, wishing I could’ve thrown myself in front of the gun that took my best friend’s life—now another man had died the same way, right in front of me. And I hadn’t been able to stop it.
Garrett nodded, like he was reading my thoughts. “Well, then, don’t stop me now, little bro. You just keep on being a spectator.”
He raised the gun.
“Garrett, no.” Lane stepped between him and Benjamin Lindy. She knelt down in front of Garrett so they were eye to eye.
“Lane, get out of the way.”
“I won’t.” She sounded more determined than I’d ever heard her. “You can’t kill him. You’re not like that.”
“He shot my friend.”
Lane cupped her hands on his knees. “Garrett, you promised to help me. Now let me help you. We’re going to go down to that boat together. No one else is going to die.”
“I don’t need help.”
“Yes, you do, love.” She turned her palms up. “Give me the gun.”
Garrett’s face was gray with pain. He arched his back as if he were trying desperately to stand—to use the legs he’d lost twenty years ago. Then he slumped back in his chair, defeated. He dropped the gun into Lane’s hands.
The four of us were almost to the beach when the hotel disintegrated.
Calavera watched the smoke boil into the sky. Windows melted. The southwest gable collapsed with a sound like distant thunder.
He could not enjoy the explosion. Nothing had gone right. Some had died, perhaps. He wasn’t sure. But too many had gotten free.
Your own fault, he chided himself. You set the explosion too late in the morning. Your will was weak.
The gun felt heavy in his pocket. The solution would not be so clean now, but he would have to act soon.
Across the island, someone was shouting. Another wall of the house collapsed in on itself. A tongue of flame curled up the side of the roof.
Soon, the only place that had ever offered him sanctuary would be a pile of rubble and ash. Maybe that’s really what he’d been after with the bombs—destroying this place. He had no heart for killing anymore. But this place had let him down. He’d let himself believe he could change his life here, find peace at last. And the island had deceived him.
Whether he wanted to kill or not, he had to protect his last secret. He had no choice.
And so he put his hand in his pocket, felt the rough cross-hatching of the gun handle, and waited.
I watched the remaining palmetto trees burn. Stripped to the trunks by the storm, they leaned sideways from the wreckage of the hotel and smoldered like birthday candles on a stomped cake.
The hotel had gone up in a second blast of glory, just as Alex predicted. Boards and plaster and ashes were sprayed across the dunes and against the lighthouse. The heat had cracked the tower’s side. The glass top had melted and collapsed, and as we watched, the structure’s cracks widened.
The poor captain of the Coast Guard boat wasn’t quite sure what to do with us. He was a reservist, a former merchant marine, probably—the kind of guy who knew boats and storms and preferred both to humans. From the trapped look he gave us, I thought he probably would just as soon leave us stranded and sail away. He had a crew of two, both of whom looked pale and shaken from a night riding out the storm. They had sidearms, but I doubt they’d ever used them. The captain told one of the men to radio in our situation.
“Radio who, sir?” the guy wanted to know.
The captain frowned impatiently. “Everyone, I guess.”
Maia and I sat on the beach watching the clouds break and the ruins burn. It seemed insulting that the sun should break through the clouds so brilliantly after the weekend we’d had. Gulls were starting to reappear. Sand crabs dug their way out of the surf, bubbling little geysers to clear their tunnels. The sea wind blew the smoke and ashes toward the mainland and fanned the flames.
The heat was finally too much for the lighthouse. The cracks deepened and the tower crumbled, imploding on itself in a pile of charred white blocks and burning boards.
“Nothing left,” Maia said.
The way she said it, I got the feeling she was talking about more than the buildings.
I put my hand on her belly. Normally, this irritated her—another sign of my constant worry. But this time I think she realized that I was doing it for a different reason. I needed reassurance—not that the baby was all right, but that I was.
She put her hands over mine. “I felt him kick a minute ago.”
“You didn’t tell me that.”
“You were busy almost getting killed.”
“That’s no excuse. I’m always busy almost getting killed.”
She shrugged, conceding the point.
One of the Coast Guard guys came up and offered us granola bars and water, but neither of us was hungry.
“An EMT is en route, ma’am.” He looked nervously at Maia’s belly. I figured it would probably make his day if he had to assist in childbirth. We thanked him, and as soon as he was sure that Maia was not going to start labor immediately, he nodded and moved off with visible relief.
“The police won’t have much of a crime scene,” I said.
Maia nodded. “What will you tell them about Lindy?”
The old man was sitting at the top of a sand dune, staring out at the sea. His white hair was blown the wrong way, like a frosty wave. His expression was empty. I imagined he could turn to stone up there and no one would know the difference.
I wondered if Lindy might go free for killing Alex Huff. The crime scene, the body, the evidence would be hard to use. Not impossible, but it would take an act of will to bring charges against a well-known local attorney and make them stick. I wondered what the D.A., Peter Brazos, would think of all this.
“I’ll tell the truth,” I told Maia. “Not sure it will do any good.”
“Lindy wants to be punished.” Maia was sizing the old man up, the way I’d seen her do many times with clients. “It fits with his idea of right and wrong.”
“Everybody needs closure,” she replied. “This is his. He’ll want people to know he took his revenge. He succeeded.”
I remembered Alex’s attitude in the lighthouse—fatalistic, resigned. But also denying that he was a killer. I didn’t kill Rachel.
It may have been his shot nerves, the cumulative effect of years of a double life that made him sound so convincing. But his denial bothered me.
I looked down the beach where Markie was talking with the boat captain. Telling survivor stories. Ty stood to one side, calmly eating a granola bar. Chase was sitting in the boat like a kid ready to go home. He had an orange blanket around his shoulders, though the sun was rapidly warming things up. When he met my eyes, he asked me a silent, anxious question—Will you tell the police about the drug running? His weekend of panic behind him, reality was starting to sink in. He was beginning to realize that he might go to jail, or worse.
Garrett and Lane were talking nearby in the shade of the washed-up oil tank. Lane was sitting on her suitcase, Garrett in his chair. They were holding hands.
The waves washed the beach. The fires seemed to be burning out. Soon, Rebel Island would be just another sandy dot along the Gulf Coast. No distinguishing features. Its stubborn landmarks finally scoured off the map.
Something was wrong. It took me a minute to think what.
“Where are Jose and Imelda?” I asked.
Maia’s face turned pale. “You don’t think they were inside?”
I looked at the burning wreckage of the hotel and the crumbled tower. “I’ll be back.”
Maia asked where I was going. There was, she reminded me, no place left to go.
“Almost no place,” I agreed. And I headed toward the ruins.
The Coast Guard guys paid me no attention. They were making no effort to contain people, or keep us separated the way any cop would know to do in a crime scene. These guys were first responders. Their job was to rescue us, feed us. Not interrogate us. That was just as well. At this point, no amount of investigation was going to bring justice.
I imagined Benjamin Lindy would say the same thing.
I walked around the side of the hotel. The path was still there in places—gravel and paving stones blown with wet sand in a tortoiseshell pattern. I made my way past a burning tree trunk, a broken rowboat oar, a spray of sodden clothing half buried in the sand. Gnats wove a hazy cloud above the sea grass. Sand fleas had survived, too. They were delighted to find my legs—fresh meat walking through their territory.
The heat of the building was not as intense now. I could walk next to it without feeling like my shirt would combust. My leg still felt like it would collapse on me any minute, but I managed to hobble over the rise and down the other side of the island.
The boathouse was the only structure still standing, though ashes had settled on its blue-shingled roof along with an odd assortment of other flotsam—a few dead fish, some seaweed and part of a shrimper’s net. The door was open. Jose was standing in the doorway, watching me approach as if he’d been waiting.
He had changed clothes. He wore jeans and a red beach shirt and sandals that all reminded me uncomfortably of Alex Huff’s wardrobe. As I got closer, I realized it was Alex Huff’s wardrobe.
“Is Imelda all right?” I asked.
Jose considered for a moment, then gestured inside the boathouse.
“The Coast Guard is here,” I said.
“Yes. I saw them.” His eyes drifted up toward the hotel. “Did you find Mr. Huff?”
“We found him.”
He faltered as Imelda came up behind him. She, too, had changed clothes—a simple gray cotton dress. Her hair was pulled back and her face looked older in the sunlight—her wrinkles deeper, her eyes sunken and pale.
“Señor,” she said. “Is—is your wife all right?”
“She got out before the explosion,” I said. “Barely.”
Imelda’s shoulders relaxed a little. “I am glad.”
“You two made it out as well,” I noticed.
“We were lucky,” Jose said. I noticed the señor was gone, no doubt burned up with the linens and the kitchenware and the dead bodies.
“The police will be here soon,” I told him. “They’ll hear the story of Calavera. I think we should talk before they get here.”
I nodded toward the doorway. Jose regarded me, then said reluctantly, “Yes. Perhaps we should.”
Inside the boathouse, Jose and Imelda’s possessions were stacked neatly against one wall. Two battered suitcases, a few cardboard moving boxes spotted from the rain, a garment bag full of clothes.
“Lucky,” I said. “You just had time to pack everything you own and move it out here.”