He is silent for a moment, and the wind howls into his silence, and his gaze drops to her throat as she swallows Pepsi. Then: "My life changed in Penasco."
"I thought that was Chamisal."
"My life has changed often in New Mexico. It's a place of change and great mystery."
Having thought of a use for the Pepsi can, Holly sets it aside with the hope he will allow her to keep it if she hasn't finished the cola by the time he leaves.
"You would enjoy Chamisal, Penasco, Rodarte, so many beautiful and mysterious places."
She considers her words before she speaks. "Let's hope I live to see them."
He meets her stare directly. His eyes are the blue of a somber sky that suggests an impending storm even in the absence of clouds.
In a voice still softer than usual, not in a whisper but with a quiet tenderness, he says, "May I speak to you in confidence?"
If he touches her, she will scream until she wakes the others.
Interpreting her expression as consent, he says, "There were five of us, and now just three."
This is not what she has expected. She holds his gaze though it disturbs her.
"To improve the split from five ways to four, we killed Jason."
She cringes inwardly at the revelation of a name. She doesn't want to know names or see faces.
"Now Johnny Knox has disappeared," he says. "Johnny was running surveillance, hasn't called in. The three of us—we didn't agree to improve the split from four. The issue was never raised."
Mitch, she thinks at once.
Outside, the tenor of the wind changes. Ceasing to shriek, it rushes with a great shush, counseling Holly in the wisdom of silence.
"The other two were out on errands yesterday," he continues, "separately, at different times. Either could have killed Johnny."
To reward him for these revelations, she eats more chocolate.
Watching her mouth once more, he says, "Maybe they decided on a two-way split. Or one of them may want to have it all."
Not wishing to appear to sow discord, she says, "They wouldn't do that."
"They might," he says. "Do you know Vallecito, New Mexico?"
Licking chocolate from her lips, Holly says, "No."
"Austere," he says. "So many of these places are austere but so beautiful. My life changed in Vallecito."
"How did it change?"
Instead of answering, he says, "You should see Las Trampas, New Mexico, in the snow. A scattering of humble buildings, white fields, low hills dark with chaparral, and the sky as white as the fields."
"You're something of a poet," she says, and half means it.
"They have no casinos in Las Vegas, New Mexico. They have life and they have mystery."
His white hands come together, not in contemplation, certainly not in prayer, but as though each possesses its own awareness, as if they are pleased by the feel of each other.
"In Rio Lucio, Eloisa Sandoval has a shrine to Saint Anthony in her small adobe-walled kitchen. Twelve ceramic figures arranged in tiers, one for each child and grandchild. Candles every evening in the vespers hour."
She hopes that he will make new revelations about his partners, but she knows that she must appear discreetly intrigued by everything he says.
"Ernest Sandoval drives a '64 Chevy Impala with giant steel chain links for a steering wheel, a custom-painted dashboard, and a ceiling upholstered in red velvet."
The long fingers with spatulate pads smooth one another, smooth and smooth.
"Ernest is interested in saints with whom his pious wife is unfamiliar. And he knows...amazing places."
The Mr. Goodbar has begun to cloy in Holly's mouth, to stick in her throat, but she takes another bite of it.
"Ancient spirits dwell in New Mexico, since before the existence of humanity. Are you a seeker?"
If she encourages him too much, he will read her as insincere. "I don't think so. Sometimes we all feel...something is missing. But that's everyone. That's human nature."
"I see a seeker in you, Holly Rafferty. A tiny seed of spirit waiting to bloom."
His eyes are as clear as a limpid stream, but cloaked by silt at the bottom are strange forms that she cannot identify.
Lowering her gaze, she says demurely, "I'm afraid you see too much in me. I'm not a deep thinker."
"The secret is not to think. We think in words. And what lies beneath the reality we see is a truth that words can't contain. The secret is to feel."
"See, to you that's a simple concept, but even that's too deep for me." She laughs softly at herself. "My biggest dream is to be in real estate."
"You underestimate yourself," he assures her. "Within you are...enormous possibilities."
His large bony wrists and long pale hands are utterly hairless, either naturally or because he uses a depilatory cream.
With hobgoblins of wind threatening at the open window in the driver's door, Mitch cruised past Anson's house in Corona del Mar.
Large creamy-white flowers had been shaken from the big magnolia tree and had blown in a drift against the front door, revealed in a stoop lamp that remained on all night. Otherwise, the house was dark.
He did not believe that Anson had come home, washed up, and gone happily to sleep almost at once after killing their parents. He must be out somewhere—and up to something.
Mitch's Honda no longer stood at the curb where he had left it when he had first come here at the direction of the kidnappers.
In the next block, he parked, finished a Hershey's bar, rolled up the window, and locked the Chrysler Windsor. Unfortunately, it drew attention to itself among the surrounding contemporary vehicles, museum grandeur in a game arcade.
Mitch walked to the alleyway on which Anson's garage had access. Lights blazed throughout the lower floor of the rear condo above the pair of two-car garages.
Some people might have work that kept them busy just past three-thirty in the morning. Or insomnia.
Standing in the alleyway, Mitch planted his feet wide to resist the rushing wind. He studied the high curtained windows.
Since Campbell's library, he had entered a new reality. He saw things more clearly now than he had seen them from his former perspective.
If Anson had eight million dollars and a fully paid-off yacht, he probably owned both condos, not just one, as he had claimed. He lived in the front unit and used the back condo for the office in which he applied linguistic theory to software design, or whatever the hell he did to get rich.
The toiler in the night, behind those curtained windows, was not a neighbor. Anson himself sat up there, bent to a computer.
Perhaps he was plotting a course, by yacht, to a haven beyond the authority of all law.
A service gate opened onto a narrow walkway beside the garage. Mitch followed it into the brick courtyard that separated the two condos. The courtyard lights were off.
Bordering the brick patio were planting beds lush with nandina and a variety of ferns, plus bromeliads and anthuriums to provide a punctuation of red blooms.
The houses to the front and back, the tall side fences, and the neighboring houses crowding close on their narrow lots all blocked the wind. Though still marked by blustering crosscurrents, a more genteel version slipped down the roof slopes and danced with the courtyard greenery instead of whipping it.
Mitch slipped under the arching fronds of a Tasmanian tree fern, which swayed, trembled. He crouched there, peering out at the patio.
The skirt of broad, spreading, lacy fronds rose and dipped, rose and dipped, but the patio was not entirely screened from him at any time. If he remained alert, he couldn't miss a man passing from the back condo to the front.
In the shelter of the tree-fern canopy, he smelled rich planting soil, an inorganic fertilizer, and the vaguely musky scent of moss.
At first this comforted him, reminded him of life when it had been simpler, just sixteen hours ago. After a few minutes, however, the melange of odors brought to mind instead the smell of blood.
In the condo above the garages, the lights went out.
Perhaps assisted by the windstorm, a door slammed shut. The chorus of wind voices did not entirely cover the thud of heavy hurried footsteps that descended exterior stairs to the courtyard.
Between the fronds, Mitch glimpsed a bearish figure crossing the brick patio.
Anson was not aware of his brother behind him, closing, and let out a strangled cry only when the Taser short-circuited his nervous system.
When Anson staggered forward, trying to stay on his feet, Mitch remained close. The Taser delivered another fifty-thousand-volt kiss.
Anson embraced the bricks. He rolled onto his back. His burly body twitched. His arms flopped loosely. His head rolled side to side, and he made noises that suggested he might be in danger of swallowing his tongue.
Mitch didn't want Anson to swallow his tongue, but he wasn't going to take any action to prevent it from happening, either.
Apocalyptic flocks of wind beat wings against the walls and l. swoop the roof, and the darkness itself seems to vibrate.
The hairless hands, white as doves, groom each other in the dim glow of the half-taped flashlight.
The gentle voice regales her: "In El Valle, New Mexico, there is a graveyard where the grass is seldom cut. Some graves have stones, and some do not."
Holly has finished the chocolate. She feels half sick. Her mouth tastes like blood. She uses Pepsi as a mouthwash.
"A few graves without headstones are surrounded by small picket fences crafted from the slats of old fruit and vegetable crates."
All this is leading somewhere, but his thoughts proceed along neural pathways that can be anticipated only by a mind as bent as his.
"Loved ones paint the pickets in pastels—robin's-egg blue, pale green, the yellow of faded sunflowers."
In spite of the sharp enigmas underlying their soft color, his eyes repel her less, right now, than do his hands.
"Under a quarter moon, hours after a new grave was closed, we did some spade work and opened the wooden casket of a child."
"The yellow of faded sunflowers," Holly repeats, trying to fill her mind with that color as defense against the image of a child in a coffin.
"She was eight, taken by cancer. They buried her with a Saint Christopher medal folded in her left hand, a porcelain figurine of Cinderella in her right because she loved that story."
The sunflowers will not sustain, and in her mind's eye, Holly sees the small hands holding tight to the protection of the saint and to the promise of the poor girl who became a princess.
"By virtue of some hours in the grave of an innocent, those objects acquired great power. They were death-washed and spirit-polished."
The longer she meets his eyes, the less familiar they become.
"We took from her hands the medal and the figurine, and replaced them with...other items."
One white hand vanishes into a pocket of his black jacket. When it reappears, it holds the Saint Christopher medal by a silver chain.
He says, "Here. Take it."
That the object comes from a grave does not repulse her, but that it has been taken from the hand of a dead child offends.
More is happening here than he is putting into words. There is a subtext that Holly does not understand.
She senses that to reject the medal for any reason will have terrible consequences. She holds out her right hand, and he drops the medal into it. The chain ravels in random coils on her palm.
"Do you know Espanola, New Mexico?"
Folding her hand around the medal, she says, "It's another place I've missed."
"My life will be changed there," he reveals as he picks up the flashlight and rises to his feet.
He leaves her in pitch black with the half-full can of Pepsi, which she expects him to take. Her intention is—or had been—to squash the can and to create from it a miniature pry bar with which to work on the stubborn nail.
The Saint Christopher medal will do a better job. Cast in brass and plated with silver or nickel, it is much harder than the soft aluminum of the can.
Her keeper's visit has changed the quality of this lightless space. It had been a lonely darkness. Now Holly imagines it inhabited by rats and waterbugs and legions of crawling things.
Anson fell hard in front of the back door, and the wind . seemed to cheer his collapse.
Like a creature accustomed to filtering its oxygen from water and now helpless on a beach, he twitched, spasmed. His hands flopped, and his knuckles rapped on the bricks.
He gawped at Mitch, moving his mouth, as if trying to speak, or maybe he was trying to scream in pain. All that came out was a thin squeal, a mere thread of sound, as if his esophagus had constricted to the diameter of a pin.
Mitch tried the door. Unlocked. He pushed it open and stepped into the kitchen.
The lights were off. He didn't switch them on.
Not sure how long the effects of the shock would last, hoping for at least a minute or two, he put the Taser on a counter and returned to the open door.
Warily, he grabbed Anson by the ankles, but his brother was not capable of trying to kick him. Mitch dragged him into the house, and winced when the back of Anson's head stuttered against the raised threshold.
Closing the door, he turned on the lights. The blinds were shut, as they had been when he and Anson received the phone call from the kidnappers.
The pot oizuppa massaia remained on the stove, cold but still fragrant.
Adjacent to the kitchen lay a laundry room. He checked it and found it to be as he remembered: small, no windows.
At the kitchen table, the four dinette chairs were retro-chic stainless steel and red vinyl. He moved one of them to the laundry room.
On the floor, hugging himself as if he were freezing, but most likely trying to stop the twitching, trying to get control of the less dramatic but still continuous muscle spasms, Anson made the pitiable sounds of a dog in pain.
The agony might be real. It might be a performance. Mitch kept a safe distance.
He retrieved the Taser. Reaching to the small of his back, he withdrew the pistol that he had tucked under his belt.
"Anson, I want you to roll over, facedown."
His brother's head lolled from side to side, not in refusal but perhaps involuntarily.
Anticipation of revenge had been in its way a different kind of sugar rush. In reality, nothing about it tasted sweet.
"Listen to me. I want you to roll over and crawl as best you can to the laundry room."
Drool escaped a corner of Anson's mouth. His chin glistened.
"I'm giving you a chance to do it the easy way."
Anson continued to appear disoriented and not in easy control of his body.