On Friday, Juan and Carmella arrived back at the compound around 2:10 p.m. and the limousine drove into the barn as expected. Several minutes later, also as expected, the car drove out of the barn into the circular drive, stopping in front of the house where Juan exited the car and carried the two duffel bags inside and locked them in the study. Unbeknownst to Eva, however, as was his custom, Juan checked the locks on all the windows and found the unlocked corner window. He immediately relocked the window and made a mental note to question the maid about it.
After dinner, Eva slowly pushed her dessert plate away and said to Carmella “I’ll see you around eleven then?” She smiled.
Carmella raised her head slowly and stared at Eva strangely. Then she looked at Juan quizzically. Damn it, Eva thought, realizing she had never said anything like that to them before.
“Maybe,” Carmella said suspiciously. “Why?”
Eva squeezed the napkin in her lap into a tight fist. “No reason,” she said, shrugging.
That evening Carmella and Juan quarreled and did not arrive at Eva’s bedroom door until almost 11:45 p.m. As prearranged with Rafael, when Eva heard them mounting the steps to her room, she turned off her lights, lit a candle, and placed it on her windowsill.
Carmella frowned as soon as she entered. “Why so dark?”
“I thought it would be a nice change, nice atmosphere,” Eva answered, removing her nightgown and climbing under the sheets.
“I don’t like it so dark,” Juan complained, looking at Carmella for support.
Carmella nodded, switched the overhead light back on, walked to the window, and blew out the candle. “That flame is too close to the curtains anyway,” she said, moving toward the bed. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Carmella slapped Eva hard across the face and smiled. Eva heard Juan laugh, and she closed her eyes to wait for the rest.
Despite the signal’s brevity, Rafael had seen it, and he climbed the ladder to the corner window, which, to his dismay, was locked. “Shit,” he cursed under his breath. He thought about breaking the glass, but decided that would make too much noise. Instead, he climbed down the ladder and returned to the barn intending to retrieve a small crowbar to force the lock open. He never found the crowbar he wanted and, instead, settled for a claw hammer. Using the hammer to force the window open was more awkward than the crowbar would have been, consequently, it took much longer. Between the tool search and the window jimmying, Rafael had taken nearly fifty minutes before he was able to gain entry into the study.
The two duffel bags were under the large, ornate desk as Eva had told him, but he realized at once, gaping at their bulk, that he would not be able to carry them and also navigate the ladder. With time running out, Rafael grabbed one of the bags, hurried back to the window and tossed it out the window to the ground below. He froze when he heard the loud thud made by the bag hitting the ground.
What’s that? Had he heard a footstep in the hallway? He froze then heard nothing more. With trembling hands and beads of sweat pooling on his upper lip, Rafael resolved he needed all the time he had left to climb down, hide the money in the barn, and rehang the ladder in its usual position inside the barn. Scrambling down the ladder, he nearly slipped off, but he managed to right himself and make it to the ground safely and silently.
By 3:15 a.m. Rafael was terrified Eva was not coming; then, the sound of the barn door slowly creaking open.
“What took you so long?” he whispered, hugging her.
“They kept arguing,” Eva said, breathing hard. “I could still hear them yelling at each other from my room an hour after they’d left me. I wanted them to be asleep before I slipped out. Did you get the money?”
“One bag,” he said.
“Only one? What happened?” said Eva, not masking her disappointment.
“I’ll tell you later,” he said. “We’d better leave.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “Wake up your father and let’s go.”
The naked bulbs in the tunnel were dim and foreboding; the tunnel air was cold, damp, and stale, and Eva wished she had worn a warmer sweater. With unwavering determination, she led them, striding quickly while Rafael and his father followed a few steps behind. Rafael carried the duffel bag on his back, held in place by a long strap across his chest. With both hands, Rafael held on to his father’s arm guiding him forward. The old man looked frailer than Eva had remembered, and his eyes were huge. He was clearly terrified.
They had covered less than three miles when Rafael called out.
“Stop,” he said.
She turned, her expression alarmed. “What’s wrong?” she asked, but it was obvious. Rafael’s father was down on one knee, his face was ashen, his breathing tortured; he was struggling just to fill his lungs with air.
“My father will never make it,” said Rafael, closely scrutinizing the lines in the old man’s face. “He has bad asthma. I think he’s having an attack.”
“Let’s rest,” Eva said. “We’ll sit and rest for a few minutes and then we can start again.”
Rafael shook his head. “No,” he said, “he will never make it. I have to let him rest and then bring him back.”
“Back?” Eva spit the word out of her mouth. “I can’t go back,” she said, “I’d rather die in this tunnel than go back there.”
Rafael’s gaze implored her. “Eva, please, my father,” he said. “I am all he has left. I can’t leave him.”
Eva drew a deep breath. “I love you Rafael,” she said, “and I want us to be together, but I can’t go back. There has to be something else we can do!”
“Why can’t you come back with us?” he said. “Is it really so bad for you? You have everything you want.”
Eva stared at him, shocked by what she was hearing. “Everything I want! I have nothing, Rafael. Nothing, don’t you understand? Nothing is mine. The clothes on my back, the jewelry, the room, even the books I read, everything belongs to Carmella. Everything I do, I do because Carmella tells me to do it or lets me do it. I have no freedom. I have no say about my life. I am a slave to them, worse than a slave! At least a slave can dream sometimes, but they have even stolen my dreams from me. I can’t close my eyes without seeing her, him, them, pawing me, grabbing me, touching me, fucking me whenever they feel like it!”
Rafael lowered his eyes and glanced toward his father who was still panting alarmingly. “Maybe we could bring my father back and then try again another time,” he said uncertainly.
“I will never go back now,” she said firmly. “Can’t you understand? I have no life! I’m not even a person there. I’m their plaything, their toy, their doll. I’m like some caged animal they take out and torment when it suits them. I’m terrified of the creaks on the stairs when they’re coming for me. Just looking at the two of them now makes my skin crawl. Smelling them makes me want to throw up. I can’t stand it anymore! I won’t stand it anymore. Not now, not now that I have found a way to escape!”
Rafael stared at her while gently rubbing his father’s back. The old man’s forced breathing was easing a bit. “You go on,” Rafael said after a few moments.
“Without you?” She spoke in disbelief. “But I don’t want to go without you. I want you to come with me.”
“It’s better,” he said. Grabbing the strap across his chest, he pulled it over his head and dropped the duffel bag “You go now without me. Take the money with you and I’ll meet you later.”
“Later?” said Eva. “When? How? What do you mean later?” Eva’s eyes searched his anguished face for an answer. Her heart began pounding.
Rafael rose, stepped forward, and took her hand in both of his. “You go to the first red arrow you find and leave the tunnel there. Find places to hide and keep looking for me. You keeping heading north, toward Corpus Christi and I will try to catch up to when I can.”
“How long?” she asked, the pounding in her chest intensified.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “As soon as my father can walk again I will bring him back. I will wait and then sneak in the tunnel another night and come to find you if I can. A few days, maybe a week, I’m not sure. This is better. I will run one of the horses off, and they will think you stole the money and left on a horse. They don’t know you know about the tunnel. This way they will not suspect me or my father either. And, when he is better, I will join you. Please, Eva, my father needs me.”
He squeezed her hand tighter and Eva grasped the enormity of the suffering evident in his face.
They hugged with tortured urgency. “I love you, Rafael,” she said, whispering in his ear, “but I just can’t go back there. Do you understand?”
“I know,” he said, softly. “I know. This is for the best.”
“I’m so frightened I’ll never see you again,” she murmured, feeling herself starting to tremble.
“We both know this is what you must do,” he said, kissing her cheek. “You must have your freedom, and I must have my father.”
Eva gazed intently into Rafael’s large brown eyes. “I love you.” She mouthed the words.
“I love you,” he mouthed in return.
Eva kissed him passionately on the lips. Her shoulders began trembling, and she started sobbing.