Crying for Rafael and his father had reddened her eyes, and hot tears stung her cheeks and seeped into the corners of her mouth. Eva’s plan had been flawed, but now, stretched on top of the motel-room bed, she savored—for the moment at least—her escape, her freedom from Carmella and Juan. Her arm draped itself protectively over the duffel bag.
She had walked nearly two hours after escaping from the tunnel through the first emergency exit before happening on the small, ramshackle motel around 7:30 a.m. The duffel bag was heavy and the ground was hard; her feet, her legs, her back all ached, screaming for a rest. The motel owner, an overweight, sweaty, bespectacled man, questioned her about the whereabouts of her car.
“It broke down a few miles back,” she lied. “I’ll have to go back for it later.”
It was clear to Eva he didn’t believe her, but when she placed a twenty dollar bill on the counter to pay for the room he said no more about it.
Money can persuade anyone to do anything, she decided, pocketing the $4 in change. Eva noted how closely the clerk was staring at her; was he was ogling her or memorizing her for some later recollection to pursuers? Either way, his obstinate gaze made her jittery.
Eva had found her room, entered, and double locked and chained the door behind her. Exhausted, she threw the duffel bag on top of the bed and wrapped herself around it.
After five hours of desperately needed sleep, Eva meticulously counted the money in the bag, and it took her over two hours to count it all: $2,683,739.25. Eva put the quarter in the palm of her hand and stared at it. How did a quarter get in here? She dropped it into her shirt pocket and gaped in awe and disbelief at the piles of cash sprawled across the bed.
Methodically, she returned to the bag all but two $50 bills, which she put into the front pocket of her jeans. She painstakingly shoved the duffel bag under the center of the bed, checking multiple times that it was undetectable from either side.
It was after 5:00 p.m. when Eva cautiously parted the dingy, green blinds on her window to peek out. The motel had twelve rooms, and it appeared that two others were now also rented. In front of the door of the room directly next to Eva’s was an expensive-looking red convertible with its top down. A few doors further down was a large station wagon with luggage still attached to the rack on the roof. Eva needed a ride, and she needed to decide which of these two drivers—whoever they may be—would be more likely to take her. She would have to figure a way to meet them.
Eva knocked on the motel door where the station wagon was parked and it was opened almost immediately by a middle-aged man in short pants, Hawaiian shirt, and flip-flops. “Hello,” he said heartily, gawking at Eva.
“Who is it, Ed?” a woman’s voice yelled from the back of the room.
“I don’t know yet, Susan” he said. Turning back to Eva, he smiled and winked.
Seconds later, Susan elbowed next to Ed and gave Eva a hostile stare. She was a least a foot shorter than Ed and twenty pounds heavier. Eva heard two small children arguing somewhere in the background.
“What do you want?” said Susan.
Eva inhaled. “I need a ride,” she began, smiling, “and I was wondering . . .”
“What do we look like?” the woman interrupted, smirking, “Travelers Aid?”
“No, but I was hoping that maybe . . .”
The door slammed shut in Eva’s face.
Kiss my ass, Susan and Ed, Eva thought.
Moving to the motel-room door directly next to her own, Eva checked that no one was watching her. Satisfied, she put her ear to the door and listened. Two voices inside the room were babbling away agreeably. So far, so good, thought Eva. Another male voice, metallic and distant, sounded to Eva as if it might be coming from the television set. Eva took a deep breath before rapping on the door three times in quick succession.
A girl Eva guessed to be about seventeen or eighteen opened the door, stared at her, and blinked her eyes with several rapid beats. Her hair was wrapped in a towel, she held a pink toothbrush in her hand, and her yellow bathrobe was pulled tightly up to her neck, the sash snug around her waist.
“Yes?” she said, looking past Eva nervously as if wondering if someone else was behind Eva.
“Hi,” said Eva, smiling broadly. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I was just wondering if by any chance you’ve seen my father anytime in the last few hours?”
The girl wrinkled her freckled face in total confusion. “Your father? Well, no, I haven’t seen anybody. Did he run away or something?”
Sensing the girl’s edginess, Eva pushed her hands into her jean pockets and balled them into fists, just in case. “Sorry, I guess I’m not making much sense,” she said, “but it’s just that I’m a little worried about him.”
The girl blinked again and waited.
“See,” Eva continued, “my dad I and drove here early this morning and now he’s gone somewhere with the car. He must have driven off while I was napping,” she shrugged her shoulders. “He’s probably heading back here, but—well—he’s older now and sometimes he gets confused about where he is, sometimes, even who he is. So”—she nodded with unease—“when he’s alone I get worried. I was just hoping maybe you’d seen him and might have noticed the time he left or which direction he was heading.”
The girl shook her head. “Sorry, I haven’t seen anybody.” Seconds passed while both pondered the situation. The girl said, “Do you want to come inside … or … or … something?” she gestured into the room with her toothbrush.
“Thanks,” said Eva, “that would be nice.”
Sprawled on the bed, wearing only undershorts, was a man several years older than the girl. He was thin with short, dark hair, and he sat up as soon as Eva entered the room. Reaching for the glasses that he kept within reach on the nightstand next to him, he put them on and assessed her, more with suspicion than desire, Eva thought.
“Jerry,” the girl said, “this is … this is … I’m sorry, what did you say was your name?”
“Didn’t say,” Eva said, flexing the fists in her pockets, “but it’s Eva. What’s yours?”
“Oh, I’m Denise, or Denny; people call me Denny,” she said, flashing a brief smile.
“Or, Dense,” the man chimed in from the bed. “Sometimes people call her Dense because she’s she can be so damn dense.” He wasn’t smiling.
“And that’s my fiancé,” she said, lowering her gaze to the floor. “I mean my brand new husband, Jerry.”
“See what I mean?” he said, smirking.
“Oh,” Eva said cheerfully, “congratulations to you both!”
Jerry nodded sullenly in Eva’s general direction.
“Thanks,” the girl blushed. “We just got married this morning, in Mexico. It only took ten minutes.” Eva thought she saw something in the girl’s face, but what? Sadness, regret, qualms. “This girl’s looking for her dad,” Denise continued. “She was wondering if we might have seen him.”
“No,” he said, reaching for his trousers next to him on the floor. “We haven’t seen anybody. What are you looking for him for?” He swung his legs off the bed and pulled on the trousers.
“We were together,” Eva explained, “traveling to Corpus Christi, but we got separated.”
“Separated?” he said gruffly. “What do you mean separated? How does that happen?” he asked, his suspicions apparently mounting.
Eva shrugged. “He drove off without me,” she answered lightly. “Sometimes he does that. He’s not,” she tapped her temple with her index finger, “quite all there if you know what I mean.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Denise, sliding the toothbrush into her robe pocket.
“Not sure,” Eva shrugged. “Look for him I guess. If I can find a ride, that is.”
Denise and Jerry shared a silent glance, and Eva caught his subtle, but unmistakably negative head shake.
“I can pay,” said Eva, looking from one to the other of them.
“How much?” he said immediately.
“Fifty dollars,” said Eva. She pulled one of the $50 bills from her front pocket and showed it to them.
“Harrumph,” he said, unimpressed. “We’re not going back to Corpus Christi, but I guess we could get you close.” He extended the palm of his hand and gestured for Eva to hand over the money.
Eva thrust the bill back inside her pocket and smiled. “What time are you leaving?” she asked.
Afraid they might sneak off without her, Eva slept restlessly. Stretched fully clothed on top of the sheets, she checked from her window every half hour that their car was still parked. Eva was watching at 4:30 a.m. when they exited their room carrying their luggage.
Jerry had the trunk open, and he motioned for Eva to toss in her duffel bag. “I’ll just keep it with me in the back seat if you don’t mind,” she said casually.
“Suit yourself,” he said, slamming it shut.
Corpus Christi was 136 miles north and it would take approximately two and a quarter hours to get there using highway US 77. Eva settled herself comfortably in the back seat, placed her hand on top of the duffel bag, and closed her eyes. Over the hum of the car tires on the highway Eva listened to their hushed conversation. “Have you made up your mind, Denny?” he asked. “Where’s it going to be: Chicago? Boston? New York?”
“You know he’ll find us wherever we go,” she said. “John won’t stop.”
“Don’t be so negative,” Jerry answered. “The bigger the city the harder it will be for them to find us. Now, where do you want to go, Denny? Anywhere you say, makes no difference to me?”
Denise hesitated, started, and hesitated again. Finally, she said, “I’m not sure anymore, Jerry. I’m starting to think maybe we made a mistake. Maybe we should just … just … go back. My father is going to be furious and so worried about me.”
“Are you nuts?” he seethed. “Your father would kill me if we went back now and told him we’d just run off and got married without his okay. The thing to do now is to let him calm down a little. We can go back in six months, or something like that, when he’ll act more reasonable about this.”
“He’s never going to be reasonable about this,” she said. “You don’t know him like I do.”
“Oh, I know him alright,” he said, his voice clenched. “Big, blowhard, rich attorney who doesn’t think I’m good enough for you. Thinks I’m some kind of trash or something just because I’ve been arrested.”
“That’s not it, honey,” she said. “He just didn’t want me getting married this young, to anybody.” She sighed. “He always said how he wanted to give me a big, expensive Texas wedding. He didn’t want me to elope like this.”
“Now you sound like you’re sorry too,” he snapped. “Are you?
From Denny, nothing.
“Answer me, Denny, are you sorry now that you married me?”
“I don’t know,” she sniffled. “I just don’t know whether it’s right or not. I’m confused right now, okay?”
“Great!” he fumed. “How do you think that makes me feel?”
“I’m thinking you should just take me back and . . .”
“Take you back! We’re married!”
“I know,” she sniveled, “but maybe we are being too hasty getting married so quick, Jerry. That’s all I’m saying. Maybe we should just wait awhile like my dad wants, wait at least until I’m . . .”
“It’s too late for that, Denny! We’re married! I’m your husband now, legally. You’re my wife now, legally, get it?” His voice was steadily rising above the whisper. “You have to do what I say now. Love, honor, obey until death do us part, remember? Huh, do you? You took an oath, a vow to obey, so it’s time to start obeying me.”
Eva opened her eyes a sliver. Denise was starting to cry.
“Look, babe,” he said, softening his tone, “you’re just upset right now because you’re scared. Everything’s going to be fine. You’ll see. We’ll go to Chicago. I have an uncle there and he’ll let us live with him as long as we want. He’s a nice guy; you’ll like him. Then, like I said, we’ll come back in a few months and your father will be so happy to see you again he’ll be falling all over us with forgiveness. He’ll forgive you, forgive us, for running away, and everything will be fine. You’ll see. Hey, who knows, maybe you’ll even be pregnant by then. That’d be even better. You’ll see, trust me.”
In the back seat Eva smiled to herself remembering something Melanie had said to her: “Honey, never trust a man who says ‘trust me.’”
For the next hour Eva sat in the back seat with her eyes closed, but fully awake, listening to Denise sniffling and Jerry muttering occasional comments under his breath about “her goddamn father spoiling her” and “he was going to show him” and “you’ll see someday I’ll have as much money—shit, more—than he ever had.”
Jerry pulled into a gas station, shut off the ignition, and turned around to face Eva.
“I’ll take that fifty now,” he said, extending the palm of his hand.
Eva stared at him, not moving.
“We need gas,” he said, beckoning with his hand.
Eva reached into her pocket and withdrew a bill. “Okay, here.”
“If you two got to go,” he said, climbing out, “better do it now.” He slammed the car door shut and headed for the gas tank at the back of the car.
“I guess I better go powder my nose,” said Denise, grasping her door handle.
“No, don’t.” Eva reached over the seat, and placed her hand on Denny’s shoulder.
“What?” Denny said, confused.
“You don’t want to be with this boy.” Eva kept her voice low.
“What?” Denise repeated, totally puzzled now. “What do you mean?”
“You want to go home to your father, and this Jerry wants to drag you to Chicago.”
“You heard us, didn’t you?” Denise lowered her eyes.
“Listen to me, Denise,” Eva said, inching forward on her seat. “You don’t have to submit to him; you shouldn’t submit if it’s not what you want. You’re not a slave after all, are you?”
“No, but I am his wife now,” she countered, muffling her voice. “I did take a vow to obey, like he said.”
Eva shook her head, doubtfully. “You know what, honey?” she said, patting Denise’s arm. “You need to obey your own heart. Listen to what’s inside of you. That’s all that really matters.”
“What do you think I should do?”
“Do?” Eva said assuredly. “We haul ass out of here right now. You and I drive off in this car as soon as he goes inside to pay for the gas.”
“You mean just leave him here, in the middle of nowhere?” she giggled and her eyes widened with headstrong mischief. “Oh, I could never do something like that.”
“Why not?” Eva said eagerly. “He’ll be fine. He’ll hitch a ride with somebody.”
Denise’s door flew open and Jerry stuck his head inside. “Come on in with me, Dense,” he said, grasping Denise by the wrist.
“Why?” she protested weakly.
“Come in and pick out stuff for us to eat while we’re driving. You know you’re in charge of snacks, Dense,” he added playfully. “That’s one thing you’re good at.”
“You do it,” she said. “Whatever you pick will be fine.”
Annoyed, he leaned his face even closer to Denise. “Are you going to give me a hard time about this too? Jesus what is wrong with you today?”
“I’m not giving you a hard time,” she whined, shifting uncomfortably in her seat.
Tightening his grip on her wrist, he said, “Denny, look, I’m telling you that you better use the bathroom. We’ve got at least another hour of driving.”
“I’m okay,” she said. Gently, she tried to peel his fingers from around her wrist, but he held firm.
“You sure?” he said, staring at her. “You look funny. You sure you’re okay?”
“I’m sure,” she said, looking straight ahead. “I’m fine.”
He shook his head, unyielding. “Damn it, Denny, I’m warning you, I am not stopping again in a half hour when you suddenly announce you have to take a piss! Now, are you going inside with me or do I have to drag you?” Still holding her wrist, he took a step backwards. Her arm hung limply out of the car as if she were signaling.
Eva cleared her throat. “You might want to leave us by ourselves, Jerry, so we can finish our girl talk.” Eva leaned further forward to bring him into full view and flashed him her biggest smile.
“Girl talk?” he sneered. “Why would I give a rat’s ass about that?”
“Oh,” Eva purred, “maybe because I was just telling Denise all about Chicago and how much fun it is to live there.”
“Really?” he said, enthralled. “You lived there? How long?”
“Two years,” Eva said, jauntily. “I loved it there. Chicago’s great.”
“See,” said Jerry, poking Denise on the shoulder. “What did I tell you?”
“Where you a northsider or a southsider?” he asked, captivated.
“Oh, north, of course,” she said.
“Sox or Cubs?” he teased.
“Sox,” she replied with pride.
Jerry frowned. “A northsider who cheers for the Sox? That’s a new one,” he scoffed, bobbing his head like a rooster.
“Oh, I just like to be different,” she said, winking at him.
Jerry nodded, smirked, and removed his hand from Denise’s wrist. “Okay, I’ll be right back,” he said. “Don’t run away.” Slamming the car door shut, he walked toward the station.
Denise turned around to look Eva square in the face. “That was a close call.”
“Close enough,” Eva agreed. “You ready?”
“Will you drive?” Denise asked. Her eyes were huge. “I’m too nervous.”
“Sure,” said Eva. “I’ve never stolen a car before, but I guess there’s a first time for everything, right?”
Denise smiled. “You won’t be stealing a car. This is my car. DD gave it to me for my sixteenth birthday three months ago.”
“That’s what I call my dad.”
“Where did that come from?”
“I’m not sure. It started when I was a baby learning to talk and it just stuck. He doesn’t mind; he likes it.”
Eva nodded. “Well, I’m glad the car’s all yours. I certainly wouldn’t want to do anything dishonest.”
Eva climbed over the seat and sat behind the steering wheel. Turning the ignition key, she spotted Jerry inside the station at the exact instant he snapped his head around and gaped at them. Appreciating his complete astonishment, Eva smiled, waved, and pressed the accelerator to the floor.
Back onto the highway, Denise looked over at Eva and said nervously, “Do you think he’ll come after us?”
“How?” said Eva. “Magic carpet?”
Denise laughed. “Did you really like Chicago that much?”
Eva chortled. “I’ve never been to Chicago in my life.” She glanced in the rearview mirror to satisfy herself that her duffel bag still sat safe and sound on the back seat.