While driving to Corpus Christi, Eva learned that Denise “Denny” Bennett was the only daughter of Albert R. Bennett, Sr., the most sought-after personal injury attorney in all of southeast Texas and senior partner of the law firm Bennett, Gunderson, & Jones. Denise’s brother, Albert L. Bennett Jr., was in his final year of law school at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston and he would join his father’s firm as soon as he completed his bar exams.
Denise, who was ten years younger than her brother, was born through Caesarian surgery and her mother died during childbirth because the obstetrician accidently severed an artery during the procedure. Upon hearing the news, Albert Sr. attacked the doctor in the hallway with his bare hands, and he had to be restrained by several orderlies until the police arrived.
The law firm of Bennett, Gunderson, & Jones won a medical malpractice suit against the doctor on behalf of baby Denise. Despite vehement denials from the doctor and his attorney, a nurse present at the birth swore under oath that she had smelled alcohol on the obstetrician’s breath.
An award of $836,000 was placed in a trust for Denise until she turned eighteen. It had now grown to nearly one million dollars according to her father’s accountant who met with her once a year to apprise her of the trust’s current value.
A subsequent criminal trial had been brought against the doctor by the district attorney at the insistence of the mayor, a close personal friend of Albert Bennett. The doctor was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, sentenced to five years in prison and the permanent revocation of his medical license. After forty-two months he was eligible for parole, but three months prior to his release he died in prison from stab wounds inflicted by a fellow inmate whose brother, coincidentally, had once been a client of Denise’s father.
Denise had only recently learned, she told Eva, that every Christmas for the past ten years her father sent checks for $10,000 to the nurse who testified at the doctor’s trial and to the family of the inmate who stabbed the doctor. Denise said she’d questioned her father about it after accidentally overhearing a conversation between his two partners, and his explanation to her had been forceful and unapologetic.
“That money is in memory of your mom, sweetie,” he had told her. “Your dear mother should still be here with us, but she isn’t, is she? Well, honey, I made damn sure that no matter what, by God, that butcher would get his due. He’s where he belongs: burning in hell. That money’s the least I can do to thank the people who made that bastard pay; don’t you give it a second’s thought, sweetheart.”
“My mother’s gone too.” Eva sighed. A familiar stab of loss mingled with the fatigue of driving. “I know how hard it is to lose your mother like that, unexpectedly, senselessly.”
“And now your father,” Denise said. “Do you think you’ll be able to find him?”
“I doubt it,” Eva said, swallowing. Her throat was dry. Looking eastward, Eva admired an orange sun sitting atop the horizon as if about to present a splendid dawn to a fresh day.
Eva suggested that she drive herself to a hotel in downtown Corpus Christi where they could say their good-byes and Denise could drive herself home from there.
“No, no, no!” Denise protested, visibly upset. “You have to come to my house with me.”
“Why?” said Eva. “You don’t need me anymore.”
“I do,” she protested. “I do need you. I can’t face my father alone; besides, he’ll want to thank you for saving me. He might give you a huge reward, lots of money; he’s rich.”
Eva deferred. “Denny, I don’t need a reward. I don’t want a reward. I didn’t help you to get a reward.”
“I know you didn’t,” she said, lowering her gaze, “but, still, my father is going . . .”
“You aren’t really afraid to face your father,” Eva interrupted, “he adores you, and you know it. Anyway, if I go with you I’ll just have to come back later and find a hotel. It’s much simpler this way.”
“You don’t need to go to a hotel,” she countered; her eyes were animated and her hands were in motion. “We have all sorts of room at our house. You can have your own bedroom all to yourself. Stay with us for … for … a while, for a long as you want. My father’s going to love you for bringing me back.”
“I don’t think I should, Denny,” Eva demurred. “You just met me. You hardly know me, and I don’t want your father thinking I’m trying to … I don’t know … take advantage of you or something.”
“You mean like Jerry?” she said, irritated.
“Yeah, exactly like Jerry,” Eva agreed. “I don’t want to be another Jerry in your life.”
Eva mostly desired solitude right then. She needed to be alone to think. Nebulous ideas swirled in her head like stars in the cosmos. Eva knew she must hurry and create a solid plan to escape the Blanco’s’ reach, hide the money, find Rafael, and relocate to a safe haven where they’d never be found.
“What about your father?” Denise asked after a few minutes passed.
“What about my father?”
“DD could help you find him,” Denise said smugly. “I know he could.”
Eva pictured the gravesite and her parents’ headstones side by side. “No, Denny,” she replied softly, “I promise you even your father wouldn’t be able to . . .”
“He would,” Denise jumped in forcefully. “He has private detectives who work for him. They’re the best in all of Texas, maybe the best in the whole country, the whole world! They can find anyone.”
“Private detectives,” Eva mused aloud. “Really?”
“Yes, they’re very formal and polite—at least around me they are. Mr. John Moody owns and runs the company, and he has people all over the entire country that work for him. And they’re very good at finding people or following them—whatever my father wants. I know DD’s entirely happy with him. They’re good friends. He pays John a lot of money.”
Gazing straight ahead with both hands firmly on the steering wheel, Eva’s thoughts leapfrogged directly to Rafael and his father. What’s happened to them? Did Carmella and Juan find out? Is Rafael still a prisoner there or did he get away? Is he alright? Is he alive?
“You really think your father would ask his detective friend to help me?” Eva said skeptically.
“I know he will!” she shrieked, firing her response like a pistol shot. “Absolutely, I know he will! I promise he will!”
In Eva’s mind’s eye Rafael was lightly caressing her fingertips and gazing adoringly into her eyes. She felt an intense stab of regret over her decision to flee without Rafael. At that instant Eva thought she would happily trade every dollar she had taken to be back in Rafael’s arms, tenderly kissing his soft lips and running her fingers through his thick, black hair. She pictured them together under their favorite tree: “I love you.” She had mouthed the words. “I love you,” he had mouthed in return.
Eva glanced sideways at Denny. “How do we get to your house?” she asked.