Eva sat alone on one of the couches in Albert’s study thinking about what she would say to him, wondering how he would take the news. She needed to resign herself to the possibility that he would be disillusioned and disappointed in her. Albert was a loyal friend and a strong ally according to Moody, but would that allegiance include safeguarding a murderess?
“Here I am,” he said, opening the study door and crossing the room, “at your beck and call as requested, my lady. Am I here as your attorney or as your prospective fiancé?” He sat on the couch across from her and smiled.
Eva sat stiffly with her hands folded in her lap. She had tears in her eyes.
“Eva, what’s wrong?” he said, leaning forward.
“I have something to tell you,” she said, glancing downward.
“Fine, fine,” he said. “It can’t be as bad as all that.”
“I never told you much of anything about my life before the Blanco’s.”
“I never asked,” he said.
“I know,” she agreed. “But now I need to tell you.”
Albert took a deep breath and waited.
Slowly and deliberately, Eva revealed to Albert what she had learned from Moody about Tina, Dwayne, and Loretta.
Ten years earlier, after sitting alone in the emergency waiting room at St. Catherine’s Hospital for nearly two hours, Tina had been approached by the hospital social worker who had been called by the nurse. The social worker brought Tina to her office and phoned the police and the pediatrician on call, Dr. Anastasia Brozinski. The police had no reports of any missing or abducted children, and Tina was too young to tell them where she lived or to whom she belonged. The authorities agreed to allow Dr. Brozinski to care for the girl until they could unravel the mystery of her identity.
After three days, the police put a photograph of Tina in the newspaper and on the local television station asking anyone with information about the girl to please come forward. Two days later, a neighbor of Loretta’s phoned the police saying she thought the photograph might be that of the little girl who lived across the street.
Police went to the home, and the moment they broke in the door, the corrupting stench of a decaying corpse hit them in the face like a tidal wave. They discovered Dwayne’s body sprawled across the kitchen table and Loretta’s corpse on the dirt floor in the garage. Autopsies revealed that both victims had died of a drug overdose: Dwayne from cocaine mixed with rat poison and Loretta from a mixture of cocaine, vodka, and a full bottle of aspirin. Police concluded the deaths were the result of a double suicide, although no suicide notes were ever found.
Meanwhile, Eva’s school reported her missing after five days when all phone calls to the home had gone unanswered, and the messages left on the answering machine were not returned. An alert file clerk at the police department matched Eva’s address with the address of the two overdose-suicide victims. Two detectives remembered interviewing the female suicide and meeting the runaway. At the detectives’ request, a judge’s bench warrant was issued for the missing Eva Lange’s arrest as a material witness in the two suspicious homicides.
By now Albert was sitting next to Eva on the couch with his arm around her shoulder. She was crying.
“I didn’t mean to kill him,” she said, through her tears. “I just wanted to make him awfully sick. So sick he’d never want to bully another person or hit another woman. That’s all I was thinking. I hated him, but I didn’t mean to kill him.”
“I know,” Albert said comfortingly. “I understand.”
“What should I do now?” Eva looked at him, frightened and confused. Her eyes were as round as saucers. “Am I guilty of murder?”
“Whoa,” he said, squeezing her shoulder, “slow down here a minute. First of all, the most you would be guilty of would be involuntary manslaughter. There’s also a good chance it could be ruled self-defense, given the abuse you suffered from him.”
“So what should I do?” she repeated.
“Nothing,” he said. “Let me make some calls to contacts I have down there, some discreet inquiries. I doubt anyone is hot on your trail. Cops probably knew this guy was a scumbag anyway. They’re not likely to be losing much sleep over how one more junkie pimp ended toes up.”
Eva put her head on Albert’s shoulder. Gently, he kissed the top of her head.
“I have something else to tell you?” she said quietly.
“Let me guess,” he said cheerily. “You have a black belt in karate and you once took down an entire motorcycle gang that was hassling you.”
Eva smiled. “No. No karate, but I do own a black belt,” she kidded. They both laughed. “I have to tell you about my friend Rafael—at the Blanco’s’.”
“You already told me about him,” he said.
“Not everything,” she said, lowering her eyes. “I want to tell you everything. I think you deserve to know.”
“Rafael was much more than just a friend,” she said. “We were lovers. He loved me, and I loved him. We talked about being married someday.” Eva searched Albert’s face for a reaction, but he gave no hint of what he was thinking or feeling.
“I see,” he said, waiting.
“John believes Rafael is probably dead, probably murdered by Carmella and Juan.”
“If that’s the case,” Eva continued, “I’m going to make them pay for that. I’m going to punish them for killing Rafael.”
“And for what they did to you as well, right?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Do you think that’s wrong,” she asked probingly.
“Not in my book,” he said. “Revenge is healthy. It keeps you from getting ulcers. But how do you plan to do it? Taking down career criminals like the Blanco’s is an enormous task. In fact, I’d say damn near impossible, not to mention, dangerous.”
“I don’t know how I’m going to do it yet,” she said. “I just know I’m going to do it, somehow.” Defiantly, she gazed straight ahead.
“Eva,” he said gently. “These are very bad people we’re talking about here, very bad and very dangerous people.”
She turned on him sharply. “You think I don’t know that, Albert? No one knows better than me how sick and vicious they are. That’s all the more reason I’m going to make them pay for Rafael and his father and his sister and mother—and me.” An unyielding expression settled across her face. “I don’t care what happens to me as long as I can make Juan and Carmella wish they’d never been born.”
“What can I do to help?” he asked.
She looked up at him. “Would you be willing to help me?” she said, suddenly encouraged.
“Eva,” he took her hand in his own. “I told you before I would do anything for you, and I meant that. If you want to exact revenge on the animals that hurt you then that’s what I want as well. But, I should warn you my feelings for you and my role as your attorney tell me that I should try to talk you out of this.”
Eva smiled at him gratefully. “You can try, but it won’t work. What about my feelings for Rafael? Do they matter to you?”
“Do you still have them?” he asked.
Eva hesitated, looked into her lap, and said, “Yes. I’m not over him yet. I can’t promise that I ever will be completely over him.”
He glanced quickly around the room and took a deep breath. “I understand,” he said, placing both hands on her shoulders. “Eva, I love you. Your past is past as far as I’m concerned. It means nothing to me except that it shaped the woman you are: strong, intelligent, kind, beautiful, courageous. Should I go on?”
Eva struggled to respond, but the words choked up in her throat.
“It’s natural that you and this boy would have had feelings for each other, both being prisoners together,” he continued. “It would be silly of me to think you could erase those feelings like that,” he snapped his fingers. “You wouldn’t be you if you could do that. I love you, Eva. I adore you, and I want you to be my wife.” He stared deeply into her eyes. “Nothing but you saying you’ll marry me matters now.”
He pulled her to him and kissed her passionately. Falling into his embrace, Eva gratefully wrapped her arms around his neck, enjoying the sensation of his lips on hers.