Eva spied the pastel-pink note paper on the side table the moment she entered the house. “Miss Eva” was written on the front in Teresa’s handwriting. Opening the flap, she read: “Message delivered. Jerry.”
Now what? She thought. She focused hard on the three words, hoping they might reveal more than they did.
“We have no choice but to wait for them to contact you,” Moody told her over the phone, “probably through Jerry. They’ll give you a night to meet them, and we’ll take it from there with Plan A. Do you still want to go through with this?”
“Yes,” she said. Battling her nerves, she coughed to mask the hesitation in her voice.
A week later, in what Eva considered a bitter irony, Albert Sr. gave her the news about Jerry on the very same day her world literature professor had lectured the class about the Scottish poet Robert Burns.
“Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse,” 1786,” he had told them, “tells of how he, while plowing a field, upturned a mouse’s nest. He wrote this poem as an apology to the mouse.” He read:
“But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley [often go awry],
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.”
“What is it, Albert?” said Eva, scrutinizing his troubled face. Arriving home from class, she had gone into the study the moment Teresa told her Albert Sr. was waiting for her.
“Bad news,” he said quietly. He was seated behind his desk. Eva remained standing.
“What?” she said, holding her breath.
“Jerry’s dead,” he said.
“Oh, my God!” Eva covered her mouth with her hand and stepped toward the closest chair. Steadying herself on it, she sat. “How? When? What happened?”
Albert Sr. glanced at the notes he had in front of him. “They found his body last night in the alley behind the club. He was stabbed to death.”
“The Blanco’s,” she seethed, narrowing her eyes.
He nodded. “Probably, but it’ll never be proven. It gets worse,” he added.
“Worse? How can it . . . What do you mean?”
“His shoes and socks were missing, and the bottoms of both his feet had burn marks from matches or a cigarette lighter. He was tortured before they murdered him.”
Eva felt sick to her stomach.
“Moody’s certain it must have been all about you. That message told them who you were, but not where you were. They must have tortured Jerry to find that out. John says we have to assume he told them.”
Eva lowered her head. Tears began dripping into her lap. “This is my fault, isn’t it?” she whispered.
“Of course not,” he insisted. “Get that crazy idea out of your head right now! The Blanco’s are responsible for this, period!”
“But, if I had never …” she broke off.
“Stop it, Eva!” he said, raising his voice. “You’ll only drive yourself crazy with that kind of pointless self-recrimination. You only did what you thought was best—we all did; we all went along with this plan.”
“You didn’t,” she said despondently. “You knew it was nuts. You said so.”
“Eva,” he said, waving that away, “Forget what I said. What’s done is done.” He banged the top of his desk with his knuckles.
Eva took in a deep breath and lowered her gaze.
Albert Sr. cleared his throat. “Eva, I think you should leave Texas for a little while.”
“Why?” she said.
“Honey, that’s obvious,” he said patiently. “They wanted to find out where you are, so they can kill you. They have no interest in any sort of deal. They intend to kill you, period. Apparently, the money is of no consequence to them.”
“Where would I go?” Eva said dazed.
“Didn’t you tell me you had a girlfriend in Las Vegas?” he said.
“Melanie,” she said. “I used to live with her. We were waitresses in the same greasy spoon, the Diamond Diner.” Eva gazed into the distance picturing Melanie’s wide smile and brash red hair.
“I think it’s time you live with her again—at least until the Blanco’s cool down a little,” he said.
“Cool down?” she protested. “Albert, they’ll never ‘cool down,’ they’ll never stop. I might as well plan on leaving forever if that’s what I decide to do.”
“We’ll stop them, honey,” he said earnestly. “I promised you that, and I keep my promises.”
“How, Albert?” she said, despair in her voice. “How can you possibly do it?”
“I don’t know yet,” he said feebly. “John and I may be able to light a fire under the state cops; if so, we can call you back to testify if we can get the Blanco’s boxed in.”
Eva looked doubtful.
“Do you think I want you to leave? I can’t stand the thought of you being gone from me for one second, but I don’t see any other way.”
Eva smiled faintly. “Have you told Denise about Jerry yet?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No, and I’m dreading it. You know how emotional she is.”
“I’ll take care of it,” said Eva, “if you want me to.”
Albert Sr. smiled. “I was hoping you would say exactly that.”
“I’ll find her right now.” Eva stood.
“Eva, honey,” he said as she reached the door. “Are you going to leave, as I suggested?”
Eva stared at the carpeted floor and remained quiet.
“I know how stubborn you can be,” he continued. “Please don’t be stubborn this time, Eva, not about this. I know what I’m talking about. Will you do as I say?”
“I don’t know, Albert,” Eva said plaintively. “I’m going to have to think about it. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet.”