Denise took the news of Jerry’s murder hard. She sobbed intensely for close to an hour while Eva held her in her arms, stroking her hair. Then, without warning, Denise attacked.
“This is your fault, Eva! This obsession you have with the Blanco’s! Jerry would still be alive now if it wasn’t for you and your selfish fixation on yourself, your mania for revenge. Why can’t you leave it alone? Just leave it alone before you get us all killed!”
Eva left for Las Vegas that evening. Albert Sr. drove her to the airport and John Moody assigned one of his operatives, Leonard Hibbard, to meet her and serve as her bodyguard while she was in Vegas.
“Hello, miss,” he said, touching the gray fedora on his head. “I’m Leonard Hibbard. John Moody asked that I accompany you.”
Eva smiled at this gentle giant. Leonard was well over six foot four inches tall and he looked as though he weighed nearly three hundred pounds. His head appeared slightly too small for the rest of him. He exuded a calm strength that Eva found comforting. She liked Leonard immediately.
Leonard drove Eva to Melanie’s house in a sturdy-looking, black Cadillac.
“Oh my God!” shrieked Melanie, opening her front door. “It really is you! Eva, girl, I am so damn happy to see you at last.” Melanie grabbed Eva in a bear hug and winked at Leonard who was standing directly behind her. “I’ve got so much to tell you, sweetheart, and I’ll bet you’ve got plenty to tell me too, don’t you, honey?”
Melanie had done well for herself. Her salon, The Chop Shop, was successful enough that she was considering opening a second, Chop Shop Two, across town. Melanie told Eva that her business thrived on customer service and snappy promotions: every Wednesday was ‘Waitress Wednesday’ where waitresses received a 10 percent discount; every other Monday was ‘Manicure Mania Monday’: customers buying a shampoo, haircut, styling package were given a free manicure; and the first Saturday of every month was ‘Salute Soldiers Saturday’: 20 percent of the day’s net profit was donated to the local USO. Melanie had met and married—in the same week—Henry Hine who was a commercial appliance salesman and amateur inventor who fiddled in their basement for hours on end. Melanie looked happy, contented, and prosperous.
“I owe this all to you, honey,” she said beaming.
“Let’s call it even, Mel,” Eva said. “You saved my life, remember?”
“Ah, fiddlesticks,” Melanie said, waving her arm. “Anyway, that’s enough about me. It’s your turn. I want to hear all about what you’ve been up to all this time. You must have some stories to tell.”
Surveying Melanie’s modest and tastefully decorated home, Eva sighed. “I’m not sure where to begin,” she said, glancing at Leonard sitting discreetly in a chair across the room.
“Start at the beginning,” smiled Melanie, signaling to Harry to sit next to her on the couch. “That’s always a good place to start.”
Fourteen hundred miles away Teresa was driving Denise to her doctor’s appointment, wondering why she didn’t see Henry in the guard booth as her car coasted nearer to the closed gate. In the rearview mirror she spied a battleship-grey van pull up right to her back bumper. Her car was pinned between the closed gate and the van. Within seconds, two Hispanic men bolted from the van, pulled open the passenger door, and snatched Denise. Dragging her to the van, they immediately reversed, flew into the other lane, and escaped by crashing their van through the closed incoming gate.
Hours later, the Blanco’s were furious when they realized their henchman had kidnapped the wrong girl. Carmella screamed at the men “This isn’t her, you imbéciles!” After thirty more minutes of screaming at the men as well as at Juan, Carmella made the decision not to kill Denise—at least not yet. They would, she told Juan, use the girl as bait or trade for Eva.
Leonard’s wife, Sandy, got the message from John Moody and she immediately drove to the address Leonard had given her seventy-two hours earlier. Sandy spoke only to Leonard on Melanie’s front porch and then left immediately after kissing him on the cheek and telling him to be careful. Leonard took Eva alone into the kitchen and communicated the events surrounding Denise’s kidnapping. Eva sank into a kitchen chair and wept while Melanie and Henry stood together at the kitchen door watching her. Aching over Eva’s distress and without the vaguest idea what she was crying about, Melanie slipped her arm around Henry’s waist.
Leonard drove Eva to the airport that evening. Three hours later her plane touched down in Texas and John Moody met her at the gate.
“He didn’t want you to come back, you know,” he said, after they’d both slammed their car doors shut. “I don’t care,” she said angrily. “This is all my fault too. Everything I’m doing is going wrong. Everything I’m doing is making things worse.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” he said.
“I have to make this right, John. How’s Albert taking this?”
Moody shrugged. “How do you think? Bad. Junior is too. These people are vicious murderers. Denise is Albert’s baby and she’s carrying his only grandchild. I haven’t seen him this upset since his wife died.”
“They want me instead of Denny, don’t they?” Eva said, watching Moody steer the car out of the airport parking lot.
“They implied as much,” he admitted, “in their phone call to Albert, but you can’t trust these animals. They might kill Denny anyway. Hell, she might already be dead.”
“Can you reach them?” Eva asked.
“I have a phone number,” Moody said. “It’s a pay phone in a bar in Harlingen.”
“Call it and leave a message that we’ll trade,” she said gravely.
“What?” He glanced sideways at her.
“You heard me, John.” Her eyes stared straight ahead. “Me for Denny.”
He shook his head. “Albert will never agree to that.”
Eva’s voice was eerily somber. “It’s not his decision, John. It’s mine.”