Miraculously, or so it seemed to all of them, Denny confided to Eva that she had not been molested by anyone at the Blanco compound. Denny reported that when she first arrived she had heard a woman yell at the men: “Ocultar la niña y no te atrevas a tocarla!” Denny understood enough Spanish to know that she had told them to “Hide the girl, but not to touch her.” Denny was kept blindfolded until the man took her into the tunnel so she never actually saw either Juan or Carmella Blanco.
“That could be a problem at trial,” Moody said, remaining with Eva in the study while Albert Sr. took Denny up to her room. “Of course,” he amended, “I’m not the attorney.”
“Here’s your tape recorder back,” Eva said, passing it across the conference table to Moody.
“Did you get anything?” he asked.
“Nothing on the Blanco connection,” she said, “but there’s plenty to insure that our corrupt Governor Gardner doesn’t become our corrupt Senator Gardner.” Eva smiled. “Keep that tape in a very safe place, John,” she added.
For the next twenty-four hours Denise stayed in her room and Eva stayed with her. Teresa brought them snacks and sodas several times during the day and evening, being careful each time to knock before entering. Eva and Denny shared secrets like sisters again. They found things to giggle about. A few times Denny unpredictably began whimpering, recalling the terror of being kidnapped, and Eva held her, comforted her, and assured that she would, in fact, be able to put it behind her someday. Eva was mostly being truthful, she thought.
The next morning being Saturday, Albert, Junior, Denny, and Eva all arrived for breakfast in the dining room within fifteen minutes of each other.
“Maybe we can get out lives back to normal for a while,” Eva said hopefully.
“Not me,” grumbled Denny, patting her swollen belly. “Nothing’s normal for me until my little bundle of joy shows up.”
Albert Sr. poured coffee for all three of them and said nothing.
“Here’s something you don’t see every day,” announced Junior, strolling in last, “the Blancos on the front page of our local rag.” He tossed the open newspaper on the table.
The banner headline of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times was: PROMINENT COUPLE ARRESTED CHARGED WITH KIDNAPPING. Beneath the headline was an eight-column, inch-wide snapshot of Juan and Carmella about to climb into their limousine. Both Blancos were snarling at the camera, furious that their picture was being snapped. The caption beneath the photo read: “Juan Blanco, 46, and his wife Carmella Blanco, 48, seen leaving the court house after posting bail on charges of kidnapping. The couple is scheduled to appear at an arraignment hearing in three weeks.”
“No story with it,” said Junior, examining the paper. “But you’ve got to hand it to whatever enterprising news guy grabbed that picture: the Blancos hate publicity, even though most of Corpus Christi already gossips about their lifestyle and their—quote unquote—‘exporting’ business.” He laughed and winked at Eva.
“Guess they wouldn’t,” Eva commented, sipping coffee, “being in that business.” Eva glanced over at Albert Sr. eating his breakfast without comment. “Right, Albert?” she asked him.
“What?” he said, sullenness crossing his face.
“I said I’m not surprised Juan and Carmella are camera shy. Are you?” She smiled disarmingly.
“No,” he said, returning his attention to his breakfast plate.
Eva looked at Junior and Denny, neither of whom seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary. Eva knew better. Something was bothering Albert Sr.
“Oh, I can’t eat anymore,” Denny whined, pushing her plate away. “I’m so uncomfortable.”
“Anything I can do?” asked Eva.
“You can carry this baby for me,” said Denise, frowning.
“I wish I could, honey,” Eva said, sympathetically.
“I’m going up to my room and rest,” said Denny, slowly standing.
“Want company?” Eva asked.
“Not now,” said Denny, shaking her hands in front of her. “Maybe later.”
“Poor kid,” said Junior after she’d left. “She’s been through a lot for a squirt.”
Eva glanced toward Albert Sr. who was preoccupied with pushing his food around his plate.
“Do you think I should go up and talk with her, Albert?” she asked him. No response. “Albert?”
“What?” he said, refocusing.
Eva lowered her coffee cup. “I asked if you thought I should go up and talk with Denny. Maybe it’s not good for her to be alone right now.”
“You talk to Denny,” he hissed. “I don’t think so.”
Startled, Eva sat straight back in her chair. “Something wrong?” she said.
“Oh, noooo,” he said, drawing it out sarcastically. “What could possibly be wrong?”
Junior shifted his gaze between them. “Hey, Dad,” he said. “What’s eating you?”
Albert Sr. discharged a nasty laugh. “Oh, that’s funny, Junior,” he sneered. “Hilarious, considering I’m not the one getting ‘eaten’ around here, am I?” he scowled at Eva, lowered his eyes, and grumbled something she couldn’t make out.
With raised palms, Junior shook his head at Eva in complete bafflement.
“Albert,” Eva said to Junior, “would you please leave us alone? I’d like to talk to your father privately.”
“Why should he?” barked Albert Sr., glaring at her. “He doesn’t have to leave! Why shouldn’t he know what everyone else knows?”
“Hey, Dad,” Junior complained, “don’t put me in the middle of something here.”
Eva sat quietly in her chair and shared a knowing glance with Junior.
“I’m going to play some golf today,” he chirped, standing. “If anyone needs me I’ll most likely be in a sand trap, so bring a little bucket and shovel if you’re looking for me.” He smiled broadly and waited for a reaction. None.
“How could you?” Albert Sr. seethed as soon as his son had left the room.
“John played the tape for you, I’m guessing,” Eva said.
“He did,” he said, glaring at her. “We both sat there flabbergasted that you would ... could ... do something so … so crass with a low-life like Gardner, and then to … to top it all off, tape it no less! What were you thinking? I’m not a prude, Eva, but I mean, my God, in a filthy storeroom on your knees, naked … and … and ….” He stopped, unable to continue. His face was beet red and he grasped the fork in his hand as if it were a weapon he was about to use.
“I did what I had to do, Albert,” Eva said firmly. “My intention was to save Denny’s life, and I did that.”
“You . . . you could have bluffed,” he said, banging the fork on the table. “Eva, you could have left after he told Duffy to act. You should have given some kind of excuse and left. You could have said you’d lost your nerve or some damn thing like that!”
“No, Albert.” Eva said pointedly. “I could not have bluffed. I could not have just given some lame excuse and left. If I had stopped, Gardner would have simply called Duffy off prematurely. He would have had no reason to let the search go forward, and Denise would still be in the Blancos’ tunnel. Don’t you see, he would have done that to punish me for teasing him, making a fool of him.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” he said, shaking his head. “We don’t know that for sure.”
“I wasn’t thinking that Denny’s life was anything to take a chance with,” Eva answered. “I’m surprised to hear you say you would’ve wanted me to.”
He glared at her. “Do you know how embarrassing this is for me, Eva? Do you have any idea? John says you want to use this tape against Gardner in his reelection. I mean, then it will become public: my new bride giving Jack Gardner a blowjob in a filthy storeroom behind the stage in the ballroom of the Freemont Hotel! I’ll be a laughing stock across all of Texas, for God’s sake!”
“When did this become about you Albert?” said Eva. “Now, I’m confused. I thought we were talking about saving Denny’s life, or, what? My reputation?”
“Oh, Eva, stop it! You know what I mean,” he yelled.
“Albert,” she said, placing her fingers on the edge of the table and staring at him, “you claim to love me, but you don’t.”
“Don’t start that ‘you don’t love me’ shit,” he bellowed. “This has nothing to do with whether or not . . .”
“Please, Albert,” she raised her hand. “Don’t interrupt me. You can’t love me because you don’t know me. You love some idealized version of me that doesn’t exist. A version that resembles your first wife I guess. But, that’s not me, Albert. I’m not her, Albert. I’m only me. I’m Eva Lange, and I understood years ago that most men just want to use me. My survival depends upon me using them first.”
“Oh! So now you’re saying you think I just want to use you?”
“In a way, sure you do. We’re both using each other, aren’t we? You’re looking for a young wife that reminds you of the wife you lost; I guess I’m looking for a husband to take the place of my father. Looks like we’re both making a big mistake, Albert. I’m not like your wife, and you’re not like my father.”
Albert Sr. lowered his eyes, paused, and then said, “Look, Eva, maybe I went a little bit overboard here. If so, I’m sorry. I apologize. It’s just that that disgusting tape made it sound like you were … were … I don’t know … actually enjoying it. Listening to it just … just infuriated me. I was picturing . . .”
Eva interrupted him. “I did enjoy it, Albert.”
“What?” He was stunned.
“Not the sex,” she said, shaking her head, “not Gardner; he’s a pig. I enjoyed the control, Albert. I enjoyed the complete power I had over him. That’s what you hear on that tape; he may have been standing, but it was Gardner who was kneeling to me, Albert, not the other way around.” Eva watched Albert Sr. struggling to grasp what she was saying.
“Albert,” Eva continued, “I don’t expect you to be able to understand, but I once told you I would do ‘absolutely anything’ to bring my father back. Do you recall?”
“That’s the me you don’t know, Albert. I will do ‘absolutely anything’ to protect what is mine, to help my friends, to control my future, and, most importantly, to never—ever—be victimized again by anyone for any reason. I learned a bitter lesson the hard way: people are happy to take advantage of you if you let them. I don’t let them anymore. I needed Gardner’s cooperation, quickly; I was determined to have it, and I got it.”
Albert’s expression melded into a mixture of sadness and curiosity. “Do you have … I mean, don’t you have any … any … I don’t know … second thoughts … regrets?”
Eva shook her head. “No, Albert. None. Not at all. When you’ve grown up like I have, when you’re held captive for years, kept like a dog in a kennel, you do whatever you have to do to survive and that’s that. There’s no right or wrong in any of it.
Albert, you manipulate people for a living every day. That’s all I was doing. I just used different methods, that’s all.”
“I don’t accept my work as a legitimate comparison, Eva,” he said sharply.
“That’s because you’re judging me, Albert, and you shouldn’t be; you have no right. The wolves always devour the sheep, Albert. You know that as well as anyone. You’re either a wolf or a sheep. I used to be a sheep; now I’m one of the wolves.”
Albert Sr. cleared his throat, looked slowly around the room, and returned his gaze to Eva. “You’re a complicated girl, Eva. I can see it’s going to take me a little more time to get used to you,” he said, smiling weakly.
Eva shook her head. “And you’re a good man, Albert: caring, honorable, generous—though you try to hide that. But, let’s be honest. You’re not particularly understanding or forgiving. You’ll never ‘get used to’ me, Albert. You’re not capable of that. And not accepting me exactly as I am means inevitably trying to change me. Albert, I care too much about you to disappoint you that way. I’ll never change who I am to please someone else. I can’t, and I wouldn’t want to even if I could. Let’s just part as friends, okay?”
Eva smiled serenely, at peace with her decision. Albert Sr. winced.