Friday, 10:02 p.m. 2500 Crescent Drive, Mitchum Bay, Texas
Dani actually decides to pack tonight, rather than in the morning, which is a first. I stay out of her way and get the girls to bed, and when I head back to the living room, I see that she’s still at it, so I detour to the kitchen to raid our fridge for some wine.
I glance at the small cabinet above it–impossible not to–before opening the fridge. I select a bottle of red and close the door. And find my eyes drawn to the cabinet again. Dani would be so pissed if she knew what was up there: a gym bag stuffed with a little over fifty grand, money I tried to get to my accountant, Arny Benoit, only to find that he’d left early this morning for his place at Toledo Bend.
I put the wine down on the granite work island and get some glasses. I should be happy that the money’s there, rather than at the Sawyer County sheriff’s. What the hell was Matt thinking, driving on four outstanding warrants and running a red light right in front of an S.C. cop?
Fortunately, the cop was Bobby Beggs, a guy that Arny had put me in touch with early on. Beggs had called me at the shop; he’d have to bring Matt in on account of the warrants, but he’d keep the money and drop it off to me later that day.
I open the wine and pour it. Was I supposed to let it sit for a while before doing that? Ahh, screw it. I sip it, still looking at that cabinet. I gave Beggs two thousand for his trouble and then called Arny’s office, only for his secretary to tell me he’d literally gone fishing.
This wasn’t the first time I’d had to keep money in the house, but it was the first time it was such a large amount. Matt had been saying he’d made a few new connections; I guess for once he hadn’t been full of shit.
I finally take the glasses to the living room. Dani has the twins’ travel bags open on the coffee table, and both are near to bursting. I have no idea how she’s going to close them.
“Here,” I say, holding out a glass.
She swipes a hand across her damp forehead. “Bless you, Mack,” she sighs, taking the glass.
I drop onto the couch, on a spot that’s not taken up by DVDs and pillows. “You know we’re just going for the day, right?”
Dani gulps most of the wine before answering. “You know our girls, right?”
I smile and sip the wine. Dani hands me her empty glass. She also has our big Yeti cooler on the floor. Its lid is up, and I can see that it’s half-full of bottled water and various snacks. Dani always packs a cooler for any trip longer than half an hour.
I’m feeling pretty mellow; some of it’s the red, some of it’s the comfortable predictability of our lives, even with my little side business. I finish my glass and get up to get more.
Dani packs for another hour, pulling stuff out of the bags, putting stuff back in, frowning, repeating. I’m glad she’s doing this now, rather than at ass o’clock in the morning. Her annoying friend Britt will still text us to make sure we’re up and ready to go, but at least we’ll be leaving on time, so her equally annoying husband will have less to bitch about.
I pour the last of the wine and set the bottle on the work island at the same time someone knocks on our front door. I frown and head to the living room, leaving the glasses in the kitchen.
Dani is latching Alexa’s bag. “Who is that?” she asks.
I shrug. “Britt, maybe? Checking to see why we’re up so late?”
She grimaces, and I head to the door. Unlike most of the houses in this subdivision, our door is solid steel, no decorative pane of glass set into its center. I unlock the deadbolt, thinking that I should finally get Miguel to come over and install some security cameras.
So when I open the door to reveal him standing there, I laugh. “Hey, I was just thinking about you, Mig,” I say. Then I wonder what he’s doing here so late. “What’s up?”
“Hey, Mack. Can I come inside?”
I hesitate. Why the hell is he here? “What’s going on?”
A voice to the left of Mig says, “Fuck this,” and shoves Mig aside. The guy that takes his place on my front step is wearing a gray jean vest over a black T-shirt, dirty blue jeans, and heavy-looking motorcycle boots. I suddenly feel very vulnerable in my shorts and Texas Rangers tee. Then I take another look at that vest and suddenly feel very scared. There’s a patch on the right breast of a yellow dog with its teeth bared, with a red 1% patch below it. The black patches on the left identify the guy as a sergeant by the name of Haste.
He steps inside my house, and I back up. My stomach hurts. That patch is not of a dog, it’s of a dingo. This guy is from the Dingos motorcycle gang. Mig follows him inside. Another Dingo steps inside, this dude roughly the size and shape of a Coke machine. His patch has no rank, but it gives his name as Gnat. Of course. Ha ha. How clever. He closes the door, turns the deadbolt.
I want to throw up. Mig is whispering something to me. I can’t make out the words, because now my ears are buzzing. Gnat makes a move toward the hallway where our bedrooms are, where my girls are, and I say, “No,” like I have a chance of stopping him.
He grins. His teeth are a mix of yellow and brown. But he doesn’t go any farther.
Now Dani is coming around the corner from the living room, and she’s about to say something when Haste points at her and tells her to shut up. He grabs me by my left arm and spins me around, escorts me back to the living room. Dani is already there, standing on that hideous striped rug that I’ve begged her to get rid of. She’s finally managed to close the girls’ bags.
Haste tells us to get on our knees. We do. My shoulder bumps Dani’s. She’s trembling. Haste crouches down, get on eye-level with me. He’s one of those guys with a lined, leathery face. Hard to figure out his age. Mig stands behind him, grimacing, his hands laced behind his head. He’s wearing all black, except for his sneakers, which are bright white. I’ve never seen him wear anything except for blinding white sneakers. Gnat is behind us. I can smell him, oil and exhaust and a body odor like diced onions.
Haste says, “Okay.” He puts a hand down on the rug to balance himself, rubs a pockmarked cheek with the other. “Where’s the money, asshole?”
“What money,” Dani whispers.
Haste slaps me in the face. My eyes water. Dani makes a sort of breathless shriek, like a boiling tea kettle. He slaps me again, then points to her, his eyes on me. “She don’t talk. You do. So tell her to shut up.”
“Shut up,” I parrot, not taking my eyes off of him. Her shoulder moves away from mine.
Haste puffs his cheeks for a second, then exhales. “Okay, good. Where’s the money?”
“Kitchen,” I whisper. I want to tell him exactly where and end this as soon as possible, but there’s a catch in my throat, and I don’t want to cry in front of this guy.
He waits, eyebrows raised. Despite his name, he’s patient. When I can, I add, “Cabinet above the fridge.”
Mig heads to it without being told. I think I should tell him where the stepladder is, because I need it to reach the cabinet, and Mig’s shorter than me, but I don’t want to get slapped again. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because I hear the pantry door opening (it squeaks, need to oil the hinges) and some rustling. I take a chance and glance at the kitchen. He’s found the stepladder and now he’s unfolding it. Sure. He’s been to my house a few times for company cookouts. I’ve asked him to get stuff from the pantry before. He must have seen the ladder folded up to the side, by Dani’s hoard of paper towels.
Mig brings the duffel and sets it on the coffee table on top of a pile of DVDs that didn’t make the cut. Dani looks at me. I stare down at my thighs.
Haste cuts his eyes to the kitchen, then back to me. “Put up the ladder.”
Mig heads back. I don’t know if the ladder being put back is a good sign or not. The pantry door squeaks again.
I’m terrified. My mind is racing. There’s an unpleasant hollow feeling in my stomach. Haste is close enough to me that I could punch him in the jaw, but I’m frozen. He rubs his mouth. “You got kids?”
I nod. Dani says, “Two girls. They’re seven. Please.”
I expect to get hit again, but he only rubs his mouth again and turns his head toward Mig. “Nobody mentioned kids,” he says.
Mig opens his mouth, gulps like a fish, then closes it and tries again. This time, he says, “I thought . . . hey, you know, I thought that Ben–”
“Shut up,” Haste snaps. He locks eyes with me. “I don’t want them waking up. Okay? I’m sending Gnat to check on them. They in one room or two?”
“One,” I say softly.
“Don’t,” Dani says, a little louder.
Haste closes his eyes for a second. “Listen. It’ll be okay. I want them to sleep through all this shit.”
Dani makes a strangled noise in her throat when Gnat walks to their bedroom. Haste gets to his feet. He nods at the bag. “Put that in the car and start it. We’ll be out soon.”
Mig leaves. Haste steps behind us. What happens next, happens fast: he stomps on my right calf and holds his boot there while he whips out a hunting knife, grabs a handful of Dani’s blonde hair, and cuts her throat. Then he cuts mine. The pain is immediate and sharp, every razor cut I’ve suffered in the past magnified a thousandfold. I slump forward, one hand supporting me while the other goes to the wound. Blood patters on the rug, and my last thought before things goes cold and dark is that at least now there’s an excuse to get rid of that hideous frigging rug.