The woman turned to him, but said nothing until they heard the voice track of the TV show come on. Then, “How do you know my name?”
“You’re Eddie Gillette’s widow, right?” She merely stared at him. “It’s not that tough a question. Yes or no?”
“So, unless you’ve remarried…”
She shook her head.
“Then it stands to reason your name is Mrs. Gillette. What’s your first name?”
Honor? He’d never known anybody by that name. But then this was Louisiana. People had strange names, first and last. “Well, Honor, I don’t have to introduce myself, do I?”
“They said your name is Lee Collier.”
“Coburn. Pleased to meet you. Sit down.” He indicated a chair at the kitchen table.
She hesitated, then pulled the chair from beneath the table and slowly lowered herself into it.
He worked a cell phone out of the front pocket of his jeans and punched in a number, then hooked a chair leg with the toe of his boot and sat down across the table from her. He stared at her as he listened to the telephone on the other end ring.
She fidgeted in her seat. She clasped her hands together in her lap and looked away from him, then, almost defiantly, brought her gaze back to his and held it. She was scared half to death but trying not to show it. The lady had backbone, which was okay by him. He would much rather deal with a little moxie than bawling and begging.
When his call was answered by an automated voice mail recording, he swore beneath his breath, then waited for the ding and said, “You know who this is. All hell’s broke loose.”
As soon as he clicked off, she said, “You have an accomplice?”
“You could say.”
“Was he there during the… the shooting?”
He merely looked at her.
She wet her lips, pulled the lower one between her teeth. “They said on the news that seven people were killed.”
“That’s how many I counted.”
She crossed her arms over her middle and hugged her elbows. “Why did you kill them?”
“What are they saying on TV?”
“That you were a disgruntled employee.”
He shrugged. “You could call me disgruntled.”
“You didn’t like the trucking company?”
“No. Especially the boss.”
“Sam Marset. But the others were just shift workers, like you. Was it necessary to shoot them, too?”
“They were witnesses.”
His candor seemed to astonish and repel her. He watched a shudder pass through her. For a time, she remained quiet, simply staring at the tabletop.
Then slowly she raised her head and looked up at him. “How did you know my husband?”
“Actually I never had the pleasure. But I’ve heard about him.”
“Around Royale Trucking, his name pops up a lot.”
“He was born and raised in Tambour. Everybody knew Eddie and loved him.”
“You sure about that?”
Taken aback, she said, “Yes, I’m sure.”
“Among other things, he was a cop, right?”
“What do you mean by ‘among other things’?”
“Your husband, the late, great Eddie the cop, was in possession of something extremely valuable. I came here to get it.”
Before she could respond, the cell phone still in his pocket, hers, rang, startling them both. Coburn pulled it from his pocket. “Who’s Stanley?”
“Grandpa,” he said, thinking back to what the kid had said out in the yard.
“If I don’t answer—”
“Forget it.” He waited until the ringing stopped, then nodded toward the cupcakes. “Whose birthday is it?”
“Stan’s. He’s coming for dinner to celebrate.”
“What time? And I don’t advise you to lie to me.”
He glanced at the wall clock. That was almost eight hours from now. He hoped to have what he was after and be miles away from here by then. A lot depended on Eddie Gillette’s widow and how much she knew about her late husband’s extracurricular activities.
He could tell her fear of him was genuine. But her fear could be based on any number of reasons, one of them being that she wanted to protect what she had and was afraid of him taking it away from her.
Or she could be entirely innocent and afraid only of the danger he posed to her and her kid.
Apparently they lived alone out here in the boondocks. There hadn’t been a trace of a man in the house. So when a bloodstained stranger showed up and threatened the isolated widow with a pistol, she would naturally be afraid.
Although living singly didn’t necessarily equate to virtue, Coburn thought, reminding himself that he lived alone.
Looks could be deceiving, too. She looked innocent enough, especially in the getup she was wearing. The white T-shirt, blue jean shorts, and retro white Keds were as wholesome as home-baked cupcakes. Her blonde hair was in a loose ponytail. Her eyes were hazel, veering toward solid green. She had the scrubbed appearance of the classic all-American girl next door, except that Coburn had never lived next door to anybody who looked as good as she did.
Seeing the skimpy undies on the drying rack in the laundry room had made him realize how long it had been since he’d lain down with a woman. Looking at the soft mounds underneath Honor Gillette’s white T-shirt and her long, smooth legs made him aware of just how much he’d like to end that spell of abstinence.
She must have sensed the track of his thoughts, because when he lifted his gaze from her chest to her eyes, they were regarding him fearfully. Quickly she said, “You’re in a lot of trouble, and you’re only wasting time here. I can’t help you. Eddie didn’t own anything extremely valuable.” She raised her hands at her sides. “You can see for yourself how simply we live. When Eddie died, I had to sell his fishing boat just to make ends meet until I could return to teaching.”
“Public school. Second grade. The only thing Eddie left me was a modest life insurance policy that barely covered the cost of his funeral. He’d been with the police department only eight years, so the pension I receive each month isn’t much. It goes directly into Emily’s college fund. I support us on my salary, and there’s little left for extras.”
She paused to take a breath. “You’ve been misinformed, Mr. Coburn. Or you jumped to the wrong conclusion based on rumor. Eddie had nothing valuable and neither do I. If I did, I would gladly hand it over to you in order to protect Emily. I value her life more than anything I could ever own.”
He looked at her thoughtfully for several moments. “Nicely put, but I’m not convinced.” He stood up and reached for her, encircling her biceps again and hauling her up out of her chair. “Let’s start in the bedroom.”
His street name was Diego.
That’s all he’d ever been called, and, as far as he knew, that was the only name he had. His earliest memory was of a skinny black woman asking him to fetch her cigarettes, or her syringe, and then hurling abuse at him if he was too slow about it.
He didn’t know if she was his mother or not. She didn’t claim to be, but didn’t deny it the one time he’d asked her. He wasn’t black, not entirely. His name was Hispanic, but that didn’t necessarily signify his heritage. In a city of Creoles where mixed bloodlines were historical and commonplace, he was a mongrel.
The woman of his memory had operated a hair-braiding salon. The business was open only when she felt like it, which was seldom. If she needed quick cash, she gave blowjobs in the back room. When Diego was old enough, she sent him out to solicit clients off the streets. He lured in women with the promise of getting the tightest braids in New Orleans. To men, he hinted of other pleasures to be found beyond the glass bead curtain that separated the establishment from the gritty sidewalk.