I run to Ike, then drop to the cement floor as a second shot booms through the building. A third punches through the front and rear windshields of the Maxima, which is parked two feet to my left, and the concussion of the gun echoes around the old structure for three or four seconds.
The shooter is inside the building.
Inside, and probably at the front, shooting across the open floor. But he must not have a night-vision scope. He shot Ike as the deputy framed himself against the lighter background of the open loading door. Now that we're flat on the floor, his shots are far off the mark. Ike's face is less than six inches from mine, his eyes wide and glassy, like those of a wounded deer.
"Ike," I whisper. "Can you hear me?"
His eyelids blink once, slowly, but he doesn't speak. The man is dying before my eyes.
I need a gun.
Kelly's Browning is in the glove box of the Maxima, but I'm not about to try to reach it. If I rise off the ground, I will silhouette myself against the open door, just as Ike did. If I had walked to that door first, I would be dying now.
"Ike, I need your gun."
As I reach down to his holster, something cracks through the air less than a foot above us, and the report that follows seems trivial compared to that supersonic passage of metal. Fighting down panic, I try to wrest the Sig-Sauer from Ike's holster, but it won't budge. He must have snapped the strap when he holstered it. Unsnapping it by touch, I yank out the Sig and take the safety off. As I aim it across Ike's back, a bullet crashes into his body, knocking us both a foot across the cold floor.
He doesn't make a sound.
Then, like a rising wind, a wail of inhuman agony escapes his throat. I shove my arm across his waist and fire three quick rounds into the darkness at the front of the building. Something sharp pricks the skin of my forearm.
The last shot smashed Ike's pelvis. He screams again, the sound sickeningly reminiscent of those Sarah made when the narcotics began to lose their race to keep up with the pain of her bone lesions.
Who is shooting at us? An anonymous sniper, like the one who shot at me on the levee that night? The one Kelly killed? With a strange rush of clarity I realize that the levee sniper wasn't shooting only at me, as I'd thought at the time. What did Ike say that night? How you know he was shooting at you? Ike had known from the beginning that he carried knowledge people would kill him for. As I cower behind his body, a voice calls out from the other end of the building.
"Give it up! The nigger's dead!"
Before I can process these words, another truncated wail bursts from Ike's lungs. "Brrrraaaaaaah! "
My instinct is to run for the door, run until my legs buckle beneath me. But that would be suicide. The moment I rise, I'll make myself a target. I could probably crawl out… but Ike isn't dead yet. I can't leave him. My next thought, born from rage, is to stand up and charge the darkness that shields the sniper, emptying Ike's automatic as I run.
With a defiant yell, I fire off two more rounds, then jump to my feet and grab Ike's legs. Two shots boom through the building as I drag him facedown and screaming behind his cruiser, but the bullets crack past without finding flesh or bone.
Kneeling beside him, I break the most fundamental rule of first-aid by turning him over onto his back. At this point it can't matter much. His eyes are still open. His jaw is moving, but no sounds come from his throat. I lean over his mouth.
"Brrr-" he groans.
I take one of his hands in mine and squeeze the cold flesh. "Ike? What are you saying?"
He must think I can stop the bleeding. "Where? Your shoulder?"
Press lee? The nigger's dead-
Son of a bitch. No sniper hired by John Portman would talk that way. He wouldn't talk at all. The man at the other end of this building is Raymond Aucoin Presley. The trial is tomorrow, and Presley has no intention of being indicted for murder. That's why he wasn't at his trailer when I called earlier. He's been following Ike around, laying for a shot.
"Ray!" I yell at the top of my voice. "Stop shooting! I need to talk to you!"
Both windshields of Ike's cruiser star into chaos as safety glass rattles across the floor.
"What you got to say I want to hear?" comes the voice I recognize so easily now. "You want it in the head or the heart? "
I will live or die by my actions in the next minute. "Listen to me, Ray! You want to hear this!"
"/ want to hear you choke on your own blood!"
Every hair on my body is standing erect. Presley isn't nearly as far away as he was a moment ago. He's moving up for a kill shot. Crawling to the left side of the cruiser, I fire two quick rounds into the dark, then dart back to avoid return fire aimed at my muzzle flash.
"Not even close, boy."
The tire beside my head explodes into ragged strips of rubber as Presley's next shot reverberates through the building. When the echo dies, I call: "You want to know who sent you to Parchman, Ray? I think you'll be surprised."
He fires again, smashing up a divot of cement beside Ike's head.
"Parchman, Ray! Didn't you ever wonder who ratted you out?"
Silence. Then: "Talk fast, boy, I'm getting close!"
He is close. It takes every bit of nerve I possess to hold my ground. "It was Marston, Ray! Leo sent you up! Stone solved the murder, but Hoover didn't want Leo going down for it. Leo's old man had too much political clout. Hoover cut a deal to protect him, but he said you had to go down for shooting at Stone and Portman on the highway. It was Leo who gave you up!"
"That's bullshit!" For the first time the voice has come from more or less the same place.
"Stone said Marston didn't even hesitate! He fed the state police details of your drug business so they could catch you in the act. That's why Stone was at the bust!"
"You lying piece of shit! You're just trying to save your own ass!"
He's buying it. "Leo didn't give a shit about you, Ray. How else do you think they got you? You must have had a lot of time to think about it. Five years, man!"
No sound at all. Nothing but the slow ticking of the two cars, barely audible through the ringing in my ears. The son of a bitch is probably moving up to kill me, and if I don't move, I'm going to die. But if I break for the door, I'm framing myself for a shot. Shivering against Ike's body, I realize that I no longer hear his breathing. His eyes are still open, but they are fixed and dilated.
Ike the Spike is dead.
"Ray…? Talk to me, Ray!"
The loading door beckons. But as I gather my legs beneath me, Ruby Flowers's voice sounds in my head, an echo from childhood. "Broad is the gate that leads to destruction, but narrow the way that leads to salvation…"
To my left-in what must be a corner of the old shelling plant-is a pool of darkness so black it could be the bottom of the Marianas Trench. My legs are tensed beneath me like steel springs. Gripping Ike's gun in my right hand, I launch myself low and hard toward that black hole. As the darkness envelops me, a stroke of lightning flashes in my brain, and I know no more.
Consciousness returns like blood to a sleeping limb.
Pain is the first sensation.
The pain radiates from my forehead. The light is faint but real, thirty yards away, illuminating a parked police car. Not a police car. A sheriff's cruiser.
I roll over slowly and feel along the cold cement for Ike's gun. My right wrist bangs into something cold and immovable. I touch it with my hand and feel along it. A steel rail. It's one loading arm of a forklift. That's what I slammed into when I ran into the pool of darkness. A goddamn forklift.
The gun is underneath the fork.
Closing my hand around its butt, I get to my feet and walk toward Ike's car. Strangely, I am unafraid. Unafraid because I know I'm alone. If I wasn't, I would be dead. Ray finally believed what I was telling him, and once he did, his priorities changed.
At the edge of the darkness I look at my watch. Eight forty-five. I met Ike around eight. Ray started shooting about ten minutes after we started talking. I don't know how long the shooting lasted, but he's had at least twenty minutes to reach the target I offered up to him to save myself.
Ike's body lies behind his cruiser, where I dragged it in that last furious rush. His eyes are open but unseeing. I feel his carotid artery to be sure, then hold my hand over his mouth.
Climbing into the Maxima, I start the engine and dial Tuscany on the cell phone. While it rings, I floor the accelerator and make a wide squealing turn on the cement floor, then roar through the main loading door. The phone clicks as I hit Canal Street and nearly skid into the curb on the other side.
"Liv Marston," says a clipped voice. "If you're a reporter-"
"What do you want?" The voice hasn't warmed even one degree.
"I know you don't want to listen to me, but you've got to."
"Is it about the trial?"
"No. You've got to get out of the house."
I hesitate before I reply. Some savage part of me wants to get Livy away and leave her father to face the retribution of his past. Poetic justice, if ever there was any. But I can't do it.
"Ray Presley's on his way to Tuscany. He's going to try to kill your father. He could already be at your house. Or on the grounds somewhere."
"Did you hear me, Livy?"
"I heard you."
"Tell your father to call the police. They'll send an army out there to protect him."
"Are we done now?"
Are we done? "Did you understand what I just told you? Presley is coming there to kill your father."
"I hope he comes here."
A police car tears around the corner of Main and Canal, lights flashing, heading in the direction of the pecan-shelling plant. In fifteen minutes every cop and deputy in this town will be combing the downtown streets.
"You're playing in things you don't understand, Penn. I tried to tell you the other day. You were a fool to involve yourself in any of this."
"I understand more than you think. I know now why you did the things you did in the past. The choices you made."
"I don't want to discuss it on the phone. It has to be face to face."
"We don't have anything to say to each other."
"I'm begging you, Livy. Meet me one last time. For the sake of whatever it is that's bound us together all these years. If you will, I think it will change both our lives. Maybe forever."
This time she hesitates. "It's not about the trial?"
"I don't give a damn what happens at the trial. Name a place. Anywhere, I don't care. I'll even come to Tuscany."
"No. Jewish Hill."
"Jewish Hill?" Yet another landmark from our past. "In the cemetery?"
"That's about as private as you can get." "Isn't it locked at night?"
"Park at the foot of the hill. By the wall. It's not like we've never done it before."
"Do you still have the gun you had in the motel?"
"Bring it. And drive fast leaving the house."
"I'm five minutes from the cemetery. Leave now."
Livy's borrowed Fiat is parked at the foot of Jewish Hill when I arrive, next to the low stone wall of the city cemetery. She got here first because I took a wide circle through town to avoid the police. I park behind the Fiat and shove Ike's pistol into my waistband, then get out and walk up to the Spyder.
Livy is not in the car.
To my left, across Cemetery Road, stands the dark silhouette of Weymouth Hall, an antebellum mansion that marks the two-hundred-foot drop to the river, its widow's walk silhouetted against the stars. To my right is the low wall and the nearly vertical slope of Jewish Hill. One mile south along the bluff, the police are taping off the pecan plant as a crime scene.
I climb the wall and push through the shrubbery, then dig my hands into the face of the hill and begin climbing. As I near the top, a ghostly figure appears at the edge, looking down at me.
It's Livy. Her hair is flying behind her, caught in the wind blowing up the bluff from the river. She's wearing a white blouse, a fitted jacket, and slacks tapered to the ankles. She bends and catches my hands, then pulls me up to the flat plateau of gravestones, statuary, and mausoleums.
"Did you call the police?" I ask.
She brushes a strand of hair from her eyes. "Daddy called some off-duty cops. They got there before I left."
"How did he react when you told him Presley might be coming to kill him?"
"What do you want, Penn?"
"It scared him to death, didn't it? Livy, your father gave the cops what they needed to send Presley to Parchman when we were kids."
"Really?" A hard smile tightens her mouth. "Good."
"What I don't understand is why my call didn't scare you."
She walks past me to the edge of the hill. The lights of Vidalia, Louisiana, a mile away, outline her like another marble angel among the stones. "Why are we here, Penn? What's the big mystery?"
She turns back to me. "I'm the mystery?"
"You're the mystery of my life. But I understand you now."
Something flickers in her eyes. I can't tell if she's intrigued or afraid. "Do you? Enlighten me, then."
"I know who Jenny's father is."
Even in the dark I can tell she has gone rigid. She turns away from me, then back, her chin held high. "How do you know? Did he tell you?"
"Tell me? God, no. He hates me. Why would he tell me?"
She shakes her head. "I can't believe this. I can't believe you know this. It's so pathetic."
"I know it's bad, Livy. I realize I can't ever understand what it was-what it is-to be in your position."
"How could you possibly know unless he told you? No one knows. He doesn't even know. Not as far as I-"
"Your father doesn't know about Jenny?"
She blinks. "My father? Of course he knows. But he doesn't know, you know… who the father is."
My mind reels, trying to parse the semantics. "Livy, who is Jenny's father?"
"You just said you knew."
"Pretend I don't."
Suspicion now. "If you don't know, I'm not telling you."
"Who do you think it is?"
I take a step toward her, but she moves back, nearer the edge of the hill. As though she knows what I am about to say. As though she could fly from the edge of the hill if I dare speak the truth. "I think Jenny's father is your father."
She stares at me like she hasn't heard correctly. Then she closes her eyes and lowers her head into her hands.
"You don't have to say anything," I say softly. "You-"
"Shut up, Penn. Please just shut up. You might say something even more asinine than you already have."
She takes her hands away from her face. She is not crying. She is staring at me with what looks like morbid curiosity. "Did you actually think my father raped me?"
Her voice is strong, but that could be the strength of denial, not truth. "I still think so. What I can't figure out is how he forced you when you were eighteen."
A bitter laugh. "That's easy. He didn't. Christ. First you accuse my father of murder. Now incest? Could you possibly be more sick?" She holds her palms out to me. "Have I done something to deserve this?"
"I'll tell you what you did to deserve this. You told me you wanted a future together and then disappeared. You let your father try to destroy mine without lifting a finger to stop him, and went on with your life as though none of it ever happened."
"My God, Penn. We were just kids! Haven't you grown up yet? After twenty years?"
"Have you? You've been chasing me around like the lost love of your life, trying to relive our past, pulling me into bed every chance you got. Was all that heat manufactured to distract me from going after your father?"
At last she gives me an unguarded look. "No."
"If my incest idea is so off the mark, why did you treat that poor girl like you did? You gave Jenny up for adoption, which is understandable. But she had a pretty shitty life, and when she showed up at your door looking for a little information, maybe an explanation, you treated her like dirt. And your father did worse."
"How dare you judge me. You don't know anything about it."
"You're right. Why is that?"
Her eyes flash in the dark. "You want an explanation? All right. Remember the week after graduation? The week you went touring battlefields with your dad?"
"I had two weeks before Radcliffe. The senior parties were still going on. Everybody was getting as drunk as they had been before graduation, maybe drunker. Someone from South Natchez threw a party on one of the sandbars past the paper mill. It was wild. Trucks driving all over the sand, people shooting guns, skinny-dipping. One car even went into the river. You were out of town, so guys were hitting on me all night. Ray Presley was there, watching me for Daddy, like he always did. At some point the police showed up. Ray put me in his truck and talked to one of the cops, got me past the roadblock."
She turns toward the river, and the wind carries much of her voice away. "I was as drunk as I'd ever been, and I decided to play a little game. Ray was always watching me, making me nervous, hanging around like some malevolent shadow. And I'd always heard these stories… how he'd killed people, been in prison, other stuff. Anyway, I started teasing him. I asked if he'd ever killed anybody, and he admitted that he had. I asked him what it was like, what prison was like, stuff like that. Then I told him I'd always heard this story about how he had the biggest thing in town. You know, his equipment. He kept driving, but I could see I was getting to him, he was gripping the wheel so hard. So I said, Hey, is it true or what? And he said, Only one way to find out. It was like a dare, you know? So I said, Okay, let's see it."
The knowledge of what's coming hits me like a blow to the solar plexus. "Livy…"
She holds up her hand; she means to tell this story no matter what. "So, he unbuckles his belt and takes it out. While he's driving. And it was. I mean, the stories were true. I know this sounds gross-Ray Presley, right? What a creep. But he was only thirty-five or so then. Younger than we are now. So, I took the dare further. I thought I'd drive him a little crazier, to get back at him for all the times he'd ogled me. It was the stupidest thing I ever did. He pulled off Lower Woodville Road, right into the woods. I knew then things were slipping out of control, but I wasn't sure how to get out of it. I figured, you know, just be calm, let him kiss me, touch him enough to get it over with and get out of there. The next thing I knew my dress was around my chest and he was raping me."
"You don't have to tell me this."
She turns to me, her eyes bright with pooled tears. "A little too real for you? I think I passed out the first time. I woke up later and it was happening again, outside the truck. I started screaming, so he stuffed my dress into my mouth. It was like being simultaneously strangled and bludgeoned to death from the inside. When it was over, we got back into the truck, but he wouldn't leave. He was completely freaked out. I think he thought my father was going to kill him, so he just sat there, trying to figure out what to do. He sat there for twenty minutes with me screaming at him, trying to get out and run, going crazy. Then he did it again. I knew then that he was crazy. I mean, three times in an hour, that's just not normal for a thirty-five-year-old man."
The deja vu is almost too powerful to endure. Livy and I once sat in the dark while she told me the story of being raped by a high school football player during a date. Twenty years later, only the context has changed.
"I'm sorry. I had no idea. I couldn't even have imagined that."
"But isn't it such a touching little story?" Her tears are rolling down her cheeks now. "Ray Presley, proud father of my first and only child."
I want to hold her, but I think she would probably hit me if I touched her.
"I couldn't believe I even conceived," she says, wiping her face. "But I did. And you think I should have welcomed Jenny with open arms." She modulates her voice into a hysterical exaggeration of a TV mom: "Hello, sweetheart! Where have you been all my life? Give Mama a hug!"
The delirium in her voice sends chills through me. "Jenny had nothing to do with what Presley did to you that night."
"She is that night to me! Don't you get that? Do you think I could ever look at her without reliving every second of those rapes?"
I shrug and stay silent. I am not a woman. I can't know. "When I told you Presley was coming to kill your father, you said you hoped he would come."
"I'd kill him in a minute," she says in a flat voice. "Like stepping on a cockroach."
"I knew it was something like this. Something dark."
"Dark? The whole thing is so Sally Jessy Raphael it makes me want to vomit."
"You didn't tell your father Presley had raped you?"
A shadow of shame crosses her face. "No. I'd started the whole thing, hadn't I? I suppose I could have lied and said he attacked me out of the blue, but my father is pretty hard to lie to. He's scary that way. He sees dishonesty in people."
"Maybe because he's so dishonest himself."
"But he knew you were pregnant. Eventually, I mean."
She nods. "My sister told him. She'd gotten pregnant three years before, and Daddy made her get an abortion. It really messed her up. Our great Catholic parents practically forcing her to terminate her pregnancy. You'd think that when I turned up pregnant, she would have done all she could to help me hide it. But she'd felt inferior to me her whole life. I was the special one, the adored one. She just had to tell them that I'd screwed up as badly as she had."
"Livy, why in God's name did you have the baby? Under the circumstances-"
"Under the circumstances, I wasn't thinking rationally, okay? After the rape I was so upset, I went to Radcliffe a week early. Two months later, when I found out for sure I was pregnant, I thought about terminating it. But then my sister blabbed, and the next thing I knew, my father was in Cambridge trying to force me to have an abortion. You know how he and I are. The simple fact that he tried to force me was enough to make me refuse, especially after all the lip service he'd paid to Catholic dogma. But more than that, the pregnancy gave me a chance I'd never had before. An absolute excuse to break the pattern laid out for me before I was born. I didn't know what I wanted, but I knew I didn't want to spend four years at Ole Miss in a sorority full of girls majoring in fashion merchandising and looking for husbands."
"Thanks for telling me in time to change my plans."
A momentary look of penitence. "I'm sorry about that. I never told you to go there."
"No. You just talked about how wonderful it would be if we were both there. What I can't believe is that you let your parents think I had gotten you pregnant. You did, didn't you? That's the root of all the pain that came after."
She takes a deep breath and sighs. "I suppose I did."
"Suppose, nothing. You didn't have the guts to admit you teased Ray Presley into raping you, but you didn't mind letting me take the blame for knocking you up."
"Penn, you don't understand. When Ray took me home that night, he threatened me. He said that if I told my father what had happened, he'd kill my mother."
"He knew I wouldn't care about myself. Ray said my father might kill him for hurting me, but he'd thank him for killing my mother. And on some level… I felt like he might be right. Daddy was such a bastard to Mother back then."
A wave of shame rolls through me, shame for thinking Livy was so selfish and shallow that she would let my family pay for something that was someone else's fault without any excuse. But the shame passes quickly. Livy is twisting the truth even now.
"You're lying. I don't mean about the threat. I'm sure Presley threatened you. But you've always cared about yourself. More than anything else. And I don't think you would have bought Ray's threat, not for long. He was scared shitless of your father. He still is, in some ways. And when Leo decided to go after my father out of revenge, you could have spoken up. You could have said, Daddy, it wasn't Penn. But you didn't. You knew why he took that suit, and you never said a damn word to change his mind."
"It was too late by then. I was at Virginia and-"
"I flew up there to see you! And you said nothing. You're gutless, Livy. I never knew that about you until now."
"I suppose I am. About the big things."
"Just like your father. He wanted a man dead, but he didn't have the balls to do it himself. He was district attorney, and he arranged to have an innocent man killed for profit."
"That is such bullshit."
"You think so? You'll find out different tomorrow. Your father and Ray Presley set up one of the most heinous murders I've ever come across, and J. Edgar Hoover covered it up to keep your grandfather happy. To keep them pulling for Nixon in the sixty-eight election."
"What are you babbling about?"
Her face has taken on a strange cast. "I met him once, you know. Hoover. When I was a little girl. Up in Jackson with my father."
"Oh, they were big buddies. And the root of their friendship was the murder of Del Payton."
She shakes her head as if I'm hopelessly insane.
"By sundown tomorrow your father will be indicted for murder, unless he can kill my witnesses. And he's trying hard, believe me."
"What are you talking about?"
"Your father and John Portman tried to kill me last night."
She shakes her head. "You're lying."
"When have you known me to lie, Livy? Ever? Your father killed for money and power in 1968, and he'll do it now to cover his ass. That's all he's ever been about. He's played every angle and skimmed every deal, from factory locations to backroom adoptions. Everything's money to him."
Livy has gone still. "What do you mean, backroom adoptions?"
"Come on. That can't be news to you. I saw a record of the private adoptions he handled over the years. He did about twenty of them, and yours was one. Jenny's, I mean. For big money too. Big for those days, anyway."
She reaches out and touches my arm. "Tell me what you're talking about."
"You really don't know? Remember those records you and Leo took out of his office last week? The ones he tried to burn?"
"There was a scrap of paper in there, a record of income from adoptions. He pocketed thirty-five grand off of yours. One of the highest prices paid for any baby on the list. I guess he wanted top dollar, since the baby came from his gene pool."
The blood has drained from her face.
"Look at it, if you don't believe me. I've been carrying the list around in my wallet since the day Jenny told me her story. I thought it was a record of our child being given away."
"Let me see it."
I pull out my wallet and fish the scrap of yellow paper from the bill compartment. Livy snatches it away and holds it up in the blue glow of the streetlight across the road, trying to read in the dark. Her face is in shadow, but after a few moments the paper starts to quiver in her hand.
"That son of a bitch," she murmurs. "That son of a bitch."
"You still think I'm lying?"
"That he would profit from my pain like that…"
"I doubt he gave it a second thought. Making money was his habit. Everything that passed through his hands had to turn a profit. You should know that better than anyone."
She looks up at last, her eyes empty of everything but desire for the truth. These are the eyes I knew in high school. "Do you really believe my father ordered Del Payton's death?"
"It's not a question of belief. I know."
"You can prove it?"
"If my witnesses reach the courtroom alive."
She folds the paper slowly. "I'm going to do something you may not believe. I'm going to do it because I don't believe my father killed Del Payton. I can't believe that. But if it should turn out that he did, I won't protect him."
"What are you talking about?"
"The papers you requested under discovery. Business records, all that?"
"You got sanitized versions. There's another set of files. One that nobody sees. Not the IRS, not anybody."
My heart jumps in my chest. "You realize that withholding those papers from the court-"
"Is a felony? I'm not telling you this to hear the Boy Scout oath repeated back to me. Before I tell you where those files are, I want a promise from you."
"Any evidence of illegal activity that doesn't directly pertain to the death of Del Payton, you'll forget you ever saw."
"All right. Agreed. Where are these files?"
She bites her bottom lip, still resisting the deeply bred urge to protect her family's secrets. "Ever since I was a little girl, Daddy kept his sensitive papers in a big safe under the floor of his study. He called it his potato bunk, whatever that means. If he's hiding anything from you, it's in there."
"How can I get a look in there? He's home tonight. Isn't he?"
"He's probably upstairs by now. Mother's been flipping in and out for the past few days. He's probably up there feeding her Darvocet and Prozac cocktails."
"What about the off-duty cops he called?"
"They won't look twice at you if I drive you in."
She looks sincere. But it's anger that's driving her now. Her relationship with her father has always been one of extremes, love and hate commingling in proportions that change too fast to be assayed. To see the secret safe in Leo Marston's study, I'll have to go back to Tuscany. And at Tuscany, on this night, Leo could kill me and tell the police anything he wanted. He could even have one of his cops kill me. My only real protection would be the woman standing before me.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" I ask.
She folds the paper in half, then twice again, into a tiny rectangle which she slips between the buttons of her blouse and into her bra. Her eyes shine with utter resolution.
"I've never been more sure of anything in my life."