A few minutes before Wade Larue died, he thought he had finally found true peace.
He had let vengeance go. He no longer needed to know the full truth. He knew enough. He knew where he was to blame and where he was not. It was time to put it behind him.
Carl Vespa had no choice. He would never be able to recover. The same was true for that awful swirl of faces-that blur of grief-he had been forced to see in the courtroom and again today at the press conference. Wade had lost time. But time is relative. Death is not.
He had told Vespa all he knew. Vespa was a bad man, no doubt about it. The man was capable of unspeakable cruelty. Over the past fifteen years Wade Larue had met a lot of people like that, but few were that simple. With the exception of full-blown psychopaths, most people, even our most evil, have the ability to love someone, to care about them, to make connections. That was not inconsistent. That was simply human.
Larue spoke. Vespa listened. Sometime in the middle of his explanation, Cram appeared with a towel and ice. He handed it to Larue. Larue thanked him. He took the towel-the ice would be too bulky-and dabbed the blood off his face. Vespa's blows no longer hurt. Larue had dealt with much worse over the years. When you've had enough of beatings, you go one way or the other-you fear them so much that you will do anything to avoid them, or you just ride them out and realize that this too shall pass. Somewhere during his incarceration Larue had joined that second camp.
Carl Vespa did not say a word. He did not interrupt or ask for clarification. When Larue finished Vespa stood there, his face unchanged, waiting for more. There was nothing. Without a word Vespa turned and left. He nodded at Cram. Cram started toward him. Larue lifted his head. He would not run. He was through with running.
"Come on, let's go," Cram said.
Cram dropped him off in the center of Manhattan. Larue debated calling Eric Wu, but he knew that would be pointless at this stage. He started toward the Port Authority bus terminal. He was ready now for the rest of his life to begin. He was going to head to Portland, Oregon. He wasn't sure why. He had read about Portland in prison and it seemed to fit the bill. He wanted a big city with a liberal feel. From what he'd read, Portland sounded like a hippy commune that had turned into a major metropolis. He might get a fair shake out there.
He would have to change his name. Grow a beard. Dye his hair. He didn't think it would take that much to change him, to help him escape the past fifteen years. Naive to think it, yes, but Wade Larue still thought that an acting career was a possibility. He still had the chops. He still had the supernatural charisma. So why not give it a go? If not, he'd get a regular job. He wasn't afraid of a little hard work. He'd be in a big city again. He'd be free.
But Wade Larue didn't go to the Port Authority bus station.
The past still had too strong a pull. He couldn't go quite yet. He stopped a block away. He saw the buses churning out to the viaduct. He watched for a moment and then turned to the row of pay phones.
He had to make one last phone call. He had to know one last truth.
Now, an hour later, the barrel of a gun was pressed against that soft hollow under his ear. It was funny what you thought of a moment before death. The soft hollow-that was one of Eric Wu's favorite pressure-point spots. Wu had explained to him that knowing the location was fairly meaningless. You could not just stick your finger in there and push. That might hurt, but it would never incapacitate an opponent.
That was it. That pitiful thought, beyond pitiful, was Wade Larue's last before the bullet entered his brain and ended his life.