“Coffee?” Sally says. “I’ve got some that’s hot.”
“Sure,” Gary says. “Great.” He has to talk to the sister, and he knows it, but he doesn’t have to rush. Maybe the sister just took off with the car, but it’s just as likely she knows where Hawkins is, and Gary can wait to deal with that.
“You’re looking for one of Gillian’s friends?” Sally says. “Is that what you said?”
She has such a sweet voice; it’s the New England vowels she’s never quite lost, it’s the way she purses her lips after each word, as though tasting the very last syllable.
“James Hawkins.” Gary nods.
“Ah,” Sally says thoughtfully, because if she says any more she’ll scream, she’ll curse Jimmy and her sister and everyone who ever lived in or traveled through the state of Arizona.
She serves the coffee, then sits down and starts to think about how the hell she’s going to get them out of this. She’s already done the laundry for their trip to Massachusetts; she’s gassed up the car and had the oil checked. She has to get her girls out of here; she has to figure out a really good story. Something about how they bought the Oldsmobile at auction, or how they found it abandoned in a rest area, or maybe it was just left sitting in the driveway in the middle of the night.
Sally looks up, ready to start lying, and that’s when she sees that this man at her table is crying. Gary is too tall to be anything but awkward in most situations, but he’s got a graceful way of crying. He just lets it happen.
“What’s wrong?” Sally says. “What’s the matter?”
Gary shakes his head; it always takes a while before he can talk. His grandfather used to say that holding tears back makes them drain upward, higher and higher, until one day your head just explodes and you’re left with a stub of a neck and nothing more. Gary has cried more than most men ever will. He’s done it at rodeos and in courts of law; he’s stood by the side of the road and wept at the sight of a hawk someone has shot out of the sky, before going to get a shovel from the back of his truck so he can bury the carcass. Crying in a woman’s kitchen doesn’t embarrass him; he’s seen his grandfather’s eyes fill with tears nearly every time he looked at a beautiful horse or a woman with dark hair.
Gary wipes at his eyes with one of his big hands. “It’s the coffee,” he explains.
“Is it that bad?” Sally takes a sip. It’s just her same old regular coffee that hasn’t killed anyone yet.
“Oh, no,” Gary says. “The coffee’s great.” His eyes are as dark as a crow’s feathers. He has the ability to catch someone by the way he looks at her, and make her wish he would go on looking. “It’s coffee in general that does this to me. I get reminded of my grandfather, who died two years ago. He sure was addicted to coffee. He had three cups before he opened his eyes in the morning.”
Something is truly wrong with Sally. She can feel a tightness inside her throat and her belly and her chest. This could well be what a heart attack feels like; for all she knows she could end up unconscious on the floor in seconds flat, her blood boiling, her brain fried.
“Will you excuse me for a minute?” Sally says. “I’ll be right back.”
She runs upstairs to Kylie’s room and switches on the light. It was nearly dawn when Gillian got home from Ben’s, where half of her belongings are now taking up most of his closet space. Since she has today off, her plan was to sleep as long as possible, go shopping for shoes, then swing by the library for a book on cell structure. Instead, the shades are being cast open and sunlight is spilling across the room in thick yellow stripes. Gillian squirms beneath the quilt; if she’s quiet enough, maybe this will all go away.
“Wake up,” Sally tells Gillian and she gives her a good shake. “Someone’s here looking for Jimmy.”
Gillian sits up so fast that she hits her head on the bedpost. “Does he have a lot of tattoos?” she asks, thinking of the last person from whom Jimmy borrowed too much money, a guy named Alex Devine, who was said to be the singular human life form able to exist without a heart.
“I wish,” Sally says.
The sisters stare at each other.
“Oh, god.” Gillian is whispering now. “It’s the police, isn’t it? Oh, my god.” She reaches to the floor to grab for the nearest pile of clothes.
“He’s an investigator from the attorney general’s office. He found the last letter I sent you and traced you here.”