Chapter 43

HE AWOKE before sunrise in a bed he hadn't slept in in almost twenty years, in a room he hadn't seen in almost ten. The years were distant, another lifetime. The walls were closer together now, the ceiling lower. Over the years his things had been removed, the boyhood memorabilia, the Saints banners, the posters of blond models in tight swimsuits.

As the product of two people who rarely spoke to each other, he had made his room his sanctuary. He'd kept the door locked long before his teen years. His parents entered only when he allowed them.

His mother was cooking downstairs; the smell of bacon drifted throughout the house. They had stayed up late; now she was up early, anxious to talk. And who could blame her?

He stretched slowly and carefully. The crusted skin around his burns cracked and pulled. Too much of a stretch and the skin broke, and the bleeding started.

He touched the burns on his chest, desperately wanting to dig in with his fingernails and scratch with a fury. He crossed his feet and locked his hands behind his head. He smiled at the ceiling, an arrogant smile because life on the run was now over. Patrick and Danilo were gone, and the shadows behind them had been destroyed in a crushing defeat. Stephano and Aricia and Bogan et al., and the feds and Parrish with his insipid little indictment, all had been laid to waste. There was no one left to chase him.

Sunlight eased through the window, and the walls inched together. He showered quickly and treated his wounds with a cream and fresh gauze.

He had promised his mother some new grandchildren, a fresh batch of them to take the place of Ashley Nicole, a child she still dreamed of seeing again. He told her wonderful things about Eva, and promised to bring her to New Orleans in the very near future. No definite plans to get married, but it was inevitable.

They ate waffles and bacon and drank coffee on the patio as the old streets came to life. Before the neighbors could begin stopping by to applaud the good news, they left for a long drive. Patrick wanted to at least see his city again, if only briefly.

At nine, he and his mother walked into Robilio Brothers on Canal, where he bought new khakis and shirts and a handsome leather travel bag. They ate beignets at Cafe du Monde on Decatur, then a late lunch at a nearby cafe.

They sat at his gate at the airport for an hour, holding hands and saying little. When his flight was called, Patrick hugged his mother tightly and promised to call every day. She wanted to see the new grandkids, and quickly, she said, with a sad smile.

He flew to Atlanta. Using his legitimate Patrick Lanigan passport, given to Sandy by Eva, he boarded a flight to Nice.

HE HAD LAST SEEN Eva a month earlier, in Rio, over a long weekend in which they spent every moment together. The chase was almost over and Patrick knew it. The end was near.

They clung to each other as they walked the crowded beaches of Ipanema and Leblon, ignoring the happy voices around them. They had late, quiet dinners in their favorite restaurants-Antiquarius and Antonio's-but they had little appetite for food. When they spoke, the sentences were soft and short. The long conversations ended in tears.

At one point, she had convinced him to flee again, to leave with her while he was still able, to hide in a castle in Scotland or a tiny apartment in Rome, where no one would ever find them. But the moment passed. He was simply tired of running.

Late in the afternoon, they rode a cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain to watch the sunset over Rio. The view of the city at night was spectacular, but difficult to appreciate under the circumstances. He held her closely as the wind chilled them, and he promised her that some day, when it was all over, they would stand in this exact spot, and watch the sunset, and plan their future. She tried to believe him.

They said good-bye on a street corner, near her apartment. He kissed her on the forehead and walked away, into the crowd. He left her crying there because it was better than a messy scene at the crowded airport. He left the city, and flew west, changing flights as the planes and airports got smaller. He arrived in Ponta Pora after dark, found his Beetle parked where he'd left it at the airport, and drove the quiet streets to Rua Tiradentes, to his modest home, where he arranged his things, and began his wait.

He called her every day between 4 and 6 P.M., a coded call with different names.

And then his calls stopped.

They had found him.

THE TRAIN from Nice arrived in Aix on time, a few minutes after noon, Sunday. He stepped onto the platform, and looked for her in the crowd. He didn't really expect to see her. He was only hoping, almost praying. Carrying his new bag with his new clothes, he found a taxi for the short ride across town to the Villa Gallici, on the edge of the city.

She had reserved a room in both names, Eva Miranda and Patrick Lanigan. How nice to be in from the cold, to travel as real people without the cloak and dagger of false names and passports. She had not checked in yet, the clerk informed him, and his spirits sank. He had dreamed of finding her in the room, adorned in soft lingerie, ready for intimacy. He could almost feel her.

"When was the reservation made?" he asked the clerk, irritated.

"Yesterday. She called from London, and said she would arrive this morning. We haven't seen her."

He went to the room and showered. He unpacked his bag, and ordered tea and pastries. He fell asleep amid dreams of hearing her knock on the door, of pulling her into the room.

He left a message for her at the front desk, and went for a long walk through the lovely Renaissance city. The air was brisk and clear. Provence in early November was delightful. Perhaps they would live there. He looked at quaint apartments above the ancient, narrow streets and thought, yes, this would be a nice place to live. It was a university town where the arts were revered. Her French was very good and he wanted to become proficient. Yes, French would be his next language. They would stay here for a week or so, then go back to Rio awhile, but maybe Rio wouldn't be home. Flush with freedom, Patrick wanted to live everywhere, to absorb different cultures, to learn different languages.

He was set upon by a pack of young Mormon missionaries, but shook them off and walked along the Cours Mirabeau. He sipped espresso at the same sidewalk cafe where they had held hands and watched the students a year earlier.

He refused to panic. It was a simple matter of a late connecting flight. He forced himself to wait until dark, then strolled as casually as possible back to the hotel.

She wasn't there, nor was there a message. Nothing. He called the hotel in London, and was informed that she had left yesterday, Saturday, around mid-morning.

He went to the terrace garden next to the dining room, and found a chair in a corner which he turned so he could watch the front desk through a window.

He ordered two double cognacs to fight the chill. He would see her when she arrived.

If she'd missed a flight, she would've called by now. If she'd been stopped by customs again, she would've called by now. Any problems with passports, visas, tickets, and she would've called by now.

No one was chasing her. All the bad guys had been either locked up or bought off.

More cognac on an empty stomach, and before long he was drunk. He switched to strong coffee to stay awake.

When the bar closed, Patrick went to his room. It was 8 A.M. in Rio, and he reluctantly called her father, whom he'd met twice. She had introduced him as a friend and a Canadian client. The poor man had been through enough, but Patrick had no choice. He said he was in France, and needed to discuss a legal matter with his Brazilian lawyer. Apologies for disturbing him at home so early, but he couldn't seem to locate her. It was an important matter, even urgent. Paulo didn't want to talk, but the man on the phone seemed to know a lot about his daughter.

She was in London, Paulo said. He had talked to her on Saturday. He would say nothing more.

Patrick waited two agonizing hours, then called Sandy. "She's missing," he said, now very much in a panic. Sandy had not heard a word from her.

PATRICK ROAMED the streets of Aix for two days, taking long aimless walks, napping at odd hours, eating nothing, drinking cognac and strong coffee, calling Sandy and scaring poor Paulo with repeated calls.

The city lost its romance. Alone in his room, he wept from a broken heart, and alone on the streets he cursed the woman he still madly loved.

The hotel clerks watched him come and go. At first he was anxious as he asked for his messages, but as the hours and days passed, he barely nodded at them. He didn't shave and he looked tired. He drank too much.

He checked out after the third day, said he was going back to America. He asked his favorite clerk to keep a sealed envelope at the desk in case Madame Miranda appeared.

Patrick flew to Rio. Why, he wasn't sure. As much as she loved Rio, it would be the last place she would be seen. She was much too smart to go to Rio. She knew where to hide, and how to disappear, and how to change identities, and how to move money instantly, and how to spend it without drawing attention.

She had learned from a master. Patrick had taught her all too well the art of vanishing. No one would find Eva, unless, of course, she wanted them to.

He had a painful meeting with Paulo, in which he told the entire story, every detail. The poor man crumbled before his eyes, crying and cursing him for corrupting his precious daughter. The meeting was an act of desperation, and utterly fruitless.

He stayed in small hotels close to her apartment, walking the streets, once again looking at every face, but for different reasons. No longer the prey, he was now the hunter, and such a desperate one at that.

Her face would not be seen, because he'd taught her how to hide it.

His money dwindled, and he was eventually reduced to calling Sandy and asking for a five-thousand-dollar loan. Sandy quickly agreed, and even offered more.

He gave up after a month, and traveled by bus across the country to Ponta Pora.

He could sell his house there, and maybe his car. Together, both would net thirty thousand U.S. dollars. Or maybe he would keep them and get a job. He could live in a country he loved, in a pleasant little town he adored. He could work perhaps as an English tutor, live peacefully on Rua Tiradentes, where the shadows were gone now but the barefoot boys still dribbled soccer balls along the hot street.

Where else could he go? His journey was over. His past was finally closed.

Surely, some day she would find him.