“Get back to the truck,” I said, putting my hands all over the gun. “Be seen. Wait. Just wait. For once…”
I sounded angry. Maybe I was. I grabbed the gun by the trigger and pointed it at Paulie, who looked like a mannequin. A bleeding one. The blood still poured out of him. He wasn’t dead.
Gesù Cristo that man was always thick. I used to think it was funny. I used to think it was good to be the brains of the operation.
He was impulsive. Stupid.
And I was muddled.
He’d helped me. He had a big heart that hurt. He’d helped me do wrong and right, and of course, he’d made everything balanced in an unbalanced world for a little while.
What was happening to me? I straightened my arm to finish him off. Behind me, Theresa sniffed. I turned. Her face was wet with tears, and the careful makeup she’d done for the wedding was smeared down her cheeks. She pressed her lips together.
Would shooting him save her? Would it make her happy and bind her to me, or would it break her?
That was my only concern: how it would affect Theresa, her heart and her life. I didn’t even care if it would make her love me less, because it didn’t matter anymore.
“Don’t leave me,” she whispered, her mouth wet with tears. “Please.”
I wanted to say I’d never leave her, to hold her shoulders and say the thought had never crossed my mind. I wanted to say I’d never lied or snuck around or given up on her. But I had. In the guise of making her life easier, I had.
“I have to.” I dropped the gun on the floor. It was stained with my prints. The whole mess would land in my lap, but I’d be dead, gone, and she couldn’t step in the way of it. “Tell them you were hit in the head. Unconscious for the whole thing.”
“Don’t.” Her voice was no more than a breath.
“You probably have a concussion.” My voice was hard and distant. I didn’t know how else to speak to her. She’d shot a man. She’d swung her arm to aim at him and squeezed the trigger. Her face had been as cold and hard as my voice, and she made no mistakes about the gun being loaded. She knew, and she’d shot to kill. Would I see anything else from now on?
“Were you seen coming in here?” I asked.
“Maybe? Probably? I don’t know.”
“Go back to the truck. They’ll be here soon.” I didn’t want her to see me go to the closet. She knew where the tunnel was better than I did. “Go.”
“There was no C4 under the chassis.”
“You think you’re leaving without me.”
“I was, I am…” I looked over Paulie’s slow bleed then back at her.
We had to move.
No. I had to move.
I was leaving to protect her. She didn’t have so much thrown at her that she couldn’t manage. Daniel would never prosecute her if I were out of the picture. I was the one with the problems. I was the man with the baggage, and she was…
She wasn’t innocent. Not anymore. Not with her running mascara and red eyes. Not with the bruise bubbling above her ear, or her grass-stained dress, or the powder burns on her hand.
I prayed God would forgive me for loving her, and feared only the devil would answer.
I picked up the gun and put it in my waistband.
“Antonio, no. I—”
“Basta,” I said, opening the closet door. “I love you, Contessa. Your madness is silent and your sanity makes a racket. Now is time for madness.” I pushed the hangers out of the way.
I found the false wall where she and her brother had described it. I ran my fingers over the edges but couldn’t find a way to open it. She came up behind me, reaching between my legs and wedging her fingers into the corner between the floor and the wall.
“You have to go where children can reach.” She pulled, and the false wall shifted. I took the edges from her. We were hit by a blast of air that should have been stale and dusty but wasn’t. I knew she noticed from the deep breath she took.
She opened her mouth, and I sensed an objection coming out of it.
“Listen to me. I bought it the way I bought everything. It’s not traceable. And yes, I was going down this tunnel. Alone. And I was never coming back. That was the plan, but it changed. I have to get something, and I will come back in a few seconds.”
I put my finger to her lips. We had no time for explanations. “Be mad,” I said. “Your sanity is there.”
I ducked into the tunnel and down the stairs.
I must have been crazy. I’d intuited that he was leaving me when I was under the truck and couldn’t lift the grate. No one could. It had been locked or bolted since I was a kid. And the C4 smelled like Play-Doh, which was made of wheat. C4 couldn’t smell the same. Wheat didn’t explode.
Standing in front of the tunnel with the fresh air coming from the other side, probably the result of Antonio reopening the basement, his plan became clear. He was going to leave me there and escape through the tunnel across Ludwig without me. But Paulie intervened. Damn Paulie, and bless him, because without him, I’d be under the truck, waiting like a good girl.
Paulie bled in the other room. I steeled myself against the horror of what I’d done. If I stood in that dark closet another minute, the steel was going to melt, and my madness wasn’t going to be so silent.
I stepped into the abyss. It led to a wooden stairwell with steps higher than they were wide. I remembered that.
I put my other foot on the step.
He’d said to wait under the truck, and I hadn’t done it.
I should wait now.
God, please let him come back to me.
I waited, and because I waited, I heard them coming. Maybe someone had heard shots, or maybe they’d seen the break-in of the florist’s truck without a loving couple rocking the back. Maybe Daniel’s minions went looking for me to thank and, discovering I wasn’t there, came looking. I didn’t know. But I knew there was a traitor’s body in that room, and I knew I didn’t want to explain what had happened.
I closed the closet door and shut the panel behind me.
It was pitch black, and if I remembered the stairs correctly, they were treacherous and rotted.
“Antonio,” I whispered into the darkness. Was he gone?
Above me, I heard the clopping and shouting of people entering the carriage house and doing what needed doing. I wondered if they knew about the tunnels and whether there was someone from my world who would check.