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Chapter 31

At just after 9 p.m., I reenter Quentin’s suite, this time with Mia and a male friend of hers in tow. Quentin and Doris are sleeping in a smaller room down the hall, so that this one can be used for business at all hours. Caitlin is spending the night at my house with Annie. I feel guilty about asking her, but it was the only way I could free Mia to work with me and also be sure that Caitlin wouldn’t discover what we were doing.

Mia’s friend is a high school sophomore who dresses like a New York investment banker. The only openly gay student at St. Stephen’s, Lucien Morse is as slender as a sword and has short, glistening black hair. I met him only ten minutes ago, but I know one thing already-his eyes don’t remain still for longer than three seconds.

Lucien is here to hack Kate Townsend’s USB flash drives.

I’d planned to overnight the drives to a computer security firm in Houston, but when Mia heard me making the arrangements, she told me I could save at least a day by having a friend of hers hack them. I was skeptical at first, but she assured me that this particular tenth-grader was capable of doing the job. Mia’s price for arranging this service? That she be allowed to see what’s on the drives after they’re hacked. Desperate to see the contents as quickly as possible, I agreed. Computer hackers aren’t thick on the ground in Natchez, Mississippi.

Lucien Morse isn’t short on confidence. When I opened my leather portfolio downstairs and showed him what I had, he rolled his eyes and asked me where the nearest computer was. Now that we’re in the suite, I point to the Dell that one of Quentin’s young lawyers installed here yesterday. Lucien walks to the machine and plugs one of the flash drives into a USB port.

”The thing about these little wankers,“ he says, ”is that the security isn’t fundamental. It’s basically obfuscation. I ought to have it open in less than five minutes.“

”Remember,“ I tell him, ”the second you break in, you get up from the monitor and walk away. You don’t look at the files. Even if a full-screen picture pops up, you shut your eyes and walk away.“

”Touchy, touchy.“

”Your payment is dependent on that condition.“

”Five hundred dollars?“ Lucien says, rapidly tapping at the keyboard. ”Right?“

”Five hundred.“

”Easy money.“

I set my portfolio on the coffee table. It still contains Kate’s private journal and Marko Bakic’s flash drive. My plan is to have Mia try to put a time line to the list of men and boys in Kate’s ”hook-ups“ lists, but only after Lucien leaves.

”Can we order tea or something?“ Mia asks.

”Order whatever you want. Drew’s paying for it.“

She picks up the hotel phone and dials room service. She starts to order, then stops in midsentence and pulls her cell phone from her jeans pocket. It must have vibrated. She asks the room service clerk to hold on, then checks a text message. Her mouth opens in surprise.

”What?“ I ask.

She puts her finger to her lips, then she pulls me into the next room.

”No arguing in front of the children?“ Lucien calls.

Mia holds up her phone and shows me the blue LCD screen. It reads:Rave 2nite. Square 1 tracetown movie theater. Heard marko coming with KAs from ole miss and killer d.j. from memphis. Leaving now with stacey.

”What’s Square 1?“

”That’s where the first clue will be.“

I recall Sonny’s description of the complicated security precautions that precede a rave. Kids are prompted by various riddles or poems to drive from place to place until they’re sure no one is following them. Then they’re told the location of the drug party.

”What do you think?“ Mia asks, her eyes sparkling. ”You want to go?“

I glance back toward the other room, but what I see in my mind is the LCD screen. Heard marko coming… ”Yes. I want to go.“

Mia grins. ”Yeah!“

”What about Lucien?“

”He sleeps at school, not at home. For five hundred bucks, he’ll come back later.“

”I heard that,“ Lucien croons.

”Well?“ I ask, walking back into the main room of the suite. ”Can you come back later?“

Lucien slaps the Enter key, then stands and steps away from the keyboard. ”No need. Job’s done.“

”You’re kidding.“

He smiles, revealing small white teeth. ”I don’t kid about work.“

”I gave you two drives.“

”That was the second one. View them at your leisure. No password, no problems, and yes, I take cash.“

I take out my wallet and remove five one-hundred-dollar bills. ”I’d like you to look at one other drive, Lucien.“

”No problem. It’ll cost extra, though.“

”I pay for results.“ I open the portfolio on the coffee table and remove the flash drive I stole from Marko’s garage apartment. This one’s a Sony, not a Lexar, but Lucien seems unconcerned.

”We really need to go,“ Mia says.

”What’s the hurry?“ asks Lucien.

I give Mia a pointed look. ”This is important.“

Lucien takes the drive and slides it into the USB port. Mia stands on tiptoe and whispers in my ear, ”The clue won’t be there long. If we’re late, we’ll miss the party. And Marko.“

”We really need this. And Lucien’s fast.“

”Not this time,“ he says. ”There’s a separate encryption program hiding whatever’s on this drive. It looks like military-grade stuff. Where did you get this?“

I should have known Marko would take precautions. What did Paul tell me? In Sarajevo, Marko became the consummate survivor. ”You don’t need to know that. Can you hack it or not?“

”Maybe.“

”How long?“

”Maybe an hour, maybe a year. If I took it home-“

”You can’t take it home.“

”Then I guess I’ll see what I can do.“

”We’ll be back in a couple of hours.“

”Can I order room service?“ Lucien asks with a smile. ”I missed supper.“

”Get whatever you want.“

The smile turns beatific. ”I hope they have a wine list.“

Riding north on Highway 61 in the passenger seat of Mia’s Honda Accord, I’m scrunched underneath a St. Stephen’s letter blanket that Mia pulled from her trunk-to facilitate my ”being shady,“ as she calls it. For the past forty-five minutes, I’ve been living a scene out of a screwball comedy from the 1960s, updated with touches from 1970s car-chase movies. After Mia read the doggerel verse taped to the ticket window of the old theater, we joined a convoy of jacked-up pickup trucks, handed-down family sedans, and high-end foreign sports coupes. These vehicles charged from place to place to find and unravel successive clues, dodging in and out of traffic and smashing beer bottles against road signs. My heart nearly stopped when I saw one high school boy leap from the bed of one pickup truck to another at seventy miles per hour.

Dave Matthews is playing softly on Mia’s CD player. She drives with one hand, while the other sends and receives text messages on her cell phone in an Olympic-caliber display of manual dexterity. Using the LED penlight on my key ring, I’ve been reviewing Kate’s ”hook-ups“ lists in her journal, and asking Mia to give me a time line on the names. Mia has laughed at some names and dropped her jaw at others. One made her curse and tense in her seat. The story behind this was simple enough.

”Kate stole my boyfriend in ninth grade,“ she told me. ”Chris Anthony. It was just after she got back from England. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but she did it behind my back. They saw each other for like six weeks before someone told me. When I confronted Kate, she wouldn’t even discuss it. She acted like I was a total loser. Beneath her notice. I know that sounds trivial, but it hurt. We didn’t speak for over a year.“

”Is that the root of your competitiveness?“ I asked.

Mia kept her eyes doggedly on the road. ”Part of it, I guess. Doesn’t matter now, does it?“

Mia knew almost every name on Kate’s hook-ups lists, and the picture that emerged from her time analysis was that Kate had been promiscuous during junior high and the early part of high school-before she began having intercourse-but beginning in the summer before the eleventh grade, she’d dated Steve Sayers exclusively. Two of the names Mia didn’t know had notations beside them indicating they had occurred while Kate was living in England. Only two names seemed remotely worth checking out as people Kate might have ”cheated on“ Drew to see, and thereby become the object of jealousy that led to murder.

Mia got her shocks from Kate’s ”rejected“ and ”rejected by“ lists. The fact that Kate had tried to seduce a girl named Laurel Goodrich made Mia gasp. The adults on Kate’s list didn’t surprise her, though. She agreed with Kate’s assessment of Mr. Dawson, the religion teacher, as a ”perv.“ The rejected ”Dr. Davenport“ turned out to be a psychologist who had commuted to Natchez for part of one year. The ”Dr. Lewis“ who had apparently rebuffed Kate’s advances was her longtime psychiatrist, who practiced in New Orleans. ”Mr. Marbury“ was a gymnastics coach who had worked with the cheerleaders for two summers. Mia seemed quite happy that he’d refused Kate’s attentions. When I read Wade Anders’s name from the list, Mia wrinkled her brow and turned to me.

”Kate says Coach Anders came on to her? Not the other way around?“

”Well, he’s under the ‘rejected’ column.“

”Huh.“

”What do you think about Coach Anders?“

”Wade’s okay. He’s never hit on me.“

”He told me a lot of girls have come on to him in his office.“

Mia nodded. ”Some girls think he’s hot-or they did before he gained that weight, anyway.“ She laughed softly. ”He did say something about my butt once.“

”What?“

”No way.“

”Come on.“

”God.“She bowed her head as though mortified. ”He said I had a ghetto bootie.“

I grabbed the wheel to keep us on the road. ”Meaning?“

”You know…a butt like a black chick.“

I laughed at Mia’s expression of mixed embarrassment and amusement. ” Doyou have one?“

”You tell me.“

”Yeah, you kind of do.“

She burst out laughing.

”It is a good one, though, I’ll admit that.“

”It better be,“ she said. ”I work on it enough.“

Now that we’ve covered the hook-ups lists, I’m reviewing the other entries in the journal, looking for things Mia might be able to clarify. Her cell phone has chirped a hundred times with text messages, but this time when she checks the phone, she pumps her hand in triumph. ”Got it!“

”What?“

”The last square. The party.“

”Where is it?“

”Oakfield.“

I can’t believe it. I figured the rave would happen in the middle of nowhere. Oakfield is an eighty-acre antebellum estate north of town, the site of one of the most beautiful Italianate mansions in the Natchez area. ”That’s a three-million-dollar house.“

Mia glances at me. ”Is it?“

”Easily.“

”Janie Moffitt’s grandparents own it. They’re out of town.“

”How many kids do you think will be there?“ I figure I’ve already seen forty to fifty en route to the party.

”There were a couple of hundred at the lake party. And with the terrible stuff that’s been happening, I have a feeling everybody will come to this one. X gives you that sense of total empathy, you know? Oneness with everybody. I think that’s what everyone’s looking for right now. Some way to share what they’re feeling.“

”If I weren’t here, would you take Ecstasy tonight?“

Mia glances over at me. ”I might take some anyway.“

The convoy turns left on Airport Road, which leads into the northwest part of the county. When I was in high school, we held a lot of informal parties under a tin-roofed pavilion near the airport. There was little danger of discovery, since the Natchez airport didn’t have commercial service (and still doesn’t). But Oakfield is truly high cotton. In California the estate would cost forty million dollars. The convoy slows, then turns onto the narrow lane that leads to the mansion.

”Get down,“ Mia says. ”I see the gate.“

The Accord slows to a stop, then creeps forward. From my nearly fetal position, I spy the head of a lion mounted on a tall stone gatepost. Mia jerks the blanket over my head and shoves me toward the floor with surprising strength.

”Mia!“yells a male voice. ”S’up?“

”You’re up, Jamie.“

”You all by yourself?“

”As always.“

”It’s a crime, man.“

”Do I get in?“

”Hell, yeah. I want to dance with you. Be careful, though. It’s wild down there.“

Mia starts to drive off, but Jamie calls, ”Hold up!“

She skids to a stop on gravel.

”I almost forgot,“ Jamie says, giggling. ”Don’t forget this.“

It sounds as though something is changing hands at the window.

”Thanks, Dad,“ Mia says, and then she drives on.

”What was that?“ I ask.

She shoves something under the blanket. ”There you go, baby.“

I click on my penlight and see a yellow-and-white pacifier in her hand. From my years in Houston, I know the significance of the pacifier. MDMA-or ”X“-makes abusers grind their teeth. Ravers use pacifiers to prevent sore jaws the morning after, and also to prevent damage to their teeth.

”Wow,“Mia says almost reverently.

”What is it?“

”Look outside. But be careful.“

I raise my head above the door frame. The rolling hills of Oakfield are flickering under multicolored spotlights. Tents of various sizes have been set up around the estate, and pounding techno rock rolls down from the mansion atop the hill on our left. Sixty yards ahead, a huge crowd of teenagers dances in front of a lighted stage. Pickup trucks and four-wheelers race over the hills in all directions, ramping into the air while kids in the beds behind scream and laugh.

”Is this how these things usually go?“ I ask.

Raucous male laughter followed by a female screech pierces my right ear. As I turn, three naked girls sprint toward Mia’s car, chased by two shirtless boys in blue jeans. One of the boys is spraying beer at the girls from a large bottle, while the other shoots at them with a battery-powered water gun. The first girl slams headlong into Mia’s right fender, then spins and darts across her headlight beams into the darkness on the other side of the road. A second girl follows, but the third falls laughing to the ground. The two boys fall beside or on top of her.

”No,“ Mia says softly. ”This is not the usual thing.“ She starts forward again, bringing us closer to the dancing throng. ”What do you want me to do?“

”I want to talk to Marko. Will the kids freak out if I get out and walk around this party?“

”They won’t freak, but it’ll get around that there’s somebody old here. They’ll probably ask you to leave.“

”Park in the dark, then. But put me where I can see the main action.“

She turns off the long driveway into a pit of blackness on the left. The Accord bumps up and down, then stops. ”You want me to hunt for Marko?“ she asks.

”If you’re up for it.“

”What if I find him? Do I just tell him you want to talk to him?“

Actually, I haven’t thought that far ahead.”I don’t know.“

”Does he know you?“

”He knows me. But if you can get him over this way without letting him know what’s up, that would be good.“

Mia studies me in the dashboard lights. ”You mean pretend that I want to hook up with him.“

”If that’s not too scary, I guess so. I’ll take over as soon as I see you. You could ring my cell to give me a heads-up. One ring and I’ll see your ID.“

”Okay,“ she says finally. ”But I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Nobody’s seen Marko for two days.“ She reaches for her door handle.

I take her right wrist and squeeze it. ”Thanks, Mia.“

”No problem,“ she says, but she’s not smiling.

And then she is gone.

Someone is knocking on my door. I grab for the Browning in my jacket pocket, trying to remember where I am.

”Are you going to shoot me?“ Mia asks, sliding into the driver’s seat. The smell of alcohol wafts through the car. ”You fell asleep, didn’t you?“

”I guess so. Sorry.“

I didn’t tell her I was carrying a gun tonight, but she did give my coat a second look back at the hotel. It’s close to seventy degrees outside. ”What about Marko?“

”I couldn’t find him.“

”Has anyone seen him?“

”A lot of people saw him earlier. He was apparently up onstage with the DJ, dancing and talking to the crowd. He dedicated a song to Kate and Chris.“

”But nobody knows where he is?“

”No. He might be in one of the tents, but I’m not going in there for you.“

”Why not?“

”I’m just not.“

”What’s going on inside them? Drugs? What?“

Mia gives me a hard look. ”The kind of sex I’m not into, probably.“

”I wasn’t asking you to go. I just wanted to know.“

She leans back in her seat and closes her eyes. She sounds a little out of breath.

”Did you take any Ecstasy?“ I ask.

”No. I was kidding before. I don’t do drugs. I had a couple of vodka shots, just talking to people.“

”What’s the general state of the crowd?“

”Up by the stage it’s mellow. Everybody’s hugging and holding hands. Out on the edges it’s out of control. The rednecks in the trucks are doing crystal meth. I saw a fight down by one of the ponds. Some of the girls are really drunk. Incomprehensible. That’s who winds up in the tents.“

I roll down my window to let the breeze blow across my face. ”Do anybody’s parents have any idea what’s going on out here?“

”I don’t think so. But they might by next week. I saw flashbulbs going off in one tent. You get naked out here, you’ll wind up on the Internet for sure.“

”Shit.“

Mia leans forward and pulls her hair into a ponytail, then puts an elastic band around it. ”What do you want to do now?“

”Let’s get back to the hotel and see what’s on Kate’s flash drives. We’re not doing Drew any good out here.“

She nods and starts the car.

”Hang on,“ I tell her, opening my door.

”Where are you going?“

”It’s a long ride back.“

”Oh. Don’t wander off.“

I walk a few yards down the hill, away from the car. As I unzip my pants, a truck rolls slowly up the drive. To escape its beams, I walk farther down the hill, toward a tall oak with low, spreading branches. After the truck’s headlights sweep past, I open my fly and begin urinating. I’m nearly done when a strangely musical voice seems to fall from the sky.

”My little bird likes what she sees.“

I jump backward and nearly piss on my leg. High-pitched laughter echoes through the dark.

”Who’s there?“ I ask anxiously.

”Up here,“ says the voice.

I look up. Lying in the bow of a horizontal oak limb is a shirtless teenager who looks a lot like Marko Bakic. Seated beside him, her bare legs hanging down in the air, is a girl who looks no older than fifteen. Alicia Reynolds. She’s shirtless, too, her breasts barely covered by a push-up bra. The white ring of a pacifier dangles from her puckered mouth.

”You can finish,“ she says, giggling around the pacifier. ”I’ve already seen it, anyway.“

The shirtless boy grins like the Cheshire Cat. ”Mr. Cage, right?“

The East European accent is unmistakable. It’s Marko, all right. I take a step forward and look up at him. ”Hello, Marko.“

”What brings you out here tonight, man? You looking to get high?“

”I came to see you, actually.“

The smile doesn’t waver. ”Yeah?“

”How can he just stop peeing like that?“ asks the girl. ”I couldn’t do that.“

”Go get yourself another drink,“ Marko tells her, never taking his eyes off me.

”I don’t want another drink.“

”Get lost, then. You can take this with you.“

He passes something small to her. Pills, no doubt. ”The rest of you go with her, okay?“

As though materializing out of thin air, three more young men drop to the ground from other limbs and start walking up to the road. Alicia goes with them. The back of one boy’s T-shirt reads, ”KA OLE MISS.“

After they disappear, Marko swings down from his perch. He’s about an inch taller than I, with lanky, muscular arms and a scrawny chest. His mouth is smiling, but it seems separated from his eyes somehow, which are watching me like the eyes of an animal uncertain whether to fight or flee. Maybe it’s the drugs,I think.

”What can I do for you, Mr. Cage?“

”Do you know about the Wilsons?“

The smile disappears. ”Sure. Terrible, yeah?“

”Were you home when the killers got there?“

Marko’s eyes narrow. ”No way. I’d have killed them right back.“

”I found the bodies.“

”I read that in the newspaper.“

I watch him for a while without speaking. The silence doesn’t seem to make him nervous. It’s making me nervous.

”Why are you carrying a gun?“ he asks. ”You scared?“

I guess in Sarajevo you learn to spot weapons pretty quick. ”Things are a little crazy in town just now. I like to know I have options.“

This earns a smile. ”Options…I like that. I like options, too.“

”Who killed the Wilsons, Marko? Who tried to hit you?“

He shrugs. ”Who knows, man? America’s a crazy country.“

Marko’s accent combined with his lanky physique makes me think of Goran Ivanisevic, the Croatian tennis star. Marko is actually handsomer than Ivanisevic, but not quite as wholesome looking.

”Listen, Marko,“ I say in a friendly voice, ”I’m not here to try to hurt you. In fact, if you let me, I can almost certainly help you. I know you’ve opened up some new drug markets with the white fraternities at Ole Miss and LSU. Some other places, too. But now that you’ve done that, you’re expendable.“

”Cyrus seems to think so.“

Honesty. A good start.”Was it Cyrus who hit the Wilsons?“

”Don’t know, man.“

”Or was it the Asians?“

All the levity leaves Marko’s face. ”You know a lot, Mr. Cage. Maybe too much, yeah?“

”I’m not the only one who knows this stuff.“ Low down on Marko’s belly is a mass of white scar tissue shot through with purple. Wade Anders told me Marko had been bayoneted as a child.

Marko sniffs like a fox and looks up toward the road. ”That cop with the mullet knew it. Look what happened to him.“

”I saw the Asians kill him.“

”Maybe the Asians think I’m expendable, too, eh? If they do, I’m dead. If I went back to Croatia, I might get away from them. But I don’t want to go back.“

”Are you coming back to St. Stephen’s?“

”Can’t do it.“

”Don’t you want to graduate?“

Tiny points of light dance in his eyes. ”I want to live more.“

”How can you stay in the U.S. if you don’t graduate and go to college?“

He shrugs. ”I can live anywhere. I’ll just become someone else.“

”Is that how you want to spend your life? As someone else?“

”Might be nice for a while.“

I hold out empty hands and step closer to him. We’re no more than five feet apart. ”I don’t care about the drugs, Marko. I’m here because I want to save my friend. You know who I’m talking about?“

”The doctor. The guy who raped Kate.“

”Why do you say that?“

Marko shrugs again. ”That’s what everybody says. The doctor raped her and then he killed her.“

”Drew wouldn’t do that. He was in love with her.“

This seems to amuse Marko. ”Men kill women they love all the time, no? And vice versa. What you call it here? Crime of passion?“

”Yes. But that’s not what happened to Kate.“

”No?“ He looks confused. ”What happened to her then?“

”I’m trying to find out. I think somebody else raped and killed her. Someone who might not even have meant to kill her. He might only have been trying to keep her quiet. That happens a lot.“

”Why are you telling me this?“

”Before he died, Sonny Cross told me you thought Cyrus had murdered Kate.“

Marko scowls. ”I told that kopile whatever would get his gun out of my mouth. He was bad news, man.“

I feel my hope deflating. ”You lied to Cross?“

”Some lies, some truth.“

”Did you lie about Cyrus being obsessed with Kate?“

”Ha! No way. That nigger wanted that girl bad.“

Marko says ”nigger“ with such an unfamiliar pronunciation that I almost misunderstand the word. ”How do you know that?“

”Every time I saw him, he wanted to know every little thing about her. He tracked her cell phone. All he thought about was her coming to get those pills. It made him forget every other chick, you know? He’d wait the whole fucking month to see her. He thought she was some kind of goddess.“

”And you? Didn’t you want to use the Lorcet to get into Kate’s pants?“

”Sure.“ He laughs. ”Why not? Kate was hot, no doubt about it. No goddess, though. No woman is a goddess. They shit and fart just like we do, even the pretty ones. And they all want the same thing.“

”What’s that?“

”Same thing a man wants! Money and power. And a little sex-maybe.“ He laughs again. ”If sex gets them more money and power!“

Now that I’m face-to-face with Marko, I wonder if he can really help me at all. ”Do you know where Cyrus is now?“

”Hiding out. Like me.“

”What does Cyrus have to be afraid of?“

Marko bares his teeth. ”The yellow men.“

”Do you think he’s close by?“

”He can’t be too far. You can’t leave this business very long. Somebody else come along and take it from you.“

”Did you ever sleep with Kate?“

”I don’t sleep much.“ A smirk.

”Did you fuck her?“

His teeth show again. ”Now you’re into what I like.“

I can see how Kate might be drawn to Marko Bakic. He’s the ultimate bad boy. She already had Drew, the ultimate ”good guy,“ but maybe she felt the need to privately balance the scales. Maybe Marko was the answer to that craving. ”So? Did you screw Kate?“

Marko shakes his head. ”Never got the chance.“

”Will you put your money where your mouth is?“

”What you mean?“

”Will you give me a hair off your head? One hair?“

Instant suspicion. ”What for?“

”A DNA test. You know what that is?“

”Sure. I watch TV.“

”If your DNA doesn’t match the sperm that was found inside Kate, then a lot of your problems with the law will vanish.“

”The cops think I killed Kate?“

”The possibility has been raised,“ I lie.

”I was with Coach Anders, man. You tell them! I got enough problems without this bullshit.“

”One hair from your head would solve this particular problem. If you’re innocent, what do you have to lose?“

Marko shakes his head. ”You just want to save your friend. You can make a test say anything you want.“

I didn’t expect him to give me the hair. There’s no upside for him. I just wanted to read his reaction. He’s watching me with what looks like curiosity. Then suddenly he steps forward, sending my hand into my pocket.

Marko’s pistol is out before I even touch mine, its barrel pointed straight at my chest. Fear turns my bowels liquid.

”Careful,“he says, stepping closer. Then he pulls at his dark hair with his free hand and holds something out to me. ”There you go. Get the police off my back, okay? At least on that shit.“

I take the hair and squeeze it tight in my fist.

”Now, maybe you better go home, Mr. Cage.“

”Maybe you’re right.“

He puts his gun away. ”I think this is the last time we’re going to see each other. Thank you for talking for me at the school board meeting a while back. That was a big help.“

”No problem,“ I say, wishing I’d joined the campaign to have him expelled three months ago. ”Are you leaving town or something?“

Marko sucks at his bottom lip, apparently weighing the issue. ”I’ve got some moves to make first.“

”Moves?“

”Unfinished business.“

”Cyrus?“

An easy laugh. ”Maybe. Or maybe the Asians. Maybe I decidethey’re expendable, yeah?“

”I can see that point of view. But where would you get your inventory then?“

This buys the biggest laugh of all. ”Afghanistan, man! Where else? It’s better than that Colombian shit, anyway.“

”Ecstasy and LSD from Afghanistan?“

”Hell, no! Heroin, man. Black Pearl. You know what keeps these whitebread kids from doing heroin? The needle. That’s the line they won’t cross. They’re afraid of AIDS and hepatitis, or just plain scared of the fucking needle. But now the purity’s so high that you can snort and smoke heroin just like coke. You don’t need the needle. It’s the future, man. I’m going to give those frat boys the ride of their lives! And I’m going to be rich.

”Why are you telling me all this?“

An indifferent shrug. ”Because it doesn’t matter. In a day or two, Marko Bakic will exist no more. I’m going to reinvent myself, like Madonna. You like Madonna?“

This exchange has become surreal. All I want to know now is how to get back to Mia’s car without turning my back on Marko.

”It’s okay, Mr. Cage,“ he says, reading my thoughts. ”I’m not going to shoot you.“

As I back away from him, one last question occurs to me. ”Do you think Steve Sayers could have killed Kate?“

”Steve? Sure, why not? He’s crazy guy.“

”I thought he was pretty straight. A jock.“

Marko snickers. ”Those pickup trucks driving around scaring everybody to death?“

”Yeah.“

”Steve’s driving one of them. He’ll probably kill somebody before morning, and he won’t even know it. Just another bump in the grass.“

”Steve’s semen didn’t match what they found in Kate’s corpse.“

”So what? Maybe he wore a raincoat. Or maybe he pulled out, you know? In my country, ten Serbs rape a woman, maybe half of them come in her. Maybe that’s what happened to Kate, you know? Ten guys could have raped her. Why not?“

”Gang rape?“

”Who knows? America’s crazier than Bosnia when it comes to sex. It’s all they think about.“

”What do you think about?“

A broad grin. ”Business!“

”Is that why you blew five grand on fireworks the other night?“

”Sure! Promotional expense. I’m an entrepreneur, like Bill Gates.“

I stop backing away. I’ve dealt with a lot of criminals, but Marko Bakic is a new experience for me. He’s like a Russian mobster, convinced that he’s in the vanguard of capitalism even as he leaves a trail of carnage behind him. Of course, American capitalism left quite a wake of destruction during its infancy as well. Maybe Marko isn’t completely wrong about himself.

”Will you give me your cell number?“ I ask. ”I may need to reach you.“

He smiles lazily. ”You know better than that, Mr. Cage. You give me yours. Maybe I’ll check in with you before I go.“

Why not?Better to have some chance of talking to Marko again than none. I give him my number. As he punches it into his cell phone, I’m suddenly terrified that Mia will walk down the hill in search of me. I don’t want Marko to know it was she who brought me here.

”Well, good luck,“ I tell him, backing farther up the hill.

Marko knows how scared I am; he sees it in my face. But I don’t care. Fear is infinitely more powerful than pride, and I have so much to lose. I hope I never see Marko Bakic again.

When I reach the road, I cross it and sprint toward Mia’s car.

”Go!“I shout as I jump into my seat. ”Get out of here now!“

”What happened?“ she asks. ”You were gone forever.“

”I talked to Marko. Go! I don’t want him to know you brought me.“

Mia throws the car into reverse, backs onto the road, and guns it for the gate.

”Drive normally,“ I tell her, digging in the glove box for an envelope.

”Fuck that,“ she says. ”I want out of here.“

Very carefully, I slip Marko’s hair into the envelope containing the title to Mia’s car.

”Don’t worry,“ she says. ”Everybody’s too wasted to remember anything.“

Yeah,I think. Everybody but Marko.


Chapter 30 | Turning Angel | Chapter 32