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Four Live Rounds(3)
Blake Crouch

“Water?”

“Instead of steamed milk.”

“Um, I’ve never heard of doing that, but I guess I could. You’re the customer, right?”

It wasn’t going to stay inside like he’d hoped, and he knew enough about himself to realize that if he just stood there watching the fuse burn down, he’d end up doing something combustive and reckless, like that time in Juárez.

Javier opened his mouth, not to say what he really wanted, just to cool himself off, a quick pressure release to get things back to baseline.

“Have you ever tried coffee?” he asked brightly, the family turning as one to see who’d spoken. Javier smiled, felt the hate exuding through his teeth, hoped it overshot them. “They have their Anniversary Blend available tonight. And all you have to say is, ‘Anniversary Blend, please.’ None of this complicated ordering. And do you know what? All the barista has to do is take a cup, or a mug if it’s for here, and fill it up. And then you are done and the next person can order.”

“I’m taking a long time, aren’t I?” the mom said. “I’m sorry.”

“This is your favorite drink?”

“Guilty as charged. I have two chai lattes a day.”

“Ah.”

“May I buy your coffee? For the inconvenience?” He couldn’t tell if she meant that she was really sorry, or that he was a giant as**ole, but he admired her for treading the line so well, even as he despised her.

“No, thank you.”

A family emerged from Starbucks, carrying a tray of drinks.

Rachael leaned over and hung her arms out the window, resting her chin against the strip of weatherproofing. She raised an arm, let it drop with a bang against the door.

The adults had already passed by without noticing her.

She raised her arm, let it bang again. The young boy glanced back, and when he saw her, he stopped, his eyes narrowing.

Help me. He cocked his head and stared at her. Rachael’s face was lying against the door, her skin milky, sweating, her eyes crossed.

“Help me,” she mouthed.

The boy approached the door.

“Help me,” she whispered. “I’m not supposed to be here.”

“You look funny,” he said. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”

Rachael fought to keep them from rolling back in her head.

“Donnie, let’s go, pal! You’re holding up progress!”

“Dad, there’s something wrong with this woman!”

Oh thank you. Thank you. Rachael was on the brink of losing consciousness again, the he**in raging through her blood. She lost the boy to swirls of trailing light, made her eyes bring him back into focus. He looked to be Devlin’s age, and now a man was standing beside him, looking down at her, his brow furrowed. He was soft and round, a young father yet to shed his baby fat, filling out his khaki shorts and yellow polo shirt. His mouth was moving, but it took her a moment to connect the movement of his lips to the sounds they made.

“. . . need a doctor or something?” Get me out of here. “. . . person who’s driving you inside?” Oh God. Please. “. . . can’t understand a word you’re saying.”

The brown-skinned, blue-eyed man who’d taken her walked up behind the boy and his father.

Rachael tried to lift her eyes from his boots—they appeared to have been fashioned from the pebbled black-and-yellow skin of Gila monsters.

The boy said, “What’s wrong with her?”

Javier smiled. “It’s a personal matter, son.” He stepped between them and gently lifted Rachael’s head off the door, kissing her cheek as he did. “Let’s go back to sleep now, honey.” Rachael moaned, fighting him with everything she had, which wasn’t anything. He opened the door, raised the window, shut the door. When he turned back around, the boy and his father were still standing there. The window lowered again.

Rachael said, “Help me,” and groaned loudly enough for everyone to hear.

“What’s going on here?” the boy’s father asked.

Javier sighed, looked down for a moment, studying an oil stain on the concrete.

“What’s going on,” he said finally, “is that my wife is addicted to heroin. She’s loaded right now. This far”—he held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart—“from a lethal overdose. I’m driving her to a detox program in Salt Lake.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. That must be so difficult.”

“It is. I can only take it a day at a time.”

“We’re sorry to have disturbed her. Come on, Donnie.”

“But she asked for help, Dad.”

Javier squatted down, stared at the boy.

He’d already identified all of the exterior surveillance cameras.

“I want you to remember this night always,” he said. “Because that”—he jerked his thumb back toward the window as Rachael banged her arm against the side of the door—“is what drugs can do to you.”

“God bless,” the boy’s father said, and he took his son by the shoulders and guided him back toward a minivan parked on the far side of the gas pumps.

Javier climbed behind the steering wheel of the Escalade. He looked at Rachael, who was slumped forward into the dash.

“Do you have any idea what you just did?” he said.

Inside the minivan, Rick Carter was distributing the Starbucks beverages to his wife and children. He had a long night of driving ahead of him, and with a little luck and no delays, they’d arrive in Albuquerque some time tomorrow afternoon.

He’d just swallowed his first sip when he heard a knock at his window.

He turned, saw the man from the Escalade standing there, felt a small knot blossom in his stomach. For half a second, he debated just putting the car into gear and pulling away.

“What do you think he wants?” his wife asked.

“Guess we’ll find out.” He lowered his window several inches. “May I help you?”

Javier glanced at the children in the backseat, at the man’s pretty wife. The car smelled of Starbucks.

“Do you have a cell phone with you?” Javier asked.

“Yeah, do you need to—”

“Have you called nine one one?”

“Um, no, why would—”

“You’re sure?”

“Look, I don’t understand what you’re—”

Javier jerked the door open and shot the man in the face, fired two quick bursts into the backseat to silence the screaming, and stared at the woman, who’d crushed her recycled cup in her left hand, the burning chai steaming off her fist.

“Enjoying your iced, skinny, venti, ten-pump chai latte, hold the whip?”

He shot her in the throat and shut the door.

EIGHT

They didn’t speak on the short ride to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, and the building was practically deserted when they arrived. Swicegood led Will past the unattended reception desk, down a hallway, and stopped in front of a door with stenciled white letters that read INTERVIEW 1. Inside were a small table, three chairs, and a tape recorder. A video camera angled down from one of the corners in the ceiling, the lens pointed at the table.

Swicegood said, “Get you some water? Coffee?”

“I just want to get this over with and get back to my daughter.”

“Sure.” Swicegood eased down into a chair across from Will, tossed a thin file on the table. Will was sobering up fast, his heart beating wildly in his chest. “I’m going to record this,” Swicegood said, starting the tape recorder. “You’re aware of your rights?”

“Of course I am.” Swicegood went through them anyway, and when he’d finished, Will said, “I waive those rights.”

Swicegood leaned forward. “You’re an officer of the court, correct?”

“You know I am.”

Swicegood smiled. “I wonder if you could just clear something up for me. Your wife never came home last night, correct?”

“That’s right.”

“You said she was working at a clinic in Sonoyta.”

“Yeah.”

“What time was she due back?”

“Between ten and ten-thirty.”

“Okay, so here’s my question. At what point does a loving husband become concerned when his wife doesn’t come home?”

“I don’t understand what—”

“When she’s an hour late?”

“Look—”

“Two? Three? Four hours?”

“Okay, I see where you’re going—”

“I suppose for you, it’s somewhere beyond the six hour-mark, but we’ll never know, because you never called nine one one, did you?”

“Would you let me explain?”

“Please do.”

“I was supposed to do closing arguments at a trial this morning. I was up late last night working on them.”

“How late?”

“I fell asleep after ten, at my desk. When I woke up, it was four. I went looking for her in the house. I was horrified. Highway Patrol showed up before I had a chance to call nine one one.”

Swicegood inched closer. “Will, I’ve been a detective going on thirty years now. And crimes? They’re always emotional. You’ve represented some of the lowlifes I’ve put away, and you know that in the heat of the moment, when rage and adrenaline take over, criminals do stupid, stupid things. So I just have one question for you. Did you make any mistakes?”

“I don’t know what you’re—”

“You think you did it perfectly, don’t you?”

“Excuse me?”

“You’ve got a million-point-five life-insurance policy on your wife.”

“My daughter has cystic fibrosis. If something were to—”

“I’m sorry to hear that, but still, quite a chunk of change. How was your marriage, Will?”

“Good. Great.”

“Really? Because I spoke with the next-door neighbors this evening. The Tomlins told me you two put on quite a show on your back porch several nights ago. Shouting, swearing, the works.”

“You’ve never had a fight with your wife? Congratulations.”

“What was it about? The fight.”

“Money.”

“Money.”

“Things are tight. You have any idea what health insurance costs for someone like my daughter, who has a terminal disease? It can stress a marriage.”

“Well, it won’t be a problem anymore, will it?”

“What?”

“Money.”

Swicegood got up without a word, turned off the tape recorder, left the room. When the door closed, Will looked at his watch: 10:47 P.M. His hands shook. His throat closed off.

He’s trying to pin this on you. You could lose your wife and daughter. His eyes ran over as it hit him—Devi could become an orphan. What broke him more than anything, even the prospect of prison and what would happen to someone like him on the inside, was the possibility that he wouldn’t be there for his daughter when the disease finally claimed her. The reality that Devlin would probably die within the next five years was something he looked square in the eye every day. But what he imagined as he sat in that interview room was a dismal morning several years in the future at the maximum-security facility in Florence. A guard would walk down the long corridor to his cell, rouse him, tell him through the bars that his daughter had passed away in the night. He couldn’t fathom anything worse than that. Devi is not dying alone. You cannot let that happen. She is your purpose. Your heart.

The door to the interview room opened. Swicegood sat down across from Will, set a steaming Styrofoam cup of coffee on the table.

He said, “Before we continue, let me say this. This is my job. I operate on instinct. Go where it says go. That’s what I’m doing right now. If you didn’t have anything to do with this, I am so, so sorry. All right, back to business.”

He started the recorder, seemed softer, calmer. Will straightened himself in the chair.

“Look at me, Will.” Everything faded into a distorted darkness except for Swicegood’s eyes. They worked like magnets on Will’s, holding his gaze, his focus, with such intensity that it hurt him to blink. “Somewhere inside of you,” the detective said, “you want to tell me the truth. Been doing this a long time. I’ve seen it in many pairs of eyes, and I see it in yours.” His voice had dropped in pitch and evened out into a soothing monotone that might have lulled Will toward sleep were it not for those blue magnets. “Do you know how good it would feel to just say it, Will? The relief? You know how much easier it would make things for you and your daughter? You’re young. You talk to me now, we might have some wiggle room with the DA.” Will felt the gravitational force of the detective’s eyes trying to coax something out of him. The air buzzed with Swicegood’s desire to hear it, and Will suddenly understood how a person could make a false confession. Anything to make that buzzing stop. “But once I’ve got a body, Will, it’s over for you. Life. Or maybe they strap you to the execution table in Florence, put a needle in your arm. I hope you buried her deep, because the coyotes will find her. Sniff out the rot. Dig her up. And someone will stumble across the bones, and that’ll be that. But I don’t need the body. You know why? Because everyone knows she’s dead. And the little secret about juries? About society? They want closure. Wrongs righted. Threads tied up. People like you swept away into prison, out of sight, so they don’t have to think about depravity while they’re tucking their little ones into bed at night. You want to take a chance on a jury? You want to stand there on verdict day, your knees quaking, your life, your daughter’s, in the hands of twelve strangers who might be willing to trade reasonable doubt for closure? You up for that, Will?”

Will stood up, trembling with rage. He didn’t know if his wife was alive or dead, and this man was accusing him of her murder.

“I didn’t kill my wife, and I don’t know where any of this is coming from. You charging me, Teddy?”

“Where’d you bury her?”

“Are you charging me?”

Swicegood cleared his throat. “I’ll be talking to the DA first thing in the—”

“Then I’m done here. Am I free to go?”

Swicegood chewed his bottom lip. “For the moment.”

“Take me home right now. I don’t want my daughter waking up and not finding me there.”

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