The most wanted, p.1
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       The Most Wanted, p.1

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
The Most Wanted

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Most Wanted

  A Signet Book / published by arrangement with the author

  All rights reserved.

  Copyright © 1998 by Jacquelyn Mitchard

  This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.

  For information address:

  The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is

  ISBN: 978-1-1012-0917-2


  Signet Books first published by The Signet Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  SIGNET and the “S” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.

  First edition (electronic): September 2001






















  This is an entirely fictional work, which takes place among entirely imaginary people in an imaginary Texas and owes its inspiration to my affection for its people. All individuals, organizations, events, and locales in this book are solely this writer’s creation, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, groups, incidents, or places is coincidental.

  For my daughters,

  Jocelyn Marie and Francie Nolan

  Mi más queridas

  And for Luz


  Like a pole barge going slowly up a river, this book got finished only because of all the toting and cheering from the shore.

  I first need to thank Michelle LaVigne, a true friend and a good writer, who allowed me to model the character of Annie Singer on her slender and lawyerly bones. To the many people who helped me have at least some sense of Texas and its culture, including Maria, Joe, and my beloved Elizabeth, whose heart is bigger than the big Republic; to Ken and Gloria for help understanding why some of us cross the line of the law; to Linda Bubon, classmate and friend, owner of a unique Chicago bookstore, who, in the spirit of fun, let me borrow its wonderful name for Anne Singer’s law firm: thank you all.

  A cherished network of family, coworkers, and friends again surprised me with loyalty and sheer intelligence. For heroic forbearance, I thank my cadre—Susan, Michelle, Pamela, and Patty. For simply showing up at the site of the cyclone, Sandy, Karen, Lilia, Amy, Kevin, and Pam. For provocation and uncommon gentleness, my sons, Robert, Daniel, and Martin, I love you best. Ann K., Anne D., Jane H., Laurie, Franny, Brian, Jean Marie, Tory and Steve, Stacey, Hannah, John and Georgia, Rick, Sylvia, and all the “we of me,” you know where I’d be without you.

  To the strong and good women who publish my work, Barbara Grossman, Susan Petersen, and Phyllis Grann, thank you. I wish also to thank Penguin Putnam artists Gail Belenson and Francesca Belanger for their superlative grace notes, and Beena Kamlani for once again making me look smart.

  To my agent and once-and-future-best-pal, Jane Gelfman, all my gratitude; and to the staff and supporters of The Ragdale Foundation, a writers’ residence in Lake Forest, Illinois, who helped me through substantial portions of this book in 1997.

  Finally, though several beautiful original poems appear in this book, they did not come from my mind or pen.

  The love poems of Arley and Dillon are the work of Sharron Singleton, a luminous writer and a tender friend, who found her way into the souls of characters she didn’t know and made them speak, almost before the person who created them was able to do that.

  So far as Sharron and I know, this kind of collaboration between two writers of different genres, in a single work of fiction, hasn’t been tried in quite this way.

  It was a startling adventure, as all of this has been.

  January 8, 1998

  Madison, Wisconsin


  by Sara Teasdale

  I gave my life to another lover,

  I gave my love, and all, and all—

  But over a dream the past will hover,

  Out of a dream the past will call.

  I tear myself from sleep with a shiver

  But on my breast a kiss is hot,

  And by my bed the ghostly giver

  Is waiting tho’ I see him not.

  The Highwayman

  by Alfred Noyes


  The wind was a torrent of darkness

  among the gusty trees,

  The moon was a ghostly galleon

  tossed upon cloudy seas.

  The road was a ribbon of moonlight

  over the purple moor,

  And the highwayman came riding—


  The highwayman came riding,

  up to the old inn-door.

  He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead,

  a bunch of lace at his chin,

  A coat of claret velvet,

  and breeches of brown doe-skin;

  They fitted with never a wrinkle:

  his boots were up to the thigh!

  And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,

  His pistol butts a-twinkle,

  His rapier hilt a-twinkle,

  under the jewelled sky.

  Over the cobbles he clattered

  and clashed in the dark inn-yard.

  And he tapped with his whip on the shutters,

  but all was locked and barred;

  He whistled a tune to the window,

  and who should be waiting there

  But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

  Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

  Plaiting a dark red love-knot

  into her long black hair.

  And dark in the old inn-yard

  a stable-wicket creaked

  Where Tim the ostler listened;

  his face was white and peaked;

  His eyes were hollows of madness,

  his hair like mouldy hay,

  But he loved the landlord’s daughter,

  The landlord’s red-lipped daughter;

  Dumb as a dog he listened,

  and he heard the robber say—

  “One kiss, my bonny sweetheart,

  I’m after a prize to-night,

  But I shall be back with the yellow gold

  before the morning light;

  Yet, if they press me sharply,

  and harry me through the day,

  Then look for me by moonlight,

  Watch for me by moonlight,

  I’ll come to thee by moonlight,

  though hell should bar the way.”

  He rose upright in the stirrups;

  He scarce could reach her hand,

  But she loosened her hair i’ the casement!

  His face burnt like a brand

s the black cascade of perfume

  came tumbling over his breast;

  And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,

  (Oh, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)

  Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight,

  and galloped away to the west.


  He did not come in the dawning;

  he did not come at noon;

  And out o’ the tawny sunset,

  before the rise o’ the moon,

  When the road was a gipsy’s ribbon,

  looping the purple moor,

  A red-coat troop came marching—


  King George’s men came marching

  up to the old inn-door.

  They said no word to the landlord,

  they drank his ale instead,

  But they gagged his daughter and bound her

  to the foot of her narrow bed;

  Two of them knelt at her casement,

  with muskets at their side!

  There was death at every window;

  And hell at one dark window;

  For Bess could see, through her casement,

  the road that he would ride.

  They had tied her up to attention,

  with many a sniggering jest;

  They had bound a musket beside her,

  with the barrel beneath her breast!

  “Now keep good watch!” and they kissed her.

  She heard the dead man say—

  Look for me by moonlight;

  Watch for me by moonlight;

  I’ll come to thee by moonlight,

  though hell should bar the way!

  She twisted her hands behind her;

  but all the knots held good!

  She writhed her hands till her fingers

  were wet with sweat or blood!

  They stretched and strained in the darkness,

  and the hours crawled by like years,

  Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,

  Cold, on the stroke of midnight,

  The tip of one finger touched it!

  The trigger at least was hers!

  The tip of one finger touched it;

  she strove no more for the rest!

  Up, she stood to attention,

  with the barrel beneath her breast,

  She would not risk their hearing;

  she would not strive again;

  For the road lay bare in the moonlight;

  Blank and bare in the moonlight;

  And the blood of her veins in the moonlight

  throbbed to her love’s refrain.

  Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it?

  The horse-hoofs ringing clear;

  Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance?

  Were they deaf that they did not hear?

  Down the ribbon of moonlight,

  over the brow of the hill,

  The highwayman came riding,

  Riding, riding!

  The red-coats looked to their priming!

  She stood up, straight and still!

  Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence!

  Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!

  Nearer he came and nearer!

  Her face was like a light!

  Her eyes grew wide for a moment;

  she drew one last deep breath,

  Then her finger moved in the moonlight,

  Her musket shattered the moonlight,

  Shattered her breast in the moonlight

  and warned him—with her death.

  He turned; he spurred to the West;

  he did not know who stood

  Bowed, with her head o’er the musket,

  drenched with her own red blood!

  Not till the dawn he heard it,

  his face grew gray to hear

  How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

  The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

  Had watched for her love in the moonlight,

  and died in the darkness there.

  Back, he spurred like a madman,

  shrieking a curse to the sky,

  With the white road smoking behind him,

  and his rapier brandished high!

  Blood-red were his spurs i’ the golden noon;

  wine-red was his velvet coat,

  When they shot him down on the highway,

  Down like a dog on the highway,

  And he lay in his blood on the highway,

  with the bunch of lace at his throat!

  And still of a winter’s night, they say,

  when the wind is in the trees,

  When the moon is a ghostly galleon

  tossed upon cloudy seas,

  When the road is a ribbon of moonlight

  over the purple moor,

  A highwayman comes riding—


  A highwayman comes riding,

  up to the old inn-door.

  Over the cobbles he clatters

  and clangs in the dark inn-yard;

  And he taps with his whip on the shutters,

  but all is locked and barred;

  He whistles a tune to the window,

  and who should be waiting there

  But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

  Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

  Plaiting a dark red love-knot

  into her long black hair.



  EVEN NOW, years later, I know there are going to be those nights. Nights when I will wake up with my nightgown soaked to my ribs. When I will be taking breath from deep in my stomach, not my chest. When I will be sure that it’s really not a dream.

  Instead, it will be as though my very own safe room on Azalea Road is really the dream. As if my Desi, right on the other side of the wall, sleeping in her white bed under that wagon train mural we painted for her, all in the palest of pinks and yellows and greens, is just a wish that found its way into my sleep, when my mind was off its guard. As if I didn’t get away; I didn’t live to tell.

  The fire dream, and the other one, the kiss, come back so round and full of sound that I could swear I’m back there again in that black little square of cabin on the night of the fire, watching Desi go out the door in that flickery red wash of light, afraid I will never feel her little stickpin fingers close tight around mine again, afraid I will never again smell her hair.

  Once or twice, I’ve had both those dreams on the same night, and then I’m sick with the shivers and done with sleep until morning.

  When I dream of the kiss, I don’t hear the fire. I can feel my mouth open up under his as if that mouth had never done a single thing—not eat or breathe or pray—anything but wait for what it was made by nature to do, the only thing that made it feel satisfied, or useful, as if it had been not two years but instead two minutes. That scares me just as much as the other dream does. It makes me know that I am, at the core, as bad as he was.

  I don’t tell Annie. I guess I’m still immature enough, or prideful enough, that I don’t want Annie to think she was right about Dillon all along. And we’ll never know, not really, if she was totally right, because what he did on the porch that night . . . well, only he would know, and he’s gone so long, there’s no asking. Annie comes if she hears me crying, she comes as if I’m a baby that woke with a fever, and she just sits there, she doesn’t try to hug me or anything. She’s good that way. Actually, she’s probably good in all ways. Still, I don’t want to admit to Annie that I know I was a fool. I used to tell her, “Annie, I made this here bed, and now I’m going to have to lie in it.” I guess I wanted that to sound like bold talk. But there was no other choice. I did wrong, and then I did more wrong, and I did it because I knew that what Dillon did was part my fault. That he did it in some sense for me, or maybe all for me, and one piece of me had to stick with him on account of that.

  I guess, by that night, along with the police and everybody else, I had started to think of Dillon as alm
ost a supernatural creature, who could do anything he desired and not be stopped. On TV, they called him “The Highwayman,” just like he wanted. It was as if he’d made himself up a new self, a self I didn’t know. I couldn’t feel him moving in my chest or trace his jaw with my forefinger in my mind. And if I tried to make him come back to me and fit inside my heart the way he used to, he just wouldn’t. We weren’t one anymore. All I would be able to think of was Desi. Of course, it was a mercy that I could let him loose that way, I know that now. But it felt then like being in hell. It was like I walked right down Kings Highway with my shirt bare off for everyone to see, did it on purpose, not having any clue why, not even seeing my shame until somebody showed me pictures of what I’d done. There are times when I think that none of it could ever have happened at all. And yet I know.

  I have certainly got the proof.

  When Dillon came along, he just filled up the sky over me, and I couldn’t see around him to good or bad or wise or stupid or anything. I know how that sounds. But if you feel like that, it’s more than love, it’s like your mind getting turned over and emptied out like a drawer; you’re so cleanly dedicated to that one person, it’s as if all the rest of you was scrubbed off. It’s like waking up from a dream into a dream and not knowing where one left off and the other began.

  When I think back on the house in Avalon and Taco Haven in San Antonio, Mrs. Murray’s class and the Bexar County library, Coach Diaz and the track team, it’s all like an old film in black and white. And for a while, the future looked that way too, but not now. Now the future shows up in my sleep in all those pastel pretties Desi likes. So I’m not afraid to sleep most nights. It’s not like I’m depressed. You don’t have to be depressed to regret what deserves regret.

  Did anyone else ever feel about anyone the way I felt about Dillon? Like he was a strongbox that would look gray and ordinary to anyone else but show its jewelly treasures inside only to the one person who had the key? If someone else ever did feel that way, how long did it last? I know one thing: nothing on earth can explain how I could know every breath and hand line of the boy who wrote those poems for me, and have the very same boy be a stranger who did all those terrible things. If you ever felt love that crazy for somebody, you can’t imagine that you would ever feel the other, a growing so far and wide apart you might see him on the street and not even have to swallow hard. That you might even think, Oh boy, there’s trouble.

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