The most wanted, p.32
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       The Most Wanted, p.32

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
 

  “That depends,” Annie said, real slowly, like she was trying to ask me something instead of tell me something.

  “You know it doesn’t, Annie. You know they’d think of him as a murderer.”

  “Arley, you’re having a baby—let’s not talk about this now.”

  “I know all that stuff. But if I say I don’t love him . . . if I don’t love him anymore, if I’m not what he is, then I never loved him.”

  “You didn’t know what you didn’t know.”

  “You have to take the person for better or for worse. That’s how it is. You’re not supposed to just take them for their best.” I tried to find words. “We made a person, Annie. And if I don’t love the boy I made a person with, then I really am a fool like they all probably think. So I have to believe there was something in him that night that is gone now—or that everybody is mistaken about what he did.” It was starting to really hurt. “I’m going to take deep, cleansing breaths. You’re supposed to go without meds as long as you can.”

  “Arley,” Annie said, “God made drugs for times like these.”

  “Innnnnnn. And ouuuuuuut . . .” I didn’t want to take any drugs. Dr. Carroll said eighty percent of women didn’t need anything at all.

  Annie went downstairs for more coffee. Before she left, she opened the blinds. It suddenly looked like it was going to storm, the clouds lowering and gray. When she got back and put her hand on my forehead, I smelled popcorn, which pissed me off a lot. “You ate good stuff!” I said. “And I’m starving!” She went into the little airplane-sized washroom and washed her hands. Shelley came in and examined me, told me I was halfway there.

  “It hurts some,” I told her. “Actually, it hurts pretty wicked.”

  “Do you want to sit in the whirlpool?”

  “Will it hurt the baby?”

  “I wouldn’t suggest it if it would,” Shelley said.

  Sitting in the tub didn’t do one damn thing to change the pain. It felt good in other ways, though. Like, I felt lighter. I could breathe. I think I fell asleep for a minute. I had a dream, about a swimming baby. A kind of baby mermaid. When I woke up, I couldn’t remember how Annie spelled her first name. So I called her.

  “With an e,” she shouted back from outside the door of the whirlpool room. “The right way.”

  Shelley helped me dry off and gave me a scrunchie for my hair. “Things are going to move faster now,” she said.

  Annie rubbed my back, the way they tell husbands to do in class. I wanted to hunch over, clench my teeth, fight the pain. You weren’t supposed to do that. You were supposed to ride on it, like a surfer on the waves. But I couldn’t keep ahead of it. “I can’t do this, Annie. I’m not old enough,” I told her.

  “You can, you have to. Look at my face: I promise I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

  “Ever?”

  “Ever.”

  “Breathe, blow,” I said, trying to relax, and then this terrible thing happened. My legs, which had been paining like a pulled tendon—they all of a sudden were gone. “I can’t feel my legs!”

  Annie jammed her thumb on the red button. Shelley came running, but she said it was just some nerve depression or something. “There ain’t nothing worse than labor,” she sort of sang to me.

  “I need a shot—”

  “Just a little longer.”

  “No, now!” shouted Annie. I screamed when another contraction gripped me, this one like a knife in the base of my spine. I could smell my own sweat, and it didn’t smell like me at all. It smelled like metal, like a piece of machinery that was on fire. I hollered again for Annie. It didn’t seem like even a second since the last pain, and here I was having another one. I was going to rip apart and bleed to death, I knew it. I’d never felt anything like it, not a cramp, not a headache, not even the time I broke my ankle, and they say that’s the sheerest pain there is. Annie took my face and tried to center it. But I was thrashing my head like a wild horse. I reached up and grabbed Annie’s wrists and pulled them down.

  “Get the damn doctor!”

  “I don’t want to leave you!”

  “Get him, or I’m going to die right now!”

  She ran. I grabbed the sheet in both hands and tried to rip it, though I couldn’t. The pain in my back was so big, I couldn’t imagine I would live through it. The only bigger thing was the feeling of wanting to push the baby—which I now hated—out of me forever. And that feeling was the biggest feeling you’ll ever have on this earth. No other way to describe it. It simply towered over you. And so I began to push and grunt, and I felt spit coming out of my mouth, and I screamed, “Annie! Mama! Mama!”

  And Annie came running in like the devil was chasing her, and right behind her was Dr. Carroll, and he whipped up the sheet and said, “Okay, okay, we’ve got a head crowning down here . . . couple more pushes, Arley. Don’t waste it. . . .”

  “I was calling you—” I said to Annie, reaching for her hand.

  “I heard you calling. Arley, honey, I tried to reach her. I don’t think she’s here.”

  “I wasn’t calling her,” I said. The pain was coming again. The rough and ripping pain that had nothing to do with my body at all, pain that didn’t even know I was there.

  “I heard you call—”

  “I was calling you, Annie. Annieeee!” I screamed. And out she came. Blue-red and glisteny and looking like some special effect from a sci-fi movie, a huge head, and arms and legs the size of a man’s fingers, but folded, the way you fold a shirt to pack it. From her middle rose a huge grouty thing like a dragon’s wing; I’d forgotten all about the umbilical cord. I thought she had something terribly wrong with her, and I almost screamed. But then Annie was laughing and crying at the same time, and I knew she would know if there were anything wrong. So I tried to reach down for my baby, but she was so slippery that Shelley the nurse had to kind of trap her in this towel, like you do a catfish.

  “She is a beautiful child. She’s a gift,” said Dr. Carroll. “I mean that, Arley. She’s very pretty.” He went to cut the cord, but I stopped him. “Annie,” I said. I remembered from the birthing classes. The husband did that, to make him feel part of the baby’s life. I couldn’t think of anything else to do for Annie. “Please let Annie cut it for me.”

  Annie started wiping her eyes with the heels of her hands. “Arley, my hands are shaking too much.”

  “No,” I said. “You have to.” The pain was all gone: the pain-of-the-cosmos pain. I felt ripped, though, which I was. The baby wasn’t tiny, like they said. If this was intrauterine growth retardation, I’m glad I caught it, because otherwise I’d still have her stuck in me. She was really big, like one of those life-sized baby dolls. I found out later that they make mistakes with ultrasound all the time, and then just say, “Oh, that’s interesting.”

  “Annie, look at the baby! Look!” She was turning her head, left and right, blood glistening in her thick hair like bright jam, and was sort of experimenting with opening her arms, the way you see butterflies do when they dry their wings right after getting out of the cocoon. Shelley began to dab at her with the towel, while Annie cut the cord. I swear I didn’t even feel myself push out the placenta. I just couldn’t believe the size of her feet. I couldn’t believe that her palm already had lines, a heart line and a life line. That somewhere inside her was a stomach, lungs the size of butter beans, ovaries with little pin eggs in them that would someday be able to make another one like her. I couldn’t believe I’d created a human being. I felt like minor royalty, like a duchess. I wanted to jump up and sing.

  By the time the doctor was done sewing me, they had her all wiped off so that she looked almost like a real baby-book baby. You could see that her hair, which had looked black with all the goo, was really white blond, like little frills of cake icing. Dillon’s hair.

  “She’s beautiful, Arley,” Annie said, as Shelley passed the baby, wrapped in a blanket, over to her. “Her Apgar scores were great. She’s really fine! Look, she has a littl
e tiny cleft in her chin.”

  Uh-oh, I thought.

  “I don’t think that’s such a good thing on a girl,” I said weakly. “Let me see her.” But you couldn’t hardly tell when you looked. The cleft, right then, looked just like a little dimple. It would get bigger, of course, but by then it would be part of Desi, and I would forget that I’d ever believed any nonsense about a cleft not being a beautiful thing on any child, especially a girl baby.

  The baby opened her eyes and looked straight at me. They will tell you newborns can’t see, but I’m sure Desi could. She looked right at me, and I recognized her. She was the baby from the dream I’d had in the whirlpool tub. She was a person I’d known all my life. I said, not even thinking of the other people in the room, “I didn’t know it would be you!”

  There was food then, and Patty, Annie’s friend from work, came over with champagne, and I even had a little of it.

  Then, later, Jeanine brought a little goddess book on a chain from Tienda de Carina, to hang above the baby’s crib, and told me that October 29 was a very magical day, part of Annie’s favorite festival, Día de los Muertos, and the ancient feast of Persephone. Annie’d told me all about it, and now Persephone was my favorite story. She gets kidnapped by Hades, the god of the underworld, who rose up in his black chariot from beneath the wildflowers. Hades finally made a deal with Persephone’s mom, Demeter, so Persephone would have to go back and spend half the year with him—and that was how winter got started.

  I don’t think Persephone minded going back that much, the way I recalled it. It was sort of a Beauty and the Beast type of relationship. But having all that magic surround Desiree’s birth was a good thing. Even if some of it was dark magic, Jeanine pointed out, none of it was evil magic, and dark magic can be powerful. I told Jeanine I thought Desi was my little Halloween treat. Jeanine, who has seven brothers and sisters, said the trick would come later on, and don’t you forget it. But Annie just kept chirping around the room like we’d won the big game or something; I loved seeing her so happy. It almost made me forget Dillon, to be honest, until Shelley came back to drop off the birth certificate forms. “You don’t have to fill these out right now,” she said. “Don’t even think about ’em.”

  But I said, “No. I’m ready.”

  Quietly, Annie brought me a pen from her purse, and she and Jeanine watched as I wrote out her name: Desiree Anne LeGrande.

  Mother: Arlington Mowbray LeGrande.

  Father: Dillon Thomas LeGrande.

  “That’s for you,” I told Annie, pointing. I didn’t know that Anne was the commonest middle name on earth. “I always wanted a middle name myself. This is almost as good.” She just nodded, with her lips pressed together.

  But Jeanine asked me, “Why did you pick Desiree? Did Dillon like it? Is it a character in a book?”

  “It means something.”

  “Desire? Like, the streetcar named Desire?”

  “Well, no. It means ‘want.’ Like Je désire la plume, would mean ‘I want the pen.’ In French. And with LeGrande, it means ‘wanted very much.’ Which is how I wanted her. I don’t ever want her to think, because of the kind of start she got, that she wasn’t wanted. Right, Annie?” I said.

  But she didn’t answer. She had her back to me and was looking out the window at the hard rain that had begun to fall.

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  Annie

  I’D HAVE LOVED I to have taken Jeanine up on her offer to go out for drinks, in honor of the baby’s birth, that night when we left the hospital. I would have, too, if it hadn’t been for the dread. I was so keyed up that I smelled.

  I’d talked with Carla Merrill twice during Arley’s labor. The FBI agent had spent an enlightening hour with Kate LeGrande at her house, during which Kate expressed surprise that the law would want to know about all those times Dillon had called her or asked about the whereabouts of his wife. She assumed that since her son was a fugitive, the police already knew about his phone calls. “Don’t they keep track of stuff like that? And the girl, I don’t even know her,” Kate had told the FBI agent. “I don’t think she’s really . . . our kind.” Not once in the hour Carla Merrill spent with her did Kate LeGrande get up from the sofa, turn off the TV, or offer the agent so much as a glass of water. She did explain that she had not eaten or slept, “that I can really remember,” for the past several years, and work was “out of the question, because of my nerves.” Disability checks and the late Tom LeGrande’s Social Security were hardly enough to live on, “and since the boys left, we’ve had a lot worse time. You know,” Kate confided, “the state didn’t do a thing to replace the money the boys brought in. Dillon and Kevin were real good workers.” Carla Merrill hadn’t known whether to laugh or cry at the idea of income replacement for imprisoned offspring. The most unsettling thing was just outside the back door. It was the skeleton of some kind of huge bird—a gull or a hawk—lying in the dust next to an overturned tin bucket, with a length of light chain still around its neck.

  No one seemed to know the whereabouts of the littlest LeGrande. Kate had to ask his older brother, “It a school day?”

  The big teenager, Kier LeGrande, not visibly hurrying to either school or a job himself, sat at the kitchen table, rolling a log pile of unfiltered cigarettes. He only shrugged and said he had no idea where Philippe was . . . hadn’t seen him for days.

  The bloody spoor Dillon seemed destined to leave throughout South Texas appeared to trouble the LeGrandes less than his choice in women. “We weren’t brought up to marry no little kids in grade school, ma’am,” Kier told Carla Merrill. “My mama’s right. People who do that aren’t our kind.”

  Carla Merrill had no idea what he meant.

  I suggested some options: Episcopalians? The downwardly mobile? Close relatives of spree killers? Merrill wasn’t amused, and it was really no time even for gallows humor. A certain kind of bad family will do everything but rent bikes to backpedal on their commitment and distance themselves from their wrongdoer. Suddenly, the apple of mom’s eye is someone she can’t quite remember ever having met.

  This bizarre conversation with Carla had a fuguelike quality. I understood now what people meant when they said, borrowing from medical lingo, that they were “in shock.” For some reason, the cyclone force of Dillon’s capacity for havoc had not really hit me until the previous afternoon. Perhaps I’d lived too long with Stuart. Shooting a marshal during a getaway seemed almost a logical thing to do, despite how haunted I’d been by the photo I’d seen of that man’s blasted face, his eyes wide open in immortal surprise. What had happened to Arley’s sister somehow upped the ante: With the kind of manhunt reserved for cop killers in full cry, Dillon seemed to have felt confident climbing right up, like an outlaw Romeo, to his bride’s window and, finding Lang in her stead, done God knows what. He seemed to think himself as mythical, beyond human. I could not divert my imagination from Lang’s nightgown, how it must have looked, crumpled under the window like a monstrous hibiscus. Had he taken her body with him? Buried her? Kept her alive, hostage?

  Apprised of her son’s possible role in this outrage, Kate LeGrande had commented, “My goodness. I didn’t think he even knew that Arley’s sister.”

  Rita, her eldest missing and presumed dead, her youngest about to give birth to the child of a psychopath on the loose, her house on Jean-Marie Street now draped in yellow plastic tape, swarming with detectives and FBI sifting the soil and photographing the facade, had gone off to work.

  Since I had my gun, I supposed Jeanine and I would be safe enough among the friendly faces at Amor Ausente. Sure, it was just minutes away; we could have walked there. But once we got outside the hospital, my nerve failed. I hadn’t handled my gun in many weeks, except to shift it from purse to medicine cabinet and back again. Until the last crowd-packed days before he left, Stuart had been the one to take it out and clean it, lovingly oiling and swabbing the barrel with the little kit he’d purchased, probably imagining himself shooting it out on t
he high plains with John Wesley Hardin. I had no idea how I would begin to take care of it on my own. Perhaps Charley would know. Or Tarik. Certainly Jack Becker could teach me. Being a gunslinger was much more demanding than it looked in Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Before we parted in the hospital parking lot, I told Jeanine that Dillon would have time to dismember both Arley and me in leisurely fashion before I could even load the damned thing. Then Jeanine left, and I looked up at the window where I knew that Arley, blissfully ignorant of her sister’s fate, slept under guard, with strict rules written into her chart forbidding any television except for movie cassettes. No matter what the precautions, it wouldn’t take long before some chucklehead turned on the news. But I wanted Arley to have as much unsullied time as possible, getting to know her little earth angel, the baby named to commemorate the first Mowbray woman in history who, despite an avalanche of adverse circumstances, considered herself lucky to have a child.

  I’d never seen a prettier newborn than Desiree. But I’d never seen a prettier man than Dillon, either. What might you have been, Dillon? I wondered. If you still had a future, you’d have a chance to spend time retooling your life with your beautiful daughter. Something almost like a savor of pity passed through me. Under another star, couldn’t the man who’d written those poems have made a worthy life for himself? Look what Arley had done, cooking herself up a value system and a personality structure from things she most certainly didn’t find around the house, and then sticking to them despite her own worst judgment.

  It should not have surprised me that my car, piloted by a conspiratory hand, wound up in front of my house on Azalea Road.

  I’d been looking forward to a shower and bed, and then back to the hospital in the morning, to face the task of telling Arley about her sister.

  But once I was there, I knew. The night wouldn’t be complete unless I could tell Charley about Desiree. I didn’t even consider my spiky hair and the wings of sweat under the collar of my blouse. His truck was in front, but I had to wind my way through the whole place, calling, before I found him upstairs in my bedroom.

 
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