NEITHER MATT NOR OLIVIA MOVED. The story had drained her. He could see that. He almost made a move to come closer, but she put up her hand.
"I saw an old picture of Emma Lemay once," Olivia began. "She was so beautiful. She was smart too. If anyone had the wiles to get out of this life, it was Emma. But you see, no one does. I was eighteen, Matt. And I already felt like my life was over. So there we were, me retching, Emma still holding the gun. She stared down at Clyde for a long time and simply waited for me to catch my breath. It took a few minutes. Then she turns to me, all clear-eyed, and says, 'We need to hide his body.'
"I remember shaking my head. I told her I didn't want any part of that. She didn't get upset or raise her voice. It was so strange. She looked so... serene."
Matt said, "She'd just slain her abuser."
"That was part of it, sure."
"It was almost as if she'd been waiting for this moment. Like she knew it would one day happen. I said we should call the police. Emma shook her head, calm, in control. The gun was still in her hand. She didn't point it at me. 'We could tell them the truth,' I said. 'That it was self-defense. We'll show them the bruises on my neck. Hell, we'll show them Cassandra.' "
Matt shifted in his seat. Olivia saw it and smiled.
"I know," she said. "The irony isn't lost on me. Self-defense. Like you claimed. We were both, I guess, at that same fork in the road. Maybe you didn't have a choice, what with all those people around. But even if you did, you came from a different world. You trusted the police. You thought that truth would win out. But we knew better. Emma had shot Clyde three times, once in the back, twice in the face. No one would buy self-defense. And even if they did, Clyde made big money for his mobbed-up cousin. He'd never let us live."
"So what did you do?" he asked.
"I was confused, I guess. But Emma kept explaining the predicament. We had no choice. Not really. And that was when she hit me with her best argument."
"Emma said, 'What if it all goes well?' "
"What if what all goes well?" Matt asked.
"What if the police believe us and Clyde's cousin leaves us alone?"
She stopped, smiled.
"I don't get it," Matt said.
"Where would we be? Emma and me. Where would we be if it all worked out?"
Matt saw it now. "You'd be where you were."
"Right. This was our chance, Matt. Clyde had a hundred thousand dollars hidden at the house. Emma said we'd take it. We'd split up and run. We'd start new. Emma already had a destination in mind. She'd been planning on leaving for years, but she never had the courage. Neither did I. Neither did any of us."
"But now you had to."
Olivia nodded. "She said that if we hid Clyde, they'd figure the two of them ran off together. They'd be looking for a couple. Or they'd think they were both killed and buried together. But she needed my help. I said, 'What about me? Clyde's friends know what I look like. They'll hunt me down. And how do we explain Cassandra being dead?'
"But Emma already had that covered. She said, 'Give me your wallet.' I dug into my pocket and pulled it out. She took out my ID- back in those days, Nevada didn't require you to have pictures on the ID- and she jammed it into Cassandra's pocket. 'When is Kimmy coming back?' she asked me. In three days, I told her. Plenty of time, she said. Then she said, 'Listen to me. Neither you nor Cassandra has any real family. Cassandra's mother threw her out years ago. They don't talk.'
"I said, 'I don't understand.'
" 'I've been thinking about this for years,' Emma said. 'Whenever he beat me. Whenever he choked me until I passed out. Whenever he said he was sorry and promised that it would never happen again and that he loved me. Whenever he told me he'd hunt me down and kill me if I ever left. What... what if I killed Clyde and buried him and just took the money and ran someplace I knew was safe? What if I made amends, you know, for what I'd done to you girls? You have those fantasies, don't you, Candi? About running away?' "
Matt said, "And you did."
Olivia held up her index finger. "With one difference. I said before that my life already felt over. I disappeared in my books. I tried to keep upbeat. I imagined something different. Because I had something to hold on to. Look, I don't want to make too much of that night in Vegas. But I thought about it, Matt. I thought about the way you made me feel. I thought about the world you lived in. I remember everything you said- about your family, about where you grew up, about your friends and your school. And what you didn't know, what you still don't understand, is that you were describing a place I couldn't let myself imagine."
Matt said nothing.
"After you left that night, I can't tell you how many times I thought of trying to find you."
"Why didn't you?"
She shook her head. "You of all people should understand shackles."
He nodded, afraid to answer.
"Didn't matter anymore," Olivia said. "It was too late for any of that now. Even with shackles, like you said, we had to act. So we came up with a plan. It was simple, really. First, we rolled Clyde's body up in a blanket and dumped it in the back of the car. We padlocked the Pen. Emma knew a place. Clyde had dumped at least two bodies there, she said. Out in the desert. We buried him in a shallow grave, way out in this no-man's-land. Then Emma called the club. She made sure all the girls were made to work overtime, so that none of them would be able to go back to the Pen.
"We stopped at her place to shower. I stepped under the warm water and thought, I don't know, I thought it would be weird, showering off the blood, like something out of Macbeth."
A wan smile crossed her face.
"But it wasn't like that?" Matt asked.
Olivia shook her head slowly. "I had just buried a man in the desert. At night the jackals would dig him up and feast. Carry his bones away. That's what Emma told me. And I didn't care."
She looked at him as if daring him to challenge her.
"So what did you do next?"
"Can't you guess?"
"I... I mean, Candace Potter was nothing. There was no one to even notify in the event of her untimely death. Emma as her employer and almost guardian called the police. She said that one of her girls had been murdered. The police arrived. Emma showed them Cassandra's body. The ID was already in her pocket. Emma identified the body and confirmed that it belonged to one of her girls, Candace 'Candi Cane' Potter. There was no next of kin. No one questioned it. Why should they? Why would anyone make something like this up? Emma and I split the money. I got over fifty grand. Can you imagine? All the girls at the club had fake IDs anyway, so getting a new one was no problem for me."
"And you just ran off?"
"What about Cassandra?" Matt asked.
"What about her?"
"Didn't anyone wonder what happened to her?"
"We had a million girls come and go. Emma told everyone she'd quit- been spooked off by the murder. Two other girls got scared and ran off too."
Matt shook his head, trying to wrap his brain around all this. "When I met you the first time, you used the name Olivia Murray."
"You went back to that name?"
"That was the only time I used it. With you that night. Did you ever read A Wrinkle in Time?"
"Sure. In fifth grade, I think."
"When I was a kid, it was my favorite book. The protagonist was named Meg Murray. That's how I came up with the last name."
She shrugged. "It sounded like the direct opposite of Candi."
"So then what happened?"
"Emma and I made a pact. We would never tell anyone the truth- no matter what- because if one of us talked, it could lead to the death of the other. So we swore. I need you to understand how solemnly I made that promise."
Matt was not sure what to say to that. "Then you went to Virginia?"
"Because it was where Olivia Murray lived. It was far away from Vegas or Idaho. I made up a background story. I took courses at the University of Virginia. I didn't officially attend, of course, but this was in the days before strict security. I just sat in on classes. I hung out in the library and cafeteria. I met people. They just figured I was a student. A few years later, I pretended to graduate. I got a job. I never looked back or thought about Candi. Candace Potter was dead."
"And then, what, I came along?"
"Something like that, yeah. Look, I was a scared kid. I ran away and tried to make a life for myself. A real one. And the truth is, I had no interest in meeting a man. You hired DataBetter, remember?"
Matt nodded. "I do."
"I'd had enough of that in my life. But then I saw you and... I don't know. Maybe I wanted to go back to the night we met. To some silly dream. You scoff at the idea of living out here, Matt. You don't see that this place, this town, this is the best possible world."
"And that's why you want to move out here?"
"With you," she said, her eyes imploring. "Don't you see? I never bought that soul-mate stuff. You see what I've seen and... but maybe, I don't know, maybe our wounds work for us. Maybe the suffering gives us a better appreciation. You learn to fight for what others just take for granted. You love me, Matt. You never really believed I was having an affair. It's why you kept digging for that proof- because despite what I'm telling you here, you and you alone really know me. You're the only one. And yes, I want to move out here and raise a family with you. That's all I want."
Matt opened his mouth, but no words came out.
"It's okay," she said with a small smile. "It's a lot to take in."
"It's not that. It's just..." He couldn't express it. The emotions were still swirling. He needed to let them settle. "So what went wrong?" he asked. "After all these years, how did they find you?"
"They didn't find me," she said. "I found them."
Matt was about to ask a follow-up question when another set of car headlights began to skitter across the wall. They slowed a beat too long. Matt raised his hand to quiet her for a moment. They both listened. The sound of an idling engine was faint, but it was there. No mistake.
Their eyes met. Matt moved toward the window and peeked out.
The car was parked across the street. The headlights went off. A few seconds later, so did the car engine. Matt recognized the car right away. He had, in fact, been in that car just a few hours earlier.
It belonged to Lance Banner.