Chapter 19


Evangeline couldn’t keep track of time, but her growling stomach convinced her it was taking Muxworthy even longer to check on her the next day. For what felt like hours she heard him rattling around overhead, sometimes pausing for long fits of coughing and wheezing and cursing. She heard doors slamming, water running, the tread of his heavy feet. She tried hard to keep him from hearing the return of her morning sickness. She’d had so little to eat she was afraid of how weak she’d be if she threw up the scraps he’d given her. But she couldn’t keep it down.

At least the pregnancy made it possible for her to drop into deep, dream-fractured dozes.

She was lying on a pallet of rags, puzzling over Muxworthy’s hint that he planned to make a statement with her murder, when she dropped into a dream that she and her mother were in a fancy nursery store in Philadelphia. She was large with the baby, practically full-term. She had on a pale blue maternity dress and a pearl choker around her neck. She was laughing at a huge stuffed tiger her mother was showing her. Then her mother disappeared and the tiger came alive and leapt towards her. Just as its claws were sinking into her neck, the animal turned into Natalie Vega. Natalie grabbed the pearl choker and it broke off in her hand as Evangeline fell back into a display of baby clothes. Then Muxworthy appeared and pushed Natalie aside. "Allow me," he said to Natalie. "This bitch is mine." As Natalie stood over her laughing, Muxworthy pulled out a gun and pearls started raining from the sky. Evangeline screamed for John.

When she wrestled herself awake, she was covered in chilly sweat and feeling ravenous and headachy. Aside from the hum of the freezer, the house was silent. She hoped Muxworthy couldn’t hear her as well as she could hear him.

How was she going to get out of that cellar? How much longer before he killed her? Was the baby all right? Was John looking for her? She knew her mother and Uncle Clay would be out of their minds with worry, but did everyone else assume she’d pulled another disappearing act?

Wrapping her arms tightly around herself, she thought about the last time she’d seen John. He’d been so gentle and shy. He’d been that way sometimes when they first started seeing each other, as if he was a little in awe of her. It never failed to move her, seeing this tough, wisecracking detective suddenly go all boyish, blushing and stammering. But she hadn’t really felt as if she had any power over him that night at the Palace; all she could think of was the secret inside her and how much she longed to throw herself into his arms and tell him about the baby. But no, she’d chosen to maintain control, to go through with the catered event and schedule the right moment to let John know she was having a child and he was the father. Why did she have to make everything so pinned down and perfect? Would she be here now if she’d followed her heart? The thought made her sick and she started to cry.

She heard Muxworthy opening the door at the top of the stairs. Again, the shaft of sunlight behind him, then the bleak glow of the single hanging bulb. His breath was labored as he trudged down the stairs.

Seeing her tear-streaked face, he flashed his brown peg teeth in a grin. "Guess you’re feeling lonesome for your white boyfriend and your penthouse apartment? Well, you won’t have long to enjoy these accommodations, nigger. Your slaughter date is coming soon."

Evangeline shuddered and struggled to her feet. She leapt and grabbed the greasy paper sack as he tossed it in her direction. More stale bread, a mealy, dented apple and a chunk of yellow cheese product the size of a deck of cards. She wondered if he was getting the food at some dead-letter office of middle-school lunches.

She felt dizzy, but she had to quiz him. "What are you going to do with me? What did you mean when you said killing me would be significant?" As she spoke, she kept her eyes on her shaking hands fumbling with the paper bag. With a bit of food in her, she might have been able to smirk at the silver manicure that hadn’t chipped, the last vestige of her careful pre-party toilette. Two days into her confinement and her body smelled like an expensive, contraband French cheese.

"I didn’t hear a ‘thank you’ nigger," Muxworthy said sharply.

She glared up at him, her hair hanging over her face. "Thank you."

"Thank you Mr. Muxworthy."

She gritted her teeth and kept her eyes on the ground. She jumped when he fired a bullet at the wall near her head.

"Thank you Mr. Muxworthy," she whispered as urine trickled down her leg.

"Speak up, nigger!"

"Thank you! Mr. Muxworthy!"

He caressed the warm muzzle of his gun. "That’s more like it, nigger. Before you die, you’ll learn."

Her face burned with shame. He laughed at the pool of urine darkening the packed earth floor at her feet. "Now don’t you go stinking up my basement. Use the bucket."

Evangeline glared and him and screamed, "What do I care? You’re going to kill me!" She stood so that her legs were slightly parted and emptied the rest of her bladder in a strong stream onto the floor. She was ready to lose her mind.

This was what Hallam Muxworthy had been waiting for. He enjoyed seeing this high and mighty nigger crack. The end was near and he was going to enjoy every moment of it.

"When the time is right, yes, I’m going to kill you. And that will be a sight to savor. Maybe, if you’re real lucky, there’ll be television reporters and you can be an Emmett Till for the 21st century. Last night I delivered a little package to your boyfriend. If he’s smart, he’ll get here in time to see you draw your last breath."

Muxworthy started to chuckle but a body-shaking cough stopped him. He hawked a couple of ounces of black phlegm on the floor and turned around and went upstairs. The last thing she saw before he turned off the light was the blackened clot of mucous. She heard him throwing the bolt on the door.

Evangeline felt the steel creeping back into her backbone. This lunatic was plotting to lure John out here to watch her die. Maybe he was planning to kill John, too. Muxworthy was actually looking forward to the notoriety of killing her. She’d be damned if she was going to let him use her that way.