Zaandam.'

'Are there ever any empty cabins when they reach Ensenada?'

'I would say there always are.'

'Would it be possible for you to book us a cabin on one of them to go to one of the California ports?'

'I think so, but it might be an expensive way to get home. They usually sail from here around five or six o'clock in the evening and arrive in their American port at around six the next morning. So you won't see much.'

'That's just fine,' said Jane. She looked as remorseful as she felt. 'It's a last-minute plan. We came down here by car with two men we didn't know as well as we thought we did. We're going home early.'

Estrella looked at them sympathetically. 'Say no more. You have your passports?'

'Yes.' Jane reached into the side pocket of her suitcase and produced the ones she had received from Stewart Shattuck.

Estrella lifted her telephone, spoke rapidly in Spanish, and in a few minutes, the arrangements were made. 'The price is prorated,' she said. 'It's a three-day cruise, and you will owe one-third.'

'We'll take it,' said Jane. She looked at her watch. 'I wonder if it would be okay for us to go aboard the ship right away and get settled. I think we'd like to explore the ship a little before we sail.'

'I think that sounds like a good idea,' said Christine.

'Yes,' Jane said. 'I feel as though we've done everything here that we want to.'

36

Ruby Beale was not a fearful or superstitious woman, but she had a bad feeling tonight, and it wasn't new. She had been feeling it, more or less, since she had looked down from the walkway in the great room of the big house and seen the woman staring in the window at her. There was a feeling that the curse had not yet worked all the way through her family and exhausted itself.

A minute after she had seen the woman Ruby had begun to resent the people around her, and the feeling had grown. She had seen something that other people had not seen, and they had not had the sense to realize what it was. Ruby had known. Anybody with any sense would have known. The black-haired woman in the all-black clothes could not have been easier to interpret if she had been a skeleton wearing a hooded robe.

The woman had been staring inside, choosing her way in. Ruby had sensed that she already knew a hundred ways in, as water would have, or air. It wasn't a question of Ruby being lucky and seeing her in time to stop her. It was more like being the one who saw something big and irresistible and destructive while it was still forming—like wind and waves beginning to churn, far out at sea.

Later that night she had thought to herself, Well, this would be the kind of thing that would happen, wouldn't it? Anybody in the world understood that if you did bad, cruel things to people, then some time the hatred you caused would take a form and come after you. Anybody would know, except her stupid son, Richard, who could feel nothing of the rhythms and balances of the world. Revenge was just a restoration of the natural balance. That was why people called it getting even.

They had heard her warn them about that woman, but none of them had believed it or even understood. In their hearts they thought Ruby was just an eccentric, spoiled rich woman, old before her time and scared witless by a five-second exposure to their world, the real world where people used guns to take things. They hadn't known her well enough to have the index to her mind. Even her husband, Andy, and her son, Richard, who both had good reason to know her, had not taken her seriously.

They hadn't seemed to remember that as a nurse she had seen more death than Steve Demming, Sybil Landreau, Claudia Marshall, and Pete Tilton combined. She had seen it arrive in ambulances and bloom in beds in intensive care and on operating tables. Some nights she had left the hospital and felt it plucking at her sleeve, trying to get her to turn around and stare into its face until she couldn't look away again. Death was what she had seen looking in the window that night.

Richard—poor, stupid Richard—had been the first one to actually say she was delusional. His hirelings had been lost from the beginning. They were people who had stopped making decisions. They just heard what the people who were paying them wanted, and thought about ways to oblige. That wasn't thinking. And over the years Richard had become worse than they were. He thought only about what he wanted, and listened only to people who told him reassuring lies.

And now the disaster had come. Since that night she'd had to guard against her own feelings about Andy, too. Ruby's alliance with Andrew Beale had been reasonable. They had lasted a long time, become prosperous and powerful, and she had not found her side of the bargain too hard, or his too easy. She knew that she had to be smart now and focus on the details—count her blessings, as her mother used to put it. She couldn't let herself start thinking too hard about the larger picture. She couldn't look at herself as a person who had come into the contract wanting one specific thing and being denied it. She had wanted to be the matriarch, the honored wife, mother and grandmother of a large and thriving family. She'd had other things, but not that.

Now Ruby was long past childbearing, and her only child had wasted his life and been shot to death. It wasn't really his life to gamble—not entirely his, anyway. Ruby was left with Andy, somehow robbed of their strength by time and all out of chances. When Andy was only one of many people in Ruby's life and she was distracted by lots of jobs and activities, she had been able to overlook, or at least not dwell on, his faults and failings. But now he was it. His faults soured big portions of her day. If he was what was left, the prize she got for all of her efforts on earth, why wasn't he better?

At one time she had thought the baby would be her prize, but he was not. Baby Robert was just a chance for a prize. He was a small, soft, unformed thing that might be coaxed to grow into a man, and that was hard. She would have to devote all of her remaining time and energy to the business of making Robert grow into something Richard never was.

Ruby sat in the unfamiliar living room of the unfamiliar house on the hill overlooking Capistrano. She hated it. The house was not well made like the one in Rancho Santa Fe. They had come here because it was supposed to be safe. But who said it was safe? Richard said it, because Demming had said it, and of course Claudia and Sybil had nodded their empty heads. They were all dead now. That's how much the lot of them knew about what was safe. Ruby had not forgotten that her husband, Andy, had acquiesced. He'd had the deepest contempt for Richard's judgment, but he had gone and agreed to the move anyway.

She listened to the baby monitor for a few seconds. There still seemed to be no sound coming from the baby's room. That was good. He was growing fast and was sometimes able to hold enough milk to keep him asleep until three or four o'clock in the morning. She had let the baby nurse go home tonight, and she wasn't eager to heat up a bottle and trudge in there to feed him right now. She felt like going to bed.

Ruby wondered what was keeping Andy. He was supposedly going over some of the paperwork from the family business. She wouldn't be entirely surprised if it turned out that Richard had neglected his job while he had been trying to salvage his personal life. She stood up and walked down the hall to the dismal little square room where Andy had moved a desk and a lamp and a couch.

She came to the doorway and looked in. On the desk were about ten open files, some pens and pencils, and a calculator. Andy was lying faceup on the big leather couch with his hands at his sides. Gravity tightened his skin against the facial bones, and that gave his nose and cheeks that fragile birdlike appearance that dead men had at their wakes. She felt a moment of pain for him. He was an old man. He had worked so hard for forty years, and then let go. There was something particularly cruel about having begun to relax the muscles and the mind from all of that labor and stress, and then be dragged back into it again. No matter how much of a disappointment Richard had been, it was impossible for either of them to forget he was their son, and hard for them to take up the work he should have been doing.

'I know you're there,' said Andy. 'I'm just resting my eyes.'

'You should rest. You don't have to punch a time clock. Does everything still seem to be a mess?'

He shook his head without opening his eyes, then sat up and looked at her. 'The accounting wasn't actually the mess I thought it was.'

'That's good.'

'No, it's not. What I thought was carelessness was obfuscation. The little shit was stealing money.'

'From us?'

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