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Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

CHAPTER 1

‘HEY, YOU! What the hell you think you’re doing, you pervert?’
The indignant shout carried all the way across the quiet of the parking lot, cutting through the steady drizzle that had been coming down for the past hour. Evan turned towards it, saw a guy coming out the motel lobby, starting towards him, something black in his hand.
I’m going to kick this door in, what does it look like?
But then the guy stopped, thinking better of it.
‘I’m calling the police right now.’ He turned back towards the office, paused again when Evan didn’t move. ‘You hear me?’
Evan heard him, he wasn’t deaf. Wet and cold, feeling slimy, but not deaf. It was now or never.
He hated this.
He hated all of it, but this was the worst by far. It made him loathe himself. Made him want to poke his own eyes out. It brought home just how grubby and squalid it all was. How far into the stinking gutter of humanity he’d fallen. How warmly that gutter had embraced him. The guy was right. It had turned him into a degenerate and a pervert.
It was confrontational and dangerous with all the testosterone and adrenalin bouncing around the room. He could look after himself if it all kicked off, but you never knew how they’d react, what kind of drugs they might be on or if there was a gun on the nightstand, so he’d backed his car up as close as possible and left the door open with the motor running, the rain soaking into the driver’s seat.
He’d followed the woman making the oh, oh, oh sounds on the other side of the door to this shabby, sad motel and watched her as she waited in her car, the windows misting with her hot, excited breath as the rain beaded on the glass. The guy he’d dubbed Mr Pneumatic had arrived, unfolded himself from his car and stood, his hand resting on the car door, surveying the place like he’d built it. Evan had got a number of shots as they embraced quickly and dashed into the room together. That was the easy part squared away. Now he needed them naked, their faces clearly identifiable—what he thought of as the money shot.
But still he hesitated. You’d think he’d got used to it by now, but each time it got worse, not easier. He stood in front of the door, the sounds on the other side increasing in their intensity, took a deep breath and drove the heel of his boot into the cheap door just below the lock. The flimsy frame splintered with a sharp crack and the door flew open, revealing the cheating minx and her lover in all their sweaty, naked glory.
Perfect.
He stepped quickly into the room and breathed in the warm, salty aroma, the dirty, musky smell of sin. He shook his head to clear it as the earthy odor rose up from the bed and flowed zephyr-like across the room to welcome him.
‘Hey. What the . . . you can’t do that.’
Outside in the parking lot the manager changed direction again, broke into a run. A door opened a couple of rooms down and a guy in a striped bathrobe stepped out to see what all the commotion was, pressed himself into the wall when he saw the look on the manager’s face as he charged past.
Evan got off a half-dozen fast shots as they gawked at him open-mouthed, too astonished to even cover up. He was back at his car before the guy’s indignant shout was past his teeth. The manager was twenty yards away, coming on fast, his blackjack arm already raised, an unintelligible howl spewing from his mouth. Evan jumped in and stomped on the gas, slamming the door and spinning his wheels as the tires bit and he took off.
But the guy in the room was fast, unbelievably fast. He’d either had a lot of practice doing this or he was just naturally fast at pulling on his pants. He pushed himself off the woman. His elbow squashed her firm, tanned breasts, making her squeal like a stuck pig. He pole vaulted off the bed, pulled on his pants and was out of the room before Evan had gone ten yards.
He didn’t get much further as two fast-moving bodies came together as one. He smacked bang into the manager, their heads colliding with a bone-jarring thump and the two of them bounced off each other. The manager went down on his ass and landed in a puddle, blood pouring from his nose. The guy from the room flew backwards into the door frame, pushed himself off again, leapt over the manager’s sprawling arms and legs and ran, holding up his pants with one hand as he chased after the car and screamed blue murder at it.
And, despite his remarkable bedroom performance, he still had a ton of energy left. His adrenalin-fuelled legs pumped up and down like well-oiled pistons, his bare feet pounding across the parking lot, impervious to the grit and the gravel and the broken glass that littered the ground.
Behind him the nosy neighbour helped the manager to his feet. The manager gave him an irritated, ungrateful shove and started running again, yelling at the top of his voice. All around the parking lot lights went on and doors opened, curious faces peeked out.
Evan pulled out of the lot and slowed to a crawl. He looked in his mirror. The guy was almost touching the trunk, his mouth stretched into a rictus of fury, streaks of spittle spraying across his face. He’d never seen such wild eyes—not on anything that walked on two legs and didn’t live in a cage. He had to time it just right. He stamped on the brake. The guy slammed into the trunk, bounced off and landed hard on his ass in the gutter. Two yards behind him the manager tried to stop, to swerve, but he was too close. He slipped on the wet pavement, his knees caught the guy in the side of the head, their legs got all tangled up and he went down on his chin.
Evan gave the horn a couple of toots and pulled away slowly. The guy pushed and shoved at the manager lying dazed across him, scrambled up and tore after him again. Evan smiled to himself. It was working. The guy had to think he had a chance of catching him and keep chasing after him. He needed to draw him as far away as possible before rational thinking overrode the testosterone and the guy turned around and went back for his car. The down side was that the guy was getting a good long look at his license plate.
It took the guy two blocks before he finally realized what was going on. Evan watched him in the rear view mirror as he stopped and bent forward, his hands resting on his knees, chest heaving and his head hanging down as he stared at his feet, blood mingling with dirty rainwater on the wet asphalt. He raised his head again and even at the distance away he was, Evan felt the burning hatred in his eyes on the back of his neck.
This one would be a problem.
The slowing down trick had worked, but, even so, his heart was trying to kick its way out of his chest. He needed a drink to calm his nerves. He drove slowly back to his office. The guy wouldn’t follow him now. Another day, yes, but not tonight. He had a lot of explaining to do tonight.

CHAPTER 2

He parked in the shadows behind his office building and sat still for a long time, staring out into the empty darkness. The indefinable smell of sex lingered in his nostrils, taunting him, the guy’s feral eyes still fresh in his mind. He picked up his camera and looked through the images he’d just taken.
Perfect.
The pair of them, buck naked in high definition. Two startled faces looking exactly like a pair of stupid goldfish with their mouths hanging open. He spent a moment admiring the woman’s obvious attractions and then turned his attention to the guy. He had no idea who he was, but he clearly spent all his time in the gym when he wasn’t screwing somebody else’s wife.
He dropped the camera on the seat and rested his head on the wheel, a rising tide of self loathing and disgust overcoming him, as it always did after the adrenalin had leached away. What on earth had happened to him? This wasn’t how it was meant to be. Not exactly Philip Marlowe chasing down long-lost heiresses for aged billionaires in sunny California. And the worst was still to come.
He went up to his office, made a pot of coffee and loaded the images onto his computer while he waited for his client to arrive. The client was already late—nobody shows up early for an appointment with the man who’s about to bring their world crashing down around their ears.
The coffee was long since cold by the time the elevator pinged and he went to the door to greet his client, feeling like a cross between an undertaker and a priest about to administer the last rites. Stanton kept his eyes on his shoes as he entered. Evan was used to that, made sure his own were always presentable. He didn’t mind but sometimes a grunt would have been nice.
It never got beyond an uncomfortable, stilted formality with any of his clients. He liked to keep a certain professional detachment. It made things easier when it was time to dismantle their lives. As for the clients, you don’t rush to get on first name terms with the man who’s just finished watching your wife being screwed by another man. And who’s about to lay out the evidence in front of you on his grubby little desk. And who then expects you to pay him for humiliating you.
Kevin Stanton looked dull. A forgettable man in his early forties, medium height with a blue suit, no tie and brown suede shoes. Not fat or ugly, adequate personal hygiene—he just didn’t look like he was much fun to be with. He wore rimless eyeglasses like an accountant, the impression reinforced by his battered leather briefcase. It wasn’t surprising his wife looked elsewhere for her kicks. The man sitting in front of him was just plain dull. And now it was his job to add pain and unhappiness to his sad life.
Stanton had come to him a week earlier and poured out his heart. He was sure his wife was having an affair. He had no idea who the bastard might be. Often Evan was the first person they confided in, the first time they voiced their concerns. And so it all came gushing out. Then, once it was out, they were embarrassed. They either clammed up entirely or resented Evan as if it was his fault or he was judging them.
‘Well? Is she seeing someone else?’ Stanton asked in a brittle voice.
His cheeks were slightly flushed. He took off his glasses, inspected them and decided they were clean, put them back on. He still didn’t look Evan in the eye. Evan was used to talking to the top of people’s heads. With a lot of people it was the best view.
Evan nodded.
‘I followed them to a motel earlier this evening.’
Stanton stifled a low moan.
‘You’ve got evidence? Photos?’
‘They’re on here.’
Evan tapped his computer, adjusted the screen so they could both see it. He was about to open the file when Stanton put his hand on top of his to stop him. The hand was warm and moist, his whole arm shaking.
‘Is there any chance it’s a mistake? A misunderstanding?’
He looked up into Evan’s eyes for the first time, and Evan forced himself to not look away from what he saw—the last vestige of hope. Hope that he was about to grind into the dirt.
He bit his lip, shook his head slowly.
‘No.’
God, how he hated this.
‘I’m sorry.’
Stanton dropped his eyes again.
‘I don’t know if I can do this.’
‘It’s your decision. I’m not here to make you do anything you don’t want to. But, in my experience, if you don’t see it for yourself, you’ll end up convincing yourself it’s not true.’
Stanton swallowed hard and nodded, told him to just get it over with.
Evan opened the first image. It showed Stanton’s wife and Mr Pneumatic climbing out of their cars in front of the motel room. Stanton shot his hand out and clamped it over Evan’s, a look of horror spreading across his face. Evan was surprised by the strength in his grip.
‘Stop! Zoom in on that?’
Evan twisted his hand, pulled it out from under Stanton’s. He zoomed in on his wife’s face.
‘Not her, you idiot. Him!
He jabbed the screen so hard, the monitor rocked back on its stand. Evan panned across onto the man’s face, now clearly identifiable. Stanton slumped back into his chair, all the color gone from his face.
‘You bastard,’ he hissed at the screen, his fingers digging into the leatherette arms of the visitor’s chair, the tendons standing out on the backs of his hands. ‘You cock-sucking bastard.’
It wasn’t the time to point out he had that the wrong way round.
‘You recognize him?’
‘Recognize him?’ he screamed, slamming his fist down onto the table. ‘You could say that. I have to look at his oh-so-pretty face eight hours a day, every day of my life. That’—he jabbed his finger at the screen again—‘is my bastard of a business partner. Hugh McIntyre.’
Evan didn’t say anything, waited for him to go on. Stanton was lost in his thoughts.
‘It all makes sense now. I can’t believe I didn’t see it.’
Evan had learned from bitter experience to stay silent and wait for Stanton. People lash out blindly when they’re hurting. A badly chosen word, an inappropriate tone of voice or even the wrong emphasis could end up with the overwrought client turning on him.
‘I suppose you’ve got more photos? That bastard and my wife. Every gory detail.’
Evan nodded and put his hand back on the mouse to move on.
‘I don’t want to see them,’ Stanton said quickly, leaning back and holding up his hand as if he could simply push it all away. ‘I know what you said. But I’ve seen enough. I don’t need any more proof. It all fits together now.’
‘No problem. I’ve copied them onto a thumb drive. In case you need them as evidence.’
Evan pushed the thumb drive across the desk. Stanton stared at it like he was being offered a radioactive dog turd. Evan couldn’t stop the thought crossing his mind that he could have stopped after the first photo in the parking lot. No need to kick down the motel door. No need to get chased down the street by a guy who wanted to rip his head off. No need to give a guy who looked like an advert for steroids a reason to come looking for him with a baseball bat.
‘What happened when you took the photos of them . . .’
Stanton couldn’t finish the sentence. He coughed and made some meaningless gesture with his hand. For a second Evan thought he was going to make a circle with his index finger and thumb and poke the other finger in and out.
‘Why do you want to know?’
It wasn’t a question he was expecting.
Stanton shrugged.
‘I don’t know. I thought I knew the bastard, but it seems I don’t. Just curious what he did.’
‘He pulled on his pants and chased me down the street, screaming and threatening to kill me.’
Stanton cocked his head and frowned.
‘You were on foot?’
‘No, I was in my car.’
The creases on Stanton’s forehead got deeper.
‘I kept slowing down to make him think he was going to get me. At one point I stamped on the brakes and he crashed into the car and ended up on his ass. He chased the car for half a mile like a rabid dog until it finally clicked or he ran out of steam. I’m not sure which.’
Stanton’s mouth curled into a smile as he listened, turned into a grin and then he burst out laughing. Evan couldn’t help himself and laughed with him, the tensions of the evening riding out with it. Stanton leaned down and opened his briefcase, came back up with a bottle of scotch, a question on his face.
‘I had a feeling I’d need this tonight. I was planning on taking it home, but here seems as good a place as any, if that’s okay by you?’
Evan got a couple of glasses, put them on the desk.
‘So long as you don’t tell anyone—I’m supposed to be the one who keeps that in the bottom drawer. I’d get disbarred.’
Stanton poured them both a couple of fingers and pushed one across the table. Evan regarded it a lot more favorably than Stanton had viewed the toxic thumb drive.
‘I wish I’d been there,’ Stanton said, knocking his drink back in one and lining the glass up for a refill. ‘I’d have reversed back over the bastard.’
Evan pictured it, reversing at the exhausted McIntyre as he panted for breath, the look on his face changing from fury to disbelief to panic.
‘I wish I had. He got a good look at my license plate.’
‘Uh-oh. Rather you than me. He’s got a very short fuse. And he’s never heard of forgive and forget.’
Stanton finished his second drink and appeared to be in no hurry to get going. Not that he had much left to go home to. What the hell, Evan thought, nodding at the offer of a third drink, I haven’t got anywhere to go either.
When Evan finally called him a taxi a couple of hours later, the bottle was empty and they’d moved on to Evan and Kevin. Their respective problems didn’t seem nearly so bad either. Even so, Evan made sure Kevin took the thumb drive with him. Things would be very different in the cold, unforgiving light of morning. And a hangover would only make it worse. Then he got out the sleeping bag he kept for emergencies and got as comfortable as he could on the floor.

CHAPTER 3

Evan was dragged from his fitful sleep by someone hammering on his office door. Inside his head someone with a jackhammer was bouncing off the sides of his skull and now somebody was doing their best to break his door down. His first reaction was that the guy from the motel, Hugh McIntyre, had found him already, but that wasn’t remotely possible.
He crawled out of his sleeping bag and slowly stood up. He put out a hand to steady himself. He felt like he was still drunk. Kicking the sleeping bag into the corner he crossed to the door.
‘Who is it? What do you want?’
‘Police. Open up.’
That wasn’t the answer he was expecting. Perhaps the motel manager had reported the damage to his door and McIntyre had given them his licence number. He unlocked the door and looked out at the two people standing in the corridor.
There was a short, fat man in front and a taller woman half hidden behind him. The one in front looked him up and down. Evan was acutely aware of his crumpled clothing and the stale smell of whisky and sweat that wafted out from the room. On cue, Fatso sniffed suspiciously at the air.
‘Evan Buckley?’ he asked
‘Yes, that’s me. What can I do for you?’
‘You can invite us in to start with, unless you want everyone in the building to listen in.’
‘Sorry. Of course. Come in.’
He stepped aside to let them squeeze past. He saw the empty whisky bottle and two glasses still on the desk at about the same time they did. It wasn’t a large office, so they couldn’t miss his sleeping bag lying in the corner either, looking very much like someone had just crawled out of it.
‘Nice professional setup you’ve got here,’ the short one said and wrinkled his nose. ‘Mind if I open the window; let in a bit of fresh air?’ He didn’t wait for an answer. ‘Had a party in here last night did you? Been sleeping it off?’
‘Do you mind telling me what this is about, Officer . . .’
Detective Ryder.’ More like Detective Donut, Evan thought. ‘We’d like to ask you some questions, Mr Buckley.’
‘Sure, go ahead, why not.’
‘Do you know Mr Kevin Stanton?’
That was the second surprise in less than five minutes. Faint alarm bells went off in Evan’s head.
‘Yes, why?’
‘We’ll get to that in a minute. Can you tell us what your relationship is with Mr Stanton?’
‘He’s a client.’
‘A client.’
He managed to make it sound like something to be ashamed of.
‘And what exactly do you do for your client, Mr Stanton?’ Ryder said, flashing a cold smile at Evan.
‘Why do I get the impression you know all the answers before you ask the questions?’
‘Just answer the question please.’
‘Actually that’s between me and Mr Stanton.’
Ryder gave him a long suffering look but didn’t press it. Seeing as he knew the answer anyway, he didn’t need to.
‘Okay. Can you tell us when the last time you saw him was?’
‘Last night. Here, in my office.’ He pointed to the glasses on the desk. ‘If you want to dust one of those glasses you keep staring at so disapprovingly, you’ll find it’s covered with his fingerprints.
‘So you were having a party, were you? Do you do that with all your clients?’
‘Not a party, just a few drinks. And Stanton brought the whisky with him.’
‘I’m sure he did.’ The detective made a show of sniffing the air. ‘More than a few as well by the look—and smell—of things.’
Evan sighed wearily at the relentless jibes. His head was pounding, that was punishment enough. He didn’t need any of this.
‘Is this going anywhere, Detective?’
‘Not for Mr Stanton it isn’t. I’m sorry to have to tell you that Mr Stanton committed suicide last night.’
Evan took a step backwards as if he’d been slapped and dropped heavily into his chair. He was suddenly very cold. He shook his head in disbelief. It couldn’t be true. Stanton hadn’t been suicidal when he went home. Something must have happened at home. Ryder was saying something else, his mouth turned down in disgust.
‘Sorry, what was that?’
‘I said, it appears Mr Stanton had spent the evening drinking heavily. We now know that at least some of that was done here with you.’ There was more than a hint of accusation in his voice. ‘He then seems to have gone home where he spent some time looking at pornographic images on his computer.’
Evan groaned inwardly. He didn’t want to hear what was coming.
‘Not just the everyday porn your average Joe can get off the internet, either. Bespoke, you could call it. Pictures of his own loving wife being screwed stupid by another man.’ It was a full blown accusation now. ‘And when he’d had enough of that, he went out to the garage and hung himself from a rafter.’
He shouted the hung himself, and then paused to allow time for the full, dreadful implications of his words to sink in.
‘Which is where his wife found him this morning. Luckily for us, she became hysterical and ran straight to the neighbors. She was so distressed, poor thing, she didn’t think to go into his study and remove the evidence that pointed to her starring role in this sorry little tale.’
Evan sat there completely dumbfounded, unable to think clearly, although one thought was all too clear—he should never have given Stanton the thumb drive with the photos.
‘It was also in his study that we found your business card,’ Ryder continued. He managed to make business card sound dirty too, as if it was one of the ones you see pinned up in public phone booths. ‘And seeing as we’re detectives we sort of worked it out.’
He held up his hand and flicked out a not very clean little finger that looked like a short, fat sausage.
‘One, here’s a depressed man who just hung himself after looking at pictures of his wife screwing around.’ He flicked out a second, sausage-like finger. ‘And two, what have we got here? Some low-rent P.I.’s business card. So, yes, Mr Buckley, we do already know the nature of the work that you did for Mr Stanton. Although how anyone can call what you do work is beyond me. I bet you even charge the poor saps for ruining their lives.’
Flecks of spittle showered Evan as he spoke. Ryder stood in front of him, looking down at him in his chair, daring him to contradict his words. The look of disgust on his face made Evan want to punch it, but he had to keep his temper under control. They would’ve liked nothing better than an excuse to work him over and toss him into the cells. Ryder wasn’t finished yet.
‘That’s why we came down here to this shithole you call an office this morning. To get confirmation from the horse’s mouth—more like the horse’s ass if you ask me—and to see if you can provide any further information.’
‘I can tell you who the man in the photos with his wife is.’
‘We already know that,’ Ryder snapped. ‘You might be the lowest type of bottom feeder, but at least you know how to use a camera. We got his license plate from one of your pictures. We’ll be talking to Mr McIntyre shortly.’
‘I hope you give him as hard a time as you’ve given me.’
It was out before he could stop it. He could have bitten his own tongue off.
Ryder put his hands on his hips and snorted.
‘Hard time? Who are you kidding? I’ve called you a few names, that’s all. At least I don’t go round ruining people’s lives. Christ, haven’t you got any self-respect?’
Evan wished he could have argued. But it sounded too much like the nagging head voices he lived with every day.
‘Are you sure it was suicide? He didn’t seem suicidal in the slightest when he left here.’
‘How the hell would you know? You were as drunk as he was,’ Ryder shouted, his face reddening. He cracked his knuckles loudly. ‘But to answer your question, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of foul play. The man topped himself’—he emphasized the words—’because he couldn’t face life after looking at your pictures. I know it would make you feel a whole lot better if he hadn’t committed suicide, but he did.’
Evan thought he’d finished, but he hadn’t.
‘And it’s your fault’—he jabbed his finger into Evan’s face—‘so you better start learning to live with it.’
Evan tucked his hands under his legs to stop himself grabbing the finger in his face and snapping it at the knuckle.
‘Did he leave a note?’
‘Yeah, he left a note. His tramp of a wife threw it in the trash but we dug it out. It was torn but it wasn’t difficult to read seeing as it was only one word in nice big capital letters—BITC—we figured the rest out.’
Ryder and his partner, who hadn’t said a word the whole time, turned to go. But Ryder just couldn’t let it go. He hesitated at the door.
‘I just can’t understand why anyone would want to spend their lives doing this shit.’ He made a sweeping arm gesture taking in the whole room. ‘Helping people ruin their lives day in day out. Why don’t you do something to help people for a change? Find missing kids or something worthwhile like that.’
Something important snapped inside Evan. A sudden surge of heat flushed through his body, a rush of blood to his head making it feel like it was about to explode. Ryder had touched the rawest of nerves. He couldn’t stop himself. He leapt from the chair and lunged at Ryder, screaming into his face.
‘You sanctimonious bastard. You have no idea what you’re talking about. You know absolutely nothing about me.’
Ryder’s partner stepped between them and put her hand on Evan’s chest. It was a strong hand and she was an athletic woman, broad in the shoulders, narrow in the waist. Her eyes held Evan’s.
‘That’s enough. Calm down now.’
‘Calm down! I’ve had to listen to this holier-than-thou, fat prick insult me from the moment he walked in and now he tells me I should spend my life doing something useful. He wouldn’t know what useful was if it bit him in the ass.’
‘I don’t know what you’re getting so riled up about,’ Ryder said from behind his partner. ‘You do what you do, you gotta expect people to hate you.’
‘Do either of you two idiots know the first thing about me? My name doesn’t ring any bells? Come on, you’re the great detectives.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ Ryder said again. ‘Why the hell would we know anything about a lowlife like you unless this isn’t the first time you pushed a guy over the edge.’
Evan lunged again, but Ryder’s partner pushed him back.
‘Five years ago. Sarah Buckley. My wife. Disappeared off the face of the planet. Ring any bells yet?’
Ryder looked at him like he was talking in a foreign language. There was a faint glimmer of recognition in his partner’s eyes.
‘I seem to remember something about that. Didn’t you cause a big scene down at the precinct? Punched the Captain. Got arrested?’
Evan ignored her.
‘Well, allow me to refresh your memories a little. One day, out of the blue, she disappeared without trace. I reported her missing. You lot were about as much use as a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest. But what was worse was you didn’t give a damn either. Back then I was a journalist, I had a good job, but I couldn’t stand just sitting around waiting for lazy idiots like him’—he jabbed a finger at Ryder—’with their heads up their asses doing sweet F.A.’
‘You better watch your mouth, Buckley,’ Ryder said. But Evan was too far gone to stop now.
‘Or what, you fat bastard? Or what? ‘ He was screaming now, a red mist engulfing him. ‘I packed in my real job so that I could start doing yours. And no, I didn’t find her, but at least I tried, which is more than you did. And I’m still trying, and I’ll keep on trying.’
He paused to gulp air into his heaving lungs. His chest shook against the other detective’s hand.
‘So when some useless tub of lard comes in here and spends ten minutes being abusive before he tells me to do something useful with my life, I get a little uptight.’ He spat the last word into Ryder’s face over his partner’s shoulder, and pushed harder into the hand on his chest.
‘On top of all that I still have to pay the bills, and that means I have to do whatever my clients pay me to do, however distasteful the sainted Detective Ryder might find it. It’s called the real world, and you should go there some time. See how you get on without a badge to hide behind.’
He sagged visibly, the outburst draining him completely. Ryder’s partner saw the fury had gone and dropped her hand from Evan’s chest.
‘Okay, okay, we’re going to leave now. If you can think of anything that might be useful, or you just want to talk, give me a call. The name’s Guillory.’ She gave Evan her card and they left.

***

After they’d gone Evan sat down at his desk and rested his head in his hands. It was like a terrible nightmare, but he wouldn’t be waking up from it any time soon. This was his life now. He didn’t like the things Ryder had said but he couldn’t fault the logic. Sure, it was Stanton’s wife and McIntyre who were the root cause of it all, but it was his photographs that pushed the man over the edge.
He should never have given him the thumb drive.
Until he got home, Stanton had only seen the first picture of the two of them standing outside the motel. There was still room for an innocent explanation. He’d asked Evan about the others but he hadn’t wanted to see them. But then, sitting at home, full of whisky and with the thumb drive burning a hole in his pocket, he hadn’t been able to stop himself from looking. Evan imagined him getting it out of his pocket and turning it over in his hand. Maybe he threw it in the trash only to go back and dig it out again, knowing all the while that in the end he would have to know, just like Evan had said.
And what he’d seen had robbed him of the will to live. Evan knew Ryder was right. It was his fault and he was going to have to learn to live with it for the rest of his life. But if he thought the worst was over, he was wrong. Fate had one last nasty surprise for him and it had kept the best to last.
He fired up his computer and checked his email, saw something that took his breath away. Stanton had sent him an email in the small hours of the morning. His first, gut reaction was to delete it immediately. There couldn’t be anything in it that he needed to read, needed to know.
But now fate had him where it wanted him, twisting in the wind, just like Stanton the previous night. To look or not to look? And just like Stanton, he didn’t have any choice. He clicked it.
Hey, Evan. I know this is a bad idea and it’s probably the whisky, but I just wanted to say—please don’t blame yourself. I’m sure it won’t help, but I wanted to say it.
Evan stared at the words, swallowed thickly, thought about head-butting the screen. Stanton’s words pulsed in front of his eyes, trying to jump off the screen. He hit delete, smashed his finger into the keyboard so hard it split his nail when it asked him if he was sure.
Just get it out of my sight.
It didn’t make much difference. The message was saved in some dark corner of his mind anyway, ready and waiting to be recalled at any time to torment him. It didn’t rob him of the will to live, but it made him want to live any place other than inside his own head.

 

END OF EXCERPT

© JAMES HARPER