FOR IT IS WRITTEN, VENGEANCE IS MINE

PROLOGUE

24 June 2006

The boy was trouble. Shaved head and dark resentful eyes, blue-ink tattoos climbing up his neck and onto his face. Praying hands and the other quasi-religious gang favorites, and around his left eye, three dots. Mi vida loca—my crazy life—the mark of a person who lives outside the law. It would’ve made Hector Cordova laugh if it didn’t make him sick to his stomach. All it demonstrated was a disrespect for the intelligence of any law-abiding citizen with eyes in their head, as if they couldn’t see what the boy was.

They called him Little Crazy.

Most likely he was no worse than they were, the sorry addicts who came to the small anexo—an unregistered drug rehabilitation center—that Hector ran with his wife, María Elena, and their eldest son, Rafael, himself a recovering addict. Located on a quiet residential street in Ciudad Victoria, a city dominated by the most violent of the drug cartels, the Zetas, they’d named it Dios es mi Salvador when their own son’s addiction first set them on this thankless and dangerous road.

It was a little before 8:00 p.m. when Hector dropped the heavy iron bar into its retaining brackets on either side of the wooden front door, hammered it a couple times with the heels of both hands to make sure it was properly home. At times he wished that the bar was padlocked into the brackets at night, as on the roller shutter door of a garage or a small warehouse. Except that could cost vital seconds in the event of a fire—a very real threat in the current volatile environment. Like all things in life, it was a compromise.

It saddened him that the security measures were necessary at all. They were only trying to help, after all. But recently there had been a spate of murderous attacks on unregistered centers such as his own, some of them run by the drug cartels themselves. The police attributed the attacks to rival gangs hoping to wipe out enemies undergoing treatment for addiction to their own product.

Tonight was different. They would forget Mexico’s escalating problems with drugs and the associated violence for ninety minutes, concentrate instead on a different matter weighing heavily on the nation’s psyche. The date was 24 June, and eight hours earlier Mexico had played Argentina at the Red Bull Arena in Leipzig, Germany, in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

The game had been broadcast live, of course, but the 8:00 p.m. kickoff in Germany correlated to a start time of 2:00 p.m. CST in Ciudad Victoria. Watching the game live would have meant interrupting the center’s vital daily therapy sessions. Hector firmly believed that what recovering addicts needed as much as the sessions themselves was structure and organization, a contrast to the chaos and uncertainty of their lives outside. Avid soccer fan that he was, Hector was not about to alter everybody’s daily routine for a single game, however important it was to the nation’s pride. He recorded it instead. They’d all watch it together at 8:00 p.m. as if watching live in Germany.

Satisfied that the door was secure, he returned to the day room. In it were fifteen men and three women, only one of whom was pregnant, already seated on molded plastic chairs facing the TV on the wall. They were aged between seventeen and twenty-five, apart from Little Crazy who was only fourteen. María Elena and Rafael were also waiting for him. Hector took his seat beside his wife, squeezed her hand affectionately when she laid it on his thigh. His only regret was that their younger son, Javier, could not have been there to watch the match with them, but he was making a life for himself in America.

Hector nodded to Rafael to hit play on the remote. Then somebody shouted out as the screen came to life.

Hey! Hector! You forgot the beers, man.’

Everybody laughed, some more than others. One of the women whose arm had been broken by her drunken boyfriend didn’t laugh at all.

Silence fell as the game began. It didn’t last long. After only five minutes a massive cheer erupted as Rafael Márquez scored for Mexico. Hector’s son Rafael was on his feet cheering the loudest, as if by sharing the scorer’s name he also shared the glory.

Then the same voice as before called out. Hector recognized it, the voice of an ill-tempered eighteen-year-old heroin addict called Carlos.

‘Don’t get too excited. Argentina equalize in five minutes.’

Hector said nothing. It had been a risk, that somebody would have heard the result during the day. He’d hoped they wouldn’t spoil it for everyone else. He looked over at Carlos, ready to mouth a silent rebuke at him, but Carlos was back to watching the match, his mean-spirited aim achieved.

Hector glanced around the room, saw Little Crazy sneak a look at his watch, an ostentatious fake Rolex that was his prized possession. He felt like saying to him, enjoy the game, don’t watch the minutes tick by until Argentina score.

The boy caught him watching. Smiled at him, then looked quickly towards the TV.

Hector didn’t like what he saw in the boy’s eyes. It looked a lot like guilt. The misgivings he’d harbored for the past days surged inside of him, a bitter taste in his mouth.

In the tenth minute Carlos’ spoiler was proved true. Hernán Crespo scored for Argentina. A low groan rippled around the room, still couldn’t hide Carlos’ mocking voice behind.

Told you so.

The oldest addict in the anexo, Francisco, jumped to his feet. Shouted at him, finger pointing at the middle of his face.

‘Shut the fuck up, asshole.’

Carlos was out of his seat in a heartbeat, only the pregnant woman sitting between them keeping them apart.

‘You gonna make me, pendejo?’

It went back and forth, bluster and bravado that would’ve escalated into violence out on the street. Rafael hit pause on the remote, stood and yelled at them both to shut up and sit down. The two men gave him the evil eye. As if they were thinking of putting aside their differences, joining forces against the common enemy. Rafael squared up, chin jutting. Then Hector clapped, two loud sudden strikes, broke the testosterone-fueled tension as only a man too old to pose a threat can.

‘Just sit down so everyone can get back to watching, okay? You too, Rafael.’

‘I’m bored.’ This from the pregnant woman, Leticia, her voice an annoying whine that would’ve earned her a slap out on those same streets. ‘I hate fútbol.’

Everybody ignored her. Carlos and Francisco lowered themselves into their chairs. Slowly, eyes locked, as if ready to spring back out of them at the slightest provocation, as pride dictates.

Carlos looked at Hector after he sat down. Hector mouthed at him.

Don’t spoil it for everyone.

Carlos showed him his eye teeth, held up both hands. Two fingers extended on the right, one on the left. Then a thumbs down and a sorry headshake.

Hector didn’t care. He knew the score anyway. This wasn’t for him. He told Rafael to hit play.

And in the split-second before the TV came to life he heard a sound that made his blood run cold.

The grating scrape of metal on metal as the steel bar across the front door was raised.

He looked around to where Little Crazy had been sitting, his heart sprinting. The chair was empty. The young woman sitting beside it shrugged defensively. Don’t ask me.

Everything happened very fast after that.

The front door exploded inwards with the sharp crack of splintering wood. Six hooded gunmen poured in as Little Crazy slipped out into the night past them. M16s and AK-47s in their hands, firing indiscriminately into the ceiling, the TV spitting sparks, screaming at everybody through the deafening noise of the gunfire, kicking at the woman nearest them shrieking hysterically.

Get up! Against the wall!

Rafael stepped towards them as the gunfire ceased abruptly, an unnerving stillness filling the room. Showed them his palms, his voice calm, non-threatening.

‘We don’t want any trouble.’

Stupid.

The gunmen heard something different.

Me first.

The leader, the one doing all of the shouting, brought his M16 around in a lazy arc, squeezing the trigger with a casual brutality, two quick rounds in Rafael’s gut, three more in the wall behind him.

Rafael cried out, crumpled to the floor, his green polyester Mexico team shirt a sea of bright red blood. Hands clamped against the oozing mess of his intestines, warm blood coating his shaking fingers, breath coming in ragged gasps through the agony of his pain. María Elena screamed, tried to go to her son. Hector clamped his arms around her, held her tight, held her back, kicking and punching against him, crying and spitting into his face as he dragged her over to stand in front of the wall with the others all jostling to get to the back.

The leader yelled at them.

‘Spread out!’

Then a burst of gunfire into the ceiling above their heads when they didn’t immediately obey, dust and plaster and wood splinters raining down on them, settling in their hair, on their shoulders.

The six gunmen formed themselves into a line facing them, spaced equally like a row of seagulls on a pool wall. Standing opposite Hector and María Elena and the cowering addicts they’d devoted their lives to helping. Like some mismatched dance where a lot of people weren’t going to have a partner when the music stopped, or a bizarre game with six armed men on one side, sixteen men and four women plus one unborn infant on the other, the referee bleeding out on the ground between them.

Without warning the gunmen opened fire.

Twenty and thirty-round magazines emptied in seconds, fresh ones slapped home in a lethal frenzy of bloodletting bringing death to the hapless addicts and their would-be saviors at a rate of seven hundred rounds per minute, painting the walls red, the screams of the men and women as they were cut to pieces and thrown against the wall and on top of one another melding with the deafening gunfire until suddenly they were no more.

Complete silence fell, unbroken except for men’s heavy breathing inside hot hoods and Rafael still clinging onto life on the floor, the first man to be shot, the last to die.

There was no leniency, no mercy. Nor a threat spat at him as he lay with his cheek pressed against the floor, looking across to where his parents lay dead amongst the carnage, no curt command to spread the word, let it be a lesson to others.

Two of the hooded men stepped forward as if there was some doubt about whether one fully-automatic assault rifle was up to the job, turned Rafael’s head into a spreading pool of viscous red, dripping thickly through the gaping hole that grew and grew in the old wooden floorboards.

Cause for national humiliation it might have been, but a lot worse things happened on 24 June that year than Argentina knocking Mexico out of the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

CHAPTER 1

Present day.

Evan Buckley got back from the jukebox, slipped onto his usual stool up at the bar in the Jerusalem Tavern. Nodding along to the beat of The Handsome Family’s Far From Any Road. Kate Guillory looked sideways at him as he sat down and took a slurp of his beer.

‘You always put this on.’

‘No, I don’t. Anyway, I like it.’

She hadn’t been paying a lot of attention apart from the initial complaint. Watching the door behind them open in the backbar mirror as she always did, the cop in her never completely off-duty. Now she cocked her ear at the song.

‘I recognize it.’

He didn’t say anything, knowing what was on the way. The curl at the edges of her mouth told him when she’d made the connection.

‘It’s the opening track to that TV series, True Detective. You think if you listen to it long enough, you’ll become one? I better tell Kieran you’re gonna wear his jukebox out.’

He refused to laugh with her, explained the real reason for his choice.

‘I couldn’t find anything by Taylor Harris.’

‘Surely there’s something on there by her. She’s won Grammy awards.’

‘You’re thinking of Taylor Swift. I said Taylor Harris.’

She shrugged, not very interested.

‘Never heard of her.’

‘That’s because you’re too old.’

She gave him a withering look, one that a brave person would’ve said proved the truth of his words. He didn’t mention it.

‘Who is she, anyway?’

‘She’s an alternative country and Americana singer.’

That made her smile, turning towards him, elbow on the bar.

‘I might be old, but I know what that is. It’s when your wife comes back to you, your dog gets resurrected from the dead and your truck starts first time.’

Kieran the bartender was passing as she said it. She waved her hand at him, get over here.

Hey! Kieran. Evan wants you to get some alternative country music on the jukebox. You know what that is?’

He nodded, looked at Evan.

‘Really? Who’ve you got in mind?’

‘Taylor Harris.’

Kieran’s eyebrows went up, a long slow nod of the head to go with it.

‘That’s not a bad idea. I could put up some promotional posters, too.’

Guillory was on it immediately, treated them both to a well-practiced roll of her eyes. Made an hourglass shape in the air with her hands.

‘Why is it I get the feeling Taylor Harris is young and pretty and pouty with long blond hair she either wears in a ponytail or cascading down her back as she looks over her shoulder at you?’

‘Because you’re jealous?’

Neither of them said that, of course. Kieran valued his furniture, Evan his health. Guillory was still talking, a thoughtful expression on her face.

‘Definitely the ponytail. That way she can flick it from side to side as she walks down a dirt road singing her latest song. With a classic convertible in the background. Maybe a powder-blue ’59 Corvette.’

Evan ignored the deliberate provocation—his was a ’69 model and black. He shared a look with Kieran.

Definitely jealous.

She didn’t notice, getting into her stride.

‘Forget the jukebox. It’d be a disaster. I don’t want to put my elbow in a puddle of drool on the bar every time I come in.’ She pulled out her phone, opened the browser. ‘I’m going to look her up.’

Evan held up two fingers at Kieran—same again. He nodded and moved away. Then a sudden shout from Guillory.

Ha! I was right.’

She turned the phone towards Evan for a quick flash, then zoomed in. Scrunched her face. Added some sorry head shaking.

‘The blond hair’s out of a bottle. You can see the roots.’

‘If you’re looking hard enough, you can.’

‘You’d think they’d check stuff like that before a photo shoot.’

Kieran got back from the beer taps, put two glasses on the bar top. Evan moved them both in front of himself.

‘Don’t forget Kate’s saucer of milk.’

She grabbed one of the beers, took a long swallow. Looking at him over the rim of the glass.

‘Wind your tongue back in, Evan. Somebody will step on it. Anyway, what’s so special about this one?’ She looked at the phone again, shook her head. ‘Honestly, they all look the same.’

‘What? Young, attractive, talented . . .’

Again the shrug.

‘Like I said. They’re clones.’

He nodded, couldn’t disagree. Then played his ace.

‘True. But they’re not all my latest client.’

It got the hoped-for reaction. Not actually spraying her beer over him, but close, her eyes watering before narrowing, suspicion on her face.

‘Are you serious? This bimbo’—tapping the phone screen—‘wants to employ you? What? Somebody stole her hair dye?’

He waited to see if there was more, any further catty suggestions.

‘I don’t know yet. I’m having lunch with her tomorrow.’

The smile slipped off her face as it became obvious he wasn’t joking. The mischief in her eyes stayed.

‘Don’t take this the wrong way—’

He held up a hand, cutting her off.

‘Why do people always say that before being rude or unkind?’

She ignored the question, carried on.

‘Why you?’

‘Her agent or whoever saw all the coverage in the papers about the Eleanor Fields case, recommended me. Solving a case in a week that you and your colleagues couldn’t close in thirteen years counts for a lot with some people.’

She didn’t reply to the inflammatory remark, gave him some good, if unasked-for, advice instead.

‘Try not to drool too much, okay? It’s not professional.’

CHAPTER 2

Forget professional, he thought as he was shown to Taylor Harris’ table. Besides, a woman looking like she did would be offended if she didn’t see at least a little drool.

She smiled and stood up as the maître d’ led him over, the man sitting beside her also rising.

‘Mr. Buckley.’ Holding out her hand.

‘Ms. Harris.’ Taking it, not wanting to give it back.

She laughed at the salutation, a rich throaty sound that reminded him of Guillory.

‘Forget the Ms. and all that PC crap. Call me Taylor.’

Evan said he was Evan. Before and after political correctness turned the world on its head.

‘Scott,’ the man beside her offered.

Evan wished he’d shaken hands with Scott first as he relinquished his prize in favor of Scott’s overly-firm grip, one that advertised his prior proprietary claim over the young woman at the table with them.

They were in an up-market restaurant Evan referred to as the Ewe every time Guillory said she wanted to go there. Not a female sheep, but an acronym for eye-wateringly expensive.

He studied Taylor as they all took their seats. As Guillory had said, she was young and attractive, her long blond hair tied in a loose ponytail at the nape of her neck. She’d been right about the bottle, too, the dark roots of Taylor’s natural hair color showing through.

Evan let it slide.

She was wearing scuffed cowboy boots under faded jeans, a man’s white dress shirt above. Despite the shirt, it was still obvious that the hourglass shape Guillory made in the air had been spot-on, too. Later, he’d check with Kieran, make sure he’d ordered the posters for the Jerusalem’s walls.

There was a short awkward pause after everybody sat down. He got them past it with a question for Scott.

‘Are you Taylor’s agent or manager?’

Scott’s face said, that’d be nice.

‘No. She’s my big sister.’

It explained the proprietary handshake, even if Evan saw no physical similarities beyond the fact that Scott’s hair was the same color Taylor’s would naturally be.

‘I was the one who saw the article in the paper about you, suggested Taylor speak to you.’

Evan gave a brief nod of acknowledgement, not wanting to enter into a discussion. It had ended well, but the accusations leveled at him in the paper had been less than complimentary. And nobody cares if they’re true or not.

Taylor said, ‘We deliberately haven’t said anything to my agent or manager.’

‘They tend to panic. Get worried about their investment.’ This from Scott, making quotes in the air.

Taylor shot him a disapproving look as a waiter arrived to take their orders. Like Guillory would, she ordered rabbit food, the two men choosing real food aka steaks, preferably still twitching.

Evan was thinking about ordering a cold beer to wash it down when Taylor beat him to it, earning herself an equally-disapproving look from her brother, a remark under his breath to go with it.

‘Gotta live up to your outlaw country singer rep, after all.’

Evan could’ve cut himself on the sharp edge of jealousy behind the words, moved them along in a direction that threatened to increase tensions, even if he didn’t know it.

‘What is it that might cause your agent and manager to worry about you?’

The Harris siblings shared a look. Then Taylor answered with a question.

‘Do you know anything about me?’ She flashed him a quick smile. ‘Don’t feel obliged to pretend that you do.’

He didn’t mention that there were none of her records on the jukebox in the Jerusalem Tavern, said something more encouraging, if a little vague.

‘I looked you up on the web. Watched you singing a couple of your songs on YouTube. That’s about it.’

He could’ve said that he’d been surprised to learn that she was actually thirty, a lot older than he’d have guessed. Except he could hear Guillory’s silver-tongued-slimeball accusation just for thinking it. Maybe later.

‘Then you probably don’t know that I’m adopted.’

‘No, I didn’t.’

‘I’m not.’ This from Scott, an unnecessary interjection.

It made sense. He’d put Scott at twenty-eight or nine. Given that he now knew Taylor was thirty, he figured things had played out in the Harris household as they often did. A couple who are unable to have a child of their own decide to adopt, the wife then getting pregnant the moment the adopted child is brought home. Something in the bath water, presumably.

Taylor was quick to head off any conclusions Evan might jump to as a result of Scott’s superfluous remark.

‘I don’t have a problem because he’s a birth child and I’m the one who was found under a flat rock.’

No, Evan thought, he’s the one with the problem because you’re a country music star and he’s not, even if you haven’t made it onto the Jerusalem’s jukebox.

‘It’s not like I want to find out who I really am because I’ve got rejection issues. Kids are out of the question at the moment, so my medical history can wait.’

Mindful of Guillory’s advice to remain professional, he bit back the request to give him a call when that time arrived.

‘Then what?’

‘Somebody’s blackmailing me. Or trying to.’

Two waiters materialized at the table with their meals as she said it. It was obvious they’d overheard, although Evan wouldn’t have known it from their faces. Discretion, one of the many benefits of paying through the nose.

Nobody said anything as the waiters put their plates down, then explained in great detail what they’d ordered, only stopping short of giving the family history of the dead cow on Evan’s and Scott’s plates.

‘There’s no stigma about being adopted,’ Evan said when the waiters had glided away.

Scott was shaking his head, his words directed at his sister.

‘No. They’ve threatened you.’

She acknowledged with a nod, explained the situation to Evan.

‘Were you aware that I’m married?’

Evan couldn’t stop himself from glancing down at her ring finger. He saw the absence of a wedding ring, not even a strip of paler skin where one would sit. A mental picture flashed through his mind. Kieran angrily ripping the promo posters from the Jerusalem’s walls, balling them up, throwing them at the back of his head.

He was sure he could see Guillory’s grinning face in there somewhere.

‘No, I wasn’t.’

‘Well, it’s only in the sense that we’re not divorced yet.’

Evan was aware of his own personal shortcomings, one of them being that his deadpan face required work, guaranteed to desert him when he needed it the most. It was obvious from her reaction that the spike of horror that surged through him at her words ended up on his face, his mouth slack, chewing on hold.

She held up the hand he’d reluctantly relinquished earlier, the blond ponytail flicking from side to side as she shook her head.

‘It’s not that. I’m not about to ask you to take pictures of him screwing some other woman in a sleazy no-tell motel.’

Evan allowed himself to breathe again. Carried on chewing. Even if what he had in his mouth could’ve been a paper napkin, ignoring for now that up-market restaurants don’t give you a paper napkin just like you don’t get a packet of ketchup to squeeze onto your fries which mysteriously grow an extra letter t to become frites.

Because that’s exactly what he’d done back in the day. Skulking around sordid motels, snapping dirty pictures—as Guillory’s partner Ryder called them—of cheating spouses. It had been a long time ago and he wasn’t going back to it, whoever was doing the asking. Nor did he want someone who might have caused him to reconsider tempting him.

Taylor pushed her plate aside, the vegetation on it virtually untouched.

‘This is where things get complicated. My husband, Adam, used to be my manager when things were going well between us. I fired him as soon as the relationship went down the toilet.’

‘But he’s still claiming that he was instrumental to your success.’

‘Yeah. It makes things a lot messier than they otherwise would be.’

‘And the only people who win are the lawyers.’

Her mouth turned down at the universal truth.

‘You sound like you’ve been there.’

‘No. But I’ve been around the block a couple times. I can imagine.’

Her face said, actually, he couldn’t. And she was right. He knew nothing of lawyers and bitter acrimonious arguments after the love has died. He did know a thing or two about pulling open the back door of a hijacked SUV in the midst of a gunfight in the street.

In front of him the woman who used to be his wife. Six years since he saw her last, a stranger to him, her face all but unrecognizable. Flushed red and cheeks wet with tears from the CS gas. Eyes glassy and bloodshot. Makeup streaked across her face from clawing frantically at the burning pain.

Her front a sea of wetly glistening blood.

He couldn’t see the wound for the stinging, the sweat and tears in his eyes.

Slumped in her seat, not moving. Mouth open, head lolling onto her shoulder like a little girl who’s dozed off in the back of the car at the end of a long journey.

Ha!

Journeys don’t come much longer than this one. How long is it until we get to eternity, Daddy?

He felt for a pulse. It wasn’t easy. His own heartbeat rocked the whole damn car on its suspension. Fingers throbbing with it. Thump. Thump. Thump. A hundred and twenty to the minute. Slick with blood. His blood. Sarah’s blood. Every person he’d ever known’s blood. Except theirs was on his conscience and not his trembling fingers that wouldn’t stay still long enough to hold her slim wrist for more than a heartbeat.

He banished the thoughts, the lingering memory of the numbness of mind and spirit and body still clinging obstinately to him, stayed mute. Let her believe that a brush with moneygrubbing lawyers was as bad as life gets.

She remained silent for a long moment. Staring at her uneaten salad as if easy answers lurked like caterpillars within the crinkly folds of the frisée leaves.

‘I did a stupid thing . . .’

‘You hired someone to do what I thought you were going to ask me to do.’

‘Yeah. I knew Adam was cheating on me.’

Evan did a better job this time of keeping the surprise off his face. He didn’t know the circumstances of their marriage, guessed the grass was still greener even if you were married to a young, attractive country music star.

She smiled suddenly, a spontaneous gesture without warmth or humor.

‘I got the bastard back. Wrote a song about it. He’ll have to listen to it long after all this is over.’

Ain’t that the truth, Evan thought. You don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it.

She cleared her throat, time to move on.

‘Anyway, I hired a private investigator to dig the dirt. I was trying to keep things low-key so I went with a small independent guy instead of one of the big agencies.’

‘Like me.’

‘I suppose. Thinking, the smaller the operation, the less chance of things getting leaked.’

Scott leaned in, index finger raised.

‘Never forget, messy divorces adversely affect an investment’s market value.’

Evan smiled his thanks at Scott’s contribution, stated Taylor’s problem as he saw it.

‘Except the smaller the operation, the more the guy’s looking for the main chance.’

She took a sip of her beer, then picked at the label with her fingernail, trying to peel it away without tearing.

‘Like I said, I was stupid. It’s not like I’d done this sort of thing before.’

‘And you didn’t want to ask anyone who might have. What was the guy’s name?’

‘Dwayne Farrow. You won’t know him. He’s in Nashville.’

She was right. Evan had never heard of him, no reason to.

‘That’s where you’re based?’

‘Yeah. My cheating husband, too. But I wanted to come to you here—’

‘Because you’re ashamed to be seen with me?’

No. Because—’

‘I know. You want to keep it low-key. Don’t want to risk your agent or manager finding out.’

‘Exactly. My first experience with private detectives suggests the private part is optional. Their decision.’

Evan couldn’t stop an image of Guillory’s partner Ryder going through his mind, the way his face twisted with scorn if private detectives in general, and Evan in particular, were mentioned.

‘Don’t worry, you’re in good company.’

‘Anyway, this jerk Farrow decided to look a lot deeper into things than I paid him to. Looking at me more than my husband.’ Jabbing an unpainted fingernail into her white shirt as she said it. ‘I got a call from him last week. He told me Adam was squeaky clean. Yeah, right! At first, I thought he was just a shyster who took my money and didn’t do anything for it—’

‘Then he threatened you,’ Scott cut in.

Evan glanced at him, then back to Taylor.

‘What did he say?’

She took a deep breath, let it out slowly. Suddenly looked her age.

‘That he’d found out things about my past that would put me in serious danger if they came out.’

Scott leaned across the table, towards Evan this time.

‘If that’s not a threat, I don’t know what is.’

Evan nodded his agreement, went back to Taylor again.

‘Did he say what things?’

‘No. Just that he’d be in touch. Letting me stew, I guess. Using my own imagination against me as I tried to think what it could be.’

Evan almost laughed at the way fate had steered her his way. She’d have been hard-pushed to find someone with more personal experience of the destructive and debilitating power of your own mind. How it was your own worst enemy, the insidious way it used the dark secrets known only to you to torment you, turning your fears against you, not giving a moment’s rational thought to how anyone else might have found a way into your fears.

‘You’ve got no idea what it could be?’

She laughed suddenly, a nervous giggle that took the years off her again.

‘I didn’t torture small animals when I was a kid, if that’s what you mean. And I didn’t star in a porn movie before I became famous.’

Professional, Evan mouthed to himself as he put the porn movie image out of his mind. He said something obvious—easy to do when you’re not the one being threatened.

‘Those things wouldn’t put you in danger, even if they were true. They might damage your reputation and career, but that’s it.’

‘I know that. That’s why it must be something to do with being adopted. The part of my life I don’t know anything about.’

‘I assume you haven’t gone to the police about it.’

She closed her eyes, head shaking, her voice weary from arguing with herself for the past week.

‘What’s the point? I don’t even know if it’s true. The guy might just be thinking, she’s got a lot to lose, there might be something in her past, give it a go. The police will pat me on the shoulder, put on a patronizing voice like they’re talking to a child, tell me all celebrities attract the attention of cranks, that it never leads to anything. Now stop wasting our time.’

Scott took the opportunity to jump in with a sobering thought.

‘Or, if it is true, going down the official route might make it worse. That’s why I suggested you.’

‘Even though a person like me was the cause of the trouble in the first place.’

Nobody needed to say anything, agree with him that was just the way the world worked. At least they didn’t tempt fate, say that he couldn’t make matters any worse.

END OF EXCERPT

© JAMES HARPER