Zebra, Genre: Suspense
ISBN-10: 1420142933 ISBN-13: 978-1420142938
Read an excerpt
Patient: Bad things happen, Doc. Bad choices. Bad decision making. Doctor: You think the decisions you made are bad?
Patient: If things had turned out differently, I might have made different choices. But fate took the wheel. You know that.
Doctor: It’s hard to blame what happened on fate.
Patient: Oh, don’t worry. I know what I did.
Doctor: Let’s talk about your motivation.
Patient: Sure. Then you can write up some notes about my homicidal behavior, look smart and serious, and go on to your next case.
Doctor: I’m here to get to the truth.
Patient: Sorry, Doc, my story is my story. Not for public consumption.
Doctor: Anything you say here is private.
Patient: Doctor/patient privilege? Tell me another one.
Doctor: I’m your doctor. You’re–
Patient: You’re the brain digger. Digging, digging, digging away. You don’t think I know what you’re doing?
Doctor: Okay. Let’s pivot for a minute and talk about those bad decisions you made.
Patient: You tell me one bad decision you’ve made, Brain Digger. Maybe then I’ll tell you what you want to know.
Doctor: All right. That’s fair. Well . . . I’ve already cheated on my diet this morning.
Patient (short laugh): You haven’t killed anybody? Hurt them? Called them out?
Patient: Then you’re not on the same playing field, Doc. You’re not even in the same ballpark.
Doctor: Tell me about the bad things that have recently happened.
Patient: The ones I caused? That’s what you’re really thinking. Well, this is going to take awhile.
Doctor: I’m here as long as it takes.
Patient: As long as you get paid, right? Well, fine, Brain Digger. This is a story about Nick Radnor. Some of us believed he was something special. He’s certainly always believed it. And the whole damn town bought into his act. But I found him out for the faithless bastard he really is. That’s what my story’s about, Doc. Bad choices for a bad guy everyone thought was good.
Diana Conger woke up with a sense of deep dread. Her mouth was a sewer and her head ached. Once again, she’d had too much to drink . . . among other things.
It was dark, the middle of the night, the wee hours of the morning. Throwing her legs over the side of the bed, she stumbled into the bathroom. Her stomach quivered as she leaned over the toilet, spitting. After several minutes and some hard breathing she sensed she wasn’t going to throw up after all. Holding onto the counter to balance herself, she carefully searched the jumbled memories of the past few hours: the bar-hopping, the dancing, the flirting, the recreational drug use . . . That was her, wasn’t it? In the restroom of Forrest and Sean’s bar? With those old classmates, taking pills and yeah, snorting coke, or something? She grimaced. She’d really told herself she was going to get it together after the class reunion meeting that was such a mind-numbing, cluster-fuck. Those people . . . the ones she’d gone to high school with . . . She’d thought they’d all surpassed her in life, but it turned out they were just as messed up and clueless as she was. At least most of them were. There were a few stand-outs. The ones she’d always known would do well, although Josie Roker was sure one crazy bitch. The way she went on about Nick, like they were an item? What about that husband of hers? But she wasn’t as nuts as Egan Fogherty. There was something seriously wrong with that guy. He’d been weird all through high school. Cute, but weird. But Josie . . . she acted all pure, but the way she was around Nick said she wanted to screw his brains out. That last bit was from Killian O’Keenan who’d used something a little more explicit than “screw” in his description. But then Killian always had something kind of mean to say when he wasn’t standing by, silently intimidating. What did Miami see in him? Was it just that they’d been together since high school? Well, okay, he’d held up well and had still had a hard body, amazing guns. When he stood back and surveyed the room, Diana’s eyes invariably traveled to his upper arms, which could really get her juices going. But maybe that was what it was with Miami – Mia Miller, who’d been nicknamed Miami, a combination of her first name and the beginning of her last – maybe it was all about sex. Well, Diana could admit that she’d made some serious mistakes when it came to sex herself. But at least she didn’t act like a virgin like Josie.
Diana rinsed out her mouth with water from the tap, then made a face. She was pretty sure she’d made it back to her apartment tonight by the grace of God. She struggled to remember how she’d gotten home and gave it up, as it made her head hurt. She’d taken Uber to the first bar where she’d met her friends, so she hadn’t driven herself back home.
Her hand touched the door jamb for a moment as she oriented herself, then she left the bathroom, stepping across the carpet to her bed, smelling the scents of lavender and grapefruit from the incense sticks in the vial on her night stand. Slipping beneath the covers she snuggled down with a grateful sigh.
She buried her face into the pillow as her head began to ache again. She stretched her arms out . . . and encountered another body in the bed.
Diana froze. Heart racing, she lifted her head, her eyes searching through the dimness. There was a sliver of bluish illumination glimmering through the gap in the curtain over the sliding glass door that led to her bedroom deck; the closest exterior streetlight shining in. Leaning forward, she saw the back of a man’s head. A man. She slid back carefully, one hand reaching for the light switch. She hesitated before she flicked it on, her galloping fear beginning to slow. This wasn’t the first time she’d brought a guy home and then forgotten about him. That kid she’d brought home last summer, a couple years below her in high school, Jimmy.
She leaned over her bedmate. Noticed the way his dark hair waved around his ear. Oh, Christ! Holy Mother of God. It was Nick Radnor. Josie’s Nick. Well, not really hers. She was married. But the object of her desire, and well, Diana’s, too! He was the one classmate of theirs who’d made it big. Something in the tech field. Lots and lots of money. Diana nearly forgot her jumping stomach and aching head. A smile spread across her face. Well, well, well . . . Things were looking up. She recalled dimly that she’d run into him somewhere earlier in the night . . . Had he been with Miami? Or . . . Forest or Sean, at their bar? Josie had been there . . . but they weren’t together . . . Nick stayed away from her because she was married . . . although everyone kind of thought they were having a secret affair. . . but he was here now. In her bed. How had that happened?
Diana had with the high school gang. None of them had ever really separated, those that had stayed in Edwards Bay. They hung out at the same bars with the same friends. God. It didn’t bear thinking about. She’d met up with Nick at the third bar . . . wasn’t it? They’d all gone to The Whistle Stop first and the Thai place. Kerry had been there, too. Nick’s sister . . . stepsister . . . really. She didn’t know Kerry all that well because she wasn’t a classmate, hadn’t gone to high school with them, but she’d been around tonight, hadn’t she? Jesus. It was tough to remember. Felt like a dream.
Oh, Lord she’d scored big tonight. He was THE GUY from high school. And he was divorced from Marcia now, too, though honestly, even if he was still married, Diana wouldn’t had much minded. Josie could play her virgin games all she wanted. Diana could admit her morals were a fluid when it came to sex. But Nick and Marcia were divorced. Miami had told Diana that Nick and Marcia barely spoke to each other anymore. Marcia had moved back to Edwards Bay, and when Nick visited from Palo Alto, he didn’t come anywhere near her. Of course, Miami wasn’t exactly trustworthy when it came to rumors, but who cared anyway. Good times were few and far between these days, and Diana was ready to make the most of this opportunity. She was eager to climb atop him and make love like rabbits. Oh, man. What a notch on her belt. She couldn’t wait to tell Miami and Josie all about tonight!
She leaned over him and whispered in Nick’s ear, “Fancy meeting you in a place like this.”
Slipping a leg over him, she turned him on his back, astride his naked body.
His eyes were open.
And his tongue lolled out of his mouth.
And his skin was . . . cool . . . cold.
For half a beat she didn’t breathe.
“Nick . . .?” she whispered, terror running through her veins.
Oh, no . . . no . . . no . . . NO!
Diana scrambled away from him, her mouth open on a silent scream. Her insides shriveled. He was dead. A corpse. A cold, naked body in her bed.
She staggered backward, slamming into the wall. A thin, keening wail rose from her soul, an almost inhuman sound. She stumbled back into the bathroom, slamming her shoulder against the jamb in her haste. The jolt of pain stopped the wailing.
Leaning over the toilet she puked her guts out.
Then she lay on the cool floor tiles and shook all over. There was a pounding on her door. Bang, bang, bang. Alan, her neighbor, shaking the doorknob.
“Diana! You in there? You okay?”
He’d heard her shrieking through the paper-thin walls.
She continued to shiver. Didn’t answer. Stared with horror through the bathroom door to the side of the bed and the dead man she knew lay on top of it.
She wanted to call to Alan, tell him she was fine. She didn’t want him here. She was freaked out and sick and needed to think . . . to remember . . . to consider.
Did you cause this somehow?
The shock of pure terror morphed to a new kind of fear. The coke . . . and other things . . . behind the Blarney Stone . . . they’d all been there . . . She remembered the toe of her boot getting caught in the gap of the deck floorboard. A small, screened back porch for employees only, but Forrest and Sean owned the place and they allowed them to be back there.
His voice was softer now, unsure. She kept quiet, though her heart was beating so loudly in her ears it sounded like thunder.
She heard his footsteps head back to his apartment.
You’re going to have to move.
But what to do now?
Gathering up all her courage she crawled from the bathroom to the chair at the far side of the room. Don’t look, she told herself. Don’t look. DON’T LOOK.
But her head swivelled and she peeked over the top of the bed to see Nick Radnor’s dead body. With a squeak of horror, she slipped her purse from the chair, spilling the contents onto the rug. The strip of light through the balcony curtains landed directly on the tiny pill canister attached to her keys.
She grabbed up her cell phone, hugging it tightly. Who could she call? What should she do?
What time was it?
She felt like she was going to throw up again and drew several deep breaths, exhaling slowly. Okay . . . okay . . . who?
With shaking fingers, she scrolled through her call list. One of the guys? Maybe Randy? He was a good friend to Nick, wasn’t he?
But thinking of Randy Starr of Starrwood Homes brought her back to Kerry Monaghan, Nick Radnor’s stepsister, who worked for Randy. Or, was it a half sister? No . . . definitely step . . . she was pretty sure.
You should call one of your friends to help you, not Kerry.
What friends? she asked herself hollowly.
She crouched on all fours for ten seconds, listening to her own breathing, then she scrolled to Kerry Monaghan’s name and pressed the call button.