Authors: Kit Reed
Tags: #Thrillers, #General, #Suspense, #Fiction
Table of Contents
THINNER THAN THOU
THE BABY MERCHANT
THE NIGHT CHILDREN
WHAT WOLVES KNOW
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First published in Great Britain 2012 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9 –15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
First published in the USA 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS of
110 East 59
Street, New York, N.Y. 10022
eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright © 2012 by Kit Reed.
The right of Kit Reed to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
Son of destruction.
1. Journalists–California–Los Angeles–Fiction.
2. Combustion, Spontaneous human–Fiction. 3. Florida–
Fiction. 4. Suspense fiction.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-356-3 (epub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8232-5 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-462-2 (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This eBook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
For Carl Brandt – the best of the best
It won’t matter how hard he runs for the car, gulping air; he will always hear her. It won’t matter how fast he drives through the Florida night, how far he goes or how hard he tries, he can’t outrace the horror in the house behind him, the sudden flash of orange light that stained her bedroom window.
He’ll spend the rest of his life running ahead of that night: police photos of the smoking remains, coals burned to glowing cinders in her belly.
It’s nothing I did. It’s nothing I did!
Doubt overturns him.
Then what was it?
He doesn’t know. Nobody does.
It’s all over the news by morning. Bulletins start coming in on his car radio before he hits the Interstate. Stopping for gas at dawn in Jacksonville, he sees footage on CNN and the fiery death is bannered on newsstands by the time he reaches Savannah. In the years since, he’s read magazines, books about her death and others like them – written by people compelled to explain the inexplicable because mysteries don’t die until somebody comes up with the answers.
Does he only imagine that as he turned to leave, the air in the old woman’s bedroom changed – or that she did?
He doesn’t know. Guilt sinks its teeth into him.
Is it something I did?
I can’t be that
, he thinks, without knowing what
is, or why it is so urgent.
I can’t do that.
He carries these things in his heart: a son that he’s never seen, and a secret that he doesn’t understand, but must keep at all costs. The responsibility is tremendous. Worry boils up in him.
I can’t let him . . .
Can’t let him – what? He doesn’t know. How do you help a son you’ve never met when you don’t know anything but that he’s yours, and you’re afraid for him?
Burt was never his real dad. The truth is stamped in Dan’s face. He was built on a different template. By the time he was tall enough to look into a mirror, he knew. He grew up knowing, but when his mother finally let go of her secret she broke it gently, like bad news.
Like, she thought he didn’t know?
Even you could see it, going by at a dead run. With that bullet head and the used-car salesman’s smile, Burt Mixon is nothing like him. Where Dan is tall and easy with you, Burt is mean-spirited and short. He tried to be nice to Dan, but they didn’t like each other very much.
He ran that house like boot camp: spit, polish, morning runs and excruciating clap pushups, the quintessential ex-Marine. The
part rankled. Something went wrong on Parris Island back in the day, but that was before he married Lucy, and she’ll never tell. After he was separated from the service, Burt set himself up in New London, but he made a bad civilian. After a lifetime of pushing boots, training hick kids to shape up and snap to, he was moving used cars off the lot in a military town, and it rankled. Danny was his last recruit.
‘Did you do that?’ The sequence was pre-set. Burt used to stand over him, waiting for him to cry. When he was really little, it used to work. ‘Well, did you?’
That shrug. Dan is tougher now.
‘Goddammit, I’m trying to make a man out of you!’
‘I don’t care!’
He shook off the beatings but not the guilty, conflicted look on his mother’s face. She loved him, probably too much, but Burt was her only husband, and in charge. ‘Don’t.’ He felt the edge of her hand between his shoulder blades – the gentle pressure that told him,
It’s all right, love. I’m here.
‘He’s your father.’
Burt was nothing to him.
His mother only ever hit him once, on a strange, sad day before he was old enough to read, and it was so awful that they both cried. He found certain things in her jewel box before she swooped down on him and snatched everything away. Underneath all her beads and bracelets, he found a snapshot of five guys in a Jeep on some beach, laughing so hard that he thought they were laughing at him, and at the very bottom there was an envelope – was that his name? There was a newspaper inside. It was awful: pictures of
laid out in a ruined chair like a burnt-out log in a fireplace. One bedroom slipper with a foot in it, and a naked ankle bone, like it just broke off. Lucy ripped it away from him and smacked him hard. She disappeared it but he remembers. He still can’t make sense of the conflation: four laughing guys and the charred figure in the scorched chair.
Kids like Dan, even kids who grow up happy, travel on the myth:
be my real parents. I’m only stuck here until they come for me
. It kept him going through the loneliness and hard times with Burt, and the snapshot fueled the myth.
Until he comes for me.
He was fifteen before she told him the truth.
In fact, it wasn’t the main business of the meeting. It came out accidentally. Even though it was late afternoon in late winter in New London, she pulled him out on the back porch and shut the door, Lucy Mixon with her sweet face tight, setting her jaw in that brave little tough-mom way. She was all hung up on it: bent on telling him, not knowing how to say it.
He wasn’t about to start. They stood there shivering.
Finally she said in a tight voice, ‘Honey, you know we both love you very much but I have some kind of hard news.’
He did not act surprised or upset when she explained that it wasn’t going to happen right away, but she and Burt were splitting up. It was over, she had to do it. When he didn’t respond she said, ‘You’re the only person I’ve told.’
He looked past her, watching it get dark.
She wanted him to react, she wanted him to say, ‘It’s OK,’ she wanted him to for God’s sake
something but he just stood there, waiting her out.
After a long time she said, ‘I’m sorry.’
An icicle dropped.
There was only the sound of her waiting.
She said what mothers do in this situation, ‘Don’t worry, he’s not leaving you, OK? No matter what we do, he’s still your father.’
It was so quiet that he could hear the ice cracking on the Thames.
Lucy tried, ‘You don’t seem very upset.’
Like he would feel bad that this abusive, sanctimonious jarhead bastard was being kicked out of their lives. He and Burt hated each other, even though they weren’t allowed to admit it.
‘Danny?’ Even in the dark, Lucy could see he was glad. ‘Dan?’
The hand she put on his arm was shaking. ‘I’m telling you first, so you won’t feel hurt. We both still love you.’
He must have been one cold little bastard, standing there with his eyebrows clenched and his jaw carved in stone, nothing, not even an eyelid, twitching. Looking back, he feels bad about it. At the time he said, ‘It’s no big deal.’
‘We’ve been a family for so long. I just.’ She didn’t finish. After a while she said, ‘It’s over and I’m sorry, OK?’
It was quiet for way too long. Oh God she was waiting for him to say something, what . . . appropriate.
All these years later he’s sorry he couldn’t have been nicer with her. Softer. He should have hugged her and said he loved her and let her sob into the front of his fleece. He did what he could: he shrugged, signaling
, but she was too upset to read signals. ‘Dan?’
Finally he said, ‘OK.’
‘I just don’t want you to be upset.’
Oh Mom, don’t cry
. ‘Why would I?’
A light went on in the kitchen. Burt, looking for his dinner. For his wife, the assigned provider. ‘Lucy!’ He yelled loud enough for them to hear through sealed storm windows, ‘Where is everybody? What’s going on? Luce?’
While Danny and his mother stood out there on the back porch with icicles dropping and everything in flux.
She said, ‘We’ve been with him since before you were born, Danny. He’s just like your . . . well, he’s nothing like him, but . . .’
She covered her mouth. ‘Oh honey, please don’t be upset.’
He isn’t? He isn’t!
Danny’s heart did a joyful flip.
Oh God, I was right.
‘You mean why am I telling you or why do I think you’re upset?’
Her face went to pieces. Danny’s face stayed where it was.