- Published: 16 March 2021
- ISBN: 9781529123852
- Imprint: Century
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 384
- RRP: $37.00
New from the #1 bestselling creator of the hit Netflix series The Stranger
The shot that will decide the championship is slowly arching its way toward the basket.
I do not care.
Everyone else in Indianapolis’s Lucas Oil Stadium stares at the ball with mouth open.
I do not.
I stare across the court. At him.
My seat is courtside, of course, near the center line. An A-list Marvel-Superhero actor sporting a tourniquet-tight, show-biceps black tee sits on my left, you know him, and the celebrated rapper-mogul Swagg Daddy, whose private jet I bought three years ago, dons his own brand of sunglasses to my right. I like Sheldon (that’s Swagg Daddy’s real name), both the man and his music, but he cheers and glad-hands past the point of sycophantic, and it makes me cringe.
As for me, I sport a Savile Row hand-tailored suit of pinstripe azure, a pair of Bedfordshire bespoke Bordeaux-hued shoes created by Basil, the master craftsman at G. J. Cleverley’s, a limited-edition Lilly Pulitzer silk tie of pink and green, and a specially created Hermès pocket square, which flares out from the left breast pocket with celestial precision.
I am quite the rake.
I am also, for those missing the subtext, rich.
The ball traveling in the air will decide the outcome of the college basketball phenomenon known as March Madness. Odd that, when you think about it. All the blood and sweat and tears, all the strategizing and scouting and coaching, all the countless hours of shooting alone in your driveway, of dribbling drills, of the three-man weave, of lifting weights, of doing wind sprints until you hurl, all those years in stale gyms on every level—Biddy basketball, CYO travel all-stars, AAU tournaments, high school, you get the point—all of that boils down to the simple physics of a rudimentary orange sphere back-spinning toward a metallic cylinder at this exact moment.
Either the shot will miss and Duke University will win—or it will go in and South State University and their fans will rush the court in celebration. The A-list Marvel hero attended South State. Swagg Daddy, like yours truly, attended Duke. They both tense up. The raucous crowd falls into a hush. Time has slowed.
Again, even though it’s my alma mater, I don’t care. I don’t get fandom in general. I never care who wins a contest in which I (or someone dear to me) am not an active participant. Why, I often wonder, would anyone?
I use the time to focus on him.
His name is Teddy Lyons. He is one of the too-many assistant coaches on the South State bench. He is six foot eight and beefy, a big slab of aw-shucks farm boy. Big T—that’s what he likes to be called—is thirty-three years old, and this is his fourth college coaching job. From what I understand, he is a decent tactician but excels at recruiting talent.
I hear the buzzer go off. Time is out, though the outcome of the contest is still very much in doubt.
The arena is so hushed that I can actually hear the ball hit the rim.
Swagg grabs my leg. Mr. Marvel A-List swings a muscled tricep across my chest as he spreads his arms in anticipation. The ball hits the rim once, twice, then a third time, as though this inanimate object is teasing the crowd before deciding for itself who lives and who dies.
I still watch Big T.
When the ball rolls all the way off the rim and then drops toward the ground—a definite miss—the Blue Devil section in the arena explodes. In my periphery, I see everyone on the South State bench deflate. I don’t care for the word “crestfallen”—it’s an odd word—but here it is apropos. They deflate and appear crestfallen. Several collapse in devastation and tears as the reality of the loss sinks in.
But not Big T.
Marvel A-Lister drops his handsome face into his hands. Swagg Daddy throws his arms around me.
“We won, Win!” Swagg shouts. Then, thinking better of it: “Or should I say, ‘We win, Win!’ ”
I frown at him. My frown tells him I expect better.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Swagg says.
I barely hear him. The roar is beyond deafening. He leans in closer.
“My party is going to be lit!”
He runs out and joins the celebration. En masse, the crowd charges the court with him, exuberant, rejoicing. They swallow Swagg from my view. Several slap me on the back as they pass. They encourage me to join, but I do not.
I look again for Teddy Lyons, but he is gone.
Not for long though.
Two hours later, I see Teddy Lyons again. He is strutting toward me.
Here is my dilemma.
I am going to “put a hurting,” as they say, on Big T. There is no way around that. I’m still not sure how much of one, but the damage to his physical health will be severe.
That’s not my dilemma.
My dilemma involves the how.
No, I’m not worried about getting caught. This part has been planned out. Big T received an invitation to Swagg Daddy’s blowout. He is entering through what he believes is a VIP entrance. It is not. In fact, it is not even the location of the party. Loud music blasts from down the corridor, but it is just for show.
It is only Big T and I in this warehouse.
I wear gloves. I have weaponry on me—I always do—though it will not be needed.
Big T is drawing closer to me, so let’s get back to my dilemma:
Do I strike him without warning—or do I give him what some might consider a sporting chance?
This isn’t about morality or fair play or any of that. It matters to me none what the general populace would label this. I have been in many scrapes in my day. When you do battle, rules rapidly become null and void. Bite, kick, throw sand, use a weapon, whatever it takes. Real fights are about survival. There are no prizes or praise for sportsmanship. There is a victor. There is a loser. The end. It doesn’t matter whether you “cheat.”
In short, I have no qualms about simply striking this odious creature when he’s not ready. I am not afraid to take—again to use common vernacular—a “cheap shot.” In fact, that had been my plan all along: Jump him when he’s not ready. Use a bat or a knife or the butt of my gun. Finish it.
So why the dilemma now?
Because I don’t think breaking bones is enough here. I want to break the man’s spirit too. If tough-guy Big T were to lose a purportedly fair fight to little ol’ me—I am older, much slighter, far prettier (it’s true), the very visual dictionary definition of “effete”—it would be humiliating.
I want that for Big T.
He is only a few steps away. I make my decision and step out to block his path. Big T pulls up and scowls. He stares at me a moment. I smile at him. He smiles back.
“I know you,” he says.
“You were at the game tonight. Sitting courtside.”
“Guilty,” I say.
He sticks out his huge mitt of a hand for me to shake. “Teddy Lyons. Everyone calls me Big T.”
I don’t shake the hand. I stare at it, as though it plopped out of a dog’s anus. Big T waits a second, standing there frozen, before he takes the hand back as though it’s a small child that needs comforting.
I smile at him again. He clears his throat.
“If you’ll excuse me,” he begins.
“I won’t, no.”
“You’re a little slow, aren’t you, Teddy?” I sigh. “No, I won’t excuse you. There is no excuse for you. Are you with me now?”
The scowl slowly returns to his face. “You got a problem?”
“Hmm. Which comeback to go with?”
“I could say, ‘No, YOU got a problem’ or ‘Me? Not a care in the world’—something like that—but really, none of those snappy rejoinders are calling to me.”
Big T looks perplexed. Part of him wants to simply shove me aside. Part of him remembers that I was sitting in Celebrity Row and thus I might be someone important.
“Uh,” Big T says, “I’m going to the party now.”
“No, you’re not.”
“There’s no party here.”
“When you say there’s no party—”
“The party is two blocks away,” I say.
He puts his mitts on his hips. Coach pose. “What the hell is this?”
“I had them send you the wrong address. The music? It’s just for show. The security guard who let you in by the VIP entrance? He works for me and vanished the moment you walked through that door.”
Big T blinks twice. Then he steps closer to me. I don’t back up even an inch.
“What’s going on?” he asks me.
“I’m going to kick your ass, Teddy.”
Oh, how his smile widens now. “You?” His chest is the approximate size of a squash court’s front wall. He moves in closer now, looming over me, staring down with the confidence of a big, powerful man who, because of his size, has never experienced combat or even been challenged. This is Big T’s amateurish, go-to move—crowd his opponent with his bulk and then watch them wither.
I don’t wither, of course. I crane my neck and meet his gaze. And now, for the first time, I see doubt start to cloud his expression.
I don’t wait.
Crowding me like this was a mistake. It makes my first move short and easy. I place all five of my fingertips on my right hand together, forming something of an arrowhead, and dart-strike his throat. A gurgling sound emerges. At the same time, I sidekick low, leading with my instep, connecting directly on the side of his right knee which, I know from research, has undergone two ACL surgeries.
I hear a crack.
Big T goes down like an oak.
I lift my leg and strike him hard with my heel.
He cries out.
I strike him again.
He cries out.
I strike him again.
I will spare you the rest.
Twenty minutes later, I arrive at Swagg Daddy’s party. Security whisks me to the back room. Only three types of people get in here—beautiful women, famous faces, fat wallets.
We party hard until five a.m. Then a black limo takes Swagg and yours truly to the airport. The private jet is gassed up and waiting.
Swagg sleeps the entire flight back to New York City. I shower—yes, my jet has a shower—shave, and change into a Kiton K50 business suit of herringbone gray.
When we land, two black limos are waiting. Swagg involves me in some kind of complicated handshake-embrace as a way of saying goodbye. He takes one limo to his estate in Alpine. I take the other directly to my office in a forty-eight-story skyscraper on Park Avenue in midtown. My family has owned the Lock-Horne Building since it was completed in 1967.
On the way up in the elevator, I stop on the fourth floor. This space used to be home to a sports agency run by my closest friend, but he closed it down a few years back. I then left the office empty for too long because hope springs eternal. I was sure that my friend would change his mind and return.
He didn’t. And so we move on.
The new tenant is Fisher and Friedman, which advertises itself as a “Victims’ Rights Law Firm.” Their website, which won me over, is somewhat more specific:
We help you knee the abusers, the stalkers, the douchebags, the trolls, the pervs, and the psychos right in the balls.
Irresistible. As with the sports agency that used to lease this space, I am a silent partner-investor in the firm.
I knock on the door. When Sadie Fisher says, “Come in,” I open it and lean my head inside.
“Busy?” I ask.
“Sociopaths are very much in season,” Sadie says, not looking up from the computer.
She is right, of course. It’s why I invested. I feel good about the work they do, advocating for the bullied and battered, but I also see insecure-cum-violent men (it’s almost always men) as a growth industry.
Sadie finally glances in my direction. “I thought you were going to the game in Indianapolis.”
“Oh, right, the private jet. Sometimes I forget how rich you are.”
“No, you don’t.”
“True. So what’s up?”
Sadie wears hot-librarian glasses and a pink pantsuit that clings and reveals. This is intentional, she explained to me. When Sadie first started representing women who’d been sexually harassed and assaulted, she was told to dress conservatively, garments that were shapeless and drab and hence “innocent,” which Sadie saw as more victim blaming.
Her response? Do the opposite.
I am not sure how to broach the subject, so I just say, “I heard one of your clients was hospitalized.”
That gets her attention.
“Do you think it would be appropriate to send her something?” I ask.
“Like what, Win?”
“Flowers, chocolates . . .”
“She’s in intensive care.”
“A stuffed animal. Balloons.”
“Just something to let her know we are thinking about her.”
Sadie’s eyes turn back to the computer screen. “The only thing our client wants is something we don’t seem to be able to give her: Justice.”
I open my mouth to say something, but in the end, I stay silent, opting for discretion and wisdom over comfort and bravado. I turn to leave, when I spot two people—one woman, one man—walking toward me with purpose.
“Windsor Horne Lockwood?” the woman says.
Even before they whip out their badges, I know that they are in law enforcement.
Sadie can tell too. She rises automatically and starts toward me. I have a slew of attorneys, of course, but I use those for business reasons. For personal affairs, my best friend, the sports agent/lawyer who used to inhabit this office, always stepped in because he had my full trust. Now, with him on the sidelines, it seems that Sadie has instinctively slid into the role.
“Windsor Horne Lockwood?” the woman says again.
That is my name. To be technically correct, my full name is Windsor Horne Lockwood III. I am, as the name suggests, old money, and I look the part, what with the ruddy complexion, the blond-turning-gray hair, the delicate patrician features, the somewhat regal bearing. I don’t hide what I am. I don’t know whether I could.
How, I wonder, had I messed up with Big T? I am good. I am very good. But I am not infallible.
So where had I made a mistake?
Sadie is almost by my side now. I wait. Instead of responding, I let her say, “Who wants to know?”
“I’m Special Agent Karen Young with the FBI,” the woman says.
Young is Black. She wears an Oxford blue button-down shirt under a fitted cognac-hued leather jacket. Très fashionable for a federal agent.
“And this is my partner, Special Agent Jorge Lopez.”
Lopez is more central stock. His suit is wet-pavement gray, his tie a sad and stained red.
They show us their badges.
“What’s this about?” Sadie asks.
“We’d like to talk to Mr. Lockwood.”
“So I gathered,” Sadie replies with a bit of bite. “What about?”
Young smiles and puts her badge back in her pocket. “It’s about a murder.”
In one of the most bizarre cases in recent history, a wild-haired young boy, estimated to be between six and eight years old, was discovered living on his own in the Ramapo Mountain State Forest near the suburb of Westville.
Simon sat on a bench in Central Park—in Strawberry Fields, to be more precise—and felt his heart shatter.
Inside Laura's head, Deidre spoke. The trouble with you, Laura, she said, is that you make bad choices.
The forest had a particular scent to it, a dewy moistness off the Columbia River mixed with Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, red cedar, hemlock, and maple.
The boy gasped for breath, hair in his mouth, before the next wave slammed him back against the bottom. He tumbled, the fizz of bubbles around him.
A board a Night Stalkers Special Operations MH-60M Black Hawk helicopter code-named Spear One, Navy chief Nick Zeppos of SEAL Team Six checks his watch.