“Mercy didn’t tell me we were meeting you for lunch,” Truman said.
“You weren’t. You got lucky.”
Mercy suddenly wondered if the reporter had been lying in wait for her again. She ate lunch at the restaurant at least twice a week. I shouldn’t be so predictable.
“Why are you here, Michael?” she asked. The subtle twitch of one eye implied her suspicion had been correct.
“I want you to get me an interview with Christian Lake.”
“Why ask Mercy?” asked Truman.
“They know each other.”
“Barely,” added Mercy. “I haven’t seen him in years.”
“Except for yesterday,” added Michael with the lift of one eyebrow.
“I can’t tell him what to do.” Mercy stabbed her spinach, aware there was no point in asking how the reporter had gotten his information.
“Did he tell you his brother Gabriel is in town?” Michael asked.
Her head jerked up and Truman tensed beside her. “He’s back from California? Why didn’t he go home to Portland?” she asked.
“That was my question too. He flew in this morning and headed straight to Christian’s home.”
“Did you tell Ava this? She needs to interview him.”
“Not yet. I’ve called her twice and asked her to get back to me. It hasn’t happened yet.”
Mercy checked the time. “She and Eddie just left for Portland.”
“I guess Gabriel’s interview will have to wait until they get back.”
She tamped down the urge to leap out of her seat and drive to Christian’s home.
Truman’s phone buzzed. He scowled at the screen and excused himself to take the call outside.
Mercy stared at Michael, her appetite gone. Even the bread pudding held no appeal. The reporter’s minibomb about Gabriel clogged her thoughts. Silent tension floated between her and Michael.
“You know you want to go out there,” Michael said quietly. “I’m a good excuse for you to go to his home. You’ll simply be making an introduction. Your presence will smooth the way for Christian to open up to me.”
He sounded like the devil sitting on her shoulder. “Do you always manipulate your conversations?”
Michael shrugged. “I like to be efficient with my time.”
She grudgingly respected that. No doubt their two encounters had gone exactly as he’d planned. But she wasn’t ready to lead him to Christian. She respected their old friendship too much. Michael would have to find another way. She opened her mouth, ready to tell him exactly that, when alarm crossed his face as he looked past her.
She spun around in her chair. Truman was striding toward their table, his face grim.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Rob Murray has been murdered. I need to go.”
Her mind scrambled to place the name. “The guy who abandoned Christian’s car?”
“Yep. That was Evan Bolton from the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office. Murray’s neighbors reported that my vehicle was at his apartment building a few hours ago, so the detective called me.”
“Were you at his apartment?” asked Michael.
“Yes.” Truman was tight-lipped, his face pale. “But he was breathing when I left.”
“I’m coming with you,” stated Mercy.
When I was sixteen I sold my potions to the girls at school. Business was brisk. Word of mouth kept my sales flowing, although none of the girls would speak to me except when they wanted their fix. It was amazing what a little bit of vodka mixed with fruit juice would allow a girl to do when she stood in front of her crush. Inhibitions went down, and the teenage boy’s interest was snagged.
But I was lonely. I started attending every party I heard about. Masses of teens would cram into someone’s home while the parents were out of town. Beer flowed and pot was passed around. I would heavily line my eyes, wear my tightest, shortest skirt and a sheer top. I wanted them to see me and they did.
Worn pages from fashion magazines papered my bedroom walls. I would spend hours copying their makeup and attitudes. The pictures were a snapshot of a world I’d never known, and I did my best to bring it to my life. At first I shoplifted the makeup, but as my potion business grew, I paid for the items, taking pride in my ability to take care of myself and swearing that I’d never rely on someone for my needs.
The guys from my high school noticed.
At the parties they were the snakes and I was the piper. In low voices they told one another I was dangerous; I became a glorified conquest. They celebrated getting in my pants and surviving without a curse placed on their heads. Quick sex in the bathroom, bedroom, or garage. Even outdoors on pool furniture. My reputation spread. To the guys I was easy. To the girls I was a slut, bitch, and whore. Probably because I would target couples. I lived for the rush of power from drawing the gaze of a “committed” guy.
I preferred guys who claimed to be in a relationship. They would go running back to their girlfriends once I was done with them, their tails between their legs, terrified I would tell their partners. Like I cared. It was the predatory older men who made me cautious. Why would a man in his twenties pursue a teenager? It spoke of their mind-set and maturity—both lacking.
I researched everything I could about my infamous namesake. I danced in my bedroom, learning the movements that would capture and hold the gazes of men. Once I asked my mother why she’d named me after the woman who had reputedly called for the death of John the Baptist. She held my gaze for a long time before answering. “Because I believed it would make you strong.”
I didn’t reply, but my mind raced with questions. Why me? Why do I need to be strong? Don’t all the Kathys, Debbies, and Emilys of the world need strength?
In my mind my name was synonymous with seduction. It was a legacy I strove to fulfill.
When I was a senior in high school, I attended a party where several older men were reliving the glory of their high school years. I disdained adults who needed to mingle with teenagers, but the other students felt important as they rubbed shoulders with men who could legally drink.
One man brought me a red cup, his gaze hot and intense, his goal apparent. My night had been slow, so I accepted and drank, turning up my allure to level ten. He was tall and attractive, wearing slacks and a dress shirt, unlike 95 percent of the other guys at the party. Success radiated from him and caught my interest. I explored. A subtle hint of red danger reached my nose, but I also scented a playfulness in his aura, an overriding need to pursue pleasure.
My kind of guy.
We talked and flirted and danced. I ignored the rest of the party, my focus on his brown eyes. Soon I saw nothing else. I was happy, a dizzy euphoria ripping through my veins. I didn’t want the night to end.
Then I was in his car, the front seat reclined, and he was on top of me, fumbling to pull up my skirt. I didn’t care what he did to me. My mind floated in a deep need to simply sleep and allow him to have his way.
Shouting. Noise. His hands ripped my blouse as he was pulled off me, my skin suddenly exposed to the cold night air. Through sleepy eyes I saw two men fighting. And my lover was losing. I watched as if from a great height, not caring what happened.
I closed my eyes and drifted away. At one point I was covered and lifted. A kind voice assured me I was safe. Had I been in danger?
I woke in a strange bed, a strange room. A man awkwardly slept in the easy chair near the door. Not a man. I recognized him as another senior from my school. I’d classified him as a geek, a skinny cross-country runner who got straight As and hung out with other nerds.
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