| excerpt from Resurrection Road
a Bay Tanner mystery
"You're not getting involved with those people again, and that's final!"
I punctuated the shout by ripping the ball cross-court, a stinging backhand that should have left him staring in admiration as it whizzed by. Instead he dived to his left, just managed to get a racket on it, and popped up a lazy floater that nicked the tape and dribbled over to land six inches beyond my side of the net.
"Game!" he shouted, pumping his tanned fist in the air. "And set!"
He dropped to his knees and raised his face and arms skyward, like Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. The group next to us interrupted their doubles game to grin at his antics, and one of the two lanky women waiting for our court applauded.
I flashed him a reluctant smile and trotted over to gather our gear from beside the net post. "I'd be ashamed to take that point if I were you," I said, slinging a towel around my neck and swiping at the strands of sweat-soaked hair escaping from my ponytail.
"Bay Tanner, I would never have expected you to be such a bad loser."
"Alain Darnay, I'd never have expected you to be such a cocky winner."
I was also pretty amazed at how well his recovery was coming along. Less than a year before, I had worked frantically to staunch the blood pouring from a gaping bullet wound in his left side. A scant two months ago he had still looked thin and frail as he glowered from the curb in front of the Paris apartment at the taxi whisking me off to Orly Airport and home. It seemed I had been wrong. Returning to his dangerous work with Interpol hadn't jeopardized his health-it had apparently restored it.
"We'll discuss it, ma petite," he said, mopping his streaming face.
It took me a moment to realize he was referring to my outburst just before the end of the match. LeBrun, his superior at Interpol, had sent another coded fax just that morning, one in a long stream of communications which had kept the international phone lines buzzing for the past week or so. I didn't need to decipher its contents to know Darnay's employers were angling once again to get him back in their deadly game.
"Damn right we will," I said, softening the words with a smile.
We slid our rackets into their carrying cases, and Darnay hefted the double-handled tennis bag. He flung an arm across my shoulder, being careful to avoid the tender area where my own recent wound had still not completely healed.
What a pair we are, I thought. When we get old, we can sit around and compare battle scars.
He nodded to the two women who had moved onto the court behind us. "Enjoy your game, ladies," he said in a thick French accent that made even the most mundane comments sound like a lover's caress.
"Quit flirting," I said good-naturedly and received a Gallic shrug from the tall, craggy Frenchman who only that morning had asked me to marry him-for the fourteenth time, if my scorekeeping could be trusted. If he wasn't careful, I thought, I'd begin to take the offers seriously.
"What can I say, my darling? It is the nature of the beast. Bred into the bones, absorbed from the mother's milk, inhaled with the bouquet of the wines . . ."
I punched him playfully in the arm with my free hand.
As we approached the canopy of live oaks under which we'd left the Thunderbird, Darnay tossed the bag into the rear seat. Turning his back on the parking lot, he leaned casually against the creamy yellow fender of my new convertible. His face had lost its bantering look, and his normally soft eyes had darkened to the steely blue which usually signaled anger.
"Keep smiling," he said, ignoring his own dictum, "and glance over my right shoulder."
I faltered a little, startled by the tone of his voice.
"Smile," he repeated, and I did my best to comply.
"What am I looking at?"
He reached out to slip an errant strand of auburn hair behind my ear. "Black Mercedes sedan at the end of the row. Young man. Dark skin, longish blond hair. Navy blue polo shirt."
I leaned in to kiss him gently on the cheek and whispered, "Got him. So what's the problem?"
Another woman might have asked more questions, been more suspicious of Darnay's sudden change of mood and urgent commands. In the two years since I'd watched my husband's plane explode in a shower of flaming debris and dismembered bodies, I'd experienced enough danger to recognize its reflection in someone else's eyes.
"Do you know him?" Darnay nuzzled my ear, momentarily making me lose track of the conversation.
"Uh, no. No, I don't think so. Why?"
"Give me the keys and get in," he said.
For a moment I balked. Taking orders is absolutely alien to both my nature and inclination. But Darnay's glare didn't waver, so I strolled around to the passenger side and slid into the sun-warmed leather seat. Without turning my head, I managed to get another glimpse of the object of his interest. Definitely young. Expensive-looking
wraparound shades. Maybe Latino.
"Smile," I heard again from the other side of the car, so I threw back my head and laughed, a sound so artificial it wouldn't have fooled anyone within hearing distance. Hopefully I looked the picture of carefree, fortyish Southern womanhood: rich and idle, without a problem in the world. I carried on with the charade until Darnay backed the car around and headed us out of the small tennis complex tucked up to one of the three golf courses in Port Royal Plantation.
"What the hell was that all about?" I demanded as we pulled onto Fort Walker Drive. The sweet gums and towering pines cast a welcome shade over the sleek hood of the convertible.
"He's following us." Alain Darnay, Interpol agent and former top investigator for the S�ret� in Paris, barely flicked his eyes to the rearview mirror. "No, don't look!" he barked when I began to turn in my seat.
"You're seriously ticking me off," I said in a voice he should have been all too familiar with. Our on-again, off-again romance had been more off than on recently, due primarily to the demands of his profession. "And so what if he's behind us?" I added, glancing at the firm set of his wide mouth and the slight dimple that bisected his otherwise strong chin.
"This is the third time he's turned up in the last couple of days," Alain remarked, his tone so conversational we might have been discussing last night's Braves game or the time of the next high tide. "I do not like coincidences."
"I don't either. But Hilton Head is an island, after all, and a small one. Even with all the summer tourists here, it wouldn't be that farfetched to run across the same person a couple of times. Especially if he's staying at the Westin or renting one of the condos at the Barony."
"And you believe he just happened to be at the restaurant last night? And at the bookstore this morning?"
His questions brought me up short. I'd been so intent the previous evening on deflecting Darnay's thirteenth marriage proposal over candlelight and champagne at Conroy's that I'd been pretty much oblivious to my surroundings. He, however, had been captivated by the works of our local literary icon for whom the swanky dining room of the Marriott Hotel had been named. It had been Darnay who insisted on running out the next morning to fill in the gaps in my collection of the works of Pat Conroy. Engrossed in my quest through the aisles of Barnes & Noble, I'd failed to notice a familiar face.
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize."
His smile accepted my apology.
"So what do you think it's all about?" I asked.
It couldn't have anything to do with the fledgling inquiry agency my father and I had established. We had been floundering since the defection of one of our founding members, Erik Whiteside. The last thing remotely resembling a case had been wrapped up months before, its only lingering remnant evidenced by the stiffness that still plagued my injured left shoulder. Having been mangled by the exploding debris of my late husband's plane, then battered again by a through-and-through bullet wound, by rights the shoulder should not have been functioning at all. I applied creams to soothe the shiny skin grafts, exercised the stiff joint every chance I got, and tried not to think about it.
"He was watching us play tennis, then hurried back to his car while we were packing up," Darnay finally answered. "Nice looking, clean-cut, maybe five-eight or nine. You sure you don't recognize him?"
"Positive," I said as we took a left just before the overpass that led to the security gate.
The road to my beach house skirted one of the golf courses, winding its way to the ocean past sprawling Lowcountry homes nestled among stands of live oaks and screening shrubbery.
"Glance back now and see if he followed us," Darnay commanded.
I turned casually, as if surveying the scenery, just in time to see the black car disappear over the bridge and glide on toward the gate. "Nope, he kept going."
My relief proved short-lived as my companion suddenly whipped the car into a narrow driveway, reversed, and roared back the way we had come. The glint in his eye as he took the sharp turn back onto the main road made me remember that Alain Darnay much preferred the role of hunter to that of quarry.
Just outside the main gate the Mercedes made a right onto the access road to the Westin. We followed more slowly, there being no rush to close the gap since the few turnoffs all led to dead ends. We hung back and watched the young man maneuver his vehicle into a parking space near the entrance to the gleaming resort hotel.
The T-Bird leapt as Darnay gunned the engine and squealed to a halt perpendicular to the black car's rear bumper, effectively blocking it in. He jumped from the driver's seat and in one swift movement had the door of the Mercedes open and a squirming teenager spread-eagled across the trunk.
"Okay, son, I need to hear why you've been following us for two days."
"Screw you!" The voice was garbled since its owner's right cheek was pressed into the hot metal of the Mercedes' deck lid, but there was no mistaking the venom.
"Now, be nice," Darnay replied in his most sarcastic tone. "There's a lady present."
"Lady, my ass!" The boy squirmed under the pressure of Darnay's grip, but he was no match for the older man.
"Don't hurt him," I called from the passenger seat. "He's only a kid."
"Shut up! I don't need you to-" the boy yelled, but the rest was cut off as
Darnay twisted his arm up higher on his back.
"Alain! Please!" I was suddenly aware that someone could come along any moment and arrest him for assault and battery. Maybe things were different where he came from, but in Beaufort County, South Carolina, the sheriff didn't take kindly to people roughing up the tourists. Bad for business.
Darnay eased up a little and flipped the young man around, allowing him to stand upright. "I asked you a question, sonny," he growled.
"I don't have to tell you shit, old man." The defiance lasted until Alain pulled off his own sunglasses, and the kid got a good look at his eyes. I could almost feel the fear rising in his throat. "Look, back off, okay? I'm not trying to hurt anybody." He paused a moment, then added, "Okay?"
Darnay glanced at me, and I nodded. He took one step back, giving the boy room to breathe but still guarding against any chance of his bolting. "Let's hear it."
"I . . . I was just curious. About her." His stammering admission made him sound even younger than he obviously was. I was guessing seventeen, maybe a year or two either way. Hard to tell these days.
I stepped out of the car, surveying the surrounding area in the hope we were unobserved. Alain was here on a tourist visa, and I didn't think it would do his reputation any good to get picked up and packed off to France. In these times of heightened terrorist alerts and a rekindled suspicion of foreigners, I was pretty sure no one would be cutting him any slack, Interpol or no.
I moved around the car until I stood facing the kid, his breath coming in short, nervous gulps. Whether they were a result of the tussle with Darnay or from the waves of anger I felt rolling off him, I couldn't tell.
"Here I am," I said softly. "What do you want to know?"
The offer stunned him momentarily, but you had to give the boy credit. He glared past the hulking, six-foot-two Darnay and straight into my eyes. He drew a long, shuddering breath and said, "I want to know why you killed my father."