Exclusive Excerpt: Andrew Klavan's 'The Identity Man,' Part 1

Author’s Note: Two time loser John Shannon agrees to go in on a robbery with psychopath Benny Torrence. Just as they get to the money, everything goes bad–and Shannon does something that will change his life forever.

A floorboard creaked on the landing. Shannon tensed, his hand frozen reaching for the cash. He turned to see Benny’s dark shape likewise frozen by the door. In their silence, they heard light footsteps running on the hall carpet. All the pieces–all the half-acknowledged thoughts–fell into place in Shannon’s mind and he understood: There was someone in the house. There had been someone in the house all along. That’s why he’d seen a glow at the door. The someone must have heard them break in. The someone must have turned the light off in order to hide his own presence. Now the someone was trying to get to the stairway and escape.

For another second, Shannon hoped things might still turn out all right. All they had to do was let the someone go. Then they could grab the money and get out of here before the police showed up. Even with Benny’s supercharged engine roaring for all the world to hear, they might still get away without being spotted.

But then Benny moved–and he moved so fast Shannon had no time to stop him or even call out. His shadow flashed through the door like a streak of black lightning. When he flashed back he had the someone in his hands.

It was a woman. Benny was gripping her by the throat. He shoved her up against the wall hard, hard enough to make the room shudder. He shone his flashlight in her face and then down the whole length of her. She was in her twenties, very pretty, with a curvy figure pressing through her blouse and skirt. In the outglow of the flashlight beam, Shannon could see Benny’s bright eyes and the teeth in his fierce smile as he breathed over her. His breath was a low, laughing growl of triumph and desire.

Shannon jumped to his feet. He shone his own flashlight on Benny, the blue beam crossing with the white beam in the dark.

“What the hell’re you doing? Let her go,” he said in a harsh whisper.

“Shut up. Get the money,” Benny said. He shoved his flashlight in his back pocket. He held the girl by the throat with one hand and tore open her blouse with the other. The buttons of the blouse pattered on the carpeting. Benny grabbed hold of the girl’s breast. The girl struggled, crying out in anguish and pain.

“I called the police,” she managed to say. Then her voice ended in a gasp as Benny squeezed her hard and pressed himself up against her.

“Damn it, there’s no time for this shit!” said Shannon.

“Shut up,” Benny said. He was crazy. “Get the money.”

Shannon hesitated. His blue flashlight beam played over the girl’s face. He could see her terror and then her despair as Benny’s hand started fumbling under her skirt. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Her eyes went up and her lips moved silently. Shannon could tell she was praying.

His heart went out to her. He was surprised by the force of the feeling. It was just one of those things you didn’t know you would feel so much until you were in the situation. Now he was here and he was looking right at her, looking at her tear-streaked face. He could see her praying and choking, helpless in Benny’s hands. And he felt awful for her. He knew he ought to forget about it, ignore Benny and just grab the money so they could get out when Benny was done with her. He knew if he started trouble now, they were sure to get caught. That meant prison for Shannon, prison for life.

But look at her, he thought. An image flashed in his mind of the girl getting dressed for work in the morning, turning this way and that in front of her mirror, pleased because her blouse looked pretty on her. And now Benny had torn the blouse and her face was twisted in fear and agony.

Shannon had one more moment of indecision. Then he thought: Shit. Then he thought again: Shit! Because he realized there was no way he was going to just stand there and let this happen.

Shannon had fought characters like Benny a couple of times in prison, and this is what he knew: there was no talking involved in it. Benny was big and mean and drugged out of his mind. There could be no threats or poses or hard-guy exchanges with him because by the time you got through with that garbage you’d be dead. So he simply bent to his roll and slipped his crowbar out of its pocket. It was small but it was heavy enough. He stepped around the desk and took half another step and he was next to Benny. Benny was choking the girl hard and mashing her hard with his hand under her skirt. Shannon could hear strangled phrases of her prayer: “Santa Maria… Madre de Dios…” That settled it for him somehow. Without another thought, he brought the crowbar whipping around in a low Laredo sidearm and shattered Benny’s kneecap.

Benny did a sack of potatoes, dropped right down to the floor, boom, clutching his leg and shrieking like a woman in a horror movie. All of which was fine with Shannon because what a piece of garbage this guy was.

The girl, meanwhile, staggered away from the wall, clutching her throat with one hand and the front of her skirt with the other. She straightened and glanced at Shannon, confused. Then she looked down at Benny. Benny was writhing on the floor. His shriek had sunk away to a series of gibbering sobs. What a piece of garbage.

The girl looked up at Shannon again, hesitating, uncertain. Even in the dark, he could see she was trembling violently.

“My knee!” groaned Benny Torrance.

“Aw, shut up,” said Shannon. Then he turned back to the girl. “Go on, sister, get out of here. No one’s gonna hurt you now.”

He didn’t have to tell her twice. She stumbled to the door and out onto the landing. But just as she got there, the long, urgent cry of a siren came to them through the night outside. The police. She really had called them, like she said. By the sound of it, they were turning off the street, coming down the drive to the house. Shannon’s heart just about broke when he heard them. He was finished. He was going to grow old in slam. He’d always known this was going to happen if he kept at it and it was his own stupid fault, but that didn’t make it any easier now that the time had come.

“You broke my knee!” cried Benny Torrance.

“Shut up, I said,” said Shannon sadly.

The girl was still on the landing. She had halted there at the sound of siren. As the siren drew closer, she looked back at Shannon. He could see the whites of her eyes in the shadows. She tilted her head down the hall.

“There’s a back way,” she told him.

Shannon gaped at her. The sudden rush of hope gave him vertigo. The siren stopped. He could hear the police radio right outside the door.

“Hurry,” the girl said.

Dumbfounded, Shannon glanced back at the money in the safe, at his tools on the floor. He glanced down at Benny. Benny writhed and held his leg and went, “Ah God. Ah God.”

“Hurry,” the girl said again.

Shannon let the crowbar slip from his fingers. He took two long steps and was out on the landing next to her. Instinctively, she recoiled from him, her arm pressed protectively against her breasts. He was close enough to smell her fear and her sex and her perfume and the vomitous smell of Benny on her.

“Thanks, baby,” he said.

Still recoiling fearfully, she nodded.

Down the stairs, he saw the flashing red and blue lights of the police cruiser playing over the beveled glass of the door. He saw the shape of a lawman approaching.

“Don’t leave me here!” cried Benny Torrance, clutching his knee.

Shannon took off down the hall.

—–

Another excerpt will publish tomorrow morning.

“The Identity Man” is available for purchase today at Amazon.

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