Tortured heroes. For some reason that’s the kind of guys I usually write-those who have often been through a personal hell and fought their way back. To me, this adds another layer to their personality, and at times, even makes them more sensitive to others around them. My hero from Trust No One is like this, having fought through his own demons.
Below is a scene I wrote as he was dragged back to the land of the living. At this point, he didn’t care whether he lived or died-he’d failed in a mission, failed as a person, and he was lost in drowning his sorrows. Ultimately I chose to leave the scene out, because Trust No One is more about the heroine’s journey and it detracted from her story. But I loved this scene and saved it, and Ben and I know what he went through for him to make it back. Now, you’ll know, too. (Warning: Graphic language)
The voice came at him down a long foggy tunnel. Ben Walker refused to open his eyes, knowing it couldn’t be anything more than a dream.
He was alone in his apartment. Alone. How he wanted to be. Alone. No one else. Ben rolled to his side, nose pressed in the crack between the back of the couch and the cushion, trying to lose himself to any reality.
“Come on, man, wake up.” A sharp nudge in Ben’s ribs followed the command.
Ouch. This dream was too damn real. And on top of that, the voice sounded too damn familiar. Ben pulled a pillow over his head, determined to ignore the intrusion.
“Oh, no you don’t.”
The pillow was ripped from his hand.
“Nasty thing, don’t you have a pillowcase for this?”
Ben rolled over, eyes still closed, blindly groping the air. The effort made his head pound so much, he grew nauseous. “Give it back,” he croaked, the pain making talking a phenomenal effort. “Lemme sleep.” That’s all he wanted. Sleep. Trying to pull his brain out of his self-induced haze was too much of an effort, speaking even more so.
The pillow landed on his stomach with a heavy thump. “Sleeping Beauty you aren’t, that’s for sure. This prince ain’t gonna kiss you.”
“You’re no Prince Charming.” Ben meant to snap the response, but the words came out more as a groan. “Kiss me and I’ll have to kill you,” he added as a lame threat. Hell, he didn’t have the energy to kill the giant roaches that crawled over him in the night.
The voice laughed. “Wake up, boy. You’re still dreaming.”
“If I am, then I’m changing dreams.” Ben gingerly fluffed the pillow back under his head, trying to ignore the persistent pounding inside his skull, wishing his rolling stomach to stillness. “Poof, you’re gone.” He waved his arm like a magician, and settled back more comfortably on the couch.
“Afraid wishing don’t make it so. Open your damn eyes.”
“Goddamn you’re persist–”
“Now.” The command came in a cut-the-bullshit tone.
Instinctively Ben obeyed and slit one eye open. His boss Jeff Powers–or was he still his boss?–stood at the foot of the couch. A hazy aura surrounded him.
No, it had to be an alcohol-induced illusion. Ben knew better than to drink the tequila after finishing off a bottle of Southern Comfort. But it had gotten to where lately a pint of whiskey wouldn’t launch him into the oblivion he craved. Needed.
“You’re not really here,” Ben told the illusion.
A moan escaped Ben. “Why?”
Jeff moved to the curtains, slid them open. Brilliant sunlight flooded the room. “Fuck.” Ben slammed his one eye back closed.
“I’d make coffee but there’s nothing but rat droppings and empty bottles in this hell hole.”
Ben grabbed his head as the tapping tempo increased to roughly the speed of a very hungry woodpecker. “Fuck you,” he said weakly. Without feeling. He didn’t have the strength for more.
“Son, it looks like you’re trying to fuck yourself.”
“Yeah, so leave me alone and let me do it.”
“How many days did it take you to drink all this?”
“Don’t you mean hours?”
Jeff sighed. “Figures.”
“What are you doing here?” Fortunately–or unfortunately–Ben’s brain was still working despite the alcoholic haze, and he knew this wasn’t a concerned social call. Though Jeff had to be concerned now that he was here. Even Ben could admit that to himself.
“Why do you think I’m here? Or is your brain working enough for you to figure that out?”
“I think I need a drink.”
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough already?
“No, water.” Ben’s mouth was tingly, numb, and if he didn’t get some moisture, his thick tongue wasn’t going to be able to work well enough to carry on a conversation. And it was looking more and more like this was going to be an extended visit. With conversation.
Ben heard the tap water running then a gloriously wet glass appeared in his hand.
“I rinsed it as best as I could considering you have no clean dishes and no soap.”
Ben opened his eyes, keeping them squinted against the bright sunlight, then forced himself up on an elbow to take a drink. The liquid exploded in his parched mouth as he swallowed. “No soap’s the reason I don’t have clean dishes,” he managed to say after another drink of water, not entirely certain he’d bother with the dishes if he had dish soap or not.
“You know if you went shopping for something besides booze, you might have some soap. Food even. How long’s it been since you’ve eaten?”
Ben shrugged, but the movement hurt his head. “Shit.”
“You’re on a fast path to killing yourself.”
“You were one of my best agents.” Jeff sighed and slowly shook his head. He looked truly regretful.
“Shut the damn curtains,” Ben snapped, ignoring the twinge of guilt. “And that’s ‘was’ as in past tense. I was one of the best.”
“You could be again. Quit drinking, pull yourself together.”
“Why bother? As you said, I’m on a fast path to killing myself. Don’t see any reason to stop now.”
“That’s a coward’s way out. You’re no coward.”
“Some do, but not you. Anyone would be affected after what you’ve been through, but you’re made of strong stuff. And you know that deep down killing yourself won’t bring them back.”
“Try living, Ben. It’s what Fatima would have wanted.”
“I don’t need any Dr. Phil pop psycho babble. You can leave now.” Ben placed the glass on the floor, lay back down and closed his eyes again.
“You don’t want to hear what I’ve got for you?”
“Not particularly. But I have a feeling you’re going to tell me anyway.”
“See, your instincts are still good, even with a hangover.”
“No, I just know you. Spit it out then leave.”
“A few senators are turning up dead.”
“Sounds like local work to me. Let the FBI handle it.”
“That would be fine, but the FBI doesn’t know.”
That made Ben open his eyes again. “Yeah?”
“I should clarify–they were former senators. Older. Retired. The deaths appeared natural.”
Ben knew there were ways to make a death appear natural; he’d done it himself once or twice in the line of duty. If the person didn’t die under suspicious circumstances, it would be easy enough to miss the evidence, even with an autopsy.
“Old guys die every day. What makes you think these were murdered?”
“A pattern was brought to my attention. It needs more investigating.”
“Why should I care if old guys are getting whacked? No one needs to live forever anyway.”
“But those who are living need a job,” Jeff pointed out.
Ben realized his boss wasn’t talking about any dead guys needing work. “In case you haven’t noticed, Jeff, I’m really not at the point where I care if I work or not. Besides I’m on unpaid leave.”
“With benefits still intact though. For now. And even if you don’t care about mundane things like health insurance or well-funded pensions, consider what happens when you do care? When the money you have put up runs out?”
Jeff pinned Ben with a stare as he ruthlessly continued. “Who will hire you then? Your reputation is already at stake. And you’re too old to go back into the military.”
“Ah, c’mon, Jeff, don’t be so coy. Just lay it out on the line why don’tcha?”
“This is an easy job.”
“Meaning I’m not suited for any other kind?”
Jeff pointedly ignored that question. “I don’t need you to investigate the murders. I just need you to bring in another agent to–”
“Why go to the trouble of sending me after an agent?” Ben interrupted, seeing this whole conversation as a waste of time. “Just make contact. Tell him you need him to come in. Unless he’s gone rogue and– Wait. You think this agent is committing the murders?”
“The agent is female.”
“A female agent gone rogue?” Now, that could be bad. Ben had been taught early on when a woman went bad, she went really bad. He pushed himself upright, his interest peaked in spite of himself.
“Yes, we think a female agent has gone rogue and is likely killing the senators. However, the one we want you to bring in is retired. If I tried to call her in, she’d just laugh at me.”
“Who is it?”
MJ. That name meant something to him. One of his last jobs before he was sent overseas. “She never went back to work?”
“Nope. Retired from the business. And I do know she isn’t drinking herself to death like someone who shall remain nameless.”
“So she’s a better man than me.” Ben refused to be impressed, but felt his brain slowly kick into thinking mode, in spite of his efforts to stop it. “What do you need from her?”
“I’m missing something here. Even if she’s retired, why can’t you call and ask her for help?”
“She’d turn me down flat. She has a totally new direction in life now.”
“So what am I supposed to do? Hog-tie her and throw her over my shoulder and bring her in?”
“If necessary.” Jeff looked Ben over. “If you can. Hopefully she’s more out of shape than you.”
Ben ignored the sting from that comment. He supposed it was justified. “MJ might’ve been good, but do you really think she’s going to put up a fight?”
“Really, I do. But I have something you can hold over her head if you have to. You’ll have to be alert though—she’ll try to run if she can.”
It was scary how Vista had all the agents profiled so well. “Why would she run? Unless you think she might be the killer?”
“I’ll admit, there’s a remote possibility it could be her. But the way these men were murdered is really not her style. MJ was more in your face, not much subtle about her.”
“Okay, so who’s the suspect and why do you think MJ can help you?”
“We think it’s her sister. And MJ’s the only one who can find her.”
RT Book Reviews called Ben “a perfect blend of alpha and sensitive.”
To learn how betrayal inspired Trust No One, please read this blog post.
And just a little quirky tidbit for my readers-I have references to fairy tales and nursery rhymes in Trust No One because originally the working title was Once Upon a Time. I especially liked Sleeping Beauty and the reference that my heroine needed to wake up.
Below is a picture of Ben with the heroine’s daughter. He survived and is rebuilding his life with his new loves. What about you? Do you like tortured heroes, too?