The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2)(11)

So she would wait. She would say nothing. She pressed back farther into the seat, and the seat took her, because the seat was expensive and made to take whatever the sitter wanted to inflict on it.

“Sounds strange,” Edward King said, yanking a green bag from the basket. “Dill-pickle flavor. It’s really good.”

He opened the bag and pulled out a chip with his long fingers. His hands were so like David’s, it made Stevie’s skin crawl. Long and elegant. Hands that would fit around a neck.

“The first reason,” he said, popping the chip into his mouth and then talking through the chew, “that I am personally taking you back to Ellingham has to do with the exceptional work you did in finding out what happened to Hayes Major. I am a parent, Stevie. My son is at your school. And I was as concerned as anyone.”

So concerned that your son said you were dead rather than claim you as a parent.

“So there’s that,” he said. “But, as you’ve worked out, there is something I would like from you. I need your help.”

There was cool air coming from one of the discreet little vents in the wall. Stevie pulled in her breath, sucking in the flow.

“I know, I know. You don’t want to help me. I heard about some of the stunts you pulled with the local volunteer office. You changed all those volunteer lists, had everyone calling SeaWorld and the American Girl store with all the dolls. That was pretty funny, to tell you the truth. I don’t mind things like that. Livens things up. But I know you wouldn’t want to do anything that would further my political interests because our interests don’t . . . align.”

He was still polite, being casual and charming and studied in his delivery. But he looked up at her, and she saw in his face that same darkly playful look that David had. Stevie had done those things, but she never thought it would actually get back to him. This senator—this man who wanted to be president—knew Stevie had played with his campaign. It was not a comfortable thought.

“What I need from you,” he said, “is something I think you’d be very agreeable to. It doesn’t conflict with your views.”

He put another chip in his mouth and the air dropped out from under the plane for a moment. Stevie clutched at her seat.

“You know David,” he said, unaffected by the loss of altitude, “my son. He’s a friend of yours. I know he thinks very highly of you. The way I know that is because he said nothing about you, even when I asked about you several times. I wanted to know about this housemate of his who had solved the case, the one he was standing with when I arrived at your school so early in the morning, before anyone should have been awake. And he said not a word. Which means he doesn’t want you to have anything to do with me. Which means he likes you. It’s not a sophisticated code.”

Stevie felt herself relax a bit, and something warm came over her in this cold, strange plane. David had put up a shield. David liked her.

“David,” he said, putting the bag of chips down on the seat opposite, “is a bit hard to manage. Do you have any idea how many schools he’s been to?”

He shook his head as if she had replied.

“I think six? Maybe seven? He has an uncanny way of expressing his dislike of a place. Once he doesn’t like it there anymore, things go wrong. I’d like things to stop going wrong. He’s almost out of high school. This is his last year. He just has to make it to June. And he’s doing well at Ellingham. When you left, he started making trouble. Not going to class. Being disruptive. It won’t be long now before the school will be forced to kick him out. I think if you return to Ellingham, he’ll settle down. So I’m taking you back there. You get to go back to a place I think you very much want to be, and you have a very simple job—make sure David stays there too.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” Stevie said.

“I think he likes having you there. You seem to be a reassuring presence. I am, in no way, suggesting you should do anything . . . personal. That is entirely none of my business and it would be completely inappropriate on all levels for me to suggest it. I just think he considers you a friend, and he may be more inclined to stay if you were at the school. That’s all.”

“What if I don’t want to talk to him?”

“A little polite conversation isn’t hard. As long as David is there, you’re there. I’ll see to it. And if you have any problems with that deal, I can turn the plane around and take you right back home. It’s no trouble at all. Think it over.”

I can turn the plane around. It was parent talk, but with real power, and Edward King knew it. Stevie fell silent and watched the lights appear on the ground below through the patchwork of clouds. She felt the outline of an object in her bag—the one truly precious, irreplaceable item. The tea tin. The clue. Solving the case had been such a dream before, but now it was a real possibility. She had something no one else had. This was her chance.

Stevie was quiet for some time, feeling the cold coming from the window of the plane, watching her own reflection, her short blond hair sticking up. Who was she? Who could she be?

“What do you say, Stevie?” Edward King asked. “Have we got a deal?”

“Yeah,” Stevie said, turning away from her reflection. “We have a deal.”


SOMETIMES, IN MOMENTS OF CONFUSION OR BOREDOM, STEVIE BELL ran through the scenes of famous murder novels or shows in her mind. As she sat in another SUV making its way along the rock-lined mountain roads of I-89, away from Burlington and toward Ellingham, her brain decided to run through the opening of And Then There Were None, arguably Agatha Christie’s finest work, and maybe the most perfect mystery ever written. Ten strangers find themselves on their way to a remote private island, accessible only by a small boat. All have been invited there under different pretenses, by someone they can’t quite remember meeting. All have been made good offers, so they all go. It’s not long after they arrive that they realize none of the stories quite tally, and then . . . then the bodies start dropping.

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