One Bad Thing

One Bad Thing

by Bill Eidson

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One Bad Thing by Bill Eidson

ONE BAD THING poses the question: can an otherwise good man commit an act of evil and go back to living his life unscathed? The story opens in the Virgin Islands. Rob McKenna is a good man who has lost much: his beloved daughter was killed the year before. McKenna's wife leaves him, forcing him to take on a crewmember, Tom Cain, to help sail the boat back to Boston. But Cain brings trouble on board and forces McKenna to make a desperate choice. "Do this one thing," Cain says. "Do this and you'll have a life." All McKenna has to do is lie. And soon…kill.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497605138
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 345
File size: 662 KB

About the Author

Bill Eidson's critically acclaimed thrillers are never too far from the sea, influenced by his growing up and living in New England. From the dive instructor in The Little Brother who slowly discovers his new housemate is a psychopath, to the ex-DEA agent in The Mayday hired to find two children everyone else believes were lost at sea, Eidson's fast-paced novels involve ordinary people who cross courses with the violent among us all. Eidson's books are not only page-turners, but his characters, both the heroic and the vicious, come fully to life.
 His novels have been favorably reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Herald, the Providence Journal, and Entertainment Weekly, and have received starred reviews in KirkusReviews and Publishers Weekly. He has received praise from authors such as Robert B. Parker and Peter Straub, and he has been compared to Elmore Leonard. The Boston Globe's review of One Bad Thing said, “Eidson writes a tough, direct prose edged with irony, and he may well be a successor, at last, to the much-missed John D. MacDonald.” Three of Eidson's books have been optioned for movies and translated for foreign rights. A Kirkus Reviews line about The Mayday sums it up for all of Eidson's work: “Here's crime fiction the way it's supposed to be.” To learn more about Bill's freelance writing and his books, go to

Bill Eidson's critically acclaimed thrillers are never too far from the sea, influenced by his growing up and living in New England. From the dive instructor in The Little Brother who slowly discovers his new housemate is a psychopath, to the ex-DEA agent in The Mayday hired to find two children everyone else believes were lost at sea, Eidson's fast-paced novels involve ordinary people who cross courses with the violent among us all. Eidson's books are not only page-turners, but his characters, both the heroic and the vicious, come fully to life.

His novels have been favorably reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Herald, the Providence Journal, and Entertainment Weekly, and have received starred reviews in KirkusReviews and Publishers Weekly. He has received praise from authors such as Robert B. Parker and Peter Straub, and he has been compared to Elmore Leonard. The Boston Globe's review of One Bad Thing said, “Eidson writes a tough, direct prose edged with irony, and he may well be a successor, at last, to the much-missed John D. MacDonald.” Three of Eidson's books have been optioned for movies and translated for foreign rights. A Kirkus Reviews line about The Mayday sums it up for all of Eidson's work: “Here's crime fiction the way it's supposed to be.” To learn more about Bill's freelance writing and his books, go to

Read an Excerpt

One Bad Thing

By Bill Eidson


Copyright © 2000 Bill Eidson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-0513-8


MCKENNA REALIZED LATER THAT CAIN HAD BEEN TOO ANXIOUS TO SAIL away. What McKenna had taken for a look forward to the sea had actually been Cain's frightened look over his shoulder.

Cain, with his shaggy hair and crooked, engaging smile, had plans for McKenna. And although his plans had fallen through in a fairly spectacular way, in the most important regard of all, Cain had succeeded.

As McKenna began to shiver, he told himself that it had all started in heat, in bright sunshine. That out of such a beginning, he should have done better. That he should have found a way to step aside it all.

That he had no one to blame but himself.

McKenna was deflating the dinghy on the dock when Cain arrived holding the little index card between his thumb and forefinger. It was a warm, painfully brilliant morning in early May. The sunlight bounced up under McKenna's sunglasses, the water impossibly blue through the polarized lenses. Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. Around McKenna, people hustled, moving their boats up to the fuel dock, loading water and food. The winter charters were over, and boats were flocking back to the U.S. mainland.

Kneeling there on the Zodiac, McKenna looked up, getting a sense of the young man. The sun was at his back, casting his face into shadow. McKenna put his hand up to block the light and saw the flash of white teeth. Young guy, early to mid-twenties. Cutoff jeans, boat shoes, tee shirt. Longish sun-bleached hair, a few day's growth of beard. Duffel bag over his shoulder.

"She's beautiful," the man said, looking over at the Wanderer. "Have you read Sterling Hayden or did you come up with the name yourself?"

"I'd like to think both." McKenna stood.

"Guess we better lock down the booze then," the young man said with a smile. American, like McKenna.

The young man put out his hand. "Tom Cain. Most people just call me Cain." He handed McKenna the index card. "If you haven't signed anyone aboard yet, I could help you take her to Boston."

McKenna held the card, turning it over as if reading it for the first time. He felt at a momentary loss and then said, "Why do you want to go?"

"It's what I've been doing, the past two years. Came here from Southampton on a trimaran, and now it's time for the skipper and his family to spend some quality time, cruising around the islands themselves. And it's time for me to go home, face the real world. Got three transatlantics under my belt. Finish this leg, I'll have my fourth."

"Got to be honest," McKenna said. "That's more than me. I'm on my way back for the first time."

"You're here," Cain said with a grin. "You must know what you're doing. He nodded toward the boat "All provisioned?"

"Lot of the staples I already had set for two. I'd have to stock up on more fresh food."

"So you're ready to leave?"

"Just about."

The young man had shifted and the sun was full on his face. He was a good fifteen years younger than McKenna, and about the same height, six-two.

Cain said, "Lost your crew, huh?"

McKenna looked at him sharply. But there was no trace of sarcasm, no inference. His blue eyes were friendly. McKenna knew some marinas were like Peyton Place on the water, where everyone talked about everyone's business. But he would like to believe that here on Tortola everyone was too transient.

McKenna said, "Something like that." He hesitated, and then tried it on for size. "My wife decided not to sail across. She flew home."

Cain nodded. He took in the Wanderer more closely, and McKenna envisioned seeing her through a stranger's eyes. Far from new, but gleaming. Forty feet long, navy blue fiberglass hull, weathered teak decks. Sloop-rigged. Steering vane mounted on the stern. A small traditional cockpit and transom. Good for shrugging off following seas. Clearly a heavy-weather boat.

"Full keel and attached rudder?" Cain asked.

McKenna nodded. "Wanderer's a strong lady." Unable to hide his pride in her, no matter the damage she had caused to his marriage. His life.

Cain looked at the new aluminum mast. "You do the upgrades yourself?" "Mostly."

Cain shifted gears. "I'm not too shabby as a cook—as long as taste isn't your top priority."

"Three trans atlantics, you say?"

"That's right. And I'm headed to Boston, too. This will be perfect for me."

"That's where you're from?"

He shook his head. "Connecticut. Went to school in Boston, and my fiancée still lives there."

"What school?"

Cain smiled sheepishly. "Harvard. I haven't exactly made the best use of my degree, but I'm enjoying myself." He gestured to the index card. "Is the tomorrow morning departure for real?"

"Sure is. Any problem with that?"

"It'd be perfect for me. I want to see my girl."

"How much stuff have you got?"

Cain hefted his bag. "This is it."

"I intend to clear customs." McKenna looked at Cain carefully.

The young man shrugged. "Sure. My passport's in order and I'm a U.S. citizen. They have to let me in."

He took his passport from his back pocket and showed it to McKenna. "You're welcome to look through my gear."

McKenna looked at Cain frankly. He reminded McKenna of R. J. without actually looking like him in any way. R. J. was thin with a shock of white-blond hair always falling in his eyes. If Cain was uncomfortable under McKenna's scrutiny, he didn't show it.

No, this guy wasn't another R. J., McKenna decided. Whereas R. J. projected an entirely undeserved sense of superiority, Cain looked strong, capable. He radiated energy.

Normally, McKenna was a man who checked references, did things by the book. But since Caroline left last week, there was a lassitude inside, a weariness mixed with free-floating anger that made it hard for him to concentrate or take on anything extra.

Almost as bad as the time after Samantha.

Caroline had posted the index card on the bulletin board inside the marina's store. Her last bit of attention to their marriage.

"So what do you say?" Cain asked. "I could use some good news here."

McKenna hesitated. Neither he nor the boat were truly prepared for a single-handed voyage.

It would be pathetic to lose the boat, he thought. To drown.

McKenna handed the passport back to Cain. "We've got a lot to do before morning."

Cain looked relieved, even though he hadn't appeared anxious before. "You want me to stow this dinghy, Skipper?"

"Call me Rob," McKenna put out his hand. "And welcome aboard."


THE NEXT MORNING, MCKENNA METHODICALLY REVIEWED THE WANDERER from bow to stern, with his little tape recorder in hand. As he had done since his working days, he dictated clipped but detailed notes about what needed doing.

Afterward, he would use a yellow pad to organize the tasks necessary to complete before embarking on the seventeen-hundred-nautical-mile voyage to Boston.

Once they had set sail, he intended to make it in one shot. No plans to stop in Bermuda. He'd take advantage of the Gulf Stream and cruise off the Eastern seaboard. Maybe stop in Baltimore or New York, but most likely do the entire distance. There would be no picking up an extra impeller, clevis pins, shackles, or O-rings. No spare tools. No stopovers to buy vegetables, fruit, or meat. It was either take it now—or do without it for about three weeks.

But beyond that, McKenna was trying to relax into having a stranger on board. Unfair as it was, he couldn't help but see Cain as the embodiment of McKenna's life without Caroline.

McKenna sighed. Caroline's going seemed to have ripped away the blinders he had carefully placed. There was a dull ache in the middle of his chest; he often found himself absently rubbing the spot. That was Sam and Caroline.

The past few nights, he had dreamed about Sam when she was a toddler. Even though she was seventeen when R. J. Mitchell took her to that party.

Last night, McKenna again felt Sam's warmth in his dreams.

They were in the first apartment in Belmont. Sam was probably no more than three, tucked into the crook of his arm. Red hair, freckles. An easy, giggling laugh. God, he loved holding her. Her hair tickled his face as he read her The Velveteen Rabbit. It was one of her favorite stories. She settled down into him, solemn and drowsy, her thumb in her mouth.

When Rob looked up, Caroline was standing beside the sofa.

She was so beautiful, too. Mid-twenties, her black hair still long. His green-eyed, golden-skinned wife. But she wouldn't look at him. Just at Sam. She reached her hand out. "Come on, Sammy Girl. Let's go."

McKenna was mad at Caroline but didn't want to admit it. He certainly didn't want to upset Sam.

"Come on, Sammy Girl," Caroline repeated.

"How can you do that?" McKenna said. "She's so warm with me."

Caroline shook her head. She wouldn't talk about it, which wasn't like her.

McKenna didn't want to move, didn't want to shift for a moment in that chair.

Knowing the second he did, Sam would get up, and her warmth would be gone.

That both of them would be gone.

But each night, much as he tried to stay frozen in place, McKenna finally would move and find himself alone.

To his credit, Cain quickly got past the bumping-into-each-other stage. Without being obsequious, he would circle round to McKenna's checklist and then tackle projects himself.

Around noon, McKenna took out the remaining bread and lunch meat, and made hefty sandwiches for both of them. Then they sat in the cockpit and McKenna went through the provisions list, tallying the extra food necessary to sustain two people instead of one. He said, "Now's the time to put in special requests."

Cain reached for the list, reviewed it quickly, then said, "Suits me. Just double the coffee ration. I live on the stuff."

McKenna waved him toward the dock. "Get as much as you want. The store where you got the postcard has just about everything we need, food and parts. I've got an account with them."

"Got it."

Cain started up the dock.

McKenna glanced at his checklist. With Cain, he was doing better than he expected at this point. Still he was feeling the slightest of misgivings about not taking the time to check Cain's credentials.

He looked at the next item on his list and sighed. Changing the oil. Should have assigned that one to his new mate.

McKenna was tightening the water-pump belt when Cain returned, wheeling a dock cart filled with groceries and a small cardboard box of turnbuckles and shackles.

McKenna climbed out of the engine compartment, then sat wiping his hands on a rag.

"Just stack that all on the dock. I'll put it away. How about you take a look at the rigging? I tuned it a couple of days back, but I wouldn't mind a second opinion."

"You bet." Cain climbed onto the coach roof, first sighting the mast, and then walking around to each of the stays, pulling on them to test the tension.

McKenna ducked down below, washed his hands, and began to put away the food. He worked in silence, his face expressionless until he heard Cain call, "This seems to be catching a bit."

McKenna smiled briefly to himself and then went up on deck.

"What's that?"

Cain tugged at the jib halyard.

"Let's see." McKenna went forward and pulled the line back and forth. Indeed, there was a faint, but noticeable catch, as if the line was beginning to wedge inside the block. A task that wasn't on the list.

McKenna said, "He who finds it ..."

"Goes aloft," Cain said. "Point me in the direction of the bosun's chair." McKenna sent him below, and a few minutes later, Cain came up with the canvas chair, wearing the tool belt and pouch. McKenna opened one of the storage lockers in the cockpit and rustled through the spare parts to come up with a halyard block. "I picked this one up used in Southampton, but it's clean and solid. Should do the trick. When you're done, I'm afraid I'll need to send you back to the store for a couple of spares."

"No problem." Cain snapped the spinnaker halyard onto the bosun's chair ring, and McKenna wrapped the free end of the halyard around the winch, inserted the handle, and began cranking the younger man up the mast. McKenna said, "Better you than me. I hate climbing that damn stick."

"That's what I'm here for, Skipper. I'll give you a yell when I'm done."

McKenna cleated the line and went back below to continue stowing the food. A small touch of relief was still with him. Cain had passed McKenna's little test. That jamming halyard had been on his mind, if not on his list.

Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.

The next morning, McKenna and Cain motored over to the customs office in Tortola and docked. The customs agent was a jolly faced black man in an immaculate uniform. His friendliness faded just slightly when he heard Cain had just joined McKenna as a pickup crew. "I'll have to take a look at your boat, mon." He handed back their passports. "These seem in order."

They followed him out onto the dock.

He stood back and regarded the Wanderer, his hands on his hips. "Strong lady, huh? I try to be quick, but it's gonna take some time."

"Is this really necessary?" McKenna asked.

"If I say so, mon," the agent said, flashing his white teeth.

He stepped on board.

"Sorry about the hassle," Cain said quietly to McKenna. "Boat bums who've just signed on don't look good in the eyes of customs. But there's nothing to find, so we'll be all right."

It took the agent almost an hour to come to the same conclusion. In doing so, he went through virtually every bit of storage and personal space, taking out boat hardware, clothes, food, spare parts, the tool chest, looking through both of their duffel bags, in their shoes, into the bilge, in every corner of the engine compartment. The agent even looked in the empty waste-holding tank, flashing his light around, before he was satisfied.

"Who's going to clean this up?" McKenna said.

The agent smiled. "Put your crew to work." He stepped off the dock and gestured to the line of waiting boats. "Got some more to check now. Take a mooring there, you want to straighten her up." He threw them their lines and waved them away, looking friendly enough for a tourism poster.


AFTER SORTING THE BOAT OUT FOR ANOTHER HOUR, MCKENNA MOPPED the sweat from his forehead. The sun was beating down directly; almost noon.

Abruptly, he pulled off his tee shirt and kicked off his boat shoes. He stood up on the cabin roof and made a long, flat dive, his toes just touching the lifelines.

He plunged through the surface, driving down through the clear green water to find the layer of cold below. Below him was a mass of coral, interspersed with patches of sand: a soft wash of green, red, and yellow to his unprotected eyes. McKenna stayed down as long as he could, ignoring the pressure in his lungs until his body took charge. Then he kicked off the bottom and flew to the silver shimmering above.

When he broke through the surface, there was Cain, standing with his hand on the shroud. Cain's smile was curiously tight. "I thought you were in a hurry to leave."

"No," McKenna said. He flipped over onto his back, sucking down great lungfuls of air. "But it's time anyhow."

* * *

The two of them sat in the cockpit as the sun fell, turning the water red and gold. The wind was blowing at a steady fifteen knots right over the beam, and the Wanderer slipped over the swells at an easy six.

McKenna looked at Cain. The younger man was leaning back against the bulkhead. He looked quietly pleased. Smug almost. But all he said was, "She's a sweet sailor."

"That she is." McKenna looked at the compass and then back at the steering vane. It made steady, small changes, keeping the boat on course better than he could have himself.

"Got a name for it?" Cain asked.

McKenna smiled. "Mortimer."

Cain grinned. "Faithful, dull, and consistent. Just what you want out of a self-steering vane. Seeing as Mortimer's doing such a good job ... what've you got for a toast?" McKenna hesitated just slightly.

Cain laughed. "Don't worry. I'm not a lush."

McKenna stood and stretched. "I've got some scotch."

Cain's smile had a bit of a twist to it. Like he was going to say something, then thought better of it. McKenna hesitated on the way down below. Cain had been nothing but helpful so far, and yet McKenna felt strange around him—stodgy. As if the young man was secretly amused by him.


Excerpted from One Bad Thing by Bill Eidson. Copyright © 2000 Bill Eidson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Ed Gorman

This is the best suspense novel I've read in the last two years. Bill Eidson can do the two things all great crime writers can do-scare the hell out of you, and occasionally break your heart.
—Ed Gorman, Mystery Scene

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