Ryan Francis has it all—great job, wonderful wife, beautiful child—and he loves posting photos of his perfect life on social media. Until the night his friend Blake asks him to break into a woman’s home to retrieve incriminating items that implicate Blake in an affair. Ryan refuses to help, but when Blake threatens to reveal Ryan’s darkest secret—which could jeopardize everything in Ryan’s life—Ryan has no choice but to honor Blake’s request.
When he arrives at the woman's home, Ryan is shocked to find her dead—and just as shocked to realize he knows her. Then his phone chimes, revealing a Facebook friend request from the woman. With police sirens rapidly approaching, Ryan flees, wondering why his friend was setting him up for murder.
Determined to keep his life intact and to clear his name, Ryan must find the real murderer—but solving the crime may lead him closer to home than he ever could have imagined.
|Penguin Publishing Group
|5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Someone called my name. I was leaving the Juniper Pig and stepping into the parking lot, heading for my car. The voice that came through the dark was sharp and husky, a knife swipe through the night, and I jumped.
I couldn't tell if a man or a woman had spoken.
After work I'd stopped by the Pig, the microbrewery I'd owned a small stake in for the last sixteen months. I was one of three partners, and my contribution had been the smallest, but we took turns going by in the evenings to see how things were running. And that night was my turn.
I hadn't wanted to stop by the bar. Amanda was waiting at home with our baby, Henry, and thinking of seeing them made my stomach flutter with anticipation and joy. My time away from them felt longer than the hours that passed on the clock, and returning to them every evening was sweet relief. Since Henry had been born, I'd been trying hard to curb my tendency to overwork. But it wasn't easy. Since my dad died while I was in college, leaving my mother and me high and dry, I'd been compelled to keep going forward, to keep pushing at work. . . .
I hoped Henry would change that. I hoped I could slow down.
But a shadowy figure came toward me in the darkness, freezing my progress. The person was short, the face in shadow.
It was early April, the air still cool, the days still lengthening. I waited, watching. I'd just posted to my Instagram account, sharing a photo of the beer I'd just sampled, one of our brewers' latest concoctions, the HopPig IPA.
"Who is that?" I asked.
Dawn Steiner? Her deadline loomed that week, just two days away, but I hadn't seen or heard from her since that morning almost a month ago. And I'd made almost no progress on finding the money for her. Had she decided to come looking for me?
But then I saw who it was and slipped my phone back into my pocket.
"Is that really you?" I asked the figure still standing in the shadows of the building. Relieved.
He stepped closer, moving into the crisp light that spilled from the windows of the Pig. "It's me," he said. "Indeed."
Blake Norton. My best friend from college. And also my most challenging. He was loyal, fun, and charming. He was immature, reckless, and juvenile. He was Butch Cassidy crossed with Bluto from Animal House.
I hadn't seen him in six months, even though we lived in the same small city, Rossingville, Kentucky. He held out his hand, and we shook.
Blake looked thinner, healthier, like maybe he'd dropped fifteen or twenty pounds. His face was less puffy. I wondered if he'd stopped drinking and started exercising more, if he was on one of his periodic health kicks. He was shorter than me by two inches, and he wore a neatly trimmed beard. His shoulder-length hair was off his face and combed into place for a change, and his flannel shirt appeared to be free of stains, the sleeves rolled to his elbows with a measure of precision.
"Why are you skulking around in the parking lot?" I asked.
I realized I was happy to see him. Years of friendship, countless memories big and small, and an endless supply of fierce loyalty brought a smile to my face.
"Skulking." He smiled as well. "I could always count on you to come up with a ten-dollar word like 'skulking.'"
"I got one of those calendars for Christmas," I said, "the kind that gives you a new word every day. Today's was 'skulking.'"
Blake shook his head. "No, you know all the fancy words. You always have. I remember you were an English major when we started college. You switched to marketing later, but I know what your real passion was."
"You know why I switched to something more reliable as well as I do," I said. "I minored in English. And before Henry was born, I read a lot. And you're still not answering my question."
Blake turned to the side, his brown lace-up boots scraping against the gravel of the lot as he did. He looked at the Pig, then faced me again. "I shouldn't go in there. Too much temptation."
"You quit drinking?" I asked.
"I stopped drinking. I'll never quit." He shrugged. "It's been about six weeks now."
"That's good. I'm glad to hear it."
"Yeah. It is. I even joined a gym." He held up his right arm and flexed, even though there was no way to see anything beneath the shirt. "Bright-eyed. Bushy-tailed. That's me."
"A gym? You couldn't run twenty feet in college."
"Ten if I was lucky. And that was only if someone was giving away beer or pizza."
I laughed. "True enough. Well, I'm happy for you."
Cars passed on the street, their headlights making us squint. The air smelled like rain, and some thick clouds obscured the early-emerging stars. I wore a denim jacket but felt a shiver as the wind kicked up.
Blake pointed across the street to the coffee shop. "I was hoping we could talk. Just a few minutes. I know they don't sell anything stronger than caffeine over there."
I checked the time on my Apple watch. Amanda expected me. And I really wanted to get home before Henry went to sleep. Being home for his bedtime mattered to me. A great deal. Taking part in the bedtime ritual helped ease my sense of missing out during the long hours I was away at work.
"I can't," I said. "Really, I just can't. Amanda's been with Henry all day, and I already got delayed here. One of our servers is going through a breakup, and he wanted my advice. That took longer than I expected. You know how seriously college kids take breakups. How about lunch tomorrow? That would work a lot better."
"I know, I know. You've got a family now. And you're dedicated. And juggling a lot. I get it. And I know these kids who work here look at you like you're their sensitive big brother. I'm sure they bring you their problems all the time."
"It happens. They're away from home. They have crises. . . ."
But he started shaking his head. "But I kind of need this. It's an emergency."
"An emergency? What are you talking about?"
But he simply pointed across the street. And smiled, a look I recognized and remembered well. The look said, Come on. You're going to want to hear this.
It was certainly tough to say no to an old friend. And it was tough to say no to Blake. Sometimes it felt like he could convince anyone of anything. And while I'd learned over the years to recognize when he was stretching the truth or attempting to lead me down some path I shouldn't take, a part of me always felt a little thrill at the thought of taking the ride.
Blake knew me so well. And he knew so much about me.
What emergency was he contending with tonight? Six months since we'd last talked and he looked like a man transformed?
"Ten minutes," I said, pointing at the watch. "Talk fast when we get there."
He nodded, and we went to the curb, waiting for a break in the passing traffic, and then crossed the street side by side like when we were in college, doing every damn thing together.
The place was called the Ground Floor, and the weeknight crowd was light. Most of the students from the state university in town went to a coffee shop near campus, one run by some recent graduates. The bell dinged over our heads as we pushed through the glass door, and Blake stepped aside, allowing an elderly couple to pass. They thanked him, and Blake gave them his brightest smile.
"You two go straight home now," he said. "And don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"We're too old for that," the woman said, placing her hand on Blake's arm.
"I doubt that," he said, leaning in a little.
And they all laughed.
The Ground Floor catered to a professional crowd, one that came in early in the morning and during the afternoon and then drifted away when the sun went down. But I stopped in there from time to time since it was across the street from the Pig, and it seemed neighborly to support each other's businesses. And I also knew the Ground Floor because my small PR firm had helped the shop with a branding campaign two years earlier. One of our designers had redone their logo, giving it a more modern look, and while I hadn't worked on that job, I figured anyone who gave business to our slowly growing outfit deserved to receive my coffee patronage.
At the counter I ordered an Americano while Blake opted for a blend, and we settled in at an isolated table in a corner of the room. Al Stewart's "Time Passages" played overhead, and the steamer hissed as it blew froth behind the counter. I loved the rich smell of the roasting beans, the lingering scent of the pastries baked that morning. I pulled out my phone and texted Amanda, telling her I was delayed but wouldn't be long. It took a lot of willpower, but I ignored the flurry of notifications that came up, real-time responses to my beer photo from the Pig and a post from earlier in the day, a shot I'd taken of Henry being bathed.
Be there soon.
And as soon as I hit send and heard the swooshing sound of the text heading her way, I wished I'd just told Blake no, that I'd stuck to just going to lunch with him.
But he'd used the word "emergency." Why?
I had my suspicions. When we'd met in college, we quickly settled into roles. Blake was wild, and I was serious. I studied too much, and Blake would get me to loosen up.
Then Blake would go too far, and I'd rein him in. Blake would have a crisis-a girl, a professor, his parents-and I'd advise him on the best way to handle it.
I expected a crisis. An irritated boss. A new relationship gone wrong.
I waited a moment, hoping Amanda would respond. But she didn't.
I'd tried calling her an hour earlier but hadn't gotten an answer. Sometimes she tried to catch a nap at the same time as Henry. Sometimes she just got too busy with Henry to bother with the phone. But I wanted to make sure she knew I wouldn't be home when I'd said I would. I felt a little like a fool admitting that I'd had no idea how much strain having a newborn would add to our lives. I don't think either one of us had. Amanda felt it more because she was on the front line with Henry every day, and I wanted to get home to help as fast as I could.
"I bet you didn't mention my name," Blake said.
"To Amanda," he said. "You texted her, but I'd bet you every beer I've ever drunk you didn't tell her you were with me. I know she's not the forgiving type."
"There wasn't any need to mention you." But he was right. I had intentionally left Blake out of the message. Amanda and Blake had fallen out, which had caused me not to see him for six months, and there was no need to stir that pot. I sipped my coffee. "But, seriously, ten minutes."
"Sure. I understand." He lifted his steaming mug and drank. I expected him to wince from what must have been the scalding temperature of the coffee, but he didn't flinch. One brown droplet clung to his beard.
I studied his eyes. It had been a long time since I'd seen them as clear as they were in the bright light of the coffee shop. No red. No fog or glaze from alcohol. Or weed. He looked more like the fresh-faced guy I had met during our first year of college than he had at any time since. And when I'd seen him laugh with that older couple, I understood what had been appealing about him in the first place all those years ago. His natural ease with everyone he met. His jokes that always seemed organic. His ability to get along with just about anyone. Almost everyone at our small college knew his name. Partyers and studiers. Football players and honors students.
And I wasn't different from anyone else who had met him back then. He was the flame, and I was the moth.
"You seemed a little jumpy when I said your name." Blake eyed me over his mug. "Everything okay?"
"Just busy. You know."
"How is the PR firm?" he asked. "On steady ground?"
"Steadier every day," I said. "Three years since we opened, and we're making it. We're hoping to land a contract with the Warren Manufacturing Group. You know, the outfit that makes screen doors."
"They have a lot of money. And I think it's going to happen. A whole social media and branding campaign for them. That would be a nice shot in the arm."
"Look at you," he said. "A businessman."
"And you're looking good, Ryan," he said. "As always."
"Bullshit. I've gained five or ten pounds since Henry was born. They don't tell you that when you have a kid everybody on earth brings you food. And you eat it. And then you just sit around, taking care of a baby. Maybe when he starts crawling I'll lose a little."
"Five or ten pounds?" He looked me up and down, even dropping his head and peeking under the table as though the extra weight might have been hidden there. "Where? You've always been so trim. So disciplined. In college, two slices of pizza when the rest of us ate four. Usually just two beers when the rest of us . . . Well, you know. Some of us had far too many."
"I didn't always stop at two," I said, looking down at my own steaming mug. My face flushed, and not from the heat of the coffee. "You know that better than anyone."
"It was rare."
"I'm flattered you think of me as such a model of virtue and restraint, but usually I didn't eat or drink as much because I didn't have enough money to buy it. Unless you bought it for me."
"No charge," he said. "How's your mom? She good?"
"Yeah, she's good. She's busy teaching. She's going to come and see Henry in July."
"Will you tell her I said hello?"
"I will. She always asks about you. And speaking of Henry . . . I really need to know what this emergency is. I have a growing baby who likes to poop and cry. And a wife who's been stuck with him all day. And I don't want to miss bedtime."
Reading Group Guide
The Request by David Bell
Questions for Discussion
1. Ryan and Blake were close friends in college, but their friendship has cooled now that Ryan is married and has a child. Is it typical for friendships to change in this way as people move from college and into their mid-to late twenties?
2. Despite the cooling of their friendship, Ryan feels loyalty to Blake because of the things they went through together in college. Do you understand why Ryan still feels this loyalty to Blake?
3. Ryan has a seemingly perfect life. And yet he feels it is defined by his part in the accident. Do you understand why Ryan wants to keep his role hidden from everyone in his life? Would people understand that he made a youthful mistake?
4. Even though she had a career and even made more money than Ryan did, Amanda feels insecure about her place in the world and in her marriage after Henry is born and she stops working for a time. Is it to be expected that she would feel this way?
5. Ryan spends a great deal of time on social media and seems unable to stop measuring his life by what he shares there. Do you understand how someone can be consumed by their social media feeds? Do you think this is a problem in our society? If so, how?
6. Everything that happens in the book grows out of the lies Blake told in college. Has it been your experience that one lie only leads to more and more lying?
7. Blake admits that he has always harbored resentment for Ryan because Ryan was always seen as the golden boy and Blake as the screwup. Do you understand why this would lead Blake to attempt to tarnish Ryan’s sterling reputation?
8. Amanda admits to being hurt by the lies that Ryan told her. Do you think the two of them will be able to repair their relationship and move on?
9. Do you understand why Samantha and Blake are together? What does each get out of the relationship?