Excerpt: The Request - Vilma Iris | Lifestyle Blogger

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.

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Excerpt: The Request
By David Bell

Excerpt: The Request

When a man agrees to do a favor for a friend, he gets more than he bargained for as he becomes embroiled in a woman’s murder in this new thriller from David Bell, the USA Today best-selling author of LAYOVER. Read a sneak peek below!

Of all the things I never thought I’d say about my life, there is this— I have a blackmailer.

The blackmail started for a simple reason— I was guilty.

And over the years the guilt has taken a strong hold of me. Like a giant iron fist.

I used to do things differently. Before the blackmailing started.

I used to hand over the money voluntarily. And on my own schedule. I would head to my bank branch and withdraw a couple hundred dollars from the savings account Amanda and I share. Once, after I received a one‑thousand ‑ dollar bonus at the PR firm where I worked, I handed the entire amount over. I always placed the crisp stack of cash in a manila envelope. I wrapped the envelope with tape, making sure it was secure and tight, and I drove thirty minutes away from my home and arrived in another town, where I traced the familiar path to a modest two‑story house in an old subdivision.

Sometimes I arrived before daylight, telling Amanda I had an early meeting in my office. Other times I rolled up to the house late at night, headlights off, radio silent, claiming a social obligation from work or having made some other plausible excuse.

In those days, before everything else happened, Amanda never questioned me. She believed what I told her.

I always found the house dark, the porch light extinguished. I quickly pulled open the mailbox that sat at the end of the driveway, felt the coolness of the morning or night air against my face, slipped the envelope inside, closed the mailbox tight, and drove off. I’d mastered the smooth transaction, accomplishing my task in mere seconds.

I didn’t write on the envelope. Or leave a note.

But otherwise I did nothing to conceal my identity. It was there if someone wanted to find it.

My fingerprints were on the envelope, the tape, the money. My DNA was on the flap I licked.

I knew for a fact the family was getting the money.

I knew because just six weeks ago, the local paper ran a story. It detailed the anonymous gifts of cash that appeared randomly in the mailbox. The article’s author theorized that the person leaving the money was a Good Samaritan, someone moved by the plight of the family and the medical expenses related to the accident six years earlier that left their middle daughter with permanent disabilities and their youngest daughter dead. In the story, the family explained that the cash helped keep them afloat when times were tough by allowing them to purchase much ‑needed medical supplies or household items.

“We have insurance,” the father said in the article. “And the government helps some. But it’s never enough. These envelopes are a god send.”

He went on to say they were initially reluctant to tell anyone about the money. More than anything else, they worried the publicity might scare off the anonymous donor. Clearly this person didn’t want attention or recognition of any kind.

But eventually the family couldn’t stand not saying anything.

They wanted the donor to know how much they appreciated what he or she was doing for them. They wanted the donor to know how much the money helped.

And they insisted they would never test the envelope for fingerprints or DNA. They would never set up a hidden camera to try to catch the person in the act.

And if the donor ever stopped leaving the money for any reason, they would understand. He or she had already been more generous than anyone could have imagined.

“I truly believe the person who gives us this money is an angel,” the mother said. “I know it sounds corny to say that in this day and age, but I really believe it’s an angel.” Just under a month ago, I got caught. Not by the police. Not by the media.

And not by Amanda.

No, I got caught by the family’s eldest daughter, the one who wasn’t quoted in the article about the anonymous angelic donations.

I’d been reluctant to go back and make another delivery. I feared that the article might have stirred up too much attention and might drive someone— another reporter, a neighbor, a random fame seeker who wanted something to brag about on social media— to stake the place out and catch me. Over time, my guilt grew greater than my fear. And I went back with another envelope.

After I dropped it off and was two miles from their house, a car pulled alongside me on the empty road. The sky was gray, just lightening toward sunrise. No one else was out.

At first I ignored the driver, but they paced me, and then made an aggressive move—  increasing their speed, pulling ahead, and cutting over into my lane so I had no choice but to slow and then stop unless I wanted to go into the culvert that ran on my right.

The other driver stopped as well, blocking me in and allowing me no path forward.

I sat frozen in the car, my hands gripping the wheel. I was ready to slam the car into reverse and back up, turn around if I had to.

But then the driver stepped out. Instead of a cop or a menacing figure, I saw a woman about my age. She wore a long ‑sleeve T‑ shirt and  jeans. Running shoes. Her dirty blond hair was pulled back in a pony tail, and she walked briskly toward my car, her stride long and confident. She twirled her finger, telling me to roll down the window.

Which I did.

“Is everything okay?” I asked. “Are you hurt?”

“Just listen,” she said. She spoke in clipped sentences, her voice husky, with a trace of a Kentucky accent. “You know who I am, right?”

I hadn’t seen her photo in six years. But the face wasn’t that different. A few smile lines around the eyes. A few gray strands in the hair. But it was her.

Dawn Steiner. The elder sister of Maggie and Emily Steiner. Maggie was killed in the accident, and Emily was left with a permanent injury to her leg, one that hindered her ability to walk and work.

My heart thumped. Triple time. The morning was cool, but beads of sweat popped out on my forehead like I was a sick man.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“Shhh. You know me, then. And I know you. So, like I said, just listen.”

Her tone was flat as the road. Calm. Clear. Precise.

“I need money. I need my cut of what you have. In fact, I need more than that. I lost a sister here. And what you give to my parents . . . Let’s just say it doesn’t trickle down to me. And I have things I need the money for. I have obligations to keep up with. And you seem to be doing just fine. Help me out, and I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

“About the money?”

“About why you do this at all. My parents believe what they want to believe about their anonymous Good Samaritan. It helps them deal with the shit sandwich they’ve been given to eat. They can open up the envelope of money when it shows up, and they can turn to each other and say, ‘See, the world’s not such a bad place.’ But I’m not like that.”

“I’m going to go.”

“You’ll stay. You’ll listen. See, I had to ask myself, my cynical self, why would someone give money to my family this way? If you wanted to help them out, you could just donate to the fund that was set up after the accident. No, whoever is coming in the middle of the night and leaving money is up to something else. And what could that be?” She snapped her fingers. “Guilt. That’s the only explanation. Someone with a lot of guilt. A lot. Now, your friend Aaron, the one who went to prison, he’s done his time. And his life on the outside can’t be that great. He couldn’t just go around like Santa, leaving goodies for a struggling family.” She shook her head, a look of amusement on her face. “And your friend, the other one? The rich guy? What’s his name?”

“Leave my friends out of it.”

“One look at him and you can see he wouldn’t give his money to somebody. He’s a jerk through and through. He looks like the type to have an accident. Not the type to care if anyone got hurt. And not the type to feel guilt.”

“You’re wrong,” I said. “I’m just trying to help. You can’t conclude anything from my gesture.”

“I can’t? Okay. I’ll go to the police and the press and tell them it’s you leaving the money. I’ll tell them there’s something fishy about the accident. You riding in the backseat of your own car. They’ll want to look into that now that the story is back on everybody’s minds. If you want to take the chance that they open it back up, I’ll go do it.”

She turned to go, her movements possessing a military crispness.

“Wait.” Heavy resignation pressed down on me, like bricks piled on my back. “I don’t know what you want.”

She told me the amount. Ten thousand dollars.

And she told me she needed it in one month. Thirty days.

“That’s the deadline. Thirty days. Round up the money or I go to the police and the media and tell them you’ve been leaving the envelopes. From there . . . like I said, they’ll start digging into everything in your life. You’re a pretty well‑ known guy in this town. It could be embarrassing for that kind of thing to hit the news.”

“You’re asking for too much. Far too much. I can’t come up with that much money on such short notice. I have a family. And we just . . .” It sounded silly to mention it in contrast to her lost and injured sisters. But I said it anyway. “We’re having work done on our house this spring. I put down a deposit. That was a lot of what we had saved.”

Dawn gave me a stare as cold as ice. She used her left fist and rapped on the hood of the car twice. “Cry me a river. I think you’ll find a way. I don’t believe you have a choice. Ten thousand. Thirty days.”

She drove off, leaving me sitting in the road as the sun came up. Just like that— I had a blackmailer.

I thought back to that article, the one in which Dawn’s mother had called me an angel.

Everything I’m about to tell you proves how wrong she was. . . .

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