Taylor Stevens: 5 Things You Wouldn’t Suspect About the Author of The Innocent
My novels are thrillers — suspenseful, edgy and at times darkly violent — and Vanessa "Michael" Munroe, the antiheroine of the series, is often referred to as a female Jason Bourne or Jack Reacher. She is definitely flawed and damaged, and not afraid to shed blood up close and personal. Readers often ask how much of Munroe is based on me. Oh boy …
1. My entire education stopped at the tail end of sixth grade and was pretty splotchy up until that point. My understanding of the literary world was about thirty novels deep when I decided to take up fiction. Gratefully, I've tacked on some unofficial learning since then, but I've still never managed to attend a creative writing course or writer's workshop.
2. I hate suspense. I like to know what’s going on. If I care about the characters in a book, I start with the end. I also love spoilers. People say, "I don't want to ruin it for you," and I say, "Oh yes, please do, that way I can watch it." But even still, I hide my face during violent scenes in movies, and I skip over them in books. If a movie is really tense, I'll leave the room till the scene is over. When I'm alone, I’m especially fond of the fast-forward button. I think I watched "I Am Legend" in all of twenty minutes.
3. That said, I don't watch TV at all and I rarely watch movies. I don't read much fiction either, but that's due to lack of time, not lack of desire. This creates a problem when I think I've come up with a very clever idea, only to discover it's been done before. A few times. Or that I've written what some would call a cliché. How was I supposed to know? It was new to me.
4. I don't consider myself a creative. Written expression is how I learn myself and discover how I feel about the world, but writing fiction is stressful and intense and I don't feel particularly good at developing plots and storylines. I relax by doing stuff that most people hate — for example, taxes. I love doing my taxes. A whole day of sorting papers and putting my life into neat little categories and tabulating expenses does me better than a day at the spa. Granted, if I did that all the time I'd probably relax by digging ditches.
5. I've lived on four continents, traveled to five, and have called a dozen countries home, but I am monolingual. I've tried a few times to self-teach language the way I've taught myself everything else, but I can't conceptualize in practical terms what the various parts of speech do. Inevitably we move past learning simple foreign words into "verb conjugation" or "past participle something or other," and at that precise point I become catatonic.
He picked up the handset, exhaled, and dialed a call he’d never expected to make.
Capstone was owned and operated by Miles Bradford, former Special Forces turned private contractor, the man who’d been by Munroe’s side when the world had turned upside down. If there was ever a person who’d want to know about her current state, who’d be willing to get involved in a nightmare predicament for no other reason than that it involved her, that man was Bradford.
Anticlimactically, Logan was put on hold. During the frustrating wait, he moved methodically about the room, scanning surfaces and opening drawers, careful to leave everything as he’d found it while the phone to his ear provided background music. He was checking beneath the sofa when Beethoven’s Ninth was clipped short by a cheery voice announcing Capstone, as if it were some high-stakes New York marketing ﬁrm instead of the bullets-and-blood mercenary outﬁt Logan knew it to be.
According to the receptionist, Bradford was out of the country.
“I know you have a way to get in contact with him,” Logan said.
“Tell him that Michael’s in trouble and that if he wants to talk to me, this line’s only going to be clear for the next three or four hours.”
He recited the apartment’s phone number, and after a routine reassurance that someone would get back to him, he hung up and moved on to the meager pantry.
He was violating Munroe’s space and her privacy, a deed not done lightly, hunting for what he knew was hidden somewhere nearby. He didn’t need a visual to conﬁrm his suspicions, but he did want the speciﬁcs in order to assess the damage.
He was in the middle of Munroe’s bathroom when the phone rang. Logan fumbled and then recovered. The wait had been thirty minutes, not a bad measure of Bradford’s concern.
There was static on the line and a few seconds’ delay, but even through that Logan could hear the clipped, impatient quality of Bradford’s tone.
“I just got your message,” he said. “What kind of trouble is she in?”
Carefully scripted, Logan said, “The self-inﬂicted, oops-look-at-that-I’m-dead kind of trouble.”
There was a pregnant pause and Bradford said ﬁnally, “Suicide?”
Logan closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. “No, she’s very much alive. But she’s self-medicating. And she’s started carrying knives again.”
Silence, and then, “How long has this been going on?”
“I have no idea. I ﬂew into Morocco this morning and she met me at the airport. The signs are all there, she doesn’t try to hide them—ﬂaunts them, even—she’s poking at me with them, like she wants me to know. I’m going to take a guess and say it’s only been a few weeks. She just moved to Tangier, and it could be related.”
“Any idea what she’s taking?”
“Not sure,” Logan said. “I’m trying to ﬁnd out. Never thought I’d see the day she started this shit again, but if history’s any predictor, it’ll be legal and she’ll have a fake prescription.”
Logan searched the nightstand drawers. “Anyway, she’s out with Noah right now. I’m ransacking her apartment.”
Bradford exhaled a low whistle.
“She won’t know,” Logan said. “Been there, done that, won’t get caught.”
There was another pause and then Bradford said, “Logan, I’m in Afghanistan. There’s no way for me to get out of here for another weekand until then I’m at a loss as to what I can do.”
Logan knelt to look under the bed. “I’m not sure either,” he said.“I just ﬁgured you’d want to know. You’re the obvious intervention partner of choice—I mean, you were there, you know better than anyof us why she’s doing it—and really, Miles, I think you’re the only other person who cares the way that I do.”
Logan opened the doors of a large armoire and glared at a small box barely visible under a pile of clothes. “I think I’ve found it,” he said.
From the box he pulled a smaller box, opened it, and shook free a bottle of syrup. He read off the label, “Phenergan VC.”
“Is that the codeine version?” Bradford said.
Logan searched the label, lips set tight. Bradford knew his pharmacopoeia. “Yes, codeine,” he said. “The box holds twelve and two are missing.”
“If we’re lucky, that’s the ﬁrst box,” Bradford said. He hesitated.“Okay, look, I understand why you called and I thank you for it. The earliest I can get out of here is next Thursday. Do you think you can ﬁnd an excuse to get her to the States?”
“You know how she is about returning.”
“I could come to Morocco,” Bradford said. “But I really don’t think that’s a good idea.” There was a long silence, and although Bradford never verbalized it, Logan understood the reason. Noah and Bradford around Munroe at the same time brought far too much potential for conﬂict.
“Best would be to get her to the U.S.,” Bradford said. “Or really anywhere out of Morocco.”
Logan nodded agreement to the empty room. “I’ll ﬁgure something out and let you know how it goes,” he said, although in truth his favor already required that he take her from here.
“I’d give you a number,” Bradford said, “but it’s pointless, I move around too much. Call the ofﬁce. They’ll be able to reach me. If you can’t get her to go back, I’ll come to you, but I need at least a week.”
The call over, Logan continued to stare into the armoire at the box and all that it stood for. Codeine wasn’t the heaviest stuff she’d taken, nor was it the worst to be abused; the issue was that she was self-medicating at all.
Heavy, burdened, he replaced the bottle and rearranged the clothes.
He could work this thing. Getting Bradford involved was a deﬁnite step forward, and pulling him in had been rather easy.
Logan shoved away the stab of guilt.
He would have made that call even if he didn’t need Munroe’s help, and Bradford wasn’t offering to do anything he didn’t want to do.
Logan returned to the bedroom and the weight of two days’ travel pressed against his eyelids. Intent on remaining alert until whatever god forsaken hour Munroe came back, he closed his eyes for a second and opened them to bright sunlight streaming through the curtains.
He bolted upright with no recollection of falling asleep or of Munroe returning, or with any concept of how much time had elapsed. He fumbled for his watch.
Seven in the morning, local time.
God, he was tired.
He rolled his legs over the side of the bed and listened, shook his head in an attempt to clear the fog that wrapped around his brain. There was no sound or movement in the apartment, so he stood and padded to the window. Parked along the curb were a few cars, but no BMW.
Logan opened the bedroom door and, with the stealth of a kid preparing to sneak into the kitchen to grab a cookie, peered down the hall.
Munroe’s door was slightly ajar, deﬁnitely not closed the way he’d left it the night before. Barefoot against the tiled ﬂoor, he moved toward her bedroom, and there, hearing nothing, pressed his palm to the door.
She was alone: sprawled across the mattress, face in a pillow and tangled in sheets that trailed to the ﬂoor. The knives sat on the night-stand and against the foot of the bed lay the clothes she had shed before climbing into it. The armoire doors were partially open, and although there was no visible sign that she’d helped herself to the contents of another bottle, crashed out and dead to the world as she was, Logan had no doubt that she had.
He left her room for the guest bathroom, irritation and anger washing over him. He needed her right now, needed her to be herself, lucid, aware, not this—brain- and emotion-numbed, and half-alive.
No matter the reasons, what she was doing was such a goddamn fucking waste of brilliance.
He turned on the shower and let it run. There was no point in keeping quiet; the insomniac woman who would normally go from a dead sleep to a ﬁghting stance over less than a whisper had drugged herself into a state of unconsciousness.
It was afternoon when the light tap of footsteps ﬁrst echoed downthe hall. Logan waited until they passed, then left his room in search of Munroe and found her in the kitchen ﬁlling a coffeepot with water,dressed in a tank and boxers and sporting a case of bed hair so bad he would have laughed if things had been otherwise. He didn’t see the knives, but then she’d never needed them to kill, and that wasn’t why she carried them anyway.
“Want coffee?” she said.
“Sure,” he replied.
“Where’s Noah?”She yawned and scratched the back of her neck. “He’s at his holiday house. What time is it?”
“Around three o’clock,” he said.
Munroe placed the pot on the stove and lit the burner. She sat at the kitchen table, then tilted her head up and smiled. A real smile. And in spite of himself and the frustration and anger, Logan smiled back.
“I needed the sleep,” she said. “And thought you might need some too, what with the jet lag and the long trip. I won’t make you wait on me like that again.”
This was as much of an explanation as she’d give, but Logan knew she did it with calculated reason. The sleep and making him wait had been as much a deliberate display as the knives on the train.
She wanted him to know her state of mind, to take it all into account should he continue toward whatever favor he must ask.
Logan said nothing, and she smiled again—that killer smile.
“Have a seat,” she said. “I’ll make you lunch.”
He nodded toward the empty cupboards. “From what?”
With a straight face she said, “Coffee,” and the heartbeat of silence was followed by commingled laughter that came as a welcome release of tension.
Logan couldn’t help but grin, so good was it to see her lucid and to have her again, the real her, the Michael that he knew and loved; and he relished the moment because he knew it would be short-lived.
As if she’d read his mind, she said, “Tell me why you’ve come—what is it you need?”
The coffeepot percolated on the stove, but Munroe made no move to get it. She nodded toward the seat opposite. It wasn’t an invitation, it was an instruction. There was no point in arguing, so Logan sat in the proffered chair. Forearms on the table, he shifted forward, and as he opened his mouth to speak, she put a hand on his wrist.
“Hold the thought,” she said. She stood, stepped to the stove, and turned off the burner.
She’d so perfectly disarmed him. He watched her move about the kitchen: ﬂuid, methodical, neither hurried nor pausing, much like a well-trained dancer. She turned to catch his eye, smiling conspiratorially as she set out the coffee mugs.
She placed a cup in front of him and held her own while she sat, her posture taut, her face relaxed. “Go on,” she said, blowing steam as she held the coffee to her lips.
He reached for his wallet and slid the faded photo with its beauty and tragedy, memories and heartbreak, across the table. Munroe paused to look.
“Is that Charity’s daughter?”
The person he’d loved longer and truer than any other being. Charity, who was his fellow childhood survivor. She’d lived the life, knew the pain and trauma better than he, and shared the burden: the lies, the secrets, and the scars.
Logan gazed down at the photo of the little girl with the blond ringlets and bright green eyes, traced his ﬁngers along the edge of it, and then stopped. All reason, all argument, all the words that had been turning around in his head for the past three days ﬂed, and he was left vacant. Logan looked up and staring into Munroe’s eyes said only, “I’ve found her.”