- Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
- Release Date: August 6, 2019
- ISBN: 978-1455572199
- Available Formats: Audio, e-Book, Hardcover
FBI agent Drex Easton is relentlessly driven by a single goal: to outmaneuver the conman once known as Weston Graham.
Over the last thirty years, Graham has assumed many names and countless disguises, enabling him to bilk eight wealthy women out of their fortunes before they disappeared without a trace, their families left without answers and the authorities without a clue. The only common trait among the victims: a new man in their life who also vanished, only leaving behind one signature custom.
Drex is convinced that these women have been murdered, and that the man he knows as Weston Graham is responsible. But each time Drex gets close to catching him, Graham trades one persona for another and disappears again.
Attractive and charming, Jasper Ford is recently married to a successful businesswoman many years his junior, Talia Shafer. Drex, posing as their new neighbor, insinuates himself into their lives. The closer he gets to the couple, the more convinced he becomes that Jasper is the clever, merciless Weston Graham—and yet, Drex’s own attraction to Talia threatens to compromise everything he’s staked his career and reputation on.
This is Drex’s one chance to outfox his cunning nemisis before he murders again and eludes justice–possibly for forever.
But first he must determine if the desirable Talia is a heartless accomplice…or the next victim.
“What’s so top secret we couldn’t communicate through ordinary channels?” Drex asked.
Gif stationed himself against the wall, a shoulder propping him there. Mike rolled the chair from beneath the desk and wedged his three hundred forty pounds between the protesting armrests.
Drex placed his hands on his hips, his expression demanding. “For crissake, will one of you speak?”
Mike glanced over at Gif, who made a gesture that yielded the floor to Mike. He looked up at Drex and said,“I’ve found him.” Mike’s tone conveyed all the gaiety of a death knell. The ‘him’ didn’t need specification.
For years Drex had been waiting to hear those words. He’d imagined this moment ten thousand times. He’d envisioned himself experiencing one or more physical reactions. His ears would ring,his mouth go dry,his knees buckle, his breath catch,his heart burst. Instead,after his hands dropped from his hips, he went numb to a supernatural extent.
Gif and Mike must have expected an eruption of some sort, too, because they looked mystified over his sudden and absolute immobility and silence, which were downright eerie, even to himself. A full minute later, when the paralyzing shock began to wear off, he walked over to the window again. Since last he’d looked out, nothing cataclysmic had occurred. Traffic hadn’t stilled on the crisscrossing freeways. No jagged cracks had opened up in the earth’s surface. The sky hadn’t fallen. The sun hadn’t burned out. He pressed his forehead against the window and was surprised by how cold the glass felt.
“Sure? As in positive? No,” Mike replied. “But this guy looks real good on paper.”
“Sixty-two. So says his current driver’s license.”
Drex turned his head and raised his eyebrows in a silent question.
“South Carolina,”Mike said. “Mount Pleasant. Suburb of—”
“Charleston. I know. What name is he going by?”
That brought Drex all the way around. “Excuse me? What does that mean?”
Gif said, “Means that you’re not getting a name until we know what you plan to do with the information.”
“What the hell do you think I plan to do with it? First thing is to haul ass to Charleston.”
Gif exchanged a look with Mike, then pushed himself away from the wall and squared off against Drex. He didn’t take a combative stance, which would have been laughable because Drex was physically imposing and Gif was nowhere near. But he set his feet apart and braced himself as though Drex’s self-restraint was iffy and reasonableness was way too much to hope for. He said,“Hear me out Drex. Mike and I talked about it on our way over here. We think you should consider…That is, it would be advisable to…The smart course of action would be to—”
“Not a fucking chance in hell.”
Louder and with more emphasis, Drex repeated his statement.
Mike shot Gif a droll glance. “Told ya.”
Drex’s ears had begun to clamor after all. Now that the reality was setting in, his blood pressure had spiked. The window glass had felt cold against his forehead because his face was feverish. The blood vessels in his temples were throbbing. His scalp was sweaty beneath his hair. His torso had gone clammy. He pulled off his suit jacket and tossed it onto the bed, wrestled off the shoulder holster and dropped it on top of his jacket, loosened the knot of his necktie, and unbuttoned his collar, all as though he were preparing for a sparring match, which, if necessary, this argument might result in. Willing himself to at least sound composed, he asked again, “What name is he using?”
“Assuming it’s him,” Mike said.
“You assume it’s him, or you wouldn’t have suggested this secret meeting. Tell me what you have on him, starting with his name.”
“No name.” Mike Mallory was an all-star when it came to excavating information from a computer, but a people person he wasn’t. He harbored a general contempt for his fellow man, considering most to be complete morons, Drex and Gif being the only possible exceptions. He was so good at what he did that Drex put up with his truculent attitude and lack of social graces, but right now he muttered an epithet that encompassed both Mike and Gif, who, on this point, had taken Mike’s side. “Fine,” Mike said, “call us nasty names. We’re thinking in your best interest.”
“I’ll think for myself, thank you.”
“After you hear everything, you may decide against taking matters into your own hands.”
“I won’t.” Mike shrugged. “Then it’ll be your funeral. But I’m not digging your grave, and I’m sure as hell not climbing in with you. Fair warning.”
“Fair enough. I’ll find out his frigging name myself. Just put me on the right track.” Mike nodded. “That I’ll do. Because I don’t want him to get away, either. If it’s him.”
Drex backed down a bit and rolled his shoulders, forcing them to relax. “Does the mystery man hold a job?”
“Nothing I could find,” Mike said, “but he lives well.”
“I’ll bet,” Drex said under his breath. “How long has he been in Mount Pleasant?”
“I don’t have that yet. He’s lived at his current residence for ten months.”
“What kind of residence?”
“If so, I couldn’t find it.”
Mike raised his beefy shoulders in an unspoken I guess. Gif speculated that maybe the property had been inherited, but none of them really thought that, so noone pursued it.
Drex asked, “What’s the place like?”
“Based on the real estate listing, it was pre-owned, not new,” Mike said. “But an established neighborhood. Upscale.”
“Million and a half and change. Looks spacious and well kept on Google Earth. It’s all on here.” Mike groped beneath his overlap for his pants pocket and produced a thumb drive.
Drex took it from him.
“Won’t do you any good without the password, and you’re not getting it till we’ve talked this out.”
Drex scoffed. “I can get the password cracked. When applied to you, the word geek sounds ludicrous, but you’re not the only computer geek around, you know.”
Mike raised his hands. “Be my guest. Get a geek to go digging. But if you’re found out, how are you going to explain your interest in this seemingly law-abiding citizen?”
“A bribed hacker won’t care what my interest is.”
“A bribed hacker won’t blink over taking your money, then—”
“–Stabbing you in the back with it,” Gif chimed in.
“Your hacker would get the man in South Carolina on the phone and tell him there’s a guy in far-off Lexington, Kentucky, who’s spying on him.”
Gif picked up. “For more coin than you’re paying him, the hacker would sell you out.”
“Then it would be you, Special Agent Easton,” Mike continued, jabbing a stubby index finger at him, “who would be spied on, caught committing God knows how many violations and crimes, civil and criminal, and that would squash this and any future chance you might have to finally nail this son of a bitch, which has been your main mission in life.” He wheezed a deep breath. “Tell us we’re wrong.”
A Note From Sandra
It seems to me there’s been a rash of news stories about serial criminals who con their victims, then kill them, and get away with it…for years!? Often the culprits are never even considered a suspect. They disappear and move on to the next victim.
How do they manage that? In the mug shots of those who eventually were caught, none looked exceptionally shrewd. Yet they had to be, right? If not for being extraordinarily cagey, how could they repeatedly commit the same crime and not show up on the law enforcement community’s radar?
That question sparked the idea for OUTFOX.
Having a villain who is cunning enough to evade capture for decades necessitated having a protagonist who is even more cunning.
Enter Drex Easton, who possesses both a PhD in criminal psychology and an FBI badge. Drex is determined to track down and capture a merciless con man and woman killer who has never even been positively identified, because he never leaves behind a fingerprint, a crime scene or burial site to investigate.
Furthermore, once one victim is dispatched, he vanishes without a trace, only to morph into another persona in another place, where he creates a new identity for himself.
Drex has spent his entire career chasing this phantom. Until now.
The story opens with him getting a tip that his nemesis is living the good life in Charleston, South Carolina, under the name of Jasper Ford. Since Drex can’t, without evidence or probable cause, barge in and accuse him of being a serial killer, he assumes the guise of a wanna-be novelist and moves into a garage apartment next door. Upon meeting his new neighbor, Drex knows instinctively that behind Jasper’s friendly demeanor and impeccable manners lurks a soulless monster.
Their first handshake is the starting gun for a chilling game of cat-and-mouse, each playing to win, each with his life at stake.
Now, that much of the plot I had early on. But I needed Jasper’s next potential victim, a susceptible woman of means who would be caught in the middle of this winner-take-all contest of wits between him and Drex.
But who would she be? Where would she fit in this picture? Plotting 101 demanded that I place Drex in the most compromising, perilous, and combustible set of circumstances. He had to be sunk in a gumbo of potential hazards.
That made it easy. She had to be Jasper’s wife.
Ah! Yes! I decided to kick poor Drex in the… Well, where it hurts the most. His heart.
(What did you think I was going to say?)
Talia Shafer is Jasper’s bride of only ten months. Thirty years his junior, she is successful, affluent, attractive…and all too wary of the scruffy but charming struggling novelist who’s living next door. Drex unsettles her, not because she suspects him of being an undercover FBI agent. No, the uneasiness Drex rouses in her is of a different variety altogether.
As Drex covertly watches his neighbor, he becomes convinced that Jasper Ford is the man he’s sought for years. Escalating along with that conviction is his attraction to Talia. Being near her tests the strength of his moral fiber as well as his resolve to bring Jasper to justice. But is Jasper using her allure to trap him? Can Drex trust her completely when she keeps secrets and tells white lies?
What keeps Drex up nights, what torments him during his waking hours, what he must know: Is Talia Jasper’s next victim…or his accomplice?
The slyness of the characters, their sneaky interplay, and the constant watch they keep upon each other, seemed to call for an eerie atmosphere, which I tried to create with inclement coastal weather and darkness, actual and metaphorical.
But it isn’t all creepy. A developing relationship between Drex and Talia is forbidden on so many levels that the sexual tension is off the charts. I had damp palms after writing their scenes together.
It was also a fun book to write because of all the role-playing, the turnabouts, the twists, the cons that Jasper and Drex pull in their attempts to outfox each other.
And, with a stunner of an ending, I hope to outfox you!