Friday Night Book Club: Read an excerpt from Ronald H Balson’s ‘thrilling, action-filled suspense novel’ The Trust
The Friday Night Book Club: Exclusive excerpts from Pan Macmillan every weekend.
Treat yourself to a glass of wine this evening and this excerpt from The Trust by Ronald H Balson, the international bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers.
The Trust finds private investigator Liam Taggart returning to his childhood home for an uncle’s funeral, only to discover his death might not have been natural.
About the book
‘A thrilling, action-filled suspense novel … Those who loved Balson’s other books like Once We Were Brothers and Karolina’s Twins will love this latest entry.’ – The Huffington Post
When his uncle dies, Liam Taggart reluctantly returns to his childhood home in Northern Ireland for the funeral – a home he left years ago after a bitter confrontation with his family, never to look back. But when he arrives, Liam learns that not only was his uncle shot to death, but that he’d anticipated his own murder: In an astonishing last will and testament, Uncle Fergus has left his entire estate to a secret trust, directing that no distributions be made to any person until the killer is found.
Did Fergus know, but refuse to name, his killer? Was this a crime of revenge, a vendetta leftover from Northern Ireland’s bloody sectarian war? After all, the Taggarts were deeply involved in the IRA. Or is it possible that the killer is a family member seeking Fergus’s estate? Otherwise, why postpone distributions to the heirs? Most menacingly, does the killer now have his sights on other family members?
As his investigation draws Liam farther and farther into the past he has abandoned, he realises he is forced to reopen doors long ago shut and locked. Now, accepting the appointment as sole trustee of the Fergus Taggart Trust, Liam realises he has stepped into the centre of a firestorm.
Read the excerpt:
LIFE’S DIRECTION IS EPHEMERAL. Something as common as the ring of a telephone can knock it off its course. Simple as that, but I didn’t see it coming this time. I had just arrived at my office, set my coffee on my desk and was starting to unfold the morning Tribune when my phone rang. Since I make my living as a private investigator and my assignments typically begin with a phone call, the ring was not unwelcome. But this turned out to be a call I didn’t expect and I certainly didn’t want.
It’s not that my life was so predictably calm, but lately I’d settled into a comfortable routine. I had a new baby, a happy marriage and a solid investigation practice. Then the phone rang, and like the switchman in a railroad yard, it redirected my life. First I’m going north, now I’m going east.
I lifted the receiver. “Liam Taggart, Investigations.”
“Liam? It’s Janie.”
The call I didn’t expect. I sat there staring at the phone.
“It’s Janie. Your cousin, Janie. The cute one. Holy Mother of God, Liam, have you lost your senses? Do you not remember your own family?”
I winced. Janie was one of a dozen cousins I had back in Northern Ireland, a clan I hadn’t seen since the late nineties. She was seventeen then, a lively little dark-haired colleen. Deep expressive eyes. Little turned-up Irish nose. Full of spunk. Her voice brought back old memories. Memories I had locked away sixteen years ago.
“I’m sorry, Janie, it’s just that your call took me by surprise. How’s everyone back in the North?”
“Uncle Fergus died last night.”
My heart sank and I swallowed hard. I feared this day would come and I knew I’d better make amends before it did. But I hadn’t. Damn the call I didn’t want. Fergus and I, we should have never left it like this. We had unfinished sentences, incomplete paragraphs. I could have gone to see him. We could’ve raised a pint, cleared the air, restored our relationship. Hell, it might have been as easy as a damn telephone call. We’d shared too much to let it end like this. Now he’s gone and it’s too late.
No longer locked away, memories flipped through my mind like pages of a photo album. A smiling Fergus Taggart, my father’s brother and a giant of a man. Me, riding on his massive shoulders. Us, fishing in a wooden boat on the Lough Neagh. Me, sound asleep in a booth at McFlaherty’s Public House, my head upon his lap. Him, slipping a fifty-pound note into my jacket pocket the day I left for America. And the pure joy of Aunt Deirdre’s Sunday night dinners.
Who was it that said hours pass slowly but years fly by? It was just sixteen years ago that Fergus said the last words he’d ever speak to me.
“I don’t think you and I have anything more to say to each other, Liam. You best be off now.”
They were never supposed to be the last words. They were just words to end the day. Maybe the week. There would always be time to make amends. To find other words. Did Uncle Fergus believe those would be the last words or was he, like me, waiting for the inevitable reconciliation? I guess I’ll never know.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Janie, truly I am. That’s such sad news. How long had he been ill?”
“The funeral’s Thursday. We’ll talk about it when you get here. Please come.”
I took a deep breath. Three days. “Oh, I don’t know, Janie, I’m scheduled to—”
“Mass is at St. Michael’s in Antrim, Thursday morning at eleven. The family needs you. Uncle Fergus needs you.”
I furrowed my forehead at the odd remark. There would surely be no loving summons from my estranged Irish family. And Fergus wouldn’t know one way or the other. I nodded to the phone. “I’ll see what I can do. I’ll have to get back to you.”
* * *
CATHERINE MET ME AT the front door with her finger on her lips. “Shh, the baby’s sleeping.” She gave me a kiss. “What are you doing home so early? Are you feeling okay?”
I nodded, hung my coat on the rack and went straight to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. “I got a call from a cousin in Northern Ireland,” I said over my shoulder. “My uncle Fergus died. They want me to come to Antrim for the funeral.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Catherine said. “Was he sick?”
“I don’t know. I asked Janie and she gave me a cryptic answer—we’d talk about it when I got there. I mean, if he died of a heart attack, wouldn’t she tell me?”
“I would think so. That’s a strange answer. You and your uncle were very close at one time, weren’t you?”
Close? At a critical time in my life Fergus was the most important person in the world. When my mother became ill, I was sent to live with him. He and my aunt Deirdre took a scared little four-year-old boy in short pants into their home and raised and nurtured me for six years. Close? I loved him with all my heart. Still do. I needed him and depended on him and he was there for me. I blinked a few tears and nodded my head.
Catherine put her arm around my shoulders. “I’m so sorry, honey. When’s the funeral?”
“In three days. It doesn’t matter, I can’t go. I have appointments scheduled later this week.”
“Can’t you reschedule them?”
“Maybe I could, but that’s not entirely it. I think if I were there it would be uncomfortable. Not just for me, but for everyone. I didn’t leave under the best of circumstances and I haven’t talked to any of them in sixteen years. I had a falling-out with my uncle, returned to America and shut them all out of my life like they didn’t exist. I’m sure the family harbors bitter feelings and who could blame them? They deserved better from me. I should have taken the initiative, stayed in touch, but I just didn’t know how to start the conversation. Now it’s been too many years.”
“You left because you had a falling-out with your uncle? Seems to me that it takes two to have an argument.”
“No, Cat, this one was all my fault. I was living a lie and I got caught. I never should have put myself in a position where I had to lie to my family. It was foolish of me to accept a posting in Northern Ireland that was bound to end in a betrayal. I don’t know why I did it.”
“Maybe because it was the right thing to do? And you were young, Liam. Cut yourself a break.”
“At the time, I thought it was the right thing to do. It was 1994 and I was a young recruit with the CIA. I’d only been with the Agency for a year when a position opened up in Northern Ireland and I jumped on it. For one thing I hadn’t seen my Irish family since I was a young child and for another, Northern Ireland was the decade’s political hotspot and I wanted in on the action.
“The Troubles was always front-page news for me. I followed it every day. In January 1994, President Clinton decided to get involved in the peace process. He invited Gerry Adams, the IRA’s top politician and the UK’s public enemy number one, to visit D.C. He arrived to rousing crowds and shook hands at the White House. It wasn’t exactly what Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern had in mind, but Clinton was an effective peacemaker.
“As expected, Clinton directed the Agency to assist on the ground in Northern Ireland. Because I had family in County Antrim and could move about in the nationalist community, the Agency granted my request and posted me there. So in the summer of 1994, I returned to a grand reunion. My uncle Fergus was so happy to see me, it was like I’d never left. He gave me a bear hug so strong I thought he’d break my bones. As far as he and I were concerned, not a single minute had ticked off the clock since I was ten years old. There was my aunt Deirdre, with tears in her eyes and her arms wide open, the woman who warmly and unselfishly took me in and gave me a mother’s love when I was four years old. There was my uncle Robert, always a broad smile on his rosy face. There was my aunt Nora and my wise old Uncle Eamon. They couldn’t wait to welcome me back. And me, I was the undercover spy who was going to help bring an end to the war. What I didn’t realize was that I had chosen a path destined to alienate me from the family I loved.
“The job directed me to use my family to spy on the Catholic community. At first, all the Agency asked me to do was to hang out in the various clubs and organizations and pass along information if I thought it was important. What’s the buzz in the nationalist circles? What rumors have you heard from the republicans? Is there anything going down that we should know about?” “My uncles were prominent in republican circles and because of them, I could freely come and go in those organizations and I learned quite a bit. Some of my information saved lives, Cat. Make no mistake, I did some real good while I was there.
“Right up until the end, I was enjoying strong bonds with my family. I loved them all dearly and they loved me. Aunt Deirdre would cook these marvelous Sunday dinners and the whole family would come and gather around her long kitchen table. More often than not, there’d be an extra chair for a single girl that my aunt Nora ‘just happened to know’ and ‘wasn’t she a darling?’”
Catherine raised her eyebrows. “I’m not sure I want to hear about the darling single girls.”
Catherine was right about that. Most of the girls were just passing encounters, but not Annie. Just thinking about Annie and the year we had together brought all those feelings back to the surface—feelings that needed to stay locked away where I put them sixteen years ago. What would my life have been like had I not had that falling-out, had I not returned to America in 1999, had I stayed with Annie? What would my life have been like had I not been blindsided? Had the rug not been pulled out from under my feet? I had no desire to revisit those memories now, nor did I wish to discuss them with Catherine.