BILLY PURDUE’S KNIFE bit deeper into my cheek, sending a trickle of blood down my face. His body was pressed hard against mine, his elbows pinning my arms to the wall, his legs tensed against mine so I couldn’t go for his groin. His fingers tightened on my neck and I thought:
Billy Purdue. I should have known better . . .
∗ ∗ ∗
Billy Purdue was poor; poor and dangerous with some bitterness and frustration added to spice up the pot. The threat of violence was always imminent with him. It hung around him like a cloud, obscuring his judgment and influencing the actions of others, so that when he stepped into a bar and took a drink, or picked up a pool cue for a game, trouble would inevitably start. Billy Purdue didn’t have to pick fights. Fights picked him.
It acted like a contagion, so that even if Billy himself managed to avoid conflict—he generally didn’t seek it, but when he found it he rarely walked away—five would get you ten that he would have raised the testosterone level in the bar sufficiently to cause someone else to consider starting something. Billy Purdue could have provoked a fight at a conclave of cardinals just by looking into the room. Whatever way you considered it, he was bad news.
So far, he hadn’t killed anybody and nobody had managed to kill him. The longer a situation like that goes on, the more the odds are stacked in favor of a bad end, and Billy Purdue was a bad beginning looking for a worse end. I’d heard people describe him as an accident waiting to happen, but he was more than that. He was a constantly evolving disaster, like the long, slow death of a star. His was an ongoing descent into the maelstrom.
I didn’t know a whole lot about Billy Purdue’s past, not then. I knew that he’d always been in trouble with the law. He had a rap sheet that read like a catalog entry for minor crimes, from disrupting school and petty larceny to DWD, receiving stolen goods, assault, trespassing, disorderly conduct, nonpayment of child support . . . The list went on and on; sometimes, it seemed like half the cops in Maine must have cuffed Billy at some point. He was an adopted child and had been through a succession of foster homes in his youth, each one keeping him for only as long as it took the foster parents to realize that Billy was more trouble than the money from social services was worth. That’s the way some foster parents are: they treat the kids like a cash crop, like livestock or chickens, until they realize that if a chicken acts up you can cut its head off and eat it for Sunday dinner, but the options are more limited in the case of a delinquent child. There was evidence of neglect by many of Billy Purdue’s foster parents, and suspicion of serious physical abuse in at least two cases.
Billy had at last found some kind of home with an old guy and his wife up in the north of the state, a couple that specialized in tough love. The guy had been through about twenty foster kids by the time Billy arrived and, when he got to know Billy a little, maybe he figured that this was one more too many. But he’d tried to straighten Billy out and, for a time, Billy was happy, or as happy as he could ever be. Then he started to drift a little. He moved to Boston and fell in with Tony Celli’s crew, until he stepped on the wrong toes and got parceled back to Maine again, where he met Rita Ferris, seven years his junior, and they married. They had a son together, but Billy was always the real child in "This latestoffering from Connolly is as dark and convoluted as his previous novels andjust as enjoyable."