Big Little Lies meets Thirteen Reasons Why in this gripping psychological thriller. Coming May 2019.
Written By Sophie Hannah (the new mysteries starring Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot), BA Paris (Behind Closed Doors), Clare Mackintosh (I Let You Go), and Holly Brown (Don't Try to Find Me)
A past scandal, a hidden ambition, a criminal plot, a dangerous vice—when four mothers’ dark secrets become entangled with those of their daughters, can they stop a deadly threat before it’s too late?
This is a preview of The Understudy. Click here to preorder the bundled audio and text of the whole serial.
August 13, 2018
There are three of them. The one who steps forward is shorter than I am, with dyed blond hair, shaved around the back and sides and long and floppy on top. He’s wearing one earring, a small gold ring, in his left ear. “What’ve you got for me?” he asks me, his head tilted to one side. His two friends, one white and one black, stand on either side of him, looking like backup.
“Nothing,” I say, since he seemed to be waiting for an answer.
“You must have some money. Girl looking like you wouldn’t be in town with no money.”
Is this still town? I thought I was some way out. I’m fairly sure Manchester’s not as big as London, but it feels bigger, more endless, as if it has no edges. In London, you always know if you’re in the center.
“Posh girl like you,” Flop-head says again.
I slept on a bench last night. My clothes are covered in dirt and my hair is tangled. His clothes and face are cleaner than mine, yet he still thinks of me as posh. I’d like to know why, but I don’t want to prolong the conversation.
“I don’t have any money,” I say.
“Allow it, fam,” says the white friend. The black one seems bored and keeps looking off to the side. Maybe he’s keeping an eye out for police cars.
Maybe friend is the wrong word. Do people like this have friends? Better ones than I have, probably. I don’t have any friends who’d mug someone with me, no matter how nicely I asked them.
Flop-head puts his hand in the pocket of his joggers and pulls something out. I see a flash of silver, then the whole blade. “Do you want to get stabbed?” he asks me. “Cos if you don’t, you’ll need to give me something, won’t you?”
The question, presented so directly, makes something inside me turn over. He’s told me there’s a chance he’s going to stick that knife into me. The fear is so cold and slow, I only recognize it for what it is after several seconds have passed.
I might die. I feel as if it’s more likely that I won’t, but I might. It’s possible. In Manchester. Miles from home, killed by a stranger. There would be nothing personal about it. That, at least, would be a relief. This stranger with a blade doesn’t know my name, doesn’t care who I am, will probably take no pleasure in hurting me, unlike the person I’m running from.
“I’ve got no cash,” I tell him.
“Then what you gonna give me? You must have something.”
Something. That’s all he wants. He’s not fussy.
“I’ve got an iPhone and a credit card,” I say. Cooperating. I can handle this.
For a second I consider making a run for it—I could probably run faster than them; they all look like they’re on something. If he takes my phone and credit card, I’ll have no choice. I’ll have to borrow someone else’s phone and ring Mum. Go home.
All so straightforward. No mind games here. I give him what he wants, he puts away his knife, I go home . . .
To where Ruby’s waiting. Not quite at home—not in my house, thank God, but close enough, sitting behind me in class, waiting for me in the theater wings. There is no straightforward way to deal with her. She’ll never look me in the eye and tell me what it is that she wants. Unlike this dickhead, she wants something I can’t give her and don’t even understand. I think she blames me for what’s wrong inside her. And even that’s no more than a guess. Who knows what goes on in the mind of Ruby Donovan? I don’t want to know. I just want to stay away from it, whatever it takes. So far, I’ve ended up here.
Ruby would never threaten to stab me; it’d be a relief if she did. Then I’d know where the danger was coming from.
“Hand ’em over, then,” says Flop-head. He sounds as if he can barely be bothered to get the words out.
I pull my phone out of my pocket and pass it to him.
“Wha’ ’bout the credit card?”
“It’s in the back of the phone case.”
“Pin number? Ah, fuck this...