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Sidney Sheldon's the Silent Widow

Sidney Sheldon


  Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd

  1 London Bridge Street

  London SE1 9GF

  First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2018

  Copyright © Sheldon Family Limited Partnership 2018

  Cover photograph © Robert Jones/Arcangel Images (main image); (skyscrapers)

  Cover design © HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2018

  Tilly Bagshawe asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

  A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.

  This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.

  Source ISBN: 9780008229634

  Ebook Edition © June 2018 ISBN: 9780008229665

  Version: 2018-05-21


  For Alice, with love.

  Table of Contents


  Title Page




  Part One

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Part Two

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapter Forty-One


  Keep Reading …

  About the Author

  Also by Sidney Sheldon

  Also by Tilly Bagshawe

  About the Publisher


  ‘No! Please no! I can’t …’

  The old man’s eyes widened in terror as he stared at the drill, straining against the ropes that bound him. He imagined the spiral metal bit grinding into his flesh, splintering his bones like shrapnel as they nailed him to the wooden beam.

  As they crucified him.

  Surely they knew he was good for the money? He would give them what they wanted – everything they wanted! He was no good to them dead.

  How long had he been in the warehouse now? Days? Or only hours? Slipping in and out of consciousness between the beatings, he’d lost track, aware only of the pain in his body: the screaming burns on his skin, thin and creased with age like crepe paper. The fractured ribs and swollen eyes and lips. The tiny razor cuts to his genitals. They had tortured and humiliated him in every sadistic way imaginable, while the young woman stood in the corner impassively and filmed on her mobile phone. Hateful bitch. He despised her most of all, more even than his tormentors.

  They appeared to be reaching a crescendo, some sort of grand finale with the drill. Or at least he did. Their boss. The ringmaster at this circus of terror.

  The man with the brown eyes.

  The devil incarnate.


  The old man’s sobs turned to screams as his torturers switched on the drill, passing it laughingly between them as they revved it louder and louder.

  ‘I’ll do anything! Oh God, no!’ A warm river of liquid excrement exploded out of his bowels and streamed down his shaking legs.

  The man with the brown eyes smiled.

  ‘What’s that you say?’ he taunted, cupping a manicured hand to his ear. ‘I’m sorry, my friend, with the sound of that drill I can’t hear you.’

  He looked on as his men did his bidding, aroused as always by the pleading and the shrieks and the blood, and finally by the silence, once the show was over. Aroused too by the young woman dutifully filming it all for his pleasure, as he’d commanded her to do. He preferred killing women. But ending a life, any life, was a high like no other. The ultimate expression of power.

  Once, the battered old man hanging lifelessly from the beam in front of him had been rich and powerful. More powerful than him. Or so he’d thought.

  But look at him now. Like a carcass in an abattoir.

  ‘Should we cut him down, boss?’ one of the goons asked his master.

  ‘No.’ The man with the brown eyes stepped forward. ‘Leave him there.’ Pulling a wad of hundred-dollar bills from his inside jacket pocket, he stuffed them violently into the corpse’s mouth.

  The stupid old man had never understood.

  It was never about the money …




  Brentwood, Los Angeles.

  May 12, 11 p.m.

  It never rains in Los Angeles in May, so the light mist falling on my bare arms is a surprise. The last surprise I will have on this earth. But that’s OK. I’ve come to hate surprises.

  Our yard looks beautiful, lush and green. I am standing under the magnolia tree Doug planted in the spring, just a month before his accident. Accident. I have to stop using that word. I know now that my husband’s death was no random act of fate. The night that Doug crashed on the 405, burned alive in his beloved Tesla: that was the beginning.

  Not that I knew it at the time. I didn’t know anything back then.

  The gun in my hand, a 9mm Luger, feels small and harmless, like a toy. The man who sold it to me called it ‘a lovely gun for a woman’, as if I were buying earrings or a silk scarf. I tried to take my own life once before, right after Doug’s … after he died. I took pills, more than enough, but I was unlucky. My housekeeper, Rita, found me and called 911. Not this time. This time my little toy gun will get the job done.

  I’m not afraid of death. Never have been, although as a psychologist I’ve treated countless patients who are. It’s a control thing, ultimately. Fear of the unknown. The way I see it, what I’m about to do is the ultimate act of control. Leaving the world on your own terms is a luxury.

  Not everybody gets that chance.

  Too many people have died because of me. Tonight another kind, decent man lost his life. A man I cared about. A man who cared about me.

  This can’t go on. I have to end it.

  The rai
n is getting heavier. I wipe my hand on my jeans to dry it and make my grip less slippery. No mistakes this time. I raise the gun to my temple and turn around, looking back at the house that Doug and I built together. A white clapboard, East Coast ‘estate’, beautifully lit, with a romantic balcony off the master suite that has views all the way to the ocean. Our dream home. Back when we still had dreams. Before there were nothing but nightmares.

  I close my eyes and see their faces, one by one, like patterns on a kaleidoscope.

  The ones I loved: Doug. Anne.

  The ones I could have loved. Lou. We’ll never know what might have been.

  The ones I let down: Lisa. Trey. Derek. I’m so very sorry.

  My last thought is for the ones I hated.

  You know who you are. May you rot in hell.

  I start to cry. I know this is wrong. I wish there were another way.

  But wishing never fixed anything.



  Ten years earlier …

  Charlotte Clancy felt the warm summer breeze caress her skin and with it a tingle of excitement. It was part sexual excitement, part happiness, and part the unfamiliar thrill of doing something illicit. Something naughty. Dangerous, even.

  Charlotte wasn’t usually the naughty type. At eighteen years old she’d always been a straight-A student at her San Diego high school, where the most trouble she’d ever gotten into was for allowing her girlfriend to crib her Social Studies paper on early Mexican civilizations. Charlotte just loved Mexico – the history, the language, the food. She’d literally had to beg and plead with her parents to allow her to work the summer in Mexico City as an au pair.

  ‘I don’t know, Charlie,’ her dad said skeptically. Tucker Clancy was a firefighter and a deacon at the local Episcopal church, about as upstanding and conservative a family man as you could hope to find. ‘You hear stories. People get kidnapped down there. And the drug gangs … you read about beheadings and God knows what other terrible things.’

  ‘That’s true, Dad,’ Charlotte countered. ‘But those things are only happening in certain parts of Mexico. Not where I wanna go. It’s El Salvador and Colombia where you really have to be careful. And this agency, American Au Pairs International, AAPI – they have an amazing safety reputation. Like, zero incidents in twelve years working down there.’

  Tucker Clancy listened with pride to his only daughter’s negotiating skills. One thing you could say for Charlie: she never did anything half-assed. As usual she had all the facts and figures at her fingertips. And she was a very sensible girl.

  In the end though, it was Charlotte’s mother, Mary, who had tipped the scales in her favor.

  ‘I’m nervous too, honey,’ Mary told Tucker over dinner at the Steak ’n’ Shake one Friday night. ‘But I don’t think we should let our fears hold Charlie back. She’ll be at college in the fall, living on her own, making all these decisions for herself. She needs some independence.’

  ‘College is in Ohio,’ Charlotte’s dad countered. ‘They don’t cut people’s heads off in Ohio.’

  Mary frowned. ‘Well, according to Charlie, they don’t in Mexico City either. And the lady at the au pair agency was super-reassuring. This family they’ve got lined up for her sound wonderful. The parents are lawyers, they live on this phenomenal estate … Come on, Tucker. Let the girl live a little.’

  That conversation had been three months ago. Charlotte had been in Mexico for two months now, and boy, had she lived a lot. She’d smoked her first joint, got drunk for the first time, cheated on her boyfriend Todd for the first time and (she could hardly believe it, even when she said it to herself) fallen in love with a married man.

  It wasn’t the dad of the family she was working for, the Encerritos. That would be cheap and tacky, and besides, Charlotte really liked Señora Encerrito, her boss, and would never do that to her. Not that what she was doing was OK. She knew it was wrong to have an affair. In fact, it was worse than wrong. It was a sin, a mortal sin. Charlotte came from a solid ‘church’ family, and there wasn’t much wiggle room when it came to morals, especially sexual morals. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, either. She cared plenty, and she felt guilty and all of that. But none of that mattered. Not when he was there. When he walked into a room, when he looked at Charlotte, when he said her name, even when she heard his voice on the telephone, everything else went out the window. Her caution, her values, her fear, her regrets. Poof. Gone. And when he took her to bed and made love to her? Good God. There were no words to describe the bliss, the absolute ecstasy. Charlotte had had sex with Todd hundreds of times, but never like this. Never, in Charlotte Clancy’s wildest imaginings, had she believed sex could be this wonderful. So she wasn’t going to heaven? Big deal. She had heaven right here and his name was … Shhhh. She giggled to herself. She mustn’t say his name out loud. Not ever. Not to anyone.

  ‘What we have is a secret, cara,’ he told her, every time they made love. ‘No one must ever know. You understand?’

  Charlotte did understand. He was married, and much, much older, and an important man. Their affair had to be discreet. What she didn’t understand was all his other secrets. The mysterious ‘meetings’ he would disappear off to in the middle of the night. The attaché cases stuffed full of US dollars that she’d seen him hand over to the local chief of police in one of the fancy hotels in town.

  ‘You can tell me, you know,’ she would whisper coquettishly in his ear in bed. ‘I can keep a secret. I just … I want to know everything about you. I want to be part of your life as much as I can. I love you so much!’

  He always smiled, and kissed her, and assured her he loved her too and that he found her little outbursts ‘adorable – like you’. But he never told her anything. ‘It’s for your own safety,’ he would say, throwing in a thrilling element of danger to the already exciting situation.

  In short, Charlotte Clancy was having the time of her life.

  And tonight was going to be even better, the best yet.

  Following the map he’d given her – so romantic! – she got out of her car and weaved her way on foot through the maize fields and down towards the river.

  She’d taken a big risk a few nights ago, following him in the little Nissan the Encerritos had provided for her use, headlamps off so as not to be seen, only a few hundred yards behind him. It was hard to see along the bumpy roads, no more than tracks really, that he turned on to once they’d left the city. She’d started to panic, wondering how she would ever get back if somehow she lost him, but at that moment the track gave way to a hidden clearing in the trees and he came to a halt. She could make out rows of semicircular sheds, like giant pipes cut in half; inside, men were working at tables, their stations illuminated by old-fashioned oil lamps that made each shed glow softly in the moonlight. Charlotte watched as her lover got out of his car and moved from shed to shed, overseeing the work. It was all quite fascinating, but Charlotte couldn’t see what the men were actually doing from where she was parked. With a boldness she didn’t know she possessed till that moment, she’d got out of her car and walked over towards the shed where he was. She’d got to within about ten yards of the door when two men armed with machine guns leapt out in front of her.

  Charlotte screamed so loudly they could probably hear it back in the city. ‘Don’t shoot! Please!’

  Her lover turned around, a look of shock and anger on his face. But it quickly softened to a smile, and then a laugh.

  ‘Cara!’ he chuckled indulgently. ‘You followed me?’

  ‘I … I wanted to know,’ stammered Charlotte, her long legs still shaking involuntarily at the sight of the guns. ‘You wouldn’t tell me anything.’

  He gestured for the men to let her pass, opening his arms wide and pulling her into a tight hug. ‘I never would have thought you had it in you,’ he grinned, ruffling Charlotte’s hair as if she were a disobedient but adorable puppy. ‘You’re a brave little thing, aren’t you, hm? I see I underest
imated you.’

  Charlotte swelled with pride and relief. He wasn’t angry. He was pleased! She’d been right to take the risk, right to show him she was more than some silly little girl, some au pair he was having a summer fling with.

  ‘Come.’ He took her hand. ‘As you’re here, let me show you around.’

  She’d seen it all then, all the workings of his empire.


  Even the word sounded dangerous to Charlotte, like something from an episode of Miami Vice. She’d never been offered coke in her life, never even seen it. And now, here she was, in the eye of the storm, actually watching the stuff being produced. It was fascinating, and he showed her around with pride, as if this were any other factory or business he’d built. It was also extraordinarily complicated.

  In one of the sheds, sheaves of dry coca leaves were being finely ground and dusted with lime before going under a misting machine like a weak garden sprinkler to be moistened with water. From there, the mixture was taken to another shed where it sat in giant vats like cement mixers, into which kerosene was added. The third shed was the ‘extraction plant’, where cocaine was first separated from the leaves, and then subjected to a complicated process of heating, filtering, pressing, siphoning and mixing with sulfuric acid, before being transferred to yet another building where eventually a gummy, yellow solid emerged that he identified as ‘coca paste’. The paste was then carried to a purifying shed, where it was mixed with diluted ammonia and filtered to produce cocaine hydrochloride.