The house, the cars, the vacation and investment properties were all sold off, and Texas's community-property law split twenty years of earning down the middle. Her daughter chose to live with the ex-husband, and Breeden took what was left, put it into an investment fund, packed up, and moved to Dallas to start over.
They'd met on the Southern Methodist University campus, where Breeden had returned for an M.B.A. and Munroe was in her sophomore year. The relationship began as a cautious mother-and-daughter surrogacy at a time when people still called Munroe by her given name.
When she'd received the unusual job offer that would require interrupting her studies in order to make a trip to Morocco, Breeden was the one she'd gone to for advice.
Breeden now owned a successful marketing consulting firm and practiced law on the side for a few select clients. She was Munroe's buffer between everyday life and life on assignment. In the months and sometimes years that Munroe was out of the country, Breeden paid the bills, kept the accounts open, and forwarded pressing matters. Breeden was warm and friendly and absolutely ruthless. She'd screw a person over with a polite smile - cozy up and bury them alive - and for that reason Breeden was an ally: She was safe.
Breeden was a bottle-dyed blonde with shoulder-length hair and heavy bangs that flattered almond-shaped eyes. Munroe found her at a corner table looking over a stack of paperwork and sipping red wine.
Breeden made eye contact, rose with an enormous smile, and grasped Munroe's hands warmly. "Michael," she said with trademark breathlessness, "you look so well. Turkey was good to you!"
"The Four Seasons did this to me," Munroe said, taking a seat, "but I did love Turkey."
"Have you completely wrapped that one up?"
"A few minor details and then I'll be finished." Munroe dug into a roll, spread the butter on thickly, and then politely motioned for the documents. Breeden passed them across the table. After a few minutes of flipping through pages, Munroe said, "This doesn't seem like something I'd handle." She smiled. "Is that what you meant by 'exception'?"
"It's the easy money," Breeden said. Munroe paused, and Breeden continued. "When Burbank's daughter disappeared in Africa about four years ago, he hired the best international investigators and, when that proved futile, mercenaries. So far, nothing."
"Why come to me?"
"He's seen your work, says this is just another form of information."
"It could be." Munroe shrugged. "But that's money hard earned, nothing easy about it."
"When I got the call, I spoke with Burbank himself - no middlemen or corporate strategists. He's offering that hundred thousand just for the meeting, regardless of your answer. He wants to present the case to you personally."
Munroe let out a low whistle.
"I did explain that he was probably wasting both his time and his money. But there are worse ways to earn a hundred grand than overlooking the Houston skyline for a day."
Munroe pressed her thumb to the bridge of her nose and sighed. "I really don't know, Kate. Once I hear the details, I might want to take it, and we both know that whether I wish it or not, I need a break..." Her voice trailed off.
"I'll call Burbank in the morning," Breeden said. "I'll let him know you've declined."
Munroe's eyes fell to the documents. "I haven't declined yet," she said. "I made the trip, didn't I?" She reached for the papers and thumbed through them again. "Is this everything?"
"Have you read it all?"
"What about unofficially?"
"In the dossiers are personal bits and pieces centering on Elizabeth Burbank. It seems that at or around the same time the first teams were setting out to track down Emily, she had a nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalized. She was in and out of retreats for a year before she passed away. Suicide."
Excerpted from The Informationist by Taylor Stevens. Copyright © 2011 by Taylor Stevens. Excerpted by permission of Crown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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