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“It’s within two miles of the airport,” he said. “Look for the biggest house. And I mean — ” his voice dropped to a whisper, “ — the biggest.”

“It’s a very famous house,” he said. “The anti-establishment of slavery started there.”

I was aware of this property from my earlier research. It was a colossal butter-colored manor once owned by a prime minister, William Pitt the Younger. I had eliminated it from contention as a possible Cruise residence because it was sold in 2018 (£8.5 million) to a used-car magnate who, at least judging by an article from 2020 that I read in Car Dealer magazine, appeared to be quite comfortably ensconced in it. But it was only a few miles away. On foot, the journey could be completed in just over an hour.

How, exactly, I ended up on the edge of that woman’s privately owned field again, I have no idea. The expedition to that point had seemed to take me through brand-new areas. All of a sudden, I noticed that the path had dissipated into dense forest. This is just like what happened yesterday, when I trespassed in that woman’s field, I thought, then looked up and spotted her house in the distance.

I panicked. I frightened a badger — likewise, babe! — and bolted through the forest as quickly as I could in a new, randomly chosen direction. This deposited me into a vast, previously unencountered field. On all previous paths, vigorously growing cow parsley had stood on slender stems, about shin high. Here, upright hordes of it grazed my shoulders, while fallen comrades entangled my ankles. Needles of true panic pricked my nape under sweaty hair. Statistically speaking, I assured myself, it was unlikely I would be trapped in this field so long that I would die there.

Although — wouldn’t it serve that woman right if I did die in this field, so close to her own, where I was not allowed? “That would teach her a lesson,” I said into the audio recorder I had brought in case I encountered Tom Cruise. Have to “find some way to notify her,” I explained. (Of my death.) Hopefully she would see my picture in a — newspaper! That would be another good thing about dying out here, I told the recorder. It would “serve” the editor who recklessly assigned me this article — who had irresponsibly approved my travel budget — “right.” It would probably ruin his life, or at least his work life. God, would he be fired? Certainly, at the very least, he would get in trouble. You should never have sent her to a small English town. Would our boss tell him not to blame himself? Hopefully not — I am dead because of him! I didn’t want to die, of course — but if it did happen, at least I would die doing what I loved: making people feel bad and be in trouble deservedly. I had yet to clearly develop a mental image of my widowed husband’s second wife when I realized that I had stumbled, midfield, upon a dirt path leading into a neighborhood. I ran down it — in, I was shocked to discover, the exact direction of the used-car dealer’s palatial estate.

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