Even barely awake, Jonah Riggs groaned as the phone on
his nightstand shrilled a demand. He was tangled in the
covers as usual, but managed to maneuver himself over far
enough to grab the phone and shut it up.
Lying back with his eyes closed, he muttered, â€śIt better
be good.â€ť He had gotten to bed somewhere near dawn after
winning enormous imaginary sums at the monthly poker game
the city fathers would have frowned upon â€“ had they not
been his opponents.
He didnâ€™t know what time it was, but his aching head and
scratchy eyes said it was too damned early.
â€śSorry, Chief, but thereâ€™s something you need to see.â€ť
Sarah Waters didnâ€™t sound all that sorry, but she was his
lead detective, and since she and his younger sister had
played together in the sandbox, he was only mildly
surprised she didnâ€™t offer a more colorful and less
â€śItâ€™s Saturday, Sarah. My day off. My first day off in
three damned weeks. Canâ€™t you handle it?â€ť
â€śNo,â€ť she said simply.
That woke him up, because in her whole life, heâ€™d never
seen anything Sarah couldnâ€™t handle.
He fought free of the covers and sat on the edge of his
bed, running his fingers through his hair. He needed a
haircut. â€śWhatâ€™s going on?â€ť he asked her.
She hesitated, then said, â€śItâ€™ll be easier if you just
come see for yourself. Honest, Jonah, I wouldnâ€™t call
you out here if I didnâ€™t think it was important.â€ť
He knew that. â€śOut where?â€ť
â€śNorth side of town, off Main and about a hundred yards
That was actually the name of the street. Street. Jonah
had wondered more than once if theyâ€™d just run out of
names, or if somebody had been having fun and it just
â€śOkay,â€ť he said. â€śIâ€™ll be there in fifteen. Oh â€“ Sarah?
Are we talking about an actual crime?â€ť
â€śIâ€™m not quite sure,â€ť she replied.
He found that somewhat baffling, but didnâ€™t waste time
with more questions. â€śOkay, you know the drill. Keep
everybody back away from whatever it is until I get
Jonah hung up the phone, frowning, and headed for the
shower, hoping enough hot water would clear his head.
Because so far, this was hardly a normal Saturday
It got stranger.
Jonah seldom wore a uniform, virtually always in jeans,
clipping his badge to his belt near the front, wearing
his gun on his right hip, and depending on the weather,
either a sweatshirt under a light windbreaker or else a
This Saturday morning in May was cool but comfortable,
the middle-of-the-night rainstorm hours past. But it was
also supposed to be an off day for Jonah, so he wore a
sweatshirt with the faded letters of Duke University
across his chest.
He had stopped at a coffee shop in town and swallowed
some aspirin, but his head didnâ€™t feel any better when he
stopped his Jeep behind Sarahâ€™s cruiser and got out to
She was leaning against the front of her cruiser,
frowning at another Jeep, this one pulled more or less
off the road, with both front doors standing open.
Jonah didnâ€™t see another soul about. Clearly, Sarah had
decided against calling the station, for whatever reason.
It wasnâ€™t a large police station or police force, and it
was rare to see more than one officer or detective out on
â€śIsnâ€™t that Simon Churchâ€™s Jeep?â€ť he asked as he reached
â€śYeah. I checked the registration and tag to be sure.â€ť
â€śSo where is he?â€ť
â€śThe question of the day.â€ť Sarah eyed him. â€śYou up for
He grunted. â€śDepends on what this is. You gonna tell
me, or shall I figure it out for myself?â€ť
Unsmiling, she said, â€śTake a look inside the Jeep.â€ť
Jonah didnâ€™t argue, just moved forward, sticking to the
paved road side of the Jeep. He had already noted there
were no skid marks, and no sign that the vehicle had been
forced off the road. All four tires seemed fine.
He looked in the front passenger door, and a nameless
dread began to crawl up his spine. The vehicle was
packed with stuff. Not stuff one would expect if a
robbery had been committed â€“ despite the flatscreen TV.
Packed in tight in the back were clothes, shoes, luggage
presumably holding more of the same and ... things.
A stuffed bear sat atop a stack of books, squeezed in
beside a golf bag. There was a basket holding an odd
assortment of things that included a dogâ€™s collar and
leash, a can of WD-40, a laptop and tangle of cords and
cables, a case holding CDs or DVDs, and a teapot.
Shirts and dresses and sweaters still on hangers were
laid across luggage probably filled with the same sort of
thing. There was what looked like a little sewing kit
sitting atop a tackle box. There was a cooler of the
sort most people used to transport adult beverages.
There was another stuffed animal, this one a puffy cat,
sitting atop a goldfish bowl where one lone fish swam
rather desperately around in his shallow world.
Still bent forward and still without touching the car,
Jonah turned his gaze to the front seat. Not much on the
driverâ€™s side. A little open change niche filled with
coins and gum wrappers and at least two petrified French
On the passenger seat, very neatly in the center, sat a
purse decorated all over with beads and fake gems. It
was very colorful.
Jonah straightened and looked back at Sarah. â€śYou
checked the purse?â€ť
â€śYeah. Amy Grimes. Her driverâ€™s license is in a wallet
that contains, Iâ€™m guessing, a few thousand dollars. I
didnâ€™t want to disturb anything even with gloves, until
you saw it all.â€ť
Jonah frowned at the Jeep another moment, then returned
his gaze to Sarah. â€śAll the earmarks of an elopement.â€ť
â€śYeah, thatâ€™s what I thought..â€ť
â€śWell, they didnâ€™t get very far, thatâ€™s one thing. Iâ€™m
guessing Amy sneaked out of her house sometime after
midnight; even at a crawl, they should have reached the
highway before dawn.â€ť
Jonah glanced back toward town and silently agreed with
her. Hell, even if theyâ€™d left at dawn, they should have
â€śGas? They broke down?â€ť
â€śKeyâ€™s in the ignition, as you see. I cranked it up.
Tankâ€™s full, and the engine seemed to be running fine.â€ť
Jonah looked over the inside once again, then walked back
along the Jeep until he reached the bumper. He lifted
his brows at his lead detective. â€śBoth doors found
open.â€ť It wasnâ€™t a question. â€śPulled mostly off the
road. A purse with money. Valuables in the back. And
the key in the ignition making it easy for somebody to
steal the whole shebang.â€ť
Sarah nodded. â€śNow we come to the very weird part.â€ť
â€śNow we come to it?â€ť
â€śYeah.â€ť She stepped over onto the grassy verge and led
the way just as far as the open driverâ€™s side door.
â€śLook down there.â€ť
There was no guard rail here, and the bank on the side of
the road sloped gradually down to a flat area; from that,
a vague path led toward a stand of trees while another
vague path led off to the left, toward a distant creek.
Neither of the paths were well-traveled, just handy
shortcuts, mostly for kids.
But right now both the bank and the flat area were more
dirt than grass. Mud, since the rainstorm hours before.
Very clearly, two sets of footprints were visible going
down the bank and to the flat area. One larger set,
probably boots; one much smaller set, undoubtedly a woman
The prints were absolutely perfect, showing no slipping
or sliding. The bootprints and shoeprints were side by
side down the bank, to the flat. Where they stopped.
Where they just ... stopped.
That wordless dread was growing in Jonah. â€śYouâ€™ve been
â€śYeah. I stayed away from the prints, circled. Thereâ€™s
nothing, Jonah. And there should be. All around the
place where the prints stop, there would have been prints
if theyâ€™d gone on. Thereâ€™s no way they could have jumped
far enough, and no sign at all they did. No sign of a
vehicle, no sign of a horse. No sign of a third person.â€ť
She drew a breath and let it out slowly. â€śIf this is a
prank, itâ€™s a damned good one. But I donâ€™t think itâ€™s a
prank. I think those two kids walked down that bank to
the flat area â€” and something happened.â€ť
â€śSomething took them,â€ť he said slowly.
Sarah nodded. â€śThatâ€™s the only thing I could think of.
Itâ€™s like something just swooped down and carried them
away. And judging by the footprints, they had to be
lifted cleanly, straight up. No sign of a struggle. No
sign of a fight. There are houses close enough to hear
if someone had screamed. Even in the middle of the
night.â€ť Without turning, she jerked her head back and
toward the other side of the road. â€śMildred Bates is
watching us from her front porch now; she sleeps with her
windows open and the slightest sound wakes her. Her
bedroom windows face this way. If there had been any
kind of a commotion, she would have heard â€“ and called
us. She didnâ€™t.â€ť
â€śSo, where are those kids?â€ť Jonah said slowly. â€śAnd how
the hell did they just ... vanish?â€ť
Jonah didnâ€™t voice what he felt, that what they were
looking at was not exactly an ending â€“ but the beginning
of something. The beginning of something bad. The
beginning of something that was going to shake his town
to its foundations.