Caught

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9780307704832: Caught

An explosive new stand-alone thriller from the bestselling author of Long Lost and Hold Tight.
Wendy is a reporter on a mission: She's chasing down sexual predators and exposing them on national television. Her big break comes when she nails a child advocate. She's there‚ cameras rolling‚ when the cops cuff him and the guy realizes his life is over. Three months later‚ the perp is missing and the father of a victim claims to have killed him. Wendy‚ who has moved on to the story of a missing girl‚ gets a phone call that changes everything.

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About the Author:

Harlan Coben is the winner of the Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony awards. His critically acclaimed novels have been published in thirty-seven languages around the world and have been number one bestsellers in more than half a dozen countries. In addition to the Myron Bolitar series (Deal Breaker, Drop Shot, Fade Away, Back Spin, One False Move, The Final Detail, Darkest Fear, Promise Me, and Long Lost), he is also the author of Tell No One, Gone for Good, No Second ChanceJust One LookThe Innocent, The Woods, and Hold Tight

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

 

Part One

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

 

Part Two

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

 

Epilogue

About the Author

Excerpt from Stay Close

Excerpt from Six Years

ALSO BY HARLAN COBEN

Deal Breaker
Drop Shot
Fade Away
Back Spin
One False Move
The Final Detail
Darkest Fear
Tell No One
Gone for Good
No Second Chance
Just One Look
The Innocent
Promise Me
The Woods
Hold Tight
Long Lost

DUTTON

Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.); Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England; Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd); Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd); Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017, India; Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd); Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

 

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

 

Published by Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

 

First printing, March 2010

 

Copyright © 2010 by Harlan Coben

All rights reserved

REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA

 

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA has been applied for.

 

ISBN: 9781101186053

 

 

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

For Anne
From the luckiest guy in the world

PROLOGUE

 

 

 

I KNEW opening that red door would destroy my life.

Yes, that sounds melodramatic and full of foreboding and I’m not big on either, and true, there was nothing menacing about the red door. In fact, the door was beyond ordinary, wood and fourpaneled, the kind of door you see standing guard in front of three out of every four suburban homes, with faded paint and a knocker at chest level no one ever used and a faux brass knob.

But as I walked toward it, a distant streetlight barely illuminating my way, the dark opening yawning like a mouth ready to gobble me whole, the feeling of doom was unshakable. Each step forward took great effort, as if I were walking not along a somewhat crackled walk but through still-wet cement. My body displayed all the classic symptoms of impending menace: Chill down my spine? Check. Hairs standing up on my arms? Yep. Prickle at the base of the neck? Present. Tingle in the scalp? Right there.

The house was dark, not a single light on. Chynna warned me that would be the case. The dwelling somehow seemed a little too cookie-cutter, a little too nondescript. That bothered me for some reason. This house was also isolated at the tippy end of the cul-de-sac, hunkering down in the darkness as though fending off intruders.

I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like anything about this, but this is what I do. When Chynna called I had just finished coaching the inner-city fourth-grade Newark Biddy Basketball team. My team, all kids who, like me, were products of foster care (we call ourselves the NoRents, which is short for No Parents—gallows humor), had managed to blow a six-point lead with two minutes left. On the court, as in life, the NoRents aren’t great under pressure.

Chynna called as I was gathering my young hoopsters for my postgame pep talk, which usually consisted of giving my charges some life-altering insight like “Good effort,” “We’ll get them next time,” or “Don’t forget we have a game next Thursday,” always ending with “Hands in” and then we yell, “Defense,” choosing to chant that word, I suppose, because we play none.

“Dan?”

“Who is this?”

“It’s Chynna. Please come.”

Her voice trembled, so I dismissed my team, jumped in my car, and now I was here. I hadn’t even had time to shower. The smell of gym sweat mixed now with the smell of fear sweat. I slowed my pace.

What was wrong with me?

I probably should have showered, for one thing. I’m not good without a shower. Never have been. But Chynna had been adamant. Now, she had begged. Before anyone got home. So here I was, my gray T-shirt darkened with perspiration and clinging to my chest, heading to that door.

Like most youngsters I work with, Chynna was seriously troubled, and maybe that was what was setting off the warning bells. I hadn’t liked her voice on the phone, hadn’t really warmed to this whole setup. Taking a deep breath, I glanced behind me. In the distance, I could see some signs of life on this suburban night—house lights, a flickering television or maybe computer monitor, an open garage door—but in this cul-de-sac, there was nothing, not a sound or movement, just a hush in the dark.

My cell phone vibrated, nearly making me jump out of my skin. I figured that it was Chynna, but no, it was Jenna, my ex-wife. I hit answer and said, “Hey.”

“Can I ask a favor?” she asked.

“I’m a little busy right now.”

“I just need someone to babysit tomorrow night. You can bring Shelly if you want.”

“Shelly and I are, uh, having trouble,” I said.

“Again? But she’s great for you.”

“I have trouble holding on to great women.”

“Don’t I know it.”

Jenna, my lovely ex, has been remarried for eight years. Her new husband is a well-respected surgeon named Noel Wheeler. Noel does volunteer work for me at the teen center. I like Noel and he likes me. He has a daughter by a previous marriage, and he and Jenna have a six-year-old girl named Kari. I’m Kari’s godfather, and both kids call me Uncle Dan. I’m the family go-to babysitter.

I know this all sounds very civilized and Pollyanna, and I suppose it is. In my case, it could be simply a matter of necessity. I have no one else—no parents, no siblings—ergo, the closest thing I have to family is my ex-wife. The kids I work with, the ones I advocate for and try to help and defend, are my life, and in the end I’m not sure I do the slightest bit of good.

Jenna said, “Earth to Dan?”

“I’ll be there,” I said to her.

“Six thirty. You’re the best.”

Jenna made a smooching noise into the mouthpiece and hung up. I looked at the phone for a moment, remembered our own wedding day. It was a mistake for me to get married. It is a mistake for me to get too close to people, and yet I can’t help it. Someone cue the violins so I can wax philosophical about how it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. I don’t think that applies to me. It is in humans’ DNA to repeat the same mistakes, even after we know better. So here I am, the poor orphan who scraped his way up to the top of his class at an elite Ivy League school but never really scraped off who he was. Corny, but I want someone in my life. Alas, that is not my destiny. I am a loner who isn’t meant to be alone.

“We are evolution’s garbage, Dan. . . .”

My favorite foster “dad” taught me that. He was a college professor who loved to get into philosophical debates.

“Think about it, Dan. Throughout mankind, the strongest and brightest did what? They fought in wars. That only stopped this past century. Before that, we sent our absolute best to fight on the front lines. So who stayed home and reproduced while our finest died on distant battlefields? The lame, the sick, the weak, the crooked, the cowardly—in short, the least of us. That’s what we are the genetic by-product of, Dan—millenniums of weeding out the premium and keeping the flotsam. That’s why we are all garbage—the dung from centuries of bad breeding.”

I forwent the knocker and rapped on the door lightly with my knuckles. The door creaked open a crack. I hadn’t realized that it was ajar.

I didn’t like that either. A lot I didn’t like here.

As a kid, I watched a lot of horror movies, which was strange because I hated them. I hated things jumping out at me. And I really couldn’t stand movie gore. But I would still watch them and revel in the predictably moronic behavior of the heroines, and right now those scenes were replaying in my head, the ones where said moronic heroine knocks on a door and it opens a little and you scream, “Run, you scantily clad bimbo!” and she wouldn’t and you couldn’t understand it and two minutes later, the killer would be scooping out her skull and munching on her brain.

I should go right now.

In fact, I will. But then I flashed back to Chynna’s call, to the words she’d said, the trembling in her voice. I sighed, leaned my face toward the opening, peered into the foyer.

Darkness.

Enough with the cloak and dagger.

“Chynna?”

My voice echoed. I expected silence. That would be the next step, right? No reply. I slipped the door open a little, took a tentative step forward. . . .

“Dan? I’m in the back. Come in.”

The voice was muffled, distant. Again I didn’t like this, but there was no way I was backing out now. Backing out had cost me too much throughout my life. My hesitation was gone. I knew what had to be done now.

I opened the door, stepped inside, and closed the door behind me.

Others in my position would have brought a gun or some kind of weapon. I had thought about it. But that just doesn’t work for me. No time to worry about that now. No one was home. Chynna had told me that. And if they were, well, I would handle that when the moment came.

“Chynna?”

“Go to the den, I’ll be there in a second.”

The voice sounded . . . off. I saw a light at the end of the hall and moved toward it. There was a noise now. I stopped and listened. Sounded like water running. A shower maybe.

“Chynna?”

“Just changing. Out in a second.”

I moved into the low-lit den. I saw one of those dimmer-switch knobs and debated turning it up, but in the end I chose to leave it alone. My eyes adjusted pretty quickly. The room had cheesy wood paneling that looked as if it were made from something far closer to vinyl than anything in the timber family. There were two portraits of sad clowns with huge flowers on their lapels, the kind of painting you might pick up at a particularly tacky motel’s garage sale. There was a giant open bottle of no-name vodka on the bar.

I thought I heard somebody whisper.

“Chynna?” I called out.

No answer. I stood, listened for more whispering. Nothing.

I started toward the back, toward where I heard the shower running.

“I’ll be right out,” I heard the voice say. I pulled up, felt a chill. Because now I was closer to the voice. I could hear it better. And here was the thing I found particularly strange about it:

It didn’t sound at all like Chynna.

Three things tugged at me. One, panic. This wasn’t Chynna. Get out of the house. Two, curiosity. If it wasn’t Chynna, who the hell was it and what was going on? Three, panic again. It had been Chynna on the phone—so what had happened to her?

I couldn’t just run out now.

I took one step toward where I’d come in, and that was when it all happened. A spotlight snapped on in my face, blinding me. I stumbled back, hand coming up to my face.

“Dan Mercer?”

I blinked. Female voice. Professional. Deep tone. Sounded oddly familiar.

“Who’s there?”

Suddenly there were other people in the room. A man with a camera. Another with what looked like a boom mike. And the female with the familiar voice, a stunning woman with chestnut brown hair and a business suit.

“Wendy Tynes, NTC News. Why are you here, Dan?”

I opened my mouth, nothing came out. I recognized the woman from that TV newsmagazine . . .

“Why have you been conversing online in a sexual manner with a thirteen-year-old girl, Dan? We have your communications with her.”

. . . the one that sets up and catches pedophiles on camera for all the world to see.

“Are you here to have sex with a thirteen-year-old girl?”

The truth of what was going on there hit me, freezing my bones. Other people flooded the room. Producers maybe. Another cameraman. Two cops. The cameras came in closer. The lights got brighter. Beads of sweat popped up on my brow. I started to stammer, started to deny.

But it was over.

Two days later, the show aired. The world saw.

And the life of Dan Mercer, just as I somehow knew it would be when I approached that door, was destroyed.

 

 

 

 

WHEN MARCIA MCWAID FIRST SAW HER daughter’s empty bed, panic did not set in. That would come later.

She had woken up at six AM, early for Saturday morning, feeling pretty terrific. Ted, her husband of twenty years, slept in the bed next to her. He lay on his stomach, his arm around her waist. Ted liked to sleep with a shirt on and no pants. None. Nude from the waist down. “Gives my man down there room to roam,” he would say with a smirk. And Marcia, imitating her daughters’ teenage singsong tone, would say, “T-M-I”—Too Much Information.

Marcia slipped out of his grip and padded down to th...

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