Charlie Parker is a lost soul. Deprived of his private investigator’s license and under scrutiny by the police, he has been forced to seek work in a Portland bar. But he is using his enforced retirement to begin a different kind of investigation: an examination of his own past and an inquiry into the death of his father, who took his own life after apparently shooting dead two unarmed teenagers, a search that will eventually lead Parker to question all that he believed about his beloved parents, and about himself.
But there are other forces at work: a troubled young woman who is running from an unseen threat, one that already seems to have taken the life of her boyfriend; a journalist-turned-writer named Mickey Wallace who is conducting an investigation of his own into Parker in the hope of writing a nonfiction book about his exploits. And haunting the shadows, as they have done throughout Parker’s life, are two figures: a man and a woman who appear to have only one purpose: to bring an end to Charlie Parker’s existence...
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John Connolly is the author of the Charlie Parker series of mystery novels, the supernatural collection Nocturnes, the Samuel Johnson Trilogy for younger readers, and (with Jennifer Ridyard) the Chronicles of the Invaders series. He lives in Dublin, Ireland. For more information, see his website at JohnConnollyBooks.com, or follow him on Twitter @JConnollyBooks.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE FARADAY BOY HAD been missing for three days.
On the first day, nothing was done. After all, he was twenty-one, and young men of that age no longer had to abide by curfews and parental rules. Still, his behavior was out of character for him. Bobby Faraday was trustworthy. He was a graduate student, although he had taken a year off before deciding on the direction of his graduate studies in engineering, with talk of going abroad for a couple of months, or working for his uncle in San Diego. Instead, he had stayed in his hometown, saving money by living with his parents and banking as much of what he earned as he could, which was a little less than the previous year as he could now drink with impunity, and was maybe indulging that newfound liberty with more enthusiasm than might have been considered entirely wise. He’d had a couple of killer hangovers over New Year’s, that was for sure, and his old man had advised him to ease up before his liver started crying out for mercy, but Bobby was young, he was immortal, and he was in love, or had been until recently. Perhaps it would be truer to say that Bobby Faraday was still in love, but the object of his affection had moved on, leaving Bobby mired in his own emotions. The girl was why he had opted to remain in town instead of seeing a little more of the world, a decision that had been met with mixed feelings by his parents: gratitude on the part of his mother, disappointment on that of his father. There had been some arguments about it at the start, but now, as with two reluctant armies on the verge of an unwanted battle, a truce of kinds had been declared between father and son, although each side continued to watch the other warily to see which one might blink first. Meanwhile, Bobby drank, and his father fumed, but remained silent in the hope that the ending of the relationship might lead his son to broaden his horizons until grad school in the fall.
Despite his occasional overindulgences, Bobby was never late for work at the auto shop and gas station, and usually left a little later than he had to, because there was always something to be done, some task that he did not wish to abandon uncompleted, even if it could be finished quickly and easily in the morning. It was one of the reasons his father, whatever their disagreements, didn’t worry too much about his son’s future prospects: Bobby was too conscientious to leave the beaten track for long. He liked order, and always had. He’d never been one of those messy teenagers, either in appearance or in approach. It just wasn’t in his nature.
But he hadn’t come home the night before, and he hadn’t called to tell his parents where he might be, and that in itself was unusual. Then he didn’t make it to work the following morning, which was so out of character that Ron Nevill, who owned the gas station, called the Faraday house to check on the boy and make sure that he wasn’t ailing. His mother expressed surprise that her son wasn’t already at work. She’d simply assumed that he’d come home late and left early. She checked his bedroom, which lay just off the basement den. His bed had not been slept in, and there was no indication that he’d spent the night on the couch instead.
When there was no word by 3 P.M., she called her husband at work. Together they checked with Bobby’s friends, casual acquaintances, and his ex-girlfriend, Emily Kindler. That last call had been delicate, as she and Bobby had broken up only a couple of weeks before. His father suspected that this was the reason his son was drinking more than he should have, but he wouldn’t have been the first man who tried to drown love’s sorrows in a batch of alcohol. The trouble was that frustrated love was buoyant in booze: the more you tried to force it to the bottom, the more it insisted on bobbing right back up to the top.
Nobody had heard from Bobby, or had seen him, since the previous day. When 7 P.M. came and went, they called the police. The chief was skeptical. He was new in town, but familiar with the ways of young people. Nevertheless, he accepted that this was not typical behavior for Bobby Faraday, and that twenty-four hours had now gone by since he left the gas station, for Bobby had not hit any of the local bars after work, and Ron Nevill seemed to be the last person to have seen him. The chief put together a description of the boy at the Faraday house, borrowed a photograph that had been taken the previous summer, and informed local law enforcement and the state police of a possible missing person. None of the other agencies responded with any great urgency, for they were almost as cynical about the behavior of young males as the chief was, and in the case of one going missing, they tended to wait for seventy-two hours before assuming that there might be more to the disappearance than a simple case of booze, hormones, or domestic difficulties.
On the second day, his parents, and their friends, began an informal canvass of the town and its environs, with no result. When it began to grow dark, his mother and father returned home, but they did not sleep that night, just as they had not slept the night before. His mother lay in bed, her face turned toward the window, straining to hear the sound of approaching footsteps, the familiar tread of her only son returning to her at last. She stirred only slightly when she heard her husband rise and put on his robe.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said. “I’m going to make some tea, sit up for a while.” He paused. “You want some?”
But she knew that he was asking only out of politeness, that he would prefer it if she stayed where she was. He did not want them to sit at the kitchen table in silence, together but apart, the fears of one feeding those of the other. He wanted to be alone. So she let him go, and when the bedroom door closed behind him, she began to cry.
On the third day, the formal search began.
· · ·
The golden host moved as one, countless shapes bending obediently in unison at the gentle touch of the late-winter breeze, like a congregation at church bowing in accordance with the progress of the service, awaiting the moment of consecration that is to come.
They whispered to themselves, a soft, low susurrus that might have been the crashing of distant waves were such an alien noise not unknown in this landlocked place. The paleness of them was dappled in spots by small flowers of red and orange and blue, a scattering of petals upon an ocean of seed and stem.
The host had been spared the reaping, and had grown tall, too tall, even as the crop decayed. A season’s grain had gone to waste, for the old man upon whose land the host was gathered had died the previous summer, and his relatives were fighting over the sale of the property and how the proceeds would be divided. While they fought, the host had stretched skyward, a sea of dull gold in the depths of winter, speaking in hushed tones of what lay, rush hemmed and undiscovered, nearby.
And yet the host, it seemed, was at peace.
Suddenly, the breeze dropped for an instant and the host stood erect, as though troubled by the change, sensing that all was not as it had been, and then the wind rose again, more tempestuous now, transforming into smaller, dispersed gusts that divided the host with ripples and eddies, their caresses less delicate than what had gone before. Unity was replaced by confusion. Scattered fragments were caught in the sunlight before they fell to the ground. The whispering grew louder, drowning the calling of a solitary bird with rumors of approach.
A black shape appeared upon the horizon, like a great insect hovering over the stalks. It grew in stature, becoming the head, shoulders, and body of a man, passing between the rows of wheat while, ahead of him, a smaller form cleaved invisibly through the stalks, sniffing and yelping as it went, the first intruders upon the host’s territory since the old man had died.
A second figure came into view, heavier than the first. This one seemed to be struggling with the terrain and with the unaccustomed exercise that his participation in the search had forced upon him. In the distance, but farther to the east, the two men could see other searchers. Somehow, they had drifted away from the main pack, although that itself had diminished as the day wore on. Already the light was fading. Soon it would be time to call a halt, and there would be fewer of them to search in the days that followed.
They had begun that morning, immediately after Sunday services. The searchers had congregated at the Catholic church, St. Jude’s, since that had the largest yard and, curiously, the smallest congregation, a contradiction that Peyton Carmichael, the man with the dog, had never quite understood. Perhaps, he figured, they were expecting a mass conversion at some point in the future, which made him wonder if Catholics were just more optimistic than other folks.
The chief of police and his men had divided the township into grids, and the townspeople themselves into groups, and had assigned each group an area to search. Sandwiches, potato chips, and sodas in brown bags had been provided by the various churches, although most people had brought food and water of their own, just in case. In a break with Sunday tradition, none had dressed up in the usual finery. Instead, they wore loose shirts and old pants, and battered boots or comfortable sneakers. Some carried sticks, others garden rakes to search in the undergrowth. There was an air of subdued expectation, a kind of excitement despite the task before them. They shared rides, and drove out to their assigned areas. As each area was searched, and nothing found, another was suggested either by the cops who were coordinating the efforts on the ground, or by contacting the base of operations that had been set up in the hall behind the church.
It had been unseasonably warm when they began, a curious false thaw that would soon end, and the difficulty of coping with soft ground and melting snow had sapped the strength of many before they took a break for lunch at about one or one thirty. Some of the older people had returned home at that stage, content to have made some effort for the Faradays, but the rest continued with the search. After all, the next day was Monday. There would be work to do, obligations to be met. This day was the only one that they could spare to look for the boy, and the best would have to be made of it. But as the light had grown dim, so too the day had grown colder, and Peyton was grateful that he had not left his Timberland jacket in the car but had chosen to tie it around his waist until it was needed.
He whistled at his dog, a three-year-old spaniel named Molly, and waited, once again, for his companion to catch up. Artie Hoyt: of all the people with whom he had to end up. Relations between the two men had been cool for the last year or more, ever since Artie had caught Peyton eyeing his daughter’s ass at church. It didn’t matter to Artie that he hadn’t seen exactly what he thought he’d seen. Yes, Peyton had been looking at his daughter’s ass, but not out of any feelings of lust or attraction. Not that he was above such base impulses: at times, the pastor’s sermons were so dull that the only thing keeping Peyton awake was the sight of young, lithe female forms draped in their Sunday best. Peyton was long past the age when he might have been troubled by the potential implications for his immortal soul of such carnal thoughts in church. He figured that God had better things to worry about than whether Peyton Carmichael, sixty-four, widower, was paying more attention to objects of female beauty than he was to the old blowhard at the pulpit, a man who, in Peyton’s opinion, possessed less Christian charity than the average alligator. As Peyton’s doctor liked to tell him, live a life of wine, women, and song, all in moderation but always of the proper vintage. Peyton’s wife had died three years earlier, taken by breast cancer, and although there were plenty of women in town of the correct vintage who might have been prepared to offer Peyton some comfort on a winter’s evening, he just wasn’t interested. He had loved his wife. Occasionally he was still lonely, although less often than before, but those feelings of loneliness were specific, not general: he missed his wife, not female company, and he viewed the occasional pleasure that he took in the sight of a young, good-looking woman merely as a sign that he was not entirely dead below the waist. God, having taken his wife from him, could allow him that small indulgence. If God was going to make a big deal of it, then, well, Peyton would have a few words for Him too, when eventually they met.
The problem with Artie Hoyt’s daughter was that, although she was young, she was by no means good looking. Neither was she lithe. In fact, she was the opposite of lithe and, come to think of it, the opposite of light too. She’d never been what you might call svelte, but then she had left town and gone to live in Baltimore, and by the time she came back she’d piled on the pounds. Now, when she walked into church, Peyton was sure that he felt the floor tremble slightly beneath her feet. If she were any bigger, she’d have to enter sideways; that, or they’d be forced to widen the aisles.
And so, the first Sunday after she’d returned to the parental home, she had entered the chapel with her mom and dad and Peyton had found himself staring in appalled fascination at her ass, jiggling under a red-and-white floral dress like an earthquake in a rose garden. His jaw might even have been hanging open when he turned to find Artie Hoyt glaring at him, and after that, well, things had never been quite the same between them. They hadn’t been close before the incident, but at least they’d been civil when their paths had crossed. Now they rarely exchanged even a nod of greeting, and they hadn’t spoken to each other until fate, and the missing Faraday boy, had forced them together. They’d been part of a group of eight that had started out in the morning, quickly falling to six after old Blackwell and his wife seemed set to pass out and had, reluctantly, turned back for home, then five, four, three, until now it was just Artie and him.
Peyton didn’t understand at first why Artie didn’t just give up and go home himself. Even the modest pace that Peyton and Molly were setting seemed too much for him, and they had been forced to stop repeatedly to allow Artie to catch his breath and gulp water from the bottle that he was carrying in his rucksack. It had taken Peyton a while to figure out that Artie wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he’d kept searching while Artie had faded, even if the other man were to die in the attempt. With that in mind, Peyton had taken a malicious pleasure in forcing the pace for a time, until he acknowledged that his needless cruelty was rendering null and void his earlier efforts at worship and penitence, the occasional glance at young women notwithstanding.
They were nearing the boundary fence between this property and the next, a field of fallow, overgrown land with a small pond at its center sheltered by trees and rushes. Peyton had only a little water left, and Molly was thirsty. He figured he could water her at the pond, then call it a day. He couldn’t see Artie objecting, just as long as it was Peyton who suggested quitting, and not him.
“Let’s head into the field there and check it out,” said Peyton. “I need to get water for the dog anyway. After that, we can cut back onto the road and take an easy walk back to the cars. Okay with...
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