cover of The Moores are Missing
title page of Mockingbird Songs

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Epub ISBN: 9781473552814

Version 1.0

Published by Arrow Books 2017

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Copyright © James Patterson 2017

Excerpt from 16th Seduction © James Patterson 2017
Cover photomontage: Getty Images

James Patterson has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this Work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

This is a work of fiction. All characters and descriptions of events are the products of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons is entirely coincidental.

First published by Arrow Books in 2017

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ISBN 9781787460065

CONTENTS

About the Book
About the Author
Also by James Patterson
Title Page
The Moores are Missing
James Patterson with Loren D. Estleman
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
Part Two
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
The Housewife
James Patterson with Sam Hawken
Prologue
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
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Absolute Zero
James Patterson with Ed Chatterton
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
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
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Chapter 51
Chapter 52
Chapter 53
Chapter 54
Chapter 55
Chapter 56
Chapter 57
Chapter 58
Chapter 59
Chapter 60
Chapter 61
Chapter 62
Chapter 63
Chapter 64
Chapter 65
Chapter 66
Chapter 67
Chapter 68
Chapter 69
Chapter 70
Chapter 71
Chapter 72
Chapter 73
Read on for an extract from 16th Seduction
Copyright

About the Author

JAMES PATTERSON is one of the best-known and biggest-selling writers of all time. His books have sold in excess of 325 million copies worldwide. He is the author of some of the most popular series of the past two decades – the Alex Cross, Women’s Murder Club, Detective Michael Bennett and Private novels – and he has written many other number one bestsellers including romance novels and stand-alone thrillers.

James is passionate about encouraging children to read. Inspired by his own son who was a reluctant reader, he also writes a range of books for young readers including the Middle School, I Funny, Treasure Hunters, House of Robots, Confessions and Maximum Ride series. James has donated millions in grants to independent bookshops and he has been the most borrowed author in UK libraries for the past ten years in a row. He lives in Florida with his wife and son.

About the Book

From the world’s bestselling thriller writer – three pulse-pounding stories in one book!

THE MOORES ARE MISSING with Loren D. Estleman: The Moore family just vanished from their home without telling a soul. A last-minute vacation? A kidnapping? A run for their lives? You’ll never see the truth coming.

THE HOUSEWIFE with Sam Hawken: Maggie Denning is a former chief detective adjusting to a quiet life in the suburbs with her family. But when the woman next door is found brutally murdered, Maggie starts investigating. Everyone’s a suspect – even her own husband.

ABSOLUTE ZERO with Ed Chatterton: They slaughtered his friends and framed him for murder. Now, Special Forces vet Cody Thurston is a fugitive who will stop at nothing to complete one last mission: revenge.

THE MOORES
ARE MISSING

JAMES PATTERSON

WITH LOREN D. ESTLEMAN

PART ONE

OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH

CHAPTER 1

FORTY-ONE YEARS OLD.

I was all ready for forty. I’d prepared for it since thirty-nine. Forty-one blindsided me. When I blew out the candles last Tuesday, it struck me that time was speeding up, like a recorded tape whirling faster as it approaches its end. Before I know it, I’ll be fifty, with hair growing out of my ears. Sixty next, getting around with a walker. Then my threescore and ten, and then death.

Thank God for Kevin; he’s three months older and never whines. Like he said at my party: “Look at it this way, old-timer: Would you really want to relive your twenties, have to learn that crap all over again?” His seize-the-day attitude is contagious. He’s spread it through his family, which is why I spend so much time at their place. My standing weekly appointment to shoot hoops with Kevin is mainly an excuse to see the Moores.

It’s an atypical Pacific Northwest Saturday in early spring: the sun is coming up, revealing what will be a bright blue sky scraped clean of clouds. There’s still a chill in the air left over from the night. We like to get going and play early, before breakfast. Maybe we should be playing golf instead. If we played golf.

I ring the magic bell. Kevin’s grin, Margo’s quiet smile, will ease my worries. They’re aging gracefully, visibly in love with each other and devoted to their kids, who love and respect them (when they’re not driving them nuts, like healthy normal teenagers).

No one comes to answer. Margo will be cooking breakfast, the fan in the stove hood whirring loudly. Kevin in the bedroom, tying his sneakers Just Right. Josh and Gabby listening to hip-hop or playing video games in the den or texting, whatever it is young people do for entertainment now.

Ray, you’re thinking like an old crank.

I ring again, wait, then reach for the button a third time. On impulse I try the door instead. The knob turns.

I frown. Our side of town has had two break-ins in six months, and less than a week ago a terrifying home invasion in Sackville, minutes from here, that left three people shot to death. We don’t leave our doors unlocked anymore.

“Guys? It’s Ray. LeBron couldn’t make it.”

I start to open the door. I don’t want to spook them. I push it just enough to stick my face through the gap. “Hel-lo-o-o?”

Is it my imagination, or does my voice echo?

I step across the threshold into the house. I raise my voice. “Kevin? Margo?”

Buzz-click! I jump almost out of my shoes. But it’s just the sound made by the retro mechanical clock on the fake fireplace mantel changing numerals. The place is that quiet.

“It’s me, Ray,” I say, cupping my hands around my mouth. I’m an invader now. Well-meaning neighbors have been struck down with baseball bats under similar circumstances. “Ray Gillett, not Freddie Krueger.”

The house is done in excellent taste, but no antiseptic showcase. Margo manages a doctor’s office, and has decorated with the same attention to detail that she brings to files and scheduling. The open living room, cozy den, spacious kitchen, three bathrooms—one on the ground floor, two on the second—are clean and relatively uncluttered. The bedrooms likewise.

And deserted. Huh. If they were in the backyard, I would have seen them as I walked over.

A side door in the kitchen opens into the attached garage. Margo’s red Buick is there. There’s an old oil stain on the concrete floor where Kevin parks the Flex he drives to work and uses on family outings. Maybe—but no, why would they go off on a lark when they know I’m coming?

I start to worry. This is not Moore behavior, even on Saturday, the most unpredictable day of the week.

Upstairs, I check drawers and closets. I’m violating my best friends’ privacy, pure and simple. If they came home, this would be hard to explain. But I can’t leave. What would I do with the rest of my Saturday, not knowing why I’d been stood up? More important:

“Where are the Moores?” I say it aloud.

Everything’s in place, as far as I can tell. All tidy—Josh’s and Gabby’s things casually if not carelessly kept—with no obvious sign of anything missing. Suitcases and duffels stashed out of the way in all the bedrooms. I lift Kevin and Margo’s luggage by the handles. They feel empty.

I sit on the edge of Josh’s mattress, feeling out of place. Is there any space more private than someone’s bedroom? Or anything ruder than someone outside the family entering it without being invited?

Then I see the cell phone on Josh’s dresser.

What college freshman leaves home without a way to text his friends?

I get up and go back over old ground. In Gabby’s room I draw a pink sweater off the foot of the bed, revealing her iPhone in a padded pink cover.

Picking up the pace now, to the master bedroom. Kevin’s slim gray phone is in a stand on the table on one side of the neatly made bed, Margo’s blue case on the matching table on the other side.

I reach for Kevin’s, then withdraw my hand. How far is it acceptable for a worried friend to dig into someone’s privacy?

Strangers disappear, always for a reason. Not whole families with deep roots in the community. Not the Moores. There’s no sign, as they say on TV, of a struggle. Silly even to think in those terms. They went out for pancakes and got caught in traffic on the way back, or simply lost track of time.

Leaving all their cell phones behind.

Worried? I wished I were only that. I don’t know a word for the chilled feeling I got. It was like the feeling in a nightmare, when your car flies over a hill and there’s nothing on the other side.

There’s a landline in the kitchen, a yellow wall unit on an old-fashioned long coiled cord. I unhook the receiver, listen for the dial tone, and peck out 911.

CHAPTER 2

I WOULDN’T BE too concerned, Mr. Gillett. You said the car’s gone. Sometimes people just play hooky, without thinking to tell their friends. Maybe to unplug for a while. Kind of inconsiderate; but no reason to issue an AMBER Alert.”

The Willow Grove police station wouldn’t interest a Hollywood director scouting locations. The chief’s office in the one-story brick building could belong to an insurance agent. The walls are painted a cheery apple-green and the framed family photo on the desk looks like a publicity still from Leave It to Beaver.

It’s my first visit. I know Cam Howard well enough to say hello to, but thank God I’ve never had any official business with his department. He’s middle-aged and solidly built, in an inexpensive blue suit with a tie that I suspect clips on. On him the outfit resembles a uniform. His hair is black and so thick you can see the marks of the comb. Sitting in the swivel behind his plastic woodgrain desk, he gives an impression of coiled strength.

“I thought of the same explanation, and rejected it,” I say. “You don’t know the Moores as well as I do, Chief. They never just take off. Kevin is the chief financial officer for a solid firm in the city and Margo runs a doctor’s office. Their son is studying for a business degree, and their daughter belongs to the honor society at Willow Grove High. They’re the most responsible people I’ve ever met.”

Howard smiles tightly. “I know them; Kevin, anyway. He donates generously to the Police Athletic League. We take each other to lunch sometimes.”

“He never told me that.”

“He wouldn’t, in case you asked how we know each other. He’s the best kind of philanthropist. He never brags. I think he’s a swell guy, and from what I’ve seen of his wife and kids, it’s a Moore family trait. They all put folding green in the collection plate every Sunday.”

“You go to the same church?”

“Knowing the community makes my work easier.”

“In that case, you better call me Ray.”

“Ray, I was a big-city cop for fifteen years, and if nothing else, I learned that people are anything but consistent. It’d be easier for us cops if they were, like on TV when a crook steps out of character and nails himself. That’s why I asked you to come down, instead of sending a team to the house.” He drops the reassuring smile. “I’m not brushing you off. Let’s wait forty-eight hours, like it says in the book. If we don’t hear from them by then, I’ll turn loose the bloodhounds.”

“Anything can happen in forty-eight hours.”

“So can nothing. They come home, everybody lives happily ever after, and you’re glad we waited. Misplaced good intentions can be as hard on a friendship as betrayal.”

I lean forward in my chair, my fists clenching. “Chief. Cam. They all left their cell phones behind. Not just one of them. All of them. Who does that?”

“Someone who wants a holiday without any interruptions.”

“Their kids are teenagers. You can’t pry them away from their cells with a crowbar.”

“You can if you have their respect as a parent.” His eyes flick toward the family photo, then back to me.

“Cam. Chief. Just whose side are you on?”

“What’ve you got to make you suspect there is a side? You said there were no signs of force. Your friend stood you up for a date. As emergencies go, that rates pretty close to the bottom.”

“This is pointless.” I scrape back my chair and stand up. “An entire family falls off the face of the earth and all you can say is they’re on a picnic.”

“I said maybe. It’s part of the job. Sit down.”

Calm as his tone is, I can’t overlook the command in it. I sit.

He shrugs. “Okay, the phone part’s unusual. It’s still not enough to justify a full-scale missing-persons investigation. I’m not a private detective. I serve the community, not one household, no matter how much they give back to it. The worst deadbeat in town is entitled to the same amount of protection as the pastor at St. Matthew’s.”

“You’re the chief. You’re supposed to give the orders, not take them.”

“If I were to say that, I’d be out on my can. You should come to a town council meeting and listen to the cranks spout off every time someone in this department makes an honest mistake; you’d think we picked their pockets. How will they react if I put out an APB, get everyone in a lather, and then the Moores come back from the beach at sundown with sand in their shoes?”

“How will they react if the Moores don’t come back at all and you did nothing?”

Howard’s frown is as tight as his smile. “I’m liking them more and more, the friends they’ve got. I’ll look into it, okay? Make some calls.”

“You mean like the highway patrol, the hospitals, the”—I swallow. I can’t say morgue. “I can do that myself. I need to know you’re doing something I can’t.”

“There’s a difference between when it’s a civilian calling and when it’s a cop. I have personal contacts with the state police. They can act unofficially, circulating descriptions throughout the department, minus the paperwork involved with a formal investigation. That’s a thousand pair of trained eyes prowling the state and reporting directly to me. I’ll call you if I hear anything.” He spreads his hands. “Ray, it’s the best I can do.”

I press my lips tight, then nod. I give him a card. “I work at home. That number’s good night and day. My cell’s on the back.”

He slips the card into his shirt pocket and holds out his hand. “Kevin’s my friend, you’re his friend. I’d like you to be mine as well.”

Chief Cam Howard has a firm, dry grip. I don’t find it as comforting as I’d like.

CHAPTER 3

I WORK OUT of my home full-time. The basement’s full of stereo receivers, toy rocket launchers, video-game consoles, and Waterpiks. A Golden Nerd Award stands on my bedroom dresser, presented to me by the National Association of Industrial Artists.

I’ve found that when an attractive woman in a cocktail bar asks my occupation, “writer” gets better mileage when I leave out the adjective “technical.” When I told my barber I’m a writer, my time in his chair went from fifteen minutes to an hour. He’s writing a book, just like everyone else; in his case a history of the razor. Like every barber I’d ever had, he can’t talk and cut hair at the same time, so he stands in front of me waving a comb in one hand and scissors in the other, describing the development of the steel blade from imperial Rome through fin-de-siècle France with enthusiastic gestures. I resolved to clarify my job description from that day forward.

Specifically, I draft owners’ manuals for various tools and appliances. A degree in Creative Writing doesn’t guarantee a living wage, as I found out when I plastered the walls in my old bedroom in my parents’ house with rejections. About that same time I figured out how to set the clock on my first VCR—after throwing away the instructions—and it struck me that the people who write them may know how to assemble a complex mechanism, but can’t put together a coherent sentence. So I sent letters to the manufacturers of every appliance I could think of, offering to write manuals in return for free use of their products while I figured out how they work.

That led to more rejections; but it only takes one acceptance to get a career started. After a year, Miracle Deck bought my clear and concise instructions regarding the operation of its top-of-the-line pressure-washer. More sales followed.

Give me a doohickey, any sort of doohickey. Don’t tell me what it does, hold the corporate instructions, and give me forty-eight hours to figure it out on my own. I’ll write you a users’ guide any five-year-old could follow.

But not today.

I keep writing and rewriting the same paragraph. When I read it back, it seems like worse gibberish than those manuals translated from Japanese by a Swiss national into English. I push back from the keyboard and reach for the phone for the third time in fifteen minutes. I hit redial, and listen once again to the purring on the Moores’ end of the line until the recording comes on asking if I want to leave a message. I don’t.

The first time, I cut the connection and got halfway through Kevin’s cell number before I remembered it would be ringing in an empty house.

I hang up again, but I let my hand rest on the handset. Is it too early to call Cam Howard? If I make a pest of myself, it might annoy him enough to let the investigation hang for pure spite.

Once can’t hurt. He didn’t strike me as a soulless bureaucrat—quite the opposite, in fact—and anyway a man should get something from his taxes.

“Ray, I’m glad you called.”

My heart does a happy flip. “You’ve found them?”

“No, but there’s a man here who wants to talk to you. Can you come down to the station right away?”

My heart drops back into its hollow recess. “I told you everything I know. How many people do I have to talk to before the system goes into action?”

“This one’s got information to trade.”

“A witness? He saw something?”

“I’ll let him tell you in person.”

It’s a ten-minute drive downtown. I make it in six. Cam is standing behind the desk when I enter his office for the second time that day. The man in the chair where I sat earlier is even more substantial than the chief, with huge shoulders and a big head. His suit is institutional gray, his hair also, and chopped so close to the scalp I can make out the features of his skull.

“Ray Gillett, this is Dale Mercer. Mercer’s a US marshal.”

He rises just enough to grasp my hand quickly and let go. Gray eyes take me in from head to toe. “How well do you know Kevin Moore?” His voice is thin, but not weak; a guitar string tightened almost to the breaking point.

“Almost twenty years. I was best man at his wedding.”

“Know anything about his business?”

“It provides all the maintenance for the university over in Sackville. He’s chief financial officer. But what’s that got to do—?”

“Maybe everything. Know who owns it?”

“Some corporation.”

“Jeremy Adder’s majority stockholder. Ever hear of him?”

“Rings a bell.”

“Clear to Las Vegas. He uses his legit operation here to launder cash from gambling, hooking, and drug dealing. The FBI’s been trying to get something on him for years.”

“You’re telling me Kevin works for the mob?”

“He says he didn’t know. For now the Bureau’s deciding to believe him, but that’s not my problem. My problem is keeping him alive long enough to tell a grand jury everything he does know.”

“You talked to him? When?”

“Easy, Ray.” Cam tilts a palm toward another chair. I hesitate, then take it. He lowers himself into his. “Mercer heard what I put out on the radio and came in to offer assistance.”

“The witness protection program is our baby,” Mercer says. “The Marshals’. We’ve offered Moore, his wife, and their son and daughter relocation and a new identity in return for his testimony.”

“This is like something in a movie,” I say. “What would Kevin know about gambling and prostitution and dope?”

“The FBI will settle for putting Adder away on those charges. It’s his other activities that put us in the picture as babysitters.”

“What kind of activities?”

Mercer rolls his big shoulders. “Murder. For starters.”

CHAPTER 4

ADDER’S A THROWBACK to gangland’s golden age,” Mercer continues. “His first reaction, when he suspects a leak, is to plug it with a corpse. He’s believed to have ordered at least sixteen hits. If he learns we’ve made contact with Kevin Moore, he’ll try to make it an even twenty.”

Cam says, “Isn’t there some kind of underworld code about not touching civilians?”

“With all due respect, Chief, your experience is limited to your garden-variety crook. Whatever romantic guff you’ve heard about the Mafia, its members are as cavalier about the so-called rules as they are about the laws of the land. This one wouldn’t take the chance of assuming Kevin hasn’t confided in his family. He won’t bother with the tedious business of obtaining proof.”

“This gets more ridiculous by the minute,” I say. “Whatever his boss is up to, Kevin isn’t part of it.”

Mercer’s face draws as tight as his guitar-string voice. Everything about this man is drawn so thin he could snap at any time.

“Maybe he is and maybe he isn’t. But as chief financial officer, he has access to the books, which are what Justice needs to indict Adder. If Moore can’t provide the actual records, he can tell what he knows on the stand. What’s in his head is US property.”

“Mystery solved,” says Cam. “I’ll cancel the search.”

“I wouldn’t do that just yet.”

We stare at Mercer. The tension in his face—in his whole being—is contagious.

“I cleared this meeting with Washington when we caught the squeal. We hoped to keep this under wraps, but we can’t be working at cross purposes with local law enforcement. Whether your friend’s an innocent dupe or in it up to his chin, we won’t know till we find him and talk to him.”

“Hold on!” Cam leans forward, resting his forearms on the desk. “You just said the Marshals’ office has relocated the Moores. How could you have lost Kevin?”

“I didn’t say that. I said we talked to him. It was in his home, with his family present. Two agents from the Bureau told them everything I just told you, and I assured them of the Marshals’ successful track record in protecting citizens from retribution. Since the couple’s mothers and fathers are deceased and there are no other close relatives, the provision against maintaining contact wasn’t the problem it usually is in these cases. When Mr. or Mrs. Joe Blow turns up sealed in concrete at some construction site, it’s usually because they couldn’t bear to spend Thanksgiving away from Aunt Tilly.”

His bluntness freezes my spine. I don’t like Dale Mercer. But I play the game. I need all the experienced help I can get, and so do the Moores.

“They were open to the idea; Kevin seemed genuinely shocked when we trotted out Adder’s record, and everyone was nervous, the boy especially. They went into another room for a family meeting. Imagine how surprised we were when they came back in and turned us down flat.”

“They must have had a reason,” I say. “I’ve known Kevin longer than Margo. I was with him in the waiting room when their kids were born. He’d do anything to protect his family. So would she.”

Cam is more direct. “Did they give an explanation?”

“We asked. The agents threatened to book Kevin as a material witness, but he called their bluff. ‘I could tell you everything I know, and you wouldn’t be any closer to what you want than you are now. I saw nothing wrong with the figures in the books.’ Well, even the FBI can’t arrest a man without probable cause. In order to hold him, they’d need the very evidence they hope he can provide.”

“I thought you people pushed congress to pass a law to get around that little problem.” Cam’s tone is bitter.

“RICO: The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The Supreme Court’s divided on that point. The justices may look the other way when we swing it against a Don or Hells Angels or a smuggling ring, but one more appeal on behalf of Ozzie and Harriet could strike it down, and we’d lose the only effective weapon we have against organized crime. Their lawyers know the rule of law front to back.”

“I’ve managed to operate inside it.”

“Once again, Chief, you haven’t had the same disadvantages we have on our level.”

I definitely don’t like Mercer. “I’m with Kevin. Why should a man agree to uproot his family from their home and everything they know when he has nothing to offer?”

Mercer’s face now is as flat as a plank. “Then why did he do it on his own? Generally speaking, when someone refuses witpro, it means they have something to hide.”

I look at Cam. “You know Kevin. Talk some sense into this guy, will you?”

“Ray.” The chief is sitting back again, forted up behind the desk with his name and title block-lettered on its steel trivet. “You can afford to give your friend the benefit of the doubt. We can’t. When I’m in a marked car and I stop at a red light beside a motorist who’s putting just a little too much effort into looking innocent, I give him a block, then pull him over. Nine times out of ten he blows over zero-eight-percent on the Breathalyzer or has something interesting in the trunk.”

“What are you getting at—Chief?” Hard to believe I ever called him by his first name.

“Has it ever struck you the Moores are just a little too perfect?”

I spring to my feet, and this time I won’t be ordered to sit back down.

“I’m not a cop,” I say. “I can afford to believe in my friends. If both of you are going to treat them like Public Enemy Number One, it’s up to me to rescue them.”

And for the first time in my sedate life I slam a door behind me.

CHAPTER 5

ANY SATISFACTION I might have gotten from that childish gesture doesn’t last as far as my car in the municipal lot. I’m as qualified to perform a one-man rescue operation as Mr. Magoo.

Thriller fiction is full of private citizens who go off on personal crusades. They’re former employees of the CIA, or play poker with plucky investigative journalists, or their girlfriend’s a police stenographer.

I bat zero in all three areas.

But if I’ve learned anything from watching too many episodes of Law & Order, it’s that all answers can be found at the scene of the crime.

A local police prowler painted green and white is parked in front of the Steiner house next door. Apart from that, nothing about the neighborhood suggests it’s the focus of anything official. Mercer wasn’t kidding when he said the Marshals prefer to keep the situation secret.

The Moores’ well-kept brick house is free of barricades and yellow police tape. All it lacks from the usual Saturday-afternoon routine is Kevin out front, pruning the hedges with the sample Wonder-Cut electric clippers I gave him last Christmas. Nevertheless I cruise past, park around the corner, and stroll back around to the front door—trying not to look furtively past my shoulder to the Steiners’ house, where one of Cam Howard’s officers has stopped in his rounds, asking neighbors if they’ve seen anything unusual. No doubt my elaborate show of normal behavior is just as suspicious as if I were creeping through the hedge in a fedora and trench coat.

I have an excuse, and it may just be boneheaded enough to pass: Margo has given me a key to look after her plants while the family’s away. What, Officer? A geranium doesn’t know why it’s been left alone. It needs water.

Which sounds lame even in my head.

The house now feels like a museum exhibit. It’s no longer a home.

I walk through it like a stranger, my pulse pounding. This visit is worse than my last, disturbing as that was. This time I’m a housebreaker.

The authorities have been here—something about the atmosphere tells me they have, an antiseptic residue of meticulous search by disinterested parties. Uncaring hands have handled all the trophies and treasures like archaeologists sorting out ancient relics.

I commit my second felony in ten minutes. I swipe a cell phone.

Not Kevin’s, or even Margo’s; the pros will be sure to miss those first off. No, Gabby’s pink phone in its pink case. It will be a while before the investigators discover that loss, and a while more before they eliminate all the many bureaucratic slots into which it may have disappeared. By the time they link it to dull old Ray Gillett, he may just have the case all wrapped up in a pretty pink bow.

Well, that’s how it works in thriller fiction.

I’m in a hurry now, with the incriminating evidence on my person. I’m six feet from the front door when a shadow enters the frame of the pebbled glass in its window; a shadow in a peaked cap, the kind police officers wear. A key rattles in the lock.

My heart leaps into my throat; for the first time I realize the meaning of that cliché. I reverse directions, loping first across the carpet away from the front door, then forcing myself to slow down. It may be my imagination, but I can hear the boards creak under the padding.

POLICE SHOOT LOCAL MAN IN BREAK-IN, I think wildly.

The dead bolt makes a grating sound sliding back into its socket. Now I’m taking long steps and landing on my toes like a character in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. A hinge squeaks; it’s unlike Kevin to let one go without oil, but I might be imagining that sound as well. I cross the threshold into the den just as the door opens.

It’s a pleasant little room where the family often huddles close on the worn sofa, watching TV. A sliding door opens onto the side deck.

A thumb-latch yields to pressure with a click that seems to me like an explosion. I grasp the handle and tug.

The door doesn’t budge.

I definitely hear creaking in the living room; that carpet needs replacing. Breath rasping through my mouth, I look down at a three-foot length of dowel lying in the track. Kevin’s too good a family man to trust the safety of the house to a flimsy latch. I reach down, lift out the barricade as noiselessly as possible, and lay it carefully on shag. The door slides open with a horrendous whoosh, but I don’t wait to find out if it’s overheard. I ease it back the other way, look right and left—the old comic-spy turn—and bound off the deck onto grass, running for the side street as I haven’t run since I outgrew playing tag.

CHAPTER 6

ALL THE WAY home I divide my attention between the block ahead and the block behind, expecting at any time to see blue and red lights flashing in the rearview mirror or a roadblock cutting off my escape to home and hearth.

Okay, I’m being over-dramatic. But see how you feel when you’re guilty of obstructing justice and the evidence is burning a hole in your pocket like a red-hot coal. Or rather a pink one.

I’m not cut out for a life of crime, that’s for sure. Even if I’d managed to get away from the Moores’ without detection, any rookie officer spotting my posture, crowding the wheel with both hands clenched on it, or my pale glistening face behind the windshield, would pull me over on suspicion of anything.

Everything aches, even the muscles in my jaw. My hair is tense. I force myself to relax, but moments later I’m back where I was, straining against the seat belt with my shoulders up around my ears.

Stopping for a signal, I roll down my window to cool my sweaty brow. I beat my palms against the wheel like a tom-tom. Change!

The driver behind me taps his horn, sending me through the roof. The light is green. I let out my breath and press the accelerator too hard, chirping my tires.

This is agony. How do professional crooks handle it? Pedestrians seem to stare straight at me. I don’t draw another easy breath until I’m in my own living room, with all the doors and windows locked. I’d close the blinds, if it didn’t seem like switching on a neon sign spelling out guilty.

Not much relief, even under my own roof. I keep going to the front door, certain I heard someone pounding on it with the meaty fist of authority.

I go into the kitchen and pop open one of the beers I keep for company. It tastes as bitter as a sunburned potato and I pour it out into the sink after one sip.

The landline rings in the living room. This is it!

It isn’t it.

It’s someone running for office, promising me in a recording to cut taxes.

This isn’t worth it. I’d sneak back into the Moores’ house and put the phone back, if I weren’t sure I’d be caught this time. Is there a special law against replacing evidence?

I am so not prepared to play the role of cyber-sleuth.

The desk in my office is a litter of manufacturers’ components, scribbles on yellow sheets, and printouts of my instruction drafts. I have deadlines to meet, and I need the money. The people who pay me couldn’t care less how many unexplained disappearances I solve as long as I serve them first.

That’s the practical priority. But after how I’ve spent my day, what’s practical have to do with anything?

I shove aside my livelihood and direct my attention to my stolen clue. The Home button brings the screen to life, but—oh, no—password. There’s no way she would be as dumb as me, and use her birthday … but I try it anyway. Luckily I remember the date, having been invited to her recent birthday dinner, not to mention her actual birth; and I’m in. That was almost too easy.

The battery’s charged and I’m getting four bars, but as I try to open apps, nothing comes up. No messages, no voice mails, no stored numbers, no record of recent calls in or out. Just the factory settings.

No teenage girl could resist junking up her phone with apps, or abstain from texting and calls. Certainly not Gabby, who makes it a practice to live up to her nickname.

The memory’s been wiped clean.

I can’t imagine her doing that, tech-savvy as kids are today. Someone proficient with computers must have performed the vanishing act—on the run, flinging the phone onto the bed when finished. Either Josh or Gabby could have done that, I supposed; teenagers know their phones inside and out, as if by instinct.

If so, Mercer was right, and they’d taken off on their own—making sure to leave behind no trace of their recent contacts, and sabotaging attempts to trace them through their signals.

I don’t like that. It helps to confirm the marshal’s suspicions about Kevin’s guilt.

On the other hand, someone else might have covered their tracks, to make sure no one knew where he was taking them and what he had planned for them. A professional, well-versed in police methods.

And I really, really, really don’t like that.

CHAPTER 7

ANOTHER THING AMATEUR sleuths always seem to have is a friend who can make a computer sit up and beg for him to hack it.

I do have one of those.

Sharon Kowalski works in the Sackville branch of a small chain of computer sales and service centers, blocks away from the university attended by Josh Moore. I met her when my old computer kept turning itself off. She could have complicated the diagnosis and charged me a bundle, but she said only the switch needed cleaning, a twenty-dollar job. On another occasion, she’d spent an hour helping me work out instructions for how to install programs on a laptop that wasn’t on the market until the next year. Her boss was out, she said, and it was a slow day at the shop. She refused payment.

If that weren’t enough to make me warm to her, she’s also a fox.

I’d tried asking her out for a cup of coffee, but she’d declined firmly—there was a bad break-up still haunting her. The customer’s side of the store is shallow, divided by a black-glass counter from shelves of electronic equipment in varying stages of repair or awaiting pick-up and a long workbench littered with tools and parts and scraps of cable. Sharon is standing in front of it with her back to the door when I come in, bells above the door tinkling.

“Be with you in a sec.”

“A sec might as well be a year when I’m waiting for you.”

Okay, clumsy line. It sounded like Browning until it got to my mouth.

She smiles over her shoulder—indulgently, I’m afraid. She’s wearing a white cotton blouse. Her red hair is short, and her high forehead, slightly turned-up nose, and round chin are tailor-made to be seen in profile. “Hi, Ray. Don’t tell me you need a new cartridge already. You’re the Stephen King of how-to writers.”

“Tell that to my clients. They pay me as if I were Edgar Allan Poe. He went hungry most of the time.”

When she finishes what she’s doing and turns, wiping her hands on a microfiber cloth, I realize all over again that her profile is only the opener for the main event. On her, the sparkling array of precision screwdrivers, tweezers, and circuit-testers in her plastic pocket protector might as well be precious jewels.

Lest I stare too long where I shouldn’t be looking, I fumble out Gabby’s phone. “Can you recover data that’s been erased from this?”

She takes it, examines both sides. “I think so. I know this model. You know, it doesn’t go with what you’re wearing.”

I’ve got an excuse ready: I found it on the street. I want to find out who it belongs to so I can return it. But for once in Sharon’s intoxicating presence, I don’t let the thought get as far as the spoken word. That explanation wouldn’t cover everything I needed, and she’s no dummy. “Is there someplace we can talk in private?”

A thin vertical line spoils the perfect symmetry of her brow. “Ray, if this is a gambit, please forget it. You know my situation.”

“I wish it were.”

Something in my tone cuts off the question on her tongue. She glances at a digital clock on the wall next to the counter. “Jim’s on a service call. We’ve got maybe twenty minutes.”

“I hope that’s long enough.”

“When it’s just one person on duty, we close down for breaks. But it’s a little early for mine.”

“Please, Sharon. It’s important.”

She nods, comes out from behind the counter, locks the front door, and turns the open sign around.

I follow her around the counter through a door into an unpainted storeroom cluttered with more electronic components and grimy canvas bags bristling with tools on a bench scarred all over with nicks. She turns and waits, her short-nailed hands folded at her waist.

As briefly as possible I tell her what’s happened, swearing her to secrecy. I don’t want to get myself in more trouble than I already am, or jeopardize my friends by spreading the word.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“I wish I were. The law’s treating the Moores like criminals instead of citizens in danger. I want to find out what’s happened before they go public. This guy Adder who’s after them … I don’t feel good about it.”

“I believe you. I know Margo. She calls us when the office equipment needs work. I thought she had the perfect family—” She stops herself. “Twenty minutes. Let me see what I can do.” She unlocks a drawer under the counter, takes out a cable and a clear plastic case with various adapters nesting in compartments, uses one to plug the cable into the pink phone, and another to plug the other end into a jack in a laptop that looks like something I thought existed only at NASA. Then she draws a pair of red-framed readers from behind her pocket protector and hooks them over her ears, with the solemn ceremony of a matador dressing for the bullring.

CHAPTER 8

AGAIN I DIVIDE my concentration, this time between Sharon and my watch. I don’t want her getting in trouble with her boss if he gets back and finds the shop closed. That would be yet another person in on the investigation, and more risk for the Moores.

Her fingers dart over the keyboard, but not as fast as the second hand racing around the dial. We’ve got maybe twenty minutes, she’d said. That “maybe” thuds in my ears in time with each tick.

“Something,” she says.

I look first at the pink phone lying on the bench. I know nothing about this procedure, apart from what I’ve seen on crime shows on TV. When I shift my attention to the laptop, I see a column of numbers filling the screen from the top toward the bottom.

“What is it, a code?” I ask.

“No, Mr. Hawking. They’re telephone numbers.”

“Oh.”

“Calls going out. When do these kids stop to eat and sleep and go to the bathroom? This one”—the nail of her index finger taps a row of digits beginning with the local area code—“see, it comes up five times more often than all the others. Gotta be a BFF, or maybe a boyfriend.”

“Are they texts?”

“No. I haven’t been able to raise those. Can’t even tell you what apps she might’ve had installed.”

“I’m hoping it was one of the Moores. I mean, if it was someone else, wouldn’t that person just destroy all their phones?”

“I can’t help you there. I’m a techie, not a terrorist.” She tapped the screen again. “If the girl called anyone to tell them where she was going, this’d be the one.”

“Can you match the number to a name?”

“If it’s listed.” She looks at me over the top of her glasses. “If I had it for the day, I might get more out of it. I’ll make some excuse to Jim.”

“Better not. I’m hoping to sneak it back into the house before Mercer and Howard realize it’s missing.”

“Right.” She jerks the cable from the laptop’s jack and opens another program.

Someone bangs on the front door.

“Jesus!” My heart smacks my ribs like a handball.

“That must be Jim. He’s early. Talk to him, will you? Make something up. I need another five minutes.”

I leave the storeroom, composing and discarding excuses on the way. The store’s manager has his hands cupped around his eyes, leaning against the glass front door trying to peer inside. He’s heavyset and dresses sloppily, with half his shirttail hanging below the hem of a too-tight brown suede jacket, baggy carpenter’s jeans with a hammer loop, scuffed black Oxfords, and a grubby ball cap with a pair of gigantic women’s breasts in a bikini bra patched on the front. If you had to guess what he did for a living, it would probably involve a grease pit. Sharon told me he graduated from MIT.

I twist the latch, tinkling the bells as I pull open the door.

He frowns. “Schick, right? Roy Schick?”

“Close. Ray Gillett.”

“Right. Compaq Q. Dirty power switch. Get yourself a can of compressed air, save us both time and trouble.”

“Thanks.”

“Where’s Sharon? If I knew she was going to lock up I’d have taken along my key.” He starts inside.

I move to block him. “Uh, give her a minute, okay?”

He stops, stares at the embarrassment on my face. “Oh, for—what am I running here, a dating service? You run interference while she puts her panties back on?”

“God, no, nothing like that! I brought in a cell belonging to a friend for her to look at.”

He isn’t buying it. A splayed fingertip thumps my chest. “You need to think about another place to take your shit to. I met that jerk she was with. I threw him out when he came bulling in here to finish a fight he started at home. It was another year before she got up the gumption to walk out on him, and then I had to rag on her to get her to file an injunction to keep him away.”

“She told me how good you were throughout that mess.”

“She’s the best employee I ever had. I wasn’t about to waste a year training a replacement if she got so messed up she had to quit.”

“Leave him alone, Jim. You can’t bar a man from the shop just because he likes me.”

I turn. Sharon has come in from the storeroom, carrying Gabby’s phone and a piece of paper. “Here’s the name and billing address.”

I went back to the counter and took both items.

Jim points at the pink cell. “This guy’s bad news, Shar. We sell more of that model to high-school cheerleaders than anyone else.”

“Get your mind out of the gutter. He’s doing a favor for the daughter of a friend.”

“Yeah? Do me a favor and don’t let any civilians into the back. We don’t give tours.” He storms around the counter into the storeroom and slams the door.

“I’m sorry, Ray.”