Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Vanishby Tom Pawlik
2009 Christy Award winner!
Three strangers each encounter the same mysterious storm and awake the next day to find that everyone else has vanished. There's Conner Hayden, a successful but unscrupulous trial lawyer who has forsaken his family for his career; Helen Krause, a middle-aged model struggling to come to grips with her fading beauty; and Mitch Kent,/b>… See more details below
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2009 Christy Award winner!
Three strangers each encounter the same mysterious storm and awake the next day to find that everyone else has vanished. There's Conner Hayden, a successful but unscrupulous trial lawyer who has forsaken his family for his career; Helen Krause, a middle-aged model struggling to come to grips with her fading beauty; and Mitch Kent, an enterprising young mechanic unable to escape a past that still haunts him. Afraid and desperate for answers, their paths eventually cross and they discover they are being watched. Elusive and obscured in shadows, the “observers” are apparently forcing them to relive vivid hallucinations of events from their past. They discover a mute homeless boy in tattered clothing and believe he may hold the key to the mystery, but the “observers” soon become aggressive and the four are forced to flee. When the boy disappears, the four decide to head from Chicago to Washington, D.C., in search of answers…and more survivors. Winner of the 2006 operation first novel contest, Vanish is a nonstop suspense thriller in the vein of Ted Dekker.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Winner of the 2006 Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, this debut psychological thriller features three strangers who find themselves alone, while everyone else has vanished, following a mysterious storm. Conner Hayden is a lawyer who abandoned his family, Helen Krause is an aging model, and Mitch Kent is a man with a troubled past. Together, the three face the terror of realizing they are being watched by sinister and shadowy "observers" who are forcing them to see visions of their own pasts. As the observers become more aggressive, the trio flees from Chicago to Washington, DC, to discover the meaning of these troubling events and who is behind them. Fans of Dean Koontz or Ted Dekker will appreciate.
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Read an ExcerptVanish
By TOM PAWLIK
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.
Copyright © 2008 Tom Pawlik
All right reserved.
Chapter One It all began with a feeling. Just an eerie feeling.
Conner Hayden peered out his office window at the hazy downtown Chicago vista. Heat plumes radiated from tar-covered rooftops baking in the midafternoon sun. A late-summer heat wave had every AC unit in the city running at full capacity.
He narrowed his eyes. Every unit except the one on the building across the street. On that roof, a lone maintenance worker in blue coveralls crouched beside the bulky air conditioner with his toolbox open beside him.
Conner watched the man toil in the oppressive August heat. Something hadn't felt right all day. Despite the relative seclusion of his thirty-ninth-floor office, Conner couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched.
It had begun early that morning when he stopped for gas. He could have sworn the guy at the next pump was staring at him. Conner saw his face for only an instant. But it looked strange somehow-dark, as if shrouded by a passing shadow. And his eyes ...
For a moment, his eyes looked completely white.
Then the shadow passed and the guy turned away.
Conner dismissed it at first as merely an optical illusion, but he had the same experience with a truck driver on the Edens. Then there was the kid in the green minivan, the woman in the parking garage, and the guy on the elevator. Each time Conner only caught a glimpse, and each time he saw the sameshadowed countenance with white, soulless eyes.
By the time he got to the office, he had been in full paranoia. His neck and shoulders were tense. He stopped at his secretary's desk. "Nancy, do you notice anything strange about me today? People have been staring at me all morning."
Nancy just curled an eyebrow. "You mean other than the horns sticking out of your head?"
Nancy loved her lawyer jokes.
Conner had retreated to his office and closed the blinds but found himself peering through the slats every few minutes. He'd first noticed the maintenance man at nine o'clock. It was now almost three. Either the guy was hopelessly incompetent, or he wasn't really working on the AC unit at all.
It was ridiculous, of course. There was no way the guy could even see him from that position. Conner turned back to his desk and his work. He had a meeting with clients in a few minutes and desperately needed to focus. He tried to push the thoughts from his mind, but he was still on edge as he joined them in the conference room.
Annie Malone was a mousy redhead and her husband, Jim, a beefy blue-collar guy-not the sharpest tool in the shed. At least that was the way he came across. Conner had to remember to keep his words simple and his sentences short.
Annie was shaking her head as Conner sat down. "I just ... I'm still really uncomfortable with this whole thing."
"I understand your misgivings, Annie," Conner said. "I do. But you lost your child and you're legally entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering. And mental anguish."
Annie bit her lower lip. "But Philipa recommended we go with a C-section-"
Conner held up a hand. "Okay, first, it's Dr. Trent, not Philipa. You call her by her first name and suddenly the jury sees her as your friend-"
"But she is my friend."
"This isn't personal, Annie. This is about business. Dr. Trent charges you for her services, doesn't she? She's not treating you for free, is she?"
Annie hesitated. "Well ... no ..."
"And in exchange for your payment, you expect a level of competence. You should be able to trust that your doctor will give you sound advice. That she's looking out for your health and safety."
"Well, yeah ..."
Conner leaned forward. "Look, Annie. This isn't like you're taking money from a friend. Doctors have medical malpractice insurance to cover them in situations like this. It happens all the time. It's a part of doing business."
Annie still looked doubtful.
Conner paused and turned to her husband. "Jim, you make, what, forty ... fifty grand a year?"
Jim shrugged. "Around that."
"And you support four kids on that. You pay your bills. You try to live right," Conner continued. "Trent makes a six-figure salary. Part of her business pays for insurance that covers her in case something goes wrong like this. You're not taking money from her. Her insurance company compensates you. That's why she has it."
Jim just looked down.
Conner leaned closer. "A settlement could be in the millions, Jim. What would you do with that? You could retire on that. Pay off your house. Buy a bigger one."
The Malones exchanged glances.
Conner leaned back again. "There's nothing dishonest about this. You lost your child due to someone else's negligence. That's a pain no parent should have to endure. We can't bring Erica back. We can't make you whole. But I want to make sure you get some compensation for your grief and suffering. The law allows it."
In the end, the Malones said they wanted the weekend to think it over. Pray about it, they said.
Conner felt his jaw tighten. He would never understand how people could live through such a terrible event and still come away trusting in some higher power.
They reminded him of his ex-wife.
As the Malones gathered their things, Conner caught a glimpse of Jim. A shadow seemed to pass over his face, and for a split second, his eyes turned white. Then he looked away.
Conner frowned as he watched them leave. For a moment he thought he might follow them out and demand to know what was going on. Instead, he returned to his office and busied himself with paperwork. But now the sensation was stronger than ever. Like someone was standing right behind him.
He spun around and opened the blinds.
The maintenance guy was still there, crouched down, working on the AC unit.
Conner rubbed the tension out of his neck and watched for a few minutes. His gaze drifted down to the street, and when he looked up again, the repairman was standing. Toolbox in hand. Facing him.
Conner blinked. Facing him?
He jerked back in his chair. The guy was watching him!
He squinted and leaned closer. He had a hard time focusing but ...
This guy ... had no face!
The man stood there for only a moment and then stepped behind the AC unit. Conner rubbed his eyes. Was he seeing things? There were only shallow, fleshy indentations where the repairman's eyes and mouth should have been. The guy must be wearing a mask or-
"What are you going to do when you're alone?"
The voice drove a shudder down Conner's spine. He tore his gaze from the window to see Gus Brady in his doorway.
Conner narrowed his eyes. "What'd you say?"
Gus chuckled. "Did I wake you up? I said, 'What are you going to do with the Malones?'"
"Oh ..." Conner shot a glance back at the empty rooftop. "They, uh ... they said they wanted the weekend to talk it over."
Gus raised his eyebrows. "Talk it over? What's there to talk over? It's a slam dunk malpractice."
"Well ... not quite. It seems Annie Malone's developed a bit of a friendship with her OB."
Gus rolled his eyes. "Oh, for pete's sake-"
"Don't worry. I'm working on them."
"Friendship's got nothing to do with it, Connie."
"That's why they have malpractice insurance."
"It's not personal."
"I said I'm working on them." Conner leaned back and stretched his neck.
"Yeah ... I just ..." He was briefly tempted to tell Gus about the faceless maintenance man. "I'm fine."
"Hmm." Gus bit his lip. "Well, don't let this one get away. This one's huge."
Gus disappeared down the hall and Conner spun back to the window.
He surveyed the empty rooftop and shook his head. It must have been some kind of optical illusion, like how hot asphalt looks wet from a distance.
But still ...
He dialed Nancy's phone. "Can you get me our building security office?"
"I saw someone on the roof of the building across the street who looked a little suspicious and ... I just want to see if everything's all right over there."
"You mean like a terrorist?"
"Just get me the number."
A minute later, Nancy called back and connected him to building security.
"Your secretary mentioned you saw someone on the roof of the Brighton building across the street."
"Yeah, it looked like a maintenance guy working on the air-conditioning unit, but he ... well ..." Conner wasn't quite sure how to describe it. "At one point he turned in my direction. He was just standing there, and it looked like he had some sort of ... mask on."
"Well ... or like a nylon or something. Something was covering his face, I think."
"How good a look did you get at this guy?"
At that point Nancy came in and peered out the window too. Conner pointed to the rooftop. "Uhh ... not too good. I mean, just for a second, but I thought it was kind of strange for him to be looking at me."
There was a pause at the other end of the line. "Most likely he was just facing in your direction. I doubt he could see you from that vantage point."
"Well, I just thought it was a little strange."
"I see." Another pause. "We have someone on the phone with their building management. They, uh ... they confirmed they were having some work done on one of their AC units. But it was their own maintenance guy. Apparently he checks out. They're going to send someone up to have a look anyway."
Conner sighed. "Okay. Sounds like a false alarm. Sorry to bother you."
"Not at all, sir. We appreciate you letting us know. Can't be too careful these days."
Conner hung up and Nancy chuckled. "You obviously have too much time on your hands if you can spend half the day staring out the window."
Conner shrugged. "I just happened to see him standing there."
Nancy nodded. "Mmmm ... Well, anyway, your ex-wife called to find out if you had left yet. You're supposed to pick up your daughter for the weekend."
"Rachel." Conner swore and looked at his watch. "I was supposed to be there by five. Marta's gonna kill me."
He scooped the papers into his briefcase.
Nancy chuckled again. "I told her you weren't here. I said you were probably stuck in traffic."
"You're the best." Conner nodded toward the window. "Let me know if they find anything."
Then he was out the door.
Conner snaked his black Mercedes through the afternoon traffic, mulling over the excuses he could give Marta. He knew none of them would work. After fourteen years of marriage, she knew him far too well. He could picture the look on her face already. Marta always wore a sort of tight-lipped half smile when she was angry.
It was nearly five thirty when he pulled up her driveway in Lake Forest. He shut the car off and sighed. He'd given up the handsome brick Tudor to Marta in the divorce settlement two years ago. And been glad to do so. It had become infested with too many memories. Too many things he preferred to forget ...
He knocked and let himself in the front door. "Sorry I'm late."
Marta's voice called out from down the hall. "In the kitchen."
Conner moved down the hallway into the breakfast nook. "I ran into some construction. You know how it goes."
"Yeah." Marta was rinsing some dishes at the sink. She turned around. Her lips were drawn tight in the familiar smirk.
Conner sighed. "What now?"
Marta shook her head. "It's just that there always seems to be construction or extra-heavy traffic or something that makes you late whenever you're coming to pick Rachel up. But when it's time to drop her off again, somehow you manage to be a few minutes early."
Conner shrugged. "That's because I'm always coming from downtown when I pick her up and from home when I drop her off."
"Mmm." Marta seemed to brush off his explanation and went to the back stairway. "Rachel," she called. "Your father's here."
"It's not a conspiracy, you know," Conner persisted.
"She hasn't eaten supper yet." Marta wiped the table.
"I've got it covered."
"And I'll be over Sunday at eight thirty to pick her up for church."
"Church?" Conner raised an eyebrow. "You make her go to church now too?"
"She wants to go. She even joined the youth choir."
"You sure she wanted that?"
"I haven't pressured her to join anything," Marta said. "You know Rachel. No one can make her do anything she doesn't want to do."
Conner frowned. "She sings, too?"
"She's got a beautiful voice. They're doing a special number this week. You should come."
Conner chuckled and shook his head. "Yeah ... I don't think so."
"Not even to hear your own daughter sing?"
"That's pretty low," Conner said. "Using our daughter to get me to church."
"You know it's not always about you, Connie," Marta shot back. "Did you ever stop to think what it'd mean to Rachel? to have her father there to hear her sing?"
"You think I don't care about her?"
"No, it's just that for the past two years I've been watching you two grow more and more distant."
"Look-" Conner's expression darkened-"I'm doing my best here. Okay? It's not like I don't have any other responsibilities."
"This isn't about your work, Connie. It's about our daughter. Rachel's growing up-she's fifteen-and you're missing everything."
"I come to her birthdays," Conner offered. "I see her every other weekend."
"And even then it's like you're miles away. It's like she's just an imposition on you."
Conner rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on, Marty-"
"You had two children, Connie." Marta's tone iced over. "Only one of them died."
She pushed past him and headed for the hallway.
Conner caught her arm and spun her around. "Don't take a cheap shot like that and just walk away." He loomed over her small frame. "You were the one who pushed me out of her life, so don't start complaining about it now!"
Marta didn't back down. "This started long before the divorce, Connie. After Matthew died, you were the one who pushed us away-"
"This doesn't have anything to do with Matthew!"
They turned to see Rachel in the back hall with her coat and backpack. She stared at them, chewing a piece of gum. Then she shook her head.
"I'll be out in the car."
As she walked away, the anger drained from Conner. He felt a little sheepish for having gotten so easily rattled. Why was it every conversation with Marta ended in an argument? "Look ... I-"
"No, you were right," Marta said. "It was a cheap shot. I'm sorry."
Conner sighed. "I know I've been working a lot, but I was planning to spend the whole day tomorrow with her. We're going to the Cubs game."
Marta nodded. "She'll like that. And talk to her. You know, ask her about what's going on in her life. She's not a cynical teenager. She wants to be with you."
"It'll be good," Conner said. "We'll have a good time. We'll bond."
Conner and Rachel drove home in silence. Rachel stared out the window with her headphones on, humming to a song. Conner felt a bit relieved at not having to make small talk and a twinge of guilt for feeling relieved.
For all his efforts, he still couldn't shake the sensation that had plagued him all day. He found himself peering at every pedestrian and into every passing car. His behavior was so obvious it even prompted a remark from Rachel.
"You looking for someone, Dad?"
He chuckled a bit. "No, it's just been a very strange day."
They turned up the elm-lined boulevard to Conner's condominium.
They ate supper in further silence. The soft clinking of forks on plates was broken only by an occasional cough. Conner picked at his food, shifting his gaze between his plate and his daughter. He brooded over conversation topics with which to engage her other than the church choir. He didn't want to risk providing an opportunity for her to invite him to the service, but still he wondered whether her motives for joining were genuine or if her mother had pressured her. Finally, he decided to take the risk.
"So your mom tells me you joined a choir...."
Rachel looked up and stared at him almost placidly, as if waiting for him to finish the sentence.
After a few grudging seconds, he obliged. "... at church."
Rachel smiled and nodded. "Mm-hmm."
He thought he saw a glint of amusement in her eyes. She went back to her meal, offering no further details. Conner drummed his fingers on the table, then tried again.
"So ... you like it? Is that something you enjoy?"
Rachel smiled again. "Yep." And went back to her meal.
"Because ... I just want to be sure it's something you wanted to do. Not ... y'know, not because your mother-"
"I like it, Dad. Okay? I wanted to join."
"That's fine," Conner said. "It's just that your mom can be a little pushy about her religion...."
Excerpted from Vanish by TOM PAWLIK Copyright © 2008by Tom Pawlik.Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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