April Henry weaves another page-turning, high stakes mystery in Blood Will Tell, Book 2 of the Point Last Seen series.
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Blood Will Tell
By April Henry
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2015 April Henry
All rights reserved.
BLOOD AND BONES
Freshly spilled blood is wet, shiny, and startlingly crimson. Newly exposed bone is a pearly, glowing white.
Blood and bones. Before the night was out, Nick Walker would see things that would drop him to his knees. Before the week was out, he would do things he would have said were impossible. And he would learn truths that he would desperately wish were lies.CHAPTER 2
A GOOD GIRL
In a little over an hour, seven-year-old Mariana Chavez would be lying in a ditch, her unseeing eyes staring at the stars.
But for now, Mariana lay on her back looking up at the lights on Home Depot's faraway ceiling. She was stretched out on a low, flat cart topped with curved bars that looked like an orange jungle gym. She lifted one of her legs so she could admire her new rain boot, red with black dots. The best part were the toes, decorated with eyes and antennae. The boots looked just like ladybugs.
"Why is this so confusing?" Mariana's mom muttered as she scanned the rows of little round pieces of shiny metal and black rubber that would somehow fix the drippy kitchen faucet. "And why must Mr. Edmonds be so"— she paused and Mariana knew she was skipping over a swear word —"so useless?"
Mr. Edmonds was their apartment manager. He was the one who was supposed to fix things. Only two years ago he had tried to fix the leaking toilet and just made it worse. And after that, Mariana's mom had started just trying to fix anything that broke herself.
Mariana also didn't like Mr. Edmonds, but for different reasons. When her mom wasn't watching, he sometimes stared at her. And said things to her, too, about how pretty she was, about how she seemed older than seven. It wasn't that she minded being told those things. She just didn't like to hear them from Mr. Edmonds, who looked a little like a tanned lizard.
Finally her mom picked something and paid for it. When they drove home, it was already growing dark. Mariana helped carry in the groceries they had bought before going to Home Depot, staggering a little under the weight of the bags.
"You're a good girl, Mariana," her mom said, resting her hand briefly on her shoulder. "You're a good helper."
Helper reminded Mariana of what would come next. Putting away the groceries and then holding a flashlight while her mom swore at the wrench and the faucet and Mr. Edmonds and complained that Mariana wasn't holding the light still.
"Can I go over to Hector's to play?" Hector was her best friend. He lived in the next apartment building.
Her mom was already shaking her head. "I don't think so, honey."
"Please ..." Mariana drew the word out.
Her mom relented. "Okay. I guess you've earned it."
But when Mariana knocked on the door to Hector's apartment, no one answered. It was fully dark now. She knocked again, but there were no sounds from inside. She was dragging her feet back down the walk, not at all eager to go home and hold the flashlight, when she spotted something that made her stop.
A kitten. A little black-and-gray-striped kitten. It took one startled glance at her and then ran around the corner.
Mariana loved kittens. And if she brought this one home, maybe this time her mom wouldn't say no. Not when it was right there in their apartment and already best friends with Mariana.
Hands outstretched, Mariana ran around the corner and into the darkness.
* * *
Ninety minutes later, Mariana's mom called Hector's mom to say it was time for her daughter to come back. And learned that the family had only been home for fifteen minutes — and that they had not seen Mariana.CHAPTER 3
AGAINST HER WILL
When the text lit up his phone, Nick was doing his homework. Or, to be more accurate, he had his history textbook open while he watched YouTube music videos on his laptop.
911 Assist near Gresham — Missing 7 yo — Meet @ 2100
The text was from Mitchell Wiggins, Nick's team leader in the Portland County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue team.
Homework now completely forgotten, Nick texted Ruby McClure. "Any chance I can get a ride?" He, Ruby, and a girl named Alexis Frost had all joined SAR at the same time and become friends. Ruby was the only one with a car. Once you were notified, SAR gave you just an hour to get your gear and assemble at the sheriff's office. On a Sunday night, TriMet buses were few and far between.
Ruby texted back a second later. "Sorry. At chamber music concert with parents. Already cutting it close."
Nick jumped to his feet. He needed to change into outdoor gear and grab his SAR backpack and red helmet. And to persuade his mom to let him borrow her car. There was no sense in asking to use his brother's car. If Nick needed to borrow the car to drive to the emergency room or he would die from a collapsed lung or something, Kyle would probably still say no.
Every time he was called out on a SAR mission, he felt closer to his dad, a soldier who had died a hero in Iraq when Nick was only four. His mom was dead set against him ever joining up, but she had agreed to let him be part of SAR.
What he hadn't told her was that SAR was a stepping-stone, a place to acquire skills that would come in handy once he turned eighteen and could enlist. In liberal Portland, there were no high-school-based ROTC programs, but SAR would teach Nick how to track, use knives, give first aid, survive in the wilderness, navigate with a topo map and GPS, and even collect crime scene evidence. He figured that any and all of those would look good to a recruiter.
Ninety minutes later, Nick and twelve other members of SAR's Alpha Team clambered out of the sheriff's white fifteen-passenger van and into the parking lot of a large apartment complex. Jon Partridge, an adult adviser, had driven them to this spot in outer Southeast Portland, past used car lots, strip joints, and fast-food places Nick had never heard of.
In the two months since Nick had joined SAR, he had taken part in five searches for lost hikers and hunters, and two for crime scene evidence. But this was the first time he had been called out for an urban search. When it came to finding people, SAR usually concentrated on the great outdoors. But law enforcement could also mobilize them to search for the vulnerable who might have wandered away: the disabled, the elderly, and children.
Chris Nagle, a sheriff's deputy, was already waiting for them. Aside from Chris and Jon, everyone else standing in the darkened parking lot was a teenager. Most of the other teens were certifieds who had been called out on dozens of searches. Nick, Ruby, and Alexis were allowed to participate in searches, but before they were certified, they needed to complete nine months of training. That included mandatory classes every Wednesday evening and practice outings one weekend a month.
"How could you even remember which apartment was yours?" Alexis asked, turning in a slow circle. The low light made her high cheekbones even more pronounced. Nick tore his gaze away and saw what she meant. They were surrounded by about twenty identical beige buildings, each with three apartments above and three below. All the apartments had dark-gray doors, and matching white drapes hung in every window.
"There are myriad minor differences." Ruby's breath clouded the air in front of her fox-like face. "There's the cardinal orientation, the possessions stored on porches, the door decorations ..."
Nick and Alexis exchanged a look that mingled exasperation, amusement, and an odd kind of pride. Ruby didn't notice.
Mitchell Wiggins called out, "Huddle up, team!" His long pale hands waved them in. He was already wearing the yellow climbing helmet that marked him as team leader. "Today we will be conducting a hasty search for a seven-year-old girl named Mariana Chavez, who went to play with another child in this complex nearly four hours ago. But the other family wasn't home and she never returned to her own apartment."
Next to Nick, Alexis shivered.
"We'll go door-to-door first," Mitchell continued. "Then we'll clear the grounds. If that fails, we'll check nearby houses, walk roadsides, and clear fields. Remember, we are not only looking for the girl, but we're also looking for any sort of evidence as to her whereabouts."
If Mariana were an adult, this might turn out to be what was known in SAR circles as "a bastard search," when you went looking for someone who had never really been lost at all. But it wasn't nearly as likely that a missing little kid was a false alarm.
"Mariana has shoulder-length black hair," Mitchell continued. "She's wearing black pants, a pink top, a dark blue puffer jacket, and red-and-black rain boots that look like ladybugs. She is in good health and normally not much of a risk taker."
Nick reviewed what they had learned in class about "lost person behavior." Seven was old enough to travel quite a bit farther than even a slightly younger child. But seven was still young enough to be impulsive, or to give in to a desire to explore. Mariana was old enough to have been taught to avoid strangers and yet too young to realize that some strangers meant no harm. So this girl might even hear them calling her name and choose to stay hidden and quiet. Sometimes little kids even fell asleep and slept so deeply they didn't hear searchers calling for them.
Mitchell scanned the circle of volunteers. "Temperatures are forecast to drop below freezing tonight, so if she's out here, it's important we find her."
Nick thought of the two nearby freeways. Somebody could have snatched Mariana and be a hundred miles away by now.
"Does anyone have any questions?" Mitchell asked.
Alexis raised her hand. "What about Mariana's dad? Could he have taken her?"
Chris answered. "Good question, Alexis. We always have to consider if it's a custody situation. But in this case I've spoken to him. He's in Ohio, and he hasn't seen his daughter for two years."
When no one else spoke up, Mitchell said, "Some of these people are probably sleeping. Remember, not everyone is going to react well to being woken up, especially if they hear someone pounding on the door and yelling 'Sheriff's office!' Just say you're with Search and Rescue and keep it at that. Most people will want to help if they know you're looking for a lost child."
Chris cleared his throat. "Of course it's possible that someone who lives in these apartments took Mariana. That's why you need to keep your eyes and ears open as you go door-to-door. But do not intervene. Just observe and report back to Base. And whatever you do, don't go inside, even if they invite you in. If you see anything that makes you the least bit suspicious, don't let on. Just get out of there, come back to Base, and let us know. If someone is holding this little girl against her will, we don't need to give them another hostage."CHAPTER 4
GLEAMS OF WHITE
Mitchell quickly broke them up into teams of two or three. Nick and Ruby were put on the same team as Dimitri, who was a certified. Alexis was teamed up with Ezra and Max, also certifieds.
Each group was given four buildings to clear. Dimitri decided their group would work left to right, top to bottom. Together they went up the stairs. He knocked at the first door with a heavy fist. Nick and Ruby stood behind him. Ruby had a notebook to record anything they learned. With nothing to hold, Nick clasped his hands awkwardly in front of him. He felt like the missionaries his mom was always turning away. Except they only came in pairs. "Search and Rescue," Dimitri called in his heavy accent.
An old woman opened the door. She was pulling an orange cardigan over her maroon flannel pajamas. "Yes?" She looked curiously at their red helmets and SAR backpacks. Her front teeth were missing.
Nick ran his tongue over his teeth.
"Hello, ma'am, we are from Search and Rescue," Dimitri said. "We are looking for a girl. Her name is Mariana Chavez and she is seven years of age. She has dark hair and she is wearing dark clothes and rubber rain boots."
"Oh, I know Mariana!" The old woman clutched her cardigan tighter. "She's missing?"
"I'm afraid so," Nick said as Ruby scribbled something. "But if you do see her or have any information, there will be someone from Search and Rescue in the parking lot you can talk to."
At each new apartment, they met the same lack of success. No one had seen Mariana, although many of them knew the girl or recognized her description. Four of the apartments they tried were dark and no one came to the door.
Lights glowed behind the curtains in the next apartment, but there was no answer to their knock. Did Nick hear movement deep within? He held his breath. What if Mariana were being held captive? Despite what Chris had said, he imagined bursting in, decking the dude with a right hook to the jaw, and then sweeping the little girl up in his arms.
But after a pause, Dimitri just moved on to the next door. When they had canvassed all their assigned apartments, they reported back. Nick tried to tell himself that knowing where Mariana wasn't was as important as knowing where she was.
"Put on your reflective vests and headlamps and take the west side of that road." Mitchell pointed at a dark street bordered by ditches. "Check all open spaces. Backyards if you can see into them. But don't go into any garages or outbuildings."
They crossed the dark street. Ahead of them, the freeway sounded like a river. Nick was beginning to think there was no girl, at least not here, not anymore. Someone had taken her and maybe they would never give her back.
Their flashlights and headlamps probed the darkness as they slowly walked along the empty road next to a vacant scrap of land. The first houses were farther down the road. Nick lifted his flashlight and played it over the dark tangle of weeds, blackberry bushes, and pieces of windblown garbage.
"Mariana!" he yelled, and Dimitri and Ruby joined in. "Mariana! Mariana!"
Nick's flashlight beam picked up a flash of red. His breath catching, he swung it back. But it was just an old McDonald's french fry box.
"Wait!" Dimitri raised his hand. "Are you hearing that?"
Across the street, the blackberry bushes were rustling. Something burst out and ran away. In his headlamp, Nick caught a glimpse of a something small and striped.
"Hello, Mr. Kitten!" Dimitri called out, laughing. He and Ruby turned away.
But farther back, Nick saw a pale flash. "Mariana?" He squinted. Ruby and Dimitri whipped back around. "We're from the sheriff's department. Your mom asked us to look for you."
"I got lost." A girl's voice, thick with tears.
She pushed her way out of the bushes on the far side of the road. The beams of their lights revealed her pale, scratched face and tangled hair. Her eyes were gleams of white, and her rubber boots looked too big for her, bending at the ankle at every step.
"Well, you're not lost now," Ruby called. "We'll take you back to your mom. She's waiting for you."
Suddenly, the girl pushed her way out of the bushes and darted across the street, her arms spread wide.
Just as a pickup barreled around the corner.CHAPTER 5
GOING IN FOR THE KILL
It was three minutes past eleven when Lucy Hayes started walking toward the Last Exit. A little unsteadily because she had pregamed at her apartment. Sometimes a girl just needed to sing karaoke, especially Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." But karaoke wasn't nearly as much fun if you were sober, and even the well drinks at the Last Exit were five bucks.
Lucy wasn't stupid. She didn't need a DUI, so she was walking in the freaking cold. Balancing her need to look cute with the reality of walking fourteen blocks, she had gone with her black John Fluevog boots with their decorative buttons and hourglass heels. A really stylish girl might have rocked them in some alternative cyberpunk version of 1890.
In just a few blocks the wind turned her ears into chips of ice. She tried pulling up her scarf, but it didn't help. It even hurt to breathe, the cold air pulling her lungs inside out.
Finally, Lucy climbed the three steps of what had once been an old house, crossed the front porch (empty now, but crowded in the summer), and pushed open the door with fingers that were numb despite her mittens. Inside it was warm and steamy, and she immediately began to thaw. Up on the tiny stage, a bald guy with long orange sideburns was singing "Billie Jean" while doing a very bad impression of Michael Jackson's moonwalk.
After shoving her mittens into her coat pocket, Lucy took off her purple-and-white-striped scarf. Then she blinked in surprise. Cooper! Cooper was here. He'd said that he thought he was coming down with a cold, that he was going to go to bed early, but here he was, sitting with his shoulders against the wall, laughing at whatever the person facing him had just said.
Before Lucy could call out, wave her hand, hurry over, his eyes began to close and his mouth began to open. And then he was going in for the kill. Leaning in to kiss the girl who had her back to Lucy.
Lucy wanted to rewind time, to put herself back in her apartment, to make it so this was not happening. Because this was not — this couldn't be happening to her.
Excerpted from Blood Will Tell by April Henry. Copyright © 2015 April Henry. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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