During a sleepover with her two friends, Emma goes missing. The owners of a local news network, her parents have money and power. As the police scour the city, Emma’s father offers a $250,000 reward for his daughter’s safe return. Eight days after the abduction, two hikers find her. Emma has been dead for days. After a year’s fruitless search, the police make an arrest, picking up the network’s star anchorman. As Emma’s father brays for blood, Luke Garrison is the only person who dares to stand in his way. Once a merciless District Attorney, Luke became a defender after mistakenly sending a man to the gas chamber. Now he will let no one—not even a bereaved father—rush justice. But is he doing the right thing, or is he fighting to set a killer free?
About the Author
J. F. Freedman is the New York Times bestselling author of Against the Wind, The Disappearance, House of Smoke, and In My Dark Dreams, among other titles. He is also an award-winning film and television director, writer, and producer. He lives in California.
Read an Excerpt
By J. F. Freedman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 J. F. Freedman
All rights reserved.
The moon, two days past full, hangs low and forbiddingly cold, diamond hard in the late winter dead-of-night sky. A thirty-knot wind swooping out of the northeast earlier in the evening, blowing as hard as the summer Santa Anas, has brought the temperature down almost to freezing, which rarely happens this late, mid-March, people aren't prepared for it, even though they should be, given the terrible winter this new year has brought forth.
It's late now, well past midnight. Nothing is moving on the streets. All the lights are out in all the houses.
The girl sleeping on the futon hears a noise, a dull thump, like a body bumping into something. The sound is just loud enough to bring her to the edge of consciousness, somnolently turning her head to look up from where it's buried in a pillow.
There are three fourteen-year-old girls sleeping in the bedroom, eighth-graders having their little slumber party. They have been together most of the day, from mid-afternoon. Emma's mom dropped them off downtown a couple hours before dark.
They cruised the Paseo Nuevo mall, bought some tops and shorts at Nordstrom and The Gap, followed that with dinner at California Pizza Kitchen, and finished off downtown by going to a movie at the Metro 4 down the street (an R-rated movie with Johnny Depp, they brazened their way in with attitude, the movie people let the ID deal slide as long as you don't look like a sixth-grader). Emma bought the tickets. She's fourteen, going on twenty in her head, mature-looking for her age, with an innocent sensuality that oozes from her.
Their parents have just started letting them out at night on their own, as long as they're in by a reasonable hour. They are growing up fast.
Between the time they had dinner and the time they went to the movie they flirted with some older boys who were at their school before moving on to high school—Bolt or Thatcher or the public high school—but then they danced away, giggling and whispering. They liked the attention, but they aren't dating yet. Except for Emma, and her dates are secrets only her very closest friends share.
Their parents have given them plenty of money on top of their allowances (these mothers and fathers who comprise various combinations of married, separated, and divorced adults have their own weekend agendas which don't include their children, they are all, in their own self-wrapped-up ways, happy the girls can take care of themselves for an entire evening), so they cabbed home and watched Mad TV followed by Night Stand, a stupid-humor takeoff on a talk show. The guy who hosts the show lives in Montecito, the same as them. The girls have seen him in Starbucks, hunched over the News-Press, nursing a latte. Probably checking out his reviews. He's a minor celebrity, nobody to get excited about, not when there are real celebrities all over the place, John Cleese walking on the beach, Michael Douglas having lunch at Pane e Vino, Jodie Foster buying wine and brie at Von's.
They've stayed up way late, past midnight. After they were done watching TV, they went outside and smoked. Emma's house has a huge yard, more than two acres of manicured lawn and beautifully trimmed trees and voluptuous flowerbeds you can get lost in it easy, especially at night. Smoking is new to them—they know kids who have been doing it from when they were ten or eleven or even younger, but these are mostly Chicano public-school kids. At fourteen, though, eighth or ninth grade, lots of kids smoke, it isn't that big a deal.
Big deal or not, they don't want their parents to find out. They don't want the hassle of dealing with their parents about shit like that.
Glenna, Emma's mom, knows that Emma smokes. She hasn't actually caught her daughter with the burning evidence in her mouth, but she sees the signs. She doesn't like it, but she doesn't hassle Emma too much about it, like other mothers would, so most of the time the girls hang out at Emma's house. Glenna looks the other way about lots of things regular mothers wouldn't—having boys in the house when there aren't any adults around, watching any videos or TV shows they want no matter how R-rated-raunchy they are. Glenna is a woman of the '90s, she wants her daughter to be one, too. So she cuts Emma a lot of slack.
The house—it could truly be called a mansion, Montecito is full of houses like this—is one-story, the bedrooms located in two separate wings from the rest of the house. Emma's bedroom has French doors that open onto a flagstone patio, from which a path leads down the full acre of rolling lawn to the swimming pool and bathhouse. When the girls came back to Emma's room they took off their shoes and left them outside.
One of the French doors is open. The moon, just past full, bathes the doorway and part of the bedroom in pale yellow shadowy light.
Is something moving in the room? A person?
Whatever it is, it is out the door, pulling the door closed behind it, crossing the patio.
The girl feels she must be dreaming, a dream within a dream, the kind of dream that feels incredibly real, the kind of dream that if retained at all is always a nightmare in the remembering.
She isn't used to smoking and staying up so late, the way Emma and Hillary, the third girl in the slumber party, are. They're faster than her—she was tremendously flattered and surprised when Emma inexplicably decided, at the beginning of the school year, to admit her into her circle of friends.
Still, she's the third of the threesome. Which is why she is sleeping on the futon on the floor while the other two are in the twin beds. Not that she cares. Being in this company is enough, it doesn't matter where you sleep. Futons are fun, like camping out.
In her dream the French doors are now closed, the room is tranquil, empty. The moon shines on the carpet, a small shimmering pool. The figure is gone.
Then nothingness. The girl rolls over in her sleep and her unconscious mind goes blank.
Hillary and Lisa don't wake up until after ten—normal teenage weekend behavior. Emma isn't there; her unmade bed is rumpled. They figure she's gotten up earlier and gone out.
They lounge around in the room for a while, not sure what to do—go out into the house and look for Emma, or wait for her to come back. They watch some television, get dressed, wait.
Finally, hungry and bored, they wander through the house to the kitchen. Glenna—Mrs. Lancaster to the girls—is sitting on a stool at the island, drinking black coffee and reading the New York Sunday Times magazine. Her angular, striking face is devoid of makeup, and her straight black hair is pulled back in a ponytail; her long, slender feet are bare. A tall, athletic woman, she was awake early and played tennis for two hours on her private court with her coach and a friend.
"Emma still sleeping?" she asks casually, her eyes going back to her article. "How late were you guys up, anyway?"
The girls look at each other. "She's already got up, Mrs. Lancaster," Hillary says. "We thought she was in here."
Glenna shakes her head. "I haven't seen her all morning." She glances at the clock on the wall. It's almost 10:30. "She must be in the shower." She turns a page. There's some great clothing coming out this spring. She needs a trip to New York in the near future.
"We used her bathroom, Mrs. Lancaster," Lisa pipes up. "She wasn't in it."
Glenna cocks her head for a moment, thinking. "Well, she's around somewhere." She lays her magazine aside and favors them with a smile. "She isn't much of a hostess, leaving the two of you to fend for yourselves. Do you want any breakfast?" She gets up from her perch, crosses to the refrigerator. "There's fresh orange juice, bagels, croissants. Do your parents let you drink coffee?" Without waiting for a reply she pours two small glasses of juice. "There's cereal, if you want it. In that cupboard," she points across the room.
Lisa hesitates before she speaks. "I had this really weird dream last night. More like a nightmare."
Glenna smiles. "That's what happens when you stay up too late. You're disturbing your biorhythms."
Lisa nods, uncertain. "It was like I woke up in Emma's bedroom, just the way it was when we went to sleep? And the door to the outside was open, and somebody was in there?"
Glenna looks at her more seriously. "Are you sure this was a dream?"
"I thought it was."
"Tell me what you thought you dreamed. Or saw," she says, becoming agitated. "What time did you think this was? In your dream."
"I don't know. It was really late. Like maybe morning, almost."
Glenna crosses to her. "Did you see something, Lisa?" Her eyes locked onto the girl's. "Look at me, Lisa. What did you see?"
It's early in the afternoon. Glenna and the girls had combed the property looking for Emma. When they didn't find her, Glenna called the police who referred her call to the county sheriff's department. She'd been reluctant to do so, but nothing felt right, and she figured it was better to err on the side of caution.
"What exactly did you see, Lisa?"
They are in the study of Emma's parents' house: Lisa, Hillary, Emma's mother, and the police detective. The detective from the sheriff's department, a big man with a hairbrush mustache, has asked the question. He's asking all the questions. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the missing kid blithely breezes in and wonders what all the commotion's about, but you still have to go through the drill.
Lisa is scrunched up on a couch, pushing hard against it. If she could force herself into it, through it, she would.
She's scared. She feels they're all angry at her. Like it's her fault Emma isn't here.
Glenna Lancaster crosses over and sits next to Lisa, taking the girl's fluttering hand. "It's okay, Lisa," she says soothingly, reassuringly. "What can you remember?" she asks the shaking girl.
Lisa shrugs, more of a wriggle. "I it was really dark. Something was moving, I thought. I mean I thought I saw something. But it was pretty dark," she ends lamely.
An hour later Doug Lancaster arrives at his home like a whirlwind, the tire-squeal of his turbo Bentley on the circular Italian-tile driveway announcing his arrival. Hair askew, still in his golf clothes, he charges into the house.
"What?" he asks Glenna, who has jumped up and runs towards the door, intercepting him in the front hallway. The entryway to their house is eighteen feet high; the massive front door was custom-built of imported Hawaiian koa wood, with floor-to-ceiling beveled windows on either side of the doorway refracting muted rainbow-colored light upon the marble floor.
The Lancasters had built the house a decade ago. They'd been painstaking in making sure everything was exactly as they desired. One example—Glenna and her designer had gone to Italy twice before they found a quarry that had the right marble for the entryway floor. She had supervised every detail of the construction, relentlessly pushing the architect and myriad contractors every day for a year and a half, seven days a week, driving everyone crazy. She went through the three best contractors in the country before she was done; but she got the house the way she wanted it, which is the only way she knows to do things.
"She's missing," she tells her husband. "Emma—"
"You already told me that on the phone," he interrupts her impatiently. "What's the deal? I mean how do you know—I mean what's—" His tongue can't keep up with the pace of his anxiety.
"Calm down," she says forcefully. "Come in and talk."
She steers him into the study, where the police detective, a man named Reuben Garcia, has been waiting for more than two hours. Contacting Doug in Santa Monica was no small feat—he hadn't been in his hotel room and it took forever to get through to him on the back nine at Bel Air Country Club, where he was playing golf with some of the heavies from NBC.
Hillary is gone now. Her parents came and hustled her away. Lisa, the cause for this alarm, is still there: Garcia wouldn't let her leave until Doug Lancaster could get home and hear her story, fragmentary as it is, firsthand. Garcia doesn't want any problems later on down the line, such as an irate father with a ton of clout becoming upset because he didn't hear the story himself from the mouth of this small, increasingly terrified fourteen-year-old girl.
Susan Jaffe, Lisa's mother, is with her daughter. Lisa is her only child. They live alone in a small house in the affordable area of the lower Riviera, in Santa Barbara proper. Susan and Lisa's father have been divorced for a long time. Susan's raised her daughter on her own, and done it while going to Santa Barbara College of Law at night. She's worked for the county for six years now; her salary is decent, enough that she can afford to send her daughter to Elgin, the best private middle school in the area, which is where Lisa met Emma.
Still, Susan makes less in a year than Doug Lancaster draws in salary per month. His salary is for show: he owns four television stations, including the local NBC affiliate, his flagship station. He has a lot of power and he isn't shy about using it, generally for good reasons—he isn't a bully. But the power is there, and everyone who knows what's going on in this town knows it, including Susan Jaffe, a county employee, and Reuben Garcia, a local deputy.
"This is my husband, Doug Lancaster," Glenna says to Susan and Garcia. "Susan is Lisa's mother. You've met her, haven't you?" she asks her husband, whose pulse rate is coming down slightly, now that he's finished his frenzied drive up the coast and is in his own house.
"I don't think so. Hello," he says, offering his hand.
"We met at Elgin School," Susan Jaffe corrects him. "Last parents' night. Your daughter and mine were in the play together."
"Of course," he responds quickly, diplomatically. "You'll have to forgive me. I'm kind of discombobulated right now, since I don't know what's going on." He doesn't remember the woman at all; she's nice enough looking in a generic way. Much like her daughter, cowering next to her on the couch. "Your daughter was very good in the play, as I recall."
"She had a small part, but she was good, I agree."
"So what's the deal?" Doug says now, having dealt with as much of the amenities as he's going to. "Are we sure Emma couldn't have gone out earlier, with a friend or something? You're positive she hasn't called, and in the rush no one picked up the phone?"
Glenna, biting her lip, shakes her head impatiently. "There were no calls. I'm sure."
Garcia answers the other question. "We've had calls out to everyone we can think of who knows your daughter, Mr. Lancaster. We're concerned."
Doug rocks back on his heels. "What do you mean?" he asks slowly, sounding dumb to himself as the words come out of his mouth.
Garcia extends his hand towards the mother and daughter sitting on the sofa. "Lisa here might have seen something."
Doug looks at Lisa. "Seen something?"
"Sit down," Glenna tells him. She steers him to an armchair across from the sofa where the girl sits.
He folds himself into the chair, his eyes fixed on the small girl eight feet across from him, who is shrinking into herself as he stares at her.
"Tell Mr. Lancaster what you saw," Garcia instructs Lisa. "What you think you might have seen," he corrects himself. He isn't committing to anything, not yet.
The sound of the bump brought Lisa out of a deep sleep, the deepest part of sleep that comes about two hours after you first lose consciousness, where whatever primitive sensors are working make you feel like you're a hundred feet under the ocean, all murky and indefinable.
It took her a few seconds to realize where she was. Then she knew. She was in Emma Lancaster's bedroom, sleeping on a futon.
She was groggy. Her mouth was dry. She wished she'd brought a glass of water to bed with her, but this was only her second sleep-over and she wouldn't know how to get to the kitchen from here in the dark, she'd probably trip an alarm and freak everyone out.
She could make her way to Emma's bathroom. She could drink out of the faucet. She rolled over on her side, started to push her quilt down off her body.
Someone was in the room.
Excerpted from The Disappearance by J. F. Freedman. Copyright © 1998 J. F. Freedman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the second J.F. Freedman book that I read and both were enjoyable and both were hard to put down. Half way through this book, I thought I knew the who the real killer was and then a twist would come and you would believe that person was responsible. It was a great who done it!!
Very enjoyable book, easy read. I thought this book was entertaining and easy to read. It kept you guessing until the end and I kept changing my mind on who the killer was, but when they are revealed in the end, it is a surprise. I thought the author developed the characters well and made you feel along with them. The plot is good and you are never bored. I thought it was a very good read and would recommend it to anyone wanting to find a thrilling book.
I am almost finished with this book, and I can't put it down. I love the way this man writes. This time, he goes along, making this observation and that, this conclusion, but, No!, maybe? - who done it??? I will not go to bed tonite till I have my answer. I have almost read my way through all Mr. Freedman's works. He really got my attention with the first of his that I read, The Obstacle Course. What an ending!
As an avid mystery/drama novel fan, I must say, that this book was able to capture my attention like no other I have read in a very long time! It keeps you turning pages nonstop, until you finish reading it in ONE DAY!! ...like I did!
Exciting legal thriller that reminded me of a John Grisham novel. Great characters, lots of twists. I highly recommend it.
The characters, dialogue and plot are first rate. Anyone who likes crime mysteries will love it. It was even better than 'House of Smoke', and that's saying something!
This was the first suspence book I've ever read that I could'nt put down. J.F.Freedman is a wonderful author and I really enjoyed the way he built up the suspence and the evidence so high that you get to thinking its anyone mentioned and refuse to put the book down untill you find out the killer. A real page turner.
This book was very well written and kept me wanting to read on and on. It was very hard to put down.
This book was so SLOW. The surprise ending is NOT worth the drudgery of having to wait, and wait, and wait, for something to happen to bring you closer to the conclusion. I found this reading tedious and disappointing.
This book was slow moving and sadly predictable. It was obvious who the killer was from the very beginning so the suprise ending was no surprise at all.
This book was well worth reading. Kept my interest all the way.
Well written, good story, nice twist. Looking forward to reading more from this author.
;This book was hard to put down. A wonderful mystery of things not being what they seemed. Always kept me guessing. Highly recommend it for anyone loving good mysteries.
Throughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. Great late night reading!
I couldn't put it down. I was holding my breath several times and I loved the characters. I definitely want to read more from this author.
Well written... This is the first J.F. Freedman book that I've read and I enjoyed it very much. Not only because I lived in SB and all the places were very familiar to me, I thought the characters were well developed. The plot was good and kept me interested until the end. I loved all the twists and turns and even though I knew who the killer was, I kept changing my mind, but in the end I was right... Yes, I would recommend this book.
Well written mystery. I enjoyed reading this book. Would definitely read another book written by this author.