Two-time Edgar Award-winning author Lori Roy spins a twisted, atmospheric tale about a small Southern town where girls disappear and boys run away.
When Lane Fielding fled her isolated Florida hometown after high school for the anonymity of New York City, she swore she'd never return. But twenty years later, newly divorced and with two daughters in tow, she finds herself tending bar at the local dive and living with her parents on the historic Fielding Plantation. Here, the past haunts her and the sinister crimes of her father--the former director of an infamous boys' school--make her as unwelcome in town as she was the day she left.
Ostracized by the people she was taught to trust, Lane's unsteady truce with the town is rattled when her older daughter suddenly vanishes. Ten days earlier, a college student went missing, and the two disappearances at first ignite fears that a serial killer who once preyed upon the town has returned. But when Lane's younger daughter admits to having made a new and unseemly friend, a desperate Lane attacks her hometown's façade to discover whether her daughter's disappearance is payback for her father's crimes--or for her own.
With reporters descending upon the town, police combing through the swamp, and events taking increasingly disturbing turns, Lane fears she faces too many enemies and too little time to bring her daughter safely home. Powerful and heart-pounding, The Disappearing questions the endurance of family bonds, the dangers of dark rumors and small town gossip, and how sometimes home is the scariest place of all.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||1 MB|
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Lane Wallace is alone inside Rowland's Tavern when the front door flies open. A man stumbles inside, bringing with him a spray of rain that throws a shine on the hickory-brown floors. He scans the dark room, stomps his feet, and draws both hands over his round, wet face. If the man says anything, Lane doesn't hear him for the rain pounding the tin roof and the palm fronds slapping the front windows. It's supposed to rain through the night, and all around Waddell, people will be keeping a close eye on the river.
Lane smiles because maybe the man is a friend of a friend and not a stranger. She's expecting a big crowd tonight, and one of her regulars might have invited him. But he doesn't smile back. Slipping her phone from her back pocket, she lays it on the bar top where the man will be sure to see it. It's a subtle warning, but if the man is looking for trouble, it'll make him reconsider.
He's a little on the heavy side; doughy, a person might say. From behind the bar, Lane asks the man if a beer'll do him, and as he slides into a booth near the front door, he nods. Her regulars, men who've known her all her life, or rather who have known her father, won't show up for another hour or so, but Rowland Jansen will be back any time now. He ran out to move his car and Lane's to the higher and drier ground of the parking lot out front, so she won't be alone with the man for long.
Even though it's raining, her regulars will come, because after twenty years, this is the night Lane Wallace becomes Lane Fielding again. They'll come to toast the occasion of her divorce and tell her they never liked that no-good, cheating Kyle or the twelve novels he's written. These regulars are Lane's only friends here in town. Since moving back to Waddell six months ago, a move her divorce demanded after living up north for the last twenty years, she's managed to avoid the friends she had when she was growing up here. To her, they're painful reminders of a past she'd rather forget.
Her regulars, men twice her age, have been enough for Lane since moving home. They've even managed to forgive her one indiscretion three months ago with Rowland, her married boss, or to at least ignore it. She's one of them again now that she's back in town, and they're always telling her it's high time she be proud of Waddell and of the family she was born into. Not one of them believes what they call the hogwash that's been spread about Lane's father by the newspapers and television for the last five years. We're glad to have you back, they say instead. Yours is a fine Southern name passed down by fine Southern gentlemen. No need for anymore shame. Damn the newspapers. Damn the state too.
Maybe if the man, this stranger, had sat at the bar like most singles do, Lane wouldn't bother calling Sheriff Mark Ellenton. But he didn't, so she grabs her phone and dials, because she did, after all, make the sheriff a promise.
About ten days ago, a student from Florida State disappeared. Even before the Tallahassee police made their way to Waddell in search of Susannah Bauer, Mark stopped by the bar and made Lane promise to call him if ever she found herself alone with a customer she didn't know. Having two daughters to think of, Lane couldn't afford to be careless, and Mark couldn't bear the thought of anything happening to her. That's what he said, but what he meant, and what hung in the air as it has for more than twenty years, was that he couldn't bear anything happening to her again.
This latest girl's disappearance has brought back bad memories for those old enough to remember the late seventies and a man named Ted. Lane was too young to remember when he passed through Waddell, taking with him a twelve-year-old girl who was never seen again, but plenty of her customers remember. He ate lunch at Olson's Cafe that day and had a tire patched just down the road from Rowland's. Such an ordinary-looking fellow, folks remember. Just as they surely did in 1974 following the disappearance of that young girl, when news of Susannah Bauer's disappearance hit ten days ago, folks started locking doors and taking note of out-of-state license plates.
With her phone pressed to one ear, Lane leans against the bar and studies the back of the strange man's head. The call to Mark's phone rings a few times, but before it rolls to voicemail, the front door opens again. Much like the first man who stumbled inside, the three men who cross over the threshold bring with them another spray of rain.
"Towels are there by the bar," Lane says to the men, and ends the call because four strangers are safer than one.
If she's being honest with herself, the strange man had only been an excuse for her to reach out to Mark. He's the only one she's been happy to see again in the months she's been back, and given that he never married and that he finds reason to stop by the bar more often than necessary, he's seemed happy to have Lane back as well. But since the night she slept with Rowland, Mark hasn't been coming around as much.
She takes the three men for Southerners and whiskey drinkers, and she's right. She hollers to the man sitting at the booth that she'll be right with him, and as she tips a bottle of Woodford over the first tumbler, the ice inside popping and cracking, the men talk among themselves, poke at their cell phones, jot things on small spiral notepads. These three aren't tourists, and they aren't locals here for Lane's party. They've been here before, though not these three exactly, but ones just like them, and they'll certainly come again. Many years ago, Lane was one of them. But then Kyle's fifth book became a bestseller, and he said to Lane, why bother with your career when you have the girls to look after now, and so she quit. These three men are reporters.
"Think you fellows should stick to one round," Lane says.
"Just getting started," the dark-haired one says.
Lane grabs a dry towel from the stack and pulls a longneck from the cooler. "You're journalists?"
"That we are, ma'am." It's the one with silver hair.
"How do you know we're reporters?" the smallest one says.
"If ever there was a news-weary town, gentlemen," Lane says, walking toward the end of the bar, "this is it. Trust me. You're best off sticking to one round."
It hadn't taken the Tallahassee police long to make their way to Waddell after Susannah disappeared. The newspapers and television stations were bound to follow, so it's possible these reporters are here to cover Susannah, but not likely. It'll be Lane's father who has brought them to town. Reporters have been coming to cover Neil Fielding's story for at least five years, long before Lane returned home.
Stories like the one about Lane's father win awards and launch careers. In the beginning, the reporters came only from Florida, but as the story grew, they began driving in from all over the South. From her Brooklyn apartment where she lived with Kyle and the girls for the last twenty years, Lane tracked the reporters' bylines across the country. And within the last six months that Lane's been back, they've begun flying in from New York, Illinois, and from as far away as California. With every new development, the details become more shocking and more reporters come, and the wound here in Waddell so many had hoped would heal has instead festered.
It's the rain and thunder that make Lane creep instead of walk toward the man sitting alone at the booth. It's divorce and being on her own for the first time in twenty years. It's her body being softer than when she last lived here and her blond hair having faded to a blurry brown. It's living in her parents' house and hating that she knows which floorboards creak and which kitchen drawer comes off its track. And it's the music, the soulful slow notes plucked on an acoustic guitar that float through the speakers overhead and remind her how many years are lost and that she's right back where she started.
"Here you go," Lane says, setting the beer on the table.
The man, new to the bar and having come here on the same day as the reporters, is probably a relative of one of the men her father harmed. As the man reaches for the beer, he turns toward Lane, but not in the sudden way she feared. He turns slowly, his eyes not looking quite at her but instead at an empty spot over her shoulder. He's not much older than her oldest daughter, Annalee. Twenty-one at most. Like the rest of him, his face is doughy. His eyes, an icy blue, jump from the beer to that empty spot over Lane's shoulder and back again. As if the man wants to say something but has to think it over, he works his lips together.
"Annalee's not at work," he says. He stares at the tabletop, and his voice barely rises above the rain.
"Annalee," he says. "She's your daughter."
The man isn't about Annalee's age. Lane was wrong to think so. He's mid-twenties at least. He could be nearly thirty.
"It's Monday," the man says, now holding one hand with the other as if trying to trap it. "And she works at the restaurant on Mondays."
"Do you have a job there too?" Lane asks, letting out the breath she'd been holding. He must be asking about Annalee because they work together.
"Butchers and whores," the man says, working his lips in that same way.
Lane glances at the three reporters sitting at the bar. They heard what the man said because they've all turned to face Lane, and the dark-haired reporter is preparing to stand, one foot resting on the ground. She waves them off.
This isn't the first time someone has called the Fieldings butchers and whores. While Lane's regulars won't let themselves believe what the papers report about Lane's father, plenty of others in town do, and they branded the Fieldings butchers. Plenty of those same people, especially parishioners over at the New Covenant, branded Lane a whore after her one night with Rowland. Or rather, Hettie Jansen, Rowland's wife, branded her a whore, and like a snappy headline, it caught on. Butchers and whores.
But Hettie wasn't the first to call Lane such a thing. She had been a girl when first someone called her a whore, and back then, her own father had been the one to do it. You're a whore, he had said to the thirteen-year-old Lane, his warm breath making her eyelids flutter. That's the day she began hatching a plan to leave Waddell. Her marriage to Kyle had been her way out, and her divorce from him twenty years later had forced her return.
"I understand you're angry with my father," Lane says, backing away. It's her standard response, the thing Mark-Sheriff Ellenton-advised her to say. Defuse and evade. "And you have every right to be, but please leave my daughter out of it."
She was right after all. The missing girl hasn't brought the reporters to town. Something is getting ready to break in her father's story, and that's why this man and these reporters have come. Like the others before him, the man is angry because Lane's father has never been punished. Still, she can't allow such hatred, no matter how justified, to settle on her children. This is the reason she'll have to leave Waddell as soon as she can save some money.
"Trouble?" the dark-haired reporter asks as Lane walks back to the bar.
Ignoring the man's question, Lane grabs her cell phone and punches in a message to Annalee. what's up, she types. Lane already knew Annalee isn't at work. The restaurant called her early in the day and told her not to come in because of the rain. A message pops up. putting on supper, it reads. anyone causing trouble at the house today, Lane types. Annalee answers, nope. all quiet.
For the third time, the bar's door opens, and Rowland Jansen walks inside. As he pulls off his hat, Lane tucks her phone back in her pocket. People used to notice Rowland for his blond hair, but it's long since darkened, and now they most notice his height-a good six and a half feet.
"Reporters," Lane says, and nods toward the three men.
"Not looking to cause any trouble." It's the small one.
"Well, here's the thing about reporters," Rowland says, brushing a hand over Lane's hip and stomach as he passes her by. "I have a bar full of regulars coming here tonight, and I don't care to deal with them dealing with the three of you."
Lane slips around to the other side of the bar to put herself beyond Rowland's reach. Though he hasn't said out loud that he hopes their one night together will lead to more, he's become ever more familiar in the weeks since-too familiar.
Draining his glass in one swallow, the silver-haired reporter slaps a twenty on the bar. "The Fielding Mansion," he says. "You know it? Place where Neil Fielding lives? GPS can't find it."
"Never heard of it," Rowland says, a lie he has often told.
Leaning against the bar where Rowland won't happen to brush against her again, Lane glances at the odd man still sitting alone. He has swung his legs around the end of the booth as if preparing to stand and is slapping himself in the forehead, again and again, with one hand.
"We were told to look for the giant elm," the silver-haired one says. "What about you, ma'am? You know where we'll find the Fielding Mansion?"
"Nope," Lane says. "Never heard of it." She's told the lie a good many times too.
Pulling a business card from his wallet, the reporter slides it under the tip jar. "If you happen to remember."
Lane nods but says nothing. It's an oak tree, she could tell them but won't. She could also tell them she's a Fielding and she grew up in that house and lives there now. But she won't do that either. First thing tomorrow morning, she'll have to prepare Erma and the girls. They all need to brace themselves for whatever has brought the reporters to town.