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Nominated for the 2018 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel.
A dark mystery unfolds in Rio Youers's riveting thriller, The Forgotten Girl.
Harvey Anderson is a twenty-six-year-old street performer from New Jersey. He enjoys his peaceful life, but everything turns upside down when he is abducted and beaten by a group of nondescript thugs. Working for a sinister man known as “the spider,” these goons have spent nine years searching for Harvey’s girlfriend, Sally Starling. Now they think they know where she lives. And whom she loves.
There’s only one problem: Sally is gone and Harvey has no memory of her. Which makes no sense to him, until the spider explains that Sally has the unique ability to selectively erase a person’s memoriesan ability she has used to delete herself from Harvey’s mind.
But emotion runs deeper than memory, and Harvey realizes he still feels something for Sally. And sowith the spider threateninghe goes looking for a girl he loves but can’t remember . . . and encounters a danger that reaches beyond anything he could ever imagine.
Political corruption and manipulation. A serial killer’s dark secrets. An appetite for absolute, terrible power. For Harvey Anderson, finding the forgotten girl comes at quite a cost.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Forgotten Girl
By Rio Youers
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Rio Youers
All rights reserved.
I'm not a coward. This will become evident as we move forward, but I want to put it out there nonetheless. A definitive, no-bullshit statement: I am not a coward. I'll admit that I'm sensitive, and that my stomach tightens at the mere suggestion of confrontation; I'll walk away from an argument before it gets too heated. I inherited this from my mom: a gentle-hearted pacifist and vegetarian who, like Linda McCartney, died of cancer anyway. Violence is how stupid people negotiate, she once said to me. I was maybe twelve or thirteen at the time. I smiled and told her that she was brilliant and beautiful. I'm paraphrasing Asimov, she replied, kissing my forehead. Mom never took credit for anything.
I got into a few scrapes in high school. It happens when you're just south of ordinary. I was never the instigator, though, and I always tried to make peace. It's not that I was afraid of getting hurt; I simply found the whole exchanging-blows thing unnecessary. So I proffered the white flag and bore the chickenshit denomination. I could forgo being popular for those few ugly years of adolescence, if it meant keeping my integrity. But allow me to state again: I am not a coward. I wasn't in high school, and I'm not now. I just have zero capacity for violence.
Or so I thought.
* * *
His fist jackhammered the left side of my face — three swift, blunt blows that sent fluorescent particles swirling across my field of vision. The pain felt as if it were wrapped in cloth: a thing both large and round-edged. My cheek swelled and blood spouted from a cut beneath my eye. I slumped to my knees. My emotions shifted from fear and confusion to outright terror. These men were going to kill me.
I crawled a short distance and watched the blood drip between my hands. I imagined them having to scrub it later with bleach, perhaps using a toothbrush to get into the fine cracks in the cement. They would dispose of my body efficiently. My crazy father would assume I'd been abducted by aliens.
"Please ..." Blood dripped from my mouth, too. The inside of my cheek had been smashed against my teeth.
Another thug — boots like Frankenstein's monster — kicked me in the stomach and all the air rushed out of me. I rolled onto my side, knees drawn to my chest. More of those fluorescent particles whirled before my eyes. I blinked them away and staggered to my feet. There was another thug — how many of these guys were there? — guarding the door and I stumbled toward him. I thrust my shoulder into his chest and bounced off him. He shoved me back into the middle of the room. I turned a slow circle, wiping my face with trembling hands.
"What do you want from me?"
My vision swam. Five of them. No ... six. Maybe seven. They surrounded me, as robust as trees, and all grim-faced. That was when I started to cry. And no, that doesn't make me a chickenshit. Jesus, I was terrified — anybody would cry. Even those ballsy, testosterone-jacked Neanderthals from high school.
My tears brought no pity, though. No reprieve. Some brick-headed dude with fists as hard as bowling balls dropped me with one punch. My head struck the cement floor and chimed. I felt it then: the first toxic pangs of rage. I thought of the many confrontations I'd turned my back on — the punches I could have thrown but hadn't. It was like I had banked all my aggression and now I was cashing it in. Adrenaline surged like a whale breaching. I got to my feet and made fists of my own. Be damned if I'd go down without a fight.
I stepped toward the thug with the monstrous boots and threw a sizzling right hook. I imagined it an asteroid that would impact the planet of his skull and split it to the core. Instead, I tripped over my own feet and my fist sailed harmlessly wide. I caught my balance in time for one of those boots to connect with my bony ass. Down I went again. The rage was flushed from me, as if it had never been there to begin with. I curled onto my side and whimpered. Thug one — Jackhammer — rolled me onto my back. He placed his foot on my chest like a victorious barbarian.
"Tie this skinny motherfucker up," he said.
* * *
So I have this theory: that we all have tunnel vision; we move through life seeing only what's directly in front of us, with little interest in the periphery. I mean, when was the last time you really looked around, a 360-degree appreciation of your environment, where you note — at once — the architecture of that building, the sun-washed red of that stop sign, the black car idling in a different spot every day? We see these things, but — because they exist beyond the conveyor belt of our lives — we rarely absorb them. It's a remarkable form of blindness.
My old man once claimed that we have microchips implanted into our brains at birth, that we're essentially automatons hardwired to certain corporate logos and propaganda. Conspiracy-theorist paranoia, of course, but I can't help but believe that something is scrambling the signal. Something is blinding us.
They'd been watching me the past few days. That black car idling first outside the Bank of America, then in the Cracker Barrel parking lot. That stranger standing two behind me in the line at the post office. That brick-headed dude walking past my apartment every few hours, often wearing a different jacket. They occupied the periphery, but I didn't really see them because I — like everybody else — have tunnel vision.
It had been an average Tuesday: get up at 9 a.m., a breakfast of quinoa flakes with almond milk, thirty minutes of Ashtanga yoga, shower and teeth. Tuesday mornings I busk beneath the Tall Man statue in Green River Park. It's a sedate vibe, where people go to read, relax, just be. I play Joan Baez, James Taylor, Jim Croce. Mellow tunes to complement the setting, and the money in my guitar case at the end of the session suggests that people appreciate it. Tuesday afternoons I hit the sidewalk outside the Liquor Monkey, where I break out the blue-collar rock. After a couple of hours there, I go to the bank to unload the small change. Then I buy bread, return to Green River Park, and feed the birds: a little spray of color at the end of the day. Sometimes I'll play to them, too. Sweet acoustic melodies. Birds dig it.
Average Tuesday, then I returned home and everything was turned upside down. The door to my apartment hung ajar and I stepped inside tentatively, wondering if Mr. Bauman, my landlord, had let himself in for some reason, and forgot to close the door afterward. Stepping into my living room, I saw this wasn't the case: my apartment had been ransacked. Bookshelves had been cleared. Drawers had been emptied. Chairs were overturned and my few pictures shattered in their frames. In the bedroom, my clothes were strewn across the floor and my mattress flipped. There was similar disarray in the kitchen and bathroom. I dropped my guitar and it struck a muted, tuneless chord from inside the case.
"What the hell?" I said. There was too much chaos to tell if anything was missing. I stepped into the kitchen, where I kept a roll of twenties — maybe four hundred dollars — in a Ziploc bag at the bottom of an empty cookie jar. The jar was broken. The money was still there.
"What the hell?"
My computer hadn't been stolen, either, but I suspected it had been tampered with. I always put it into sleep mode and closed the lid, but now it was open and wide awake, my Beatles-themed screensaver going through the motions. It occurred to me then that whoever had turned over my apartment wasn't interested in money. They wanted information.
A case of mistaken identity. Must be. Because I had no information. I was a twenty-six-year-old street performer from Green Ridge, New Jersey. I didn't mingle in other people's affairs. I kept blissfully to myself. Just south of ordinary, remember?
Something else occurred to me: that the door to my apartment hadn't been forced, which meant they'd either picked the lock, or Mr. Bauman had let them in. I thought I should pay him a visit — he'd need to know what had happened anyway — before calling the police.
The landlord's apartment was on the first floor (I was on the third) and the quickest way down was the stairwell. The elevator worked but it was slow as hell and swayed ominously as it descended. I'd just rounded the second flight of stairs when I came across two of the thugs blocking my way to the exit. Even then it didn't click — I didn't see them. I scooched to one side so we could pass without bumping shoulders, but instead one of them grabbed my Tshirt and threw me against the wall. My head cracked off the concrete and I saw the first of those fluorescent particles. I realized then that — for some unknown reason — I was in shit of the deepest variety.
I tried doing what I always do in the face of confrontation: I turned away. Or in this case, ran away. A deft spin-move took me out of the thug's clutches and I darted toward the stairs, heading for the second floor. Footsteps echoed around me. I looked up and saw another thug — Brickhead — descending from the third. Only one option available: I crashed through the doorway onto the second floor and staggered toward the windows at the far end of the hallway. The fire escape was only accessible through the apartments, but I hoped — courtesy of too many cheesy action movies — that I might be able to leap into a dumpster, or perhaps onto the back of a truck.
Voices behind me: thug one and thug two, with their unmoved expressions and granite shoulders. I passed the elevator and saw it standing open. It appeared I had another choice after all. The doors rattled closed as I reeled toward them, but I squeezed through the gap and into the stale-smelling cube. I saw the thugs in the inch-wide strip of hallway before the doors came together. Frantically, I punched P for the parking garage. There was a moment's hesitation — a pondering of counterweights and pulleys. I thought the doors would obligingly open again, allowing my pursuers access, then I heard a reluctant ding and the car began its descent.
There was a dulled mirror on one side and I noted my reflection wildly drawn: screwball cousin to the coolheaded dude who'd sat down to his quinoa flakes that morning. The car swayed and clanged like antique clockwork. I imagined the thugs patiently making their way to the parking garage. The doors would open and they'd be waiting. I tried the emergency button, hoping the car would stop — that the frickin' Bat-Signal would illuminate the sky over Green Ridge. The red light above it sputtered but that was all. "Help me," I shrieked, jabbing the button like a kid with a video game. "This is Harvey Anderson, apartment eighteen. I'm being —"
Cables swinging, creaking. The car stopped with a bang. I wondered if the emergency button had worked, after all, then the floor indicator displayed a mockingly bright P and the doors rumbled open.
The thugs were there. Four of them. They weren't dressed like secret service agents, and were nothing like the muscle you see on TV. They didn't have eye patches or neck tattoos. These looked like regular guys. Jeans and jackets. Designed to blend into the periphery.
"You've got the wrong man," I said.
One of them stepped into the elevator. A baton telescoped from his sleeve. It swept toward me with a hummingbird purr — caught the ridge of bone behind my right ear. I went down and wavered for a moment on the rim of consciousness. Another thug placed a cloth bag over my head. It smelled of oil. I dampened the fabric as I sucked for air.
And then ... nothing.
Nothing until I came to in a small room with a cracked cement floor and cinderblock walls. A dim lightbulb buzzed behind a wire mesh set into the ceiling. A tender bump had risen behind my right ear and I examined it gingerly. It felt as large as a knot in a bed sheet.
The thugs circled me. I pushed to my knees and implored the blurred face of the one closest.
"What the fuck, man?"
They came at me.
* * *
I was pushed into a creaky wooden chair and my wrists bound to the slats behind me. I bled onto my T-shirt and screamed. The thugs waited for me to burn myself out. My blood darkened and dried.
Jackhammer stepped toward me. I flinched as he reached out, placed his fingers beneath my chin, and tilted my head so I could see him.
"And now it's down to you," he said.
I rasped something. Begged him with my eyes.
"We've shown you how serious we are."
My blood was smeared across his knuckles.
"What do you want?" I asked.
"Information," Jackhammer replied. "Cooperate and we'll let you go. Hold back and we'll kill you."
There was no character to his voice. It could have been his shadow speaking. His face, too, was remarkably blank. No moles or scars. His eyes were not a striking shade of blue and his nose not too flat. I imagined describing him to police as "nondescript" and having them roll their eyes. The facial composite would look as generic as a grapefruit.
He removed his fingers from beneath my chin. My head slumped.
"It's your choice," he said.
"You've got the wrong man," I said.
"Harvey Nathanial Anderson. Born: zero-four, zero-four, eighty-nine. Mother: Heather June Anderson. Deceased. Father: Gordon Anderson. Served with the Ninth Infantry Division in Vietnam. Lost the left half of his face to fragments from a Viet Cong grenade."
Lost his mind, too.
"How am I doing, Harvey?"
"Is this about my father?"
"Your father doesn't concern me," Jackhammer said. "To be honest, you don't concern me, either."
"Then what is it about?"
His nostrils flared as he inhaled. He brought his hands together in a bony ball and leaned forward, studying my expression, looking for any hint of recognition.
"Sally Starling," he said.
There had been three unsolved murders in Green Ridge in the last three years. All women. Beaten, raped, stabbed to death. The killer was extremely careful, leaving no incriminating evidence. For a while the town was at condition orange. We even checked our peripheries, like the entire nation in the months following 9/11. It must have worked, because there hadn't been a murder for sixteen months. The townspeople had since slipped into their usual zombie state.
That name — Sally Starling — was vaguely familiar, and I wondered if she'd been one of the three victims. Perhaps if I hadn't been so scared, I could have identified it, but all I found in my mind was an empty space.
"I don't ..." Tears filled my throat. I inhaled sharply and the sound was drainlike. "It's not ... please —"
Jackhammer's fist drummed off my jaw and the chair teetered sideways. A flare exploded in my skull and set an alarming glow over everything.
"Did I mention how serious we are?"
I spat a red ribbon from my mouth.
He pronounced the name slowly. Four precise syllables. I churned through my bruised mind but there were only blanks. A terrible thought occurred to me: that if Sally was one of the murder victims, these guys likely believed I was her killer. They could be vigilantes, or Sally's stricken family, taking the law into their own hands.
I lowered my eyes and groaned miserably, then recalled Jackhammer saying that they wanted information. Cooperate and we'll let you go, he'd said. It didn't jive with the vigilante theory.
"I don't ... don't —"
He hit me again. More an open-handed slap. My head rocked to the side so viciously that capillaries erupted in my neck.
"NO," I screamed. "Jesus fucking Christ." I coughed up blood and snot and spat it down the front of my T-shirt. The pain encircled me. "I'll help you if I can. I swear. I fucking SWEAR."
Jackhammer's lip flared. He flexed his fingers.
"Sally Starling," he said. "Where is she?"
"I don't know, man. I don't even know who she is."
"WHERE IS SHE?"
Excerpted from The Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers. Copyright © 2017 Rio Youers. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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