In a coastal town on the Outer Carolina Banks, David Ribault and Merrill Poulnot are trying to revive their stale relationship and commit to marriage, and a slick developer claiming to be related to a historic town hero, Rawson Steele, has come to town and is buying up property. Steele makes a romantic advance on Merrill and an unusual 5 a.m appointment outside of town with David. But Steele is a no-show, and at the time of the appointment everyone in the town disappears, removed entirely from our space and time to a featureless isolated village—including Merrill and her young son. David searches desperately but all seems lost for Steele is in the other village with Merrill.
Kit Reed's Where is a spooky, unsettling speculative fiction.
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About the Author
KIT REED is the author of the Alex Award-winning Thinner Than Thou and many other novels. She has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, as well as the Shirley Jackson Award, and has been a James W. Tiptree Award finalist. Kit Reed lives in Middletown, CT, where she is Resident Writer at Wesleyan University.
Kit Reed (1932-2017) is the author of the Alex Award-winning Thinner Than Thou and many other novels, including The Night Children, her first young adult work. Reed has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award and has been a James W. Tiptree Award finalist. Kit Reed lived in Middletown, CT, and was Resident Writer at Wesleyan University.
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By Kit Reed
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Kit Reed
All rights reserved.
Thursday, before dawn
If there was a shift in the skies at his back just then— any change in the wind to signify what was coming, Davy didn't know it. The islands were at his back, the skies ahead, dark as fuck. He was on the last causeway to the mainland, getting cranked up to confront Rawson Steele, object?
Look, the first time he saw the guy, he was stealing a car on Front Street— at least Davy thinks he was. Last week he caught this well-dressed stranger hotwiring a needle-nosed Lexus with out-of-state tags on the main drag. Nobody steals cars in downtown Charlton, South Carolina, at least not this early; nobody lays his classy suit jacket across the hood while he's doing it: flaunting Hugo Boss on Front Street at an hour when no tourists come.
Perfect hair. That suit. Not from around here.
Davy let it go by, but he unlocked his offices with the creepy feeling that he wasn't the first.
David Ribault's sense of order is profound. He can tell when something's wrong. An architect, he knows the location of everything in his office, down to the last pencil. He doesn't know how, he just knows how it is. It's what drove him to architecture in the first place. He wants to improve his part of the world with designs that can be set down and defined in terms of absolutes. It's about sorting out the mess and confusion of life, a least a little bit, with symmetry.
He studied the configuration of objects on his drafting table for too long, scowling. Everything looks OK, but it isn't. He couldn't pin it down, exactly. He just knew.
Don't be stupid, he told himself, but it was creepy.
Then, driving back to Merrill's neat little steamboat bungalow on Kraven island that night, he slammed on the brakes. The sleazy hotwire wizard's car crouched in the no-parking zone outside the Harbor City Inn, vibrating in place like a dog that somebody told, "Stay," and then forgot. Davy's back hairs bristled. Not your car.
He saw the driver stalking up the walk to the hotel like he owned the place. However he charmed Martha Ann Calhoun at the desk, whatever he had to pay her, days have passed and that car is still sitting there. Did the big-city stranger come back and turn off the motor or did he leave it running in place until the tank burned dry?
"That car? It belongs to this big gun from New York, his name is Rawson Steele," Merrill said when he came home fuming. "We had a great conversation."
Davy's back went up. "Stay away from him, he's a sleazeball."
She shut him down with a silky smile. "Well, he was very nice to me."
So Steele hit on Davy's girl before he even knew it, worked his dark magic before he could go, watch out. Everybody knows him now, Kraventown is that small. He knifed his way in here like a tiger shark hunting in the swash, finds a way to get in your face, standing too close with that innocent fuck-me grin, Can't they see the teeth? It bothers him that nobody else got this warning vibe, not even his old friend Ray Powell— retired lawyer, runs Kraventown from behind the scenes.
It bothers him that nobody else got that warning vibe, not even meticulous Ray. Ray takes his time making up his mind, just not that day. Ray, his friend Ray walked Steele into Merrill's office at Town Planning and Zoning and introduced them smooth as Judas, and Merrill drank the Kool-Aid too, which bothers him the most.
Then on Friday she took his hands the way she does, laughing. "Come on, sweetie. Ray's giving the party at Azalea House."
"For that guy."
"Is that a problem for you?"
He was cool about it, neither here or there. "Sorry, I have things to do."
They're too close to have to spell it out. She tried, "If you'd only talk to him. Really, he's in love with this place and so are you ..." Then she read the sour look on his face and push almost came to shove; his smart, tough, longtime lover curled her fingers in the hollow at his throat, wheedling. "If you loved me, you'd come with."
He managed not to say, Not in this life. He tightened his hand over hers, keeping it in place, and did the best he could. "Tell Ray I'm sorry, tell him something came up."
Right. He should have gone, marked his territory, whatever men in love are supposed to do. Merrill came home glowing. "Davy, he can't figure out why you won't give him the time of day when he thinks you're doing great things here."
"New buildings and renovations. What you did at the Lanier plantation, the big houses on Front Street, the Gaillard, for instance, the clinic. At least give him a chance!"
He loves her so he kept his mouth shut.
According to Ray, Rawson Steele worked that party like a pro. He'd played the genial, clueless tourist, "Say, where's the best fishing, who makes the best crab cakes, are there any Civil War relics left on the island?" translated: Confederate gold. He followed up with "Who keeps up all these great old houses" a beat too soon, Ray told him, which meant, "Who are the first families?" By the time the Japanese lanterns burned down and his guests were wandering off into the Carolina night, this aggressively charming intruder had his host backed into a corner. He was oblique, nothing stated, but all those questions narrowed down to: "What would it take to buy these people out?"
Davy said, "He looked like trouble coming in."
Ray, who'd planted torchères along the walks at Azalea House and fired up his champagne fountain in this guy's honor, finished, "Turns out you were right, Ribault. You. Were. Right."
Here in the low country, on the barrier islands along the Inland Waterway, on Kraven island in particular, people don't land on you like that. They don't expect you to unzip your fly at the first party and show them your junk. In these parts folks amble in, and if there's something on their mind they take their time getting around to it, idling until you ask.
Ray backed off that night and he wasn't the only one. In the low country, people do these things so smoothly that outsiders never know. Davy kept his distance, but every day he has coffee with the dawn patrol at Weisbuch's store, and he hears. They say Steele is here for something about their island— land, he thinks— which puts David A. Ribault of Ribault Associates, Architects, squarely in his sights, which is a problem for him. Davy isn't OCD exactly, but as a kid he fell in love with symmetry, and he became an architect because of the need to put things right. He'd like to take the jumbled mass of the town, all these decaying houses and ramshackle shanties and cheap new buildings badly designed, and find a way to improve them, daring to hope that will make things better for people living here, whereas this bastard, bastard ... He doesn't know. But he does. He wants to fuck up our island. No. He wants to fuck us up by messing with everything we care about.
For days he and Steele circled each other like dogs deciding whether to fight or not. He'd just as soon they didn't, but when he slouched out of Weisbuch's early yesterday, Steele blindsided him. "Ribault!"
"Shit!" Bastard, bastard: hot coffee everywhere.
"We have to meet."
"Whatever happened to hello?"
Eyes narrowed: "Urgent matter."
"Say what?" Davy was not about to ask why. He wasn't about to say yes, either.
"We need to sit down." Steele was all Abe Lincoln forelock and disarming, trust-me grin, but those black eyes darted here, there. With a fake half-smile, he rushed on. "Not here, over there on the mainland, where it's ..."
Fill in the blanks.
"It's ..." Davy prompted, leaving Steele a space to put the rest, but Steele didn't. What does he want from me?
Davy studied the lanky Northerner: dark hair, dark, deep-set eyes, really does look like Abraham Lincoln on a good day, except without the beard. Would you trust this man? Davy doesn't trust anybody much, except Merrill. And Ray, who yanked him out of Charlton Community College and drop-kicked him into New Haven to start all over again at Yale. "What for?"
Steele used the proffer: big man extends hand with generous grin to prove that he's bigger than you. "Rawson Steele." Shake.
"I know." Davy shook, sort of, in a classic feint-and-lunge. Two guys who don't like each other much, bent on faking each other out.
"We need a time certain."
"I need a reason."
Steele countered with the blow-off line of the century. "I'll explain later. Tomorrow?" Davy wheeled. "Can't. Busy." Take that and fuck you.
"Wait!" Steele followed, matching him step for step. "This is ..."
"What?" Davy snapped around in a full 360, glaring. "What!"
"It's ..." This is when he got weird. "I don't want to cause a panic but this is serious, and you look like the right man ..."
If I ask, he wins. Make him wait.
Steele waited a beat too long. He said, "Something's about to," and didn't finish. He said, "It's just." But he didn't say just what. He said what was a good place on the mainland, where they could meet out in the open, where no third party can plant a bug. As if granting a concession, he said, "Name the place."
Davy didn't. He just grinned. "No bugs?"
"You heard me."
Davy studied him: silk shirt, hundred-dollar jeans and four-hundred-dollar high-tops. Like he went into Barneys and said, "country" and this is what he got, never looked at the tags, just let them run his plastic, all condescending, thinking: South Carolina? Hicks. This is good enough for them.
Davy's grin spread. Welcome to the boondocks, friend. He held off answering until he had Steele gnawing the cuticles around his buffed fingernails. "Historic Charlton waterfront?"
"Someplace convenient to your office."
So you did break in, you condescending fuck. Like I'll take you into the back room and show you everything.
They faced off like captains of opposing teams, hicks versus assholes. "Outside, no bugs? Then you'll want the Front Street Overlook." Davy flashed his best hick grin.
Steele didn't bother to fake a smile. "Directions, please. I need to tell my phone."
Like any app could track the network of causeways and bridges linking the barrier islands to town. He really is not from around here. Pissed, he started before Steele hit record: "OK, Lewis Cooder bridge off Kraven, take Route Six across Poynter's island to the Calhoun bridge to the causeway. It's a straight shot to the Bartlett Fork. Now, look sharp and watch the signs or you'll end up at the base on North Island, apologizing to the MPs on the gate. Got that?"
As if. Steele was all thumbs. Grinning, Davy went on. "Your next turn's at the three-foot-tall milestone, you can't miss it, big block letters. Take a right and you're headed for Charlton." The milestone reads:Ribault road. His family was in the first wave of Huguenots, so far back that people forget. "Charlton High's on your left, we used to. Never mind. Bear right at Pinckney Street. Big money built on the waterfront, it's all Tara and Belle Reve on the left, facing the bay. Look for the Overlook where the live-oaks thin out?"
"Live-oaks, did you not Google us?" He was gratified to see Steele, all thwarted and fuming when all he has to do is get a damn map. Grinning, Davy dragged it out, "You know, all Spanish moss, like gorilla armpit hair? At the Tanner house, pull into the lot across the street."
He had Steel barking with frustration. "Tanner house?"
"Man, it's on all the damn posters! Civil War hospital. They rolled all the crippled Yankee soldiers out on the porch to watch the sun come up." Davy finished with his easy, trust-me grin. He laid back for a minute, wanting Steele to process what he said next.
"You wanted a place that can't be bugged."
"Right. Privacy." Steele fixed Davy with those dead-black eyes. "You'll need it."
"Nope." Nobody tells Dave Ribault what he needs without it costing. Fool Yankee, with his No Bugs. I'll show you bugs.
Steele dropped the next words like bricks. "You don't know what you need."
Raising the possibility that after last night he and Merrill ... Don't, Ribault. Be cool. "I'll be under the Charlton Oak, big tree, big plaque. You get one half-hour, tops." Then he walked right into it. "What time?"
Steele made a quick calculation: turned out it was get-even time. Given their schedules and whatever he has on his plate that he needs to keep private Steele said, "Early."
"At 4:30," the Northerner said with a gotcha grin. Then he drove in the last nail. "If you want everything you care about to be where you left it when you get home tomorrow ..." he said, but did not finish. Son of a bitch walked away whistling through his teeth like Davy ought to know the tune and pick up on the words, but, shit.
He went to work pissed off, and drew and redrew a site plan because he couldn't make it come out right. It made him late getting back to Merrill's house so he stayed pissed off, and when he rolled into the driveway, his bad day personified was standing with Merrill at her front door, two heads bent under the yellow porch light. Close. Like they were colluding.
It's not that she's Davy's private property, but they are, by God, together, everybody knows that. He got out of the car locked and loaded, but by the time he crunched through the azaleas Merrill was inside and Steele was gone. He didn't ask and she didn't say, they just sat down to a late supper in front of the TV so nobody had to talk, but it ate him out like a mess of chiggers, burrowing under the skin. He'd do anything to make it stop: pace, eat, confront her, but he didn't know what.
They collided in her kitchen in the middle of the night and faced off like gladiators— why?
He thinks he snarled, What was that with you and Rawson Steele? and they had words. She cried, That's what I'm trying to find out, which should have diffused it— if he'd just let it go, but he couldn't, so push came to shove the way it does with them: her strong mind, his will. By the end he was raging, Dammit, I moved all the way out here just to be with you and Merrill said if that's the way he felt about it, he should damn well put up or shut up and God help him, he doesn't know which. It was stone dark when he slipped out of bed today with all that between them, and nothing resolved. He could care less whether Steele's stupid meeting comes off, but the fight stuck to his hide like a burr under a saddle and rubbed him raw. OK, he fled the scene of the crime. He left Kraven island long before Boogie Hood shuffled out of the back room to start the coffee, raised the Rolos and turned on the light in front of Weisbuch's store.
Driving to town in the dark, he broods. Why this frontal assault on Kraven island, and his girl Merrill in particular? What, exactly, is driving Rawson Steele?
It's so early that no birds fly. The only sign of life in the sky above the Inland Waterway is a transport plane taking off from the base at North Island. Even the bugs seething in the marsh grass along the causeways are still. He should have but didn't leave some kind of note for Merrill, she won't mind, they don't take each other for granted, they're not on that kind of footing, but after last night ... At the end it got ugly, both of them hurt and angry, tearing up the night.
Oh shit. Oh, shit.
Anger twists in his belly like a mess of gators seething in the marsh. He wrenches the car off the road at the Overlook and pulls into the parking lot. Four A.M. Good. He's first. Fine. Go out on the breakwater and watch the morning come up. Make the bastard wait. From the breakwater, he'll see Steele's car coming before the fool figures out where to park. Given the lay of the land, he'll have to stand up with a big, hick wave before Steele even knows that his mark or his quarry, nemesis or whatever, got here first.
Davy will write his first line based on the look of Steele as he approaches, gauge his intentions by the way he walks. See if he gassed up that Lexus or hotwired another car. Make him wait until he's gnawed his fingers raw, and make him wait some more. If he so much as looks like he's fixing to leave, keep him in place with one phone call: "Bridge is up, be there soon." String it out, Ribault. String it out. Eventually his mark will get sick of pacing and sit down under the famous Charlton Oak. Being as he's not from around here, he'll lean against that big, speckled trunk and start messing with his smartphone, Davy thinks, everybody does.
That's when I drop down to the fisherman's ledge and come back around on him, so it looks like I just drove in. He'll give Steele his patented sweet, apologetic grin, show his empty hands and go, "Hey. Don't get up." By that time the Northerner's pants will be alive with redbugs: chiggers gnawing through his thong or burrowing deep inside the butt-crack of those high-end jeans. At this or any other hour the little fuckers snap to and swarm out of the bark or up from the Spanish moss the second they smell fresh meat.
It's a pleasure to think about them having whatever urgent conversation Steele planned while he's all distracted and crazy because he can't let Merrill Poulnot's lover, her partner see him scratching his butt.
There is a shift in the air— an atmospheric tremor, as though something tremendous just stirred and came to life, but he is too angry to mark the difference.
Excerpted from Where by Kit Reed. Copyright © 2015 Kit Reed. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I liked this book but it got very repetetive. And, I think the author took the easy way out at the end. Disappointing.