Brad Denning is a successful architect living a perfect life in Denver with his loving wife and son. Or so it would be, if not for the haunting memory of his brother Petey who disappeared while under Brad's supervision when they were kids. Now, a man claiming to be his sibling has mysteriously appeared and Brad is eager to take him in, despite the man's haggard appearance and reluctance to reveal anything about his past. "Petey" is a welcome addition to the family, until a camping trip goes terribly wrong and Brad returns home to find that his devoted wife and son have been abducted. Certain that Petey -- or whoever he may be -- is responsible for the horrible crime, Brad sets out to recover his family. Travelling alone through America's heartland, it's a race against time as Brad struggles to get to his family before the terrible secret of what really happened long ago destroys everything he cares about.
Release date: October 23, 2008
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Print pages: 320
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
When I was a boy, my kid brother disappeared. Vanished off the face of the earth. His name was Petey, and he was bicycling home from an after—school baseball game. Not that he’d been playing. The game was for older guys like me, which is to say that I was all of thirteen and Petey was only nine. He thought the world of me; he always wanted to tag along. But the rest of the guys complained that he was in the way, so I told Petey to “bug off, go home.” I still remember the hurt look he gave me before he got on his bike and pedaled away, a skinny little kid with a brush cut, glasses, braces on his teeth, and freckles, wearing a droopy T—shirt, baggy jeans, and sneakers — the last I saw of him. That was a quarter of a century ago. Yesterday.
By the time supper was ready and Petey hadn’t shown up, my mother phoned his friends in the neighborhood, but they hadn’t seen him. Twenty minutes later, my father called the police. His worst fear (until that moment at least) was that Petey had been hit by a car, but the police dispatcher said that there hadn’t been any accidents involving a youngster on a bicycle. The dispatcher promised to call back if he heard anything and, meanwhile, to have patrol cars looking for him.
My father couldn’t bear waiting. He had me show him the likely route Petey would have taken between the playground and home. We drove this way and that. By then it was dusk, and we almost passed the bicycle before I spotted one of its red reflectors glinting from the last of the sunset. The bike had been shoved between bushes in a vacant lot. Petey’s baseball glove was under it. We searched the lot. We shouted Petey’s name. We asked people who lived on the street if they’d seen a boy who matched Petey’s description. We didn’t learn anything. As my father sped back home, the skin on his face got so tight that his cheekbones stood out. He kept murmuring to himself, “Oh Jesus.”
All I could hope was that Petey had stayed away because he was mad at me for sending him home from the baseball game. I fantasized that he’d show up just before bedtime and say, “Now aren’t you sorry? Maybe you want me around more than you guess.” In fact, I was sorry, because I couldn’t fool myself into believing that Petey had shoved his bike between those bushes — he loved that bike. Why would he have dropped his baseball glove? Something bad had happened to him, but it never would have happened if I hadn’t told him to get lost.
My mom became hysterical. My dad called the police again. A detective soon arrived, and the next day, a search was organized. The newspaper (this happened in a town called Woodford, just outside Columbus, Ohio) was filled with the story. My parents went on television and radio, begging whoever had kidnapped Petey to return him. Nothing did any good.
I can’t begin to describe the pain and ruin that Petey’s disappearance caused. My mother needed pills to steady her nerves. Lots of times in the night, I heard her sobbing. I couldn’t stop feeling guilty for making Petey leave the baseball game. Every time I heard our front door creak open, I prayed it was him coming home at last. My father started drinking and lost his job. He and Mom argued. A month after he moved out, he was killed when his car veered off a highway, flipped several times, and crashed onto its roof. There wasn’t any life insurance. My mother had to sell the house. We moved to a small apartment and then went to live with my mom’s parents in Columbus. I spent a lot of time worrying about how Petey would find us if he returned to the house.
He haunted me. I grew older, finished college, married, had a son, and enjoyed a successful career. But in my mind Petey never aged. He was still that skinny nine—year—old giving me a hurt look, then bicycling away. I never stopped missing him. If a farmer had plowed up the skeleton of a little boy and those remains had somehow been identified as Petey’s, I’d have mourned bitterly for my kid brother, but at least there would have been some finality. I needed desperately to know what had happened.
I’m an architect. For a while, I was with a big firm in Philadelphia, but my best designs were too unorthodox for them, so I finally started my own business. I also decided it would be exciting to change locales — not just move to another East Coast city but move from the East Coast altogether. My wife surprised me by liking the idea even more than I did. I won’t go into all the reasons we chose Denver — the lure of the mountains, the myth of the West. The main thing is, we settled there, and almost from the start, my designs were in demand.
Two of my office buildings are situated next to city parks. They not only blend with but also reflect their surroundings; their glass and tile walls act like huge mirrors that capture the images of the ponds, trees, and grassland near them, one with nature. My houses are what I was especially proud of, though. Many of my clients lived near megadollar resorts like Aspen and Vail, but they respected the mountains and didn’t want to be conspicuous. They preferred to be with nature without intruding upon it. I understood. The houses I designed blended so much that you couldn’t see them until you were practically at their entrances. Trees and ridges concealed them. Streams flowed under them. Flat stretches of rock were decks. Boulders were steps. Cliffs were walls.
It’s ironic that structures designed to be inconspicuous attracted so much attention. My clients, despite their claims about wanting to be invisible, couldn’t resist showing off their new homes. House Beautiful and Architectural Digest did articles about them, although the photographs of the exteriors seemed more like nature shots than pictures of homes. The local CBS TV station taped a two—minute spot for the ten o’clock news. The reporter, dressed as a hiker, challenged her viewers to a game: “Can you see a house among these ridges and trees?” She was standing ten feet from a wall, but only when she pointed it out did the viewer realize how thoroughly the house was camouflaged. That report was noticed by CBS headquarters in New York, and a few weeks later, I was being interviewed for a ten—minute segment on the CBS Sunday Morning show.
I keep asking myself why I agreed. Lord knows, I didn’t need any more publicity to get business. So if it wasn’t for economic reasons, it must have been because of vanity. Maybe I wanted my son to see me on television. In fact, both he and my wife appeared briefly in a shot where we walked past what the reporter called one of my “chameleon” houses. I wish we’d all been chameleons.
A man called my name. “Brad!”
That was three days after the CBS Sunday Morning show. Wednesday. Early June. A bright, gorgeous day. I’d been in meetings all morning, and the rumblings in my stomach reminded me that I’d missed lunch. I could have sent my secretary to get me a sandwich, but what she was doing was a lot more important than running an errand for me. Besides, I felt like going outside and enjoying the sun. Downtown Denver is a model of urban planning—spacious and welcoming, with buildings low enough to let in the light. My destination was a deli across the street, Bagels and More, nothing on my mind but a corned-beef sandwich, when I heard my name being called.
At first, I thought it was one of my staff trying to catch my attention about something I’d forgotten. But when I turned, I didn’t recognize the man hurrying toward me. He was in his mid—thirties, rough—looking, with a dirty tan and matted long hair. For a moment, I thought he might be a construction worker I’d met on one of my projects. His clothes certainly looked the part: scuffed work boots, dusty jeans, and a wrinkled denim shirt with its sleeves rolled up. But I’ve got a good memory for faces, and I was sure I’d have remembered the two—inch scar on his chin.
“Brad! My God, I can’t believe it!” The man dropped a battered knapsack to the sidewalk. “After all these years! Christ Almighty!”
I must have looked baffled. I like to think people enjoy my company, but very few have ever been so enthusiastic about seeing me. Apparently we had once known each other, although I hadn’t the vaguest idea who the guy was.
His broad grin revealed a chipped front tooth. “You don’t recognize me? Come on, I’d have recognized you anywhere! I did on television! It’s me!”
My brain was working slowly, trying to search my memory. “I’m afraid I don’t —”
“Peter! Your brother !”
Now everything became totally clear. My brain worked very fast.
The man reached out. “It’s so damned good to see you!”
“Keep your hands away from me, you son of a bitch.”
“What?” The man looked shocked.
“Come any closer, I’ll call the police. If you think you’re going to get money from —”
“Brad, what are you talking about?”
“You watched the CBS Sunday program, didn’t you?” “
Yes, but —”
“You made a mistake, you bastard. It isn’t going to work.”
On TV, the reporter had mentioned Petey’s disappearance. The day after the show, six different men had called my office, claiming to be Petey. “Your long—lost brother,” each of them cheerily said. The first call had excited me, but after a few minutes' conversation, I realized that the guy hadn’t the faintest idea about how Petey had disappeared or where it had happened or what our home life had been like. The next two callers had been even worse liars. They all wanted money. I told my secretary not to put through any more calls from anyone who claimed to be my brother. The next three con men lied to her, pretending to have legitimate business, tricking her into transferring the call. The moment they started their spiel, I slammed down the phone. The day after that, my secretary managed to intercept eight more calls from men who claimed to be Petey.
Now they were showing up in person.
“Stay the hell away from me.” Too impatient to go down to the traffic light, I turned sharply, found a break in traffic, and headed across the street.
“Brad! For God’s sake, listen!” the man yelled. “It really is me!”
My back stiffened with anger as I kept walking.
“What do I have to do to make you believe me?” the man shouted.
I reached the street’s center line, waiting impatiently for another break in traffic.
“When they grabbed me, I was riding home on my bicycle!” the man yelled.
Furious, I spun. “The reporter mentioned that on television! Get away from me before I beat the shit out of you.”
“Brad, you’d have a harder time outfighting me than when we were kids. The bike was blue.”
That last statement almost didn’t register, I was so angry. Then the image of Petey’s blue bike hit me.
“That wasn’t mentioned on television,” the man said.
“It was in the newspaper at the time. All you needed to do was phone the Woodford library and ask the reference department to check the issues of the local newspaper for that month and year. It wouldn’t have been hard to get details about Petey’s disappearance.”
“My disappearance,” the man said.
On each side, cars beeped in warning as they sped past.
“We shared the same room,” the man said. “Was that ever printed?”
I frowned, uneasy.
“We slept in bunk beds,” the man said, raising his voice. “I had the top. I had a model of a helicopter hanging from a cord attached to the ceiling just above me. I liked to take it down and spin the blades.”
My frown deepened.
“Dad had the tip of the little finger on his left hand cut off in an accident at the furniture factory. He loved to fish. The summer before I disappeared, he took you and me camping out here in Colorado. Mom wouldn’t go. She was afraid of being outdoors because of her allergy to bee stings. Even the sight of a bee threw her into a panic.”
Memories flooded through me. There was no way this stranger could have learned any of those details just by checking old newspapers. None of that information had ever been printed.
“We had a goldfish in our room. But neither of us liked to clean the bowl. One day we came home from school, and the bedroom stank. The fish was dead. We put the fish in a matchbox and had a funeral in the backyard. When we came back to where we’d buried it, we found a hole where the neighbor’s cat had dug up the fish.”
“Petey.” As I started back toward him, I almost got hit by a car. “Jesus, it is you.”
“We once broke a window playing catch in the house. Dad grounded us for a week.”
This time, I was the one reaching out. I’ve never hugged anybody harder. He smelled of spearmint gum and cigarette smoke. His arms were tremendously strong. “Petey.” I could barely get the words out. “Whatever happened to you?”
Pedaling home. Angry. Feelings hurt. A car coming next to him, moving slowly, keeping pace with him. A woman in the front passenger seat rolling down her window, asking directions to the interstate. Telling her. The woman not seeming to listen. The sour—looking man at the steering wheel not seeming to care, either. The woman asking, “Do you believe in God?” What kind of question? The woman asking, “Do you believe in the end of the world?” The car veering in front of him. Scared. Hopping the bicycle onto the sidewalk. The woman jumping from the car, chasing him. A sneaker slipping off a pedal. A vacant lot. Bushes. The woman grabbing him. The man unlocking the trunk, throwing him in. The trunk lid banging shut. Darkness. Screaming. Pounding. Not enough air. Passing out.
Petey described it to me as we faced each other in an isolated booth at the rear of the deli I’d been headed toward.
“You never should have made me leave that baseball game,” he said.
“I know that.” My voice broke. “God, don’t I know it.”
“The woman was older than Mom. She had crow’s—feet around her eyes. Gray roots in her hair. Pinched lips. Awful thin … Stooped shoulders … Floppy arms. Reminded me of a bird, but she sure was strong. The man had dirty long hair and hadn’t shaved. He wore coveralls and smelled of chewing tobacco.”
“What did they want with you? Were you …” I couldn’t make myself use the word molested.
Petey looked away. “They drove me to a farm in West Virginia.”
“Just across the border? You were that close?”
“Near a town called Redemption. Sick joke, huh? Really, that’s what it was called, although I didn’t find out the name for quite a while. They kept me a prisoner, until I escaped. When I was sixteen.”
“Sixteen? But all this time? Why didn’t you come to us?”
“I thought about it.” Petey looked uncomfortable. “I just couldn’t make myself.” He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket.
But as he lit a match, a waitress stopped at our table. “I’m sorry, sir. Smoking isn’t permitted in here.”
Petey’s craggy features hardened. “Fine.”
“Can I take your orders?”
“You’re good at giving them.”
“Corned beef,” I told the waitress, breaking the tension.
Petey impatiently shoved his cigarettes back into his pocket. “A couple of Buds.”
As she left, I glanced around, assuring myself that no customers were close enough to hear what we were saying.
“What did you mean, you couldn’t make yourself come to us?”
“The man kept telling me Mom and Dad would never take me back.”
“Not after what he did to … He said Mom and Dad would be disgusted, they’d …”
“Disown you? They wouldn’t have.” I felt tight with sadness.
“I understand that now. But when I escaped … let’s just say I wasn’t myself. Where they kept me a prisoner was an underground room.”
“I didn’t see the light of day for seven years.” His cheek muscles hardened. “Not that I knew how much time had passed. When I got out, it took me quite a while to figure what was what.”
“But what have you been doing?”
Petey looked tortured. “Roaming around. Working construction jobs. Driving trucks. A little of everything. Just after my twenty—first birthday, I happened to be driving a rig to Columbus. I worked up the nerve to go to Woodford and take a look at our place.”
“The house had been sold by then.”
“So I found out.”
“And Dad had died.”
“I found that out, too. Nobody remembered where Mrs. Denning and her son Brad had moved.”
“We were in Columbus with Mom’s parents.”
“So close.” Petey shook his head in despair. “I didn’t know Mom’s maiden name, so I couldn’t track her through her parents.”
“But the police could have helped you find us.”
“Not without asking me a lot of questions I didn’t want to answer.”
“They’d have arrested the man and woman who kidnapped you.”
“What good would that have done me? There’d have been a trial. I’d have had to testify. The story would have been in all the newspapers.” He gestured helplessly. “I felt so …”
“It’s over now. Try to put it behind you. None of it was your fault.”
“I still feel …” Petey struggled with the next word, then stopped when the waitress brought our beers. He took a long swallow from his bottle and changed the subject. “What about Mom?”
The question caught me by surprise. “Mom?”
“Yeah, how’s she doing?”
I needed a moment before I could make myself answer. “She died last year.”
“… Oh.” Petey’s voice dropped.
“Uh.” It was a quiet exhale. At the same time, it was almost as if he’d been punched. He stared at his beer bottle, but his painful gaze was on something far away.
Kate’s normally attractive features looked strained when I walked into the kitchen. She was pacing, talking on the phone, tugging an anxious hand through her long blond hair. Then she saw me, and her shoulders sagged with relief. “He just walked in. I’ll call you back.”
I smiled as she hung up the phone.
“Where have you been? Everybody’s been worried,” Kate said.
“You had several important meetings this afternoon, but you never showed up. Your office was afraid you’d been in an accident or —”
“Everything’s great. I lost track of the time.”
“— been mugged or —”
“Better than great.”
“— had a heart attack or —”
“I’ve got wonderful news.”
“— or God knows what. You’re always Mr. Dependable. Now it’s almost six, and you didn’t call to let me know you were okay, and … Do I smell alcohol on your breath? Have you been drinking?”
“You bet.” I smiled more broadly.
“During the day? Ignoring appointments with clients? What’s gotten into you?”
“I told you, I have wonderful news.”
“Petey showed up.”
Kate’s blue eyes looked confused, as if I was speaking gibberish. “Who’s …” At once, she got it. “Good Lord, you don’t mean … your brother.”
“But … but you told me you assumed he was dead.”
“I was wrong.”
“You’re positive it’s him?”
“You bet. He told me things only Petey could know. It has to be him.”
“And he’s really here? In Denver?”
“Closer than that. He’s on the front porch.”
“What? You left him outside?”
“I didn’t want to spring him on you. I wanted to prepare you.” I explained what had happened. “I’ll fill in the details when there’s time. The main thing to know is, he’s been through an awful lot.”
“Then he shouldn’t be cooling his heels on the porch. For heaven’s sake, get him.”
Just then, Jason came in from the backyard. He was eleven but small for his age, so that he looked a lot like Petey had when he’d disappeared. Braces, freckles, glasses, thin. “What’s all the noise about? You guys having an argument?”
“The opposite,” Kate said.
Looking at Jason’s glasses, I was reminded that Petey had needed glasses, too. But the man outside wasn’t wearing any. I suddenly felt as if I had needles in my stomach. Had I been conned?
Kate crouched before Jason. “Do you remember we told you that your father had a brother?”
“Sure. Dad talked about him on that TV show.”
“He disappeared when he was a boy,. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...