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  • Published: 15 June 2022
  • ISBN: 9781787630840
  • Imprint: Bantam Press
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $32.99

Local Gone Missing

Extract

Prologue

There was something buzzing. A fly.

Unable to move, he could only listen to its whining drone and try to follow it around the small room in his head. Where was it? Near the sink? The drain in the floor?

There was a silence, and then it was flickering at the corner of his eye. He shook his head violently to stop it coming nearer but it waited and landed on his cheek, where the sweat had pooled. It lifted off when he flinched but was back immediately. He was totally at its mercy. And the fly seemed to know, loitering like one of those sullen teenage boys who hung around the High Street.

The fly danced over the damp tea towel plugging his mouth and moved towards his nostrils, rising and landing, the light brush of its feet and wings a subtle torture. When it finally flew off it headed straight for the window, the sole source of light. He turned his head slowly to watch it frenetically beating against the pane before falling to the sill.

It was a prisoner too.

He closed his eyes and tried to focus on how he was going to get out. He didn’t know how long he’d been there. How long he’d got before they returned. It was getting darker in the room. The summer evening was fading and he struggled against his bindings one more time until his muscles screamed for him to stop. It was useless. Maybe he could work the gag out and shout for help? He forced his mouth open as far as it would go, feeling the gristle pop in his jaw, and stabbed at the damp material with his tongue as he rocked in the chair. It was working, but the effort made the blood sing in his ears and he began to choke. He stopped and tried to slow his breath, whistling down his nose. Then bucked in his chair until it toppled over, crashing him to the floor.

As he lay, he was suddenly aware of the silence in the room. He strained to hear the fly’s whining and its pathetic attempt to break the glass. But there was nothing.

Had it escaped? How?

Dread spread like a stain through his whole body and his heart started to bang against his chest wall.

Someone must have let it out. While he was fighting to get free. Opened the door behind him. And come in. He tried to turn his head to see.

 

1
Saturday, 24 August 2019
Dee

Afterwards, Pauline said she hadn’t even noticed Charlie was missing until I woke her.

The car had been in the drive but there’d been no sign of him when I’d let myself in to clean. I’ve got my own key and I’m often here before they’re up. I prefer it, to be honest. I can just get on with my job. I’m almost done before they even realize I’m about. The invisible woman, my husband jokes sometimes.

But he’s right. I can vanish when I walk through a client’s door. ’Course, they hear me hoovering or moving furniture, but most of them act as though I’m not there. It’s like on Downton Abbey when the servants materialize through hidden doors to dust the chandeliers while the family are discussing Lady Mary’s latest scandal. But there are no secret doors or below stairs at the places I clean. I’m at the other end of the scale. I mean, the Perrys live in a caravan.

‘Luxury park home,’ Pauline had snapped the first time I called it that. ‘Travellers live in caravans, Dee. And this is only temporary until we finish the big house.’

The big house. When you see it from a distance, it does look special. But close up, it’s a different story. It’s crumbling, one brick at a time. There are great big holes in the roof and the ceilings are coming down inside. It ought to be condemned, my husband says, but Pauline still makes me polish the brass knocker and letter box. I suppose it helps her kid herself that she’ll be living in it soon. The things people do to make life bearable.

Front, that’s what they all put on. The shiny outside that hides the filth. You should see what I see: the fat-caked ovens, the shit-streaked toilets, the stained mattresses. And hear what I hear – who has money problems or fungal infections. But you won’t. Part of the job is not to tell.

‘Charlie!’ Pauline yells from her bedroom.

‘Haven’t seen him!’ I call back, and put my head round the door.

‘Well, he’s not here,’ she says, pulling his folded pyjamas out from under his pillow.

‘Right,’ I said.

‘I took one of my pills last night – I must have been asleep when he came in. And when he got up,’ she says. But I can’t smell the lingering sour breath of Charlie’s secret last glass. I’ve been opening the window in the tiny room as soon as I can when I do in here – and helping him hide empties from Her Majesty. This morning the bedroom is filled with the salty stink of sweat and sex. And they don’t. Have sex, I mean. Charlie can’t manage it, according to Pauline. But someone can. There’s talk in town about the gardener, Bram, who’s up here a lot. And does no gardening.

‘He’s supposed to be buying me a new dress in Brighton today,’ Pauline wails. ‘I’ve been stuck in this bloody caravan for days.’

She’s used the c word. She’s properly furious.

‘I’ll get on with the kitchen,’ I say. She pulls a face and nods.

I should say something straightaway. That I saw Charlie last night. But there’d be questions.

Don’t get involved, I tell myself. It’s none of your business. And you’ve got enough going on.

I fill the bucket with warm water while I try not to think about my own problems; about the rent that needs paying next week, Liam’s lack of work. And my family creeping back into my life after all these years. Making me remember.

The bucket overflows and splashes on to my feet. Come on, Dee. It’ll all be okay, I tell myself.

And Charlie’ll turn up in a minute. Won’t he?


Local Gone Missing Fiona Barton

Detective Elise King investigates a man's disappearance in a seaside town where the locals and weekenders are at odds with each other, in this rich and captivating new crime novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Widow.

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The Suspect

The call comes at 3 a.m. The jagged ring of the bedside telephone tearing a hole in our sleep. I reach out a hand to silence it.

The Child

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He’s here somewhere. I know it. And the girl might still be alive.

The Family Remains

I stare down at the young man who stands below me ankle-deep in the mud of the banks of the Thames.

Gathering Storms

Lisa arrived in Southbend in mid-November on a day of gathering storms, when the air dripped with humidity and the huge grey-white cumulus clouds were piled like soapsuds above the line of timber fronting the banks of the Rainsford River.

22 Seconds

Cindy Thomas was working at the dining table she’d bought at a tag sale down the block.

Death of the Black Widow

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Run Rose Run

AnnieLee had been standing on the side of the road for an hour, thumbing a ride, when the rain started falling in earnest.

Breathless

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City of the Dead

Four fifty-three in the morning was too early for anything.

Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter

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Steal

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