Friday, 22 September 2017
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Taken

EXTRACT from TAKEN by DEE HENDERSON

"...A young woman was sitting on the floor in the hallway outside his hotel room. She didn't rise when he drew near, just looked up at him. She looked... tired. And mildly curious. Her white shorts showed off long tanned legs, and the sandals revealed dainty feet with painted toenails. The contrasting pink top was remarkably sedate, blousy, and pretty. The look suited her and reminded him of his daughter. For that reason more than any other he simply offered a casual, "Looking for me?" She opened an envelope, pulled out a newspaper clipping, and held it up. "Is this you?"

He accepted what she ordered. The newspaper article with accompanying photo was old, well-worn, and crumbling at the fold. From the Boston Globe, he thought, recognizing the photo and knowing the date it had been taken. He was holding his daughter, her head lowered under the hood of a police' sweatshirt, walking with her down the police station's steps. She had just turned sixteen-shy, scared, gangly, and thin. The photo had been snapped late on the day of her rescue as he was taking her home. It'd been the best day of his life since her disappearance when she was eight years old. "My daughter and I", he confirmed.

That image had captured the start for the two of them of a journey that had pushed them together into a father-daughter relationship that was to this day still hard to explain. Becky had been, in alternating waves, suicidal and angry, terrified and manic, overjoyed with freedom, so determined to rebuild her life and push away what had happened in those missing eight years. He'd been there for his daughter, getting her through those years and beyond to something now remarkably healthy, happy, and if not whole, at least wise and wonderful and able to deal with the past in a sane way when others brought it up. "She's finishing her first year in college", he mentioned, smiling as he said it, remembering Becky as she had been this last weekend, straddling a stool in the kitchen of their Boston home on a flying visit home from college to grab more clothes and different posters, munching on a carrot and arguing the fact he just had to get a haircut and please, please, please could he remember to lose the old leather jacket before he came to meet her new roommate's family? They already thought he was a Spenser-type tough guy with credentials as a licensed private investigator. Introducing himself as a retired cop would be okay, but a PI implied he liked to snoop.

He'd laughed at her request and fed her clam chowder that night, promising to be on his best behavior when he met the roommate's family, pleased that his daughter was moving from a single room to a double and acquiring a roommate. He had in fact done a bit of snooping. He knew more about her new roommate than the girl's parents probably did, and concluded his daughter would be safe with her. The roommate loved to party and be out and about town, but she refused to drink or do drugs and was exclusive in her relationship with her boyfriend. She was the extrovert to his daughter's more reserved nature and, Matthew thought, a very nice girl. One of the reasons he'd agreed to come speak at this Atlanta conference as a last-minute replacement was because his daughter had truly now settled at college, with plans to stay on campus to take summer classes.

Matthew took a final look at the article and photo, then refolded it.

He wondered why this woman would have such an old clipping. He offered it back to her. "Can I show you something else?" "Sure". She pulled another clipping from the envelope. Tired of towering over her, he hunkered down beside her, one arm resting casually on his knee, drink in hand. He took the second clipping. A missing-person case out of Chicago, picked up by the Associated Press, this also from the Boston Globe. Shannon Bliss, age sixteen, missing along with her car; she had not arrived home after visiting friends over the three-day Memorial Day weekend. A reward of twenty-five thousand was therefor information. The photo looked like it'd come from a high school yearbook. A pretty girl, he thought. He looked at the date on the clipping... this had happened eleven years ago. He studied the woman who had o!ered it. He could see a good resemblance.

He didn't work many missing-person cases anymore. Becky had asked him to give those up for a few years, to consider going back to being a cop working robberies, or teaching at the police academy-and let his company, Dane Investigations, be run by his staff, at least the day-to-day. A missing sister could explain why this woman had sought him out, and he did know some people in Chicago who might be able to help her. A few of them were at this conference, and he could make some calls and introductions on her behalf. "Your sister?" he asked. "That's me." Silence lingered after her quiet words. "I'd like to go home," she whispered. He watched her knuckles turn white where she gripped the envelope, her other hand flexed against the carpet. Her eyes averted from his to stare down the empty hall. A stillness settled into his muscles. "Did you run away?" She was quiet for so long he wasn't sure she would answer. "No." More a breath than a word, but he heard it. He felt his heart begin to crack on her behalf. The nuances mattered now, seeing them, hearing them, and he didn't have history with this woman to fall back on to help him understand her. "What name do you go by now?" "Shannon White." "Have you spoken with the police?" She shook her head swiftly. He didn't let himself show a reaction to that news, just absorbed it. There were things his job had taught him, experiences with his daughter, an awareness that came from so many he had talked with over the last decade, and it all coalesced and settled in his mind. He couldn't afford to project or assume the wrong thing here. The odds she was in fact Shannon Bliss were small, but they were real enough to pursue. She looked as though she was telling him the truth as she knew it. God, help me. The quiet prayer went straight to his Father, and he took a deep breath, let it flow out. A hallway wasn't the place for this conversation, but a pause would give her time to change her mind about talking with him, so he stayed where he was. There were things he had to know simply not to hurt her further, and he chose his next words with extreme care. "Eleven years is a long time. When did...?" Her hand settled very lightly, very carefully, on his arm as she shook her head. "Please don't ask."