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Authors: Jane Casey

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The Missing

BOOK: The Missing
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Contents

Cover

About the Author

Title Page

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Acknowledgements

Copyright

About the Author

Born and brought up in Dublin, Jane Casey studied English at Jesus College, Oxford, followed by an MPhil in Anglo-Irish Literature at Trinity College, Dublin. She was working as a children’s books editor when her manuscript for her first book, The Missing, was discovered on her agent’s slush pile. She was signed up by Ebury Press shortly afterwards, and The Missing has since been published around the world.

The Missing was a bestseller in both the UK and Ireland. It achieved widespread critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the Irish Book of the Year Award in the Crime Fiction category. Jane’s second book, The Burning, has also been a bestseller in the UK and Ireland. Married to a criminal barrister, Jane lives in south-west London.

Jane Casey
The Missing
For my mother and father, with love
Those houses, that are haunted, are most still
Till the devil be up.
Webster,
The Duchess of Malfi

Some of it, I remember very well. Other parts aren’t so clear. Over the years, I’ve shaded in the bits I can’t quite recall until I’m not sure which details are real and which I’ve made up. But this is how I think it started.

I think this is what happened.

This is the best I can do.

 

1992

I am lying on a scratchy tartan picnic rug in the garden, pretending to read. It’s mid-afternoon and the sun is hot on the top of my head and my back, scorching the soles of my feet. My school is closed today for teacher training and I have been outside for hours. The rug is covered with bits of grass that I have ripped up from the lawn; they tickle where they touch my bare skin. My head is heavy, my eyelids drooping. The words on the page march around like ants, no matter how hard I try to keep them in neat lines, and I give in, pushing the book to one side and burying my head in my arms.

Parched grass crackles under the rug, brown and dying from weeks of hot weather. Bees hum in the summer roses, and not far away a lawnmower drones. The radio is on in the kitchen, a woman’s voice rising and falling in measured cadences, interrupted occasionally by a burst of music. The words are indistinct, blurring into one another. A regular thunk-thud-thud is my brother playing tennis against the side of the
house
. Racket, wall, ground. Thunk-thud-thud. I have already asked if I can play with him. He’d rather play alone than with me; that’s how it goes when you’re four years younger and a girl.

I peek through my arms at a ladybird climbing up a blade of grass. I like ladybirds; I have just done a project on them in school. I hold my finger out so the ladybird can walk onto it, but it lifts up its wings and flies away. A tickle on my calf is a fat black fly; they seem to be everywhere this year, and they have been landing on me all afternoon. I bury my head deeper in the cradle of my arms, shutting my eyes. The rug smells of warm wool and sweet summer days. The sun is hot and the bees are murmuring a lullaby.

Minutes or hours later, I hear feet crossing the lawn, crushing the dry, brittle grass at every step. Charlie.

‘Tell Mum I’ll be back soon.’

The feet move away again.

I don’t look up. I don’t ask where he’s going. I’m more asleep than awake. I might even be dreaming already.

When I open my eyes, I know that something has happened, but not what. I don’t know how long I have slept. The sun is still high in the sky, the lawnmower still thrums, the radio burbles, but something is missing. It takes me a moment to realise that the ball isn’t bouncing any more. The racket is on the ground, and my brother is gone.

Chapter 1

I DIDN’T GO
out looking for her; I just couldn’t stand to stay at home. I’d left school as soon as the last class ended, avoiding the staffroom and going straight to the car park, where my tired little Renault started at the first time of asking. It was the first thing that had gone right all day.

I usually didn’t leave straight after school. I had got into the habit of staying behind in my quiet classroom. Sometimes I worked on lesson plans or marked homework. Often I would just sit and gaze out of the window. The silence would press against my ears as if I was fathoms below sea level. There was nothing to make me resurface; I had no children to rush home to, no husband to see. All that was waiting for me at home was grief, in every sense of the word.

But today was different. Today I had had enough. It was a warm day in early May and the afternoon sun heated the air inside my car beyond comfort. I rolled my window down, but in nose-to-tail rush-hour traffic I barely got up enough speed to ruffle my hair. I wasn’t used to fighting through the school traffic and my arms ached from gripping the steering wheel too hard. I put the radio on and snapped it off again after a few seconds. It wasn’t far from the school to my house; the journey usually took fifteen minutes. That afternoon, I sat in the car and fumed for almost fifty.

The house was quiet when I got back. Too quiet. I stood in the cool, dim hall and listened, feeling the hairs on my arms lift from the drop in temperature. My top was clammy under the arms and along my spine and I shivered a little, chilled. The sitting-room door was open, exactly as I had left it that morning. The only sound from the kitchen was the two-note drip from the kitchen tap, falling into the cereal bowl I had left in the sink after breakfast. I would have laid money that no one had been in there since I went to work. Which meant …

With little enthusiasm, I started up the stairs, slinging my bag on the newel post as I passed it. ‘I’m back.’

That got a response of sorts – a scuffling sound from the bedroom at the end of the hall. Charlie’s room. The door was closed and I hesitated on the landing, unsure whether to knock or not. At the precise second I’d decided to make my escape, the handle turned. It was too late to reach my bedroom before the door opened, so I stood and waited with resignation. The first words would tell me everything I needed to know about how her day had been.

‘What do you want?’

Belligerence, barely contained.

Pretty much normal.

‘Hi, Mum,’ I said. ‘Everything OK?’

The door, which had only opened a crack, swung back further. I could see Charlie’s bed, the bed sheets ruffled slightly from where Mum had been sitting. She was still in her dressing gown and slippers, clinging on to the handle and swaying slightly, like a cobra. She frowned deeply, trying to focus.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Nothing.’ I suddenly felt very tired. ‘I’ve just come home from work, that’s all. I was just saying hello.’

‘I didn’t think you’d be back for a while.’ She looked puzzled and faintly suspicious. ‘What time is it?’

As if that mattered to her. ‘I’m a bit earlier than usual,’ I said, without explaining why. There was no point. She wouldn’t care. She didn’t care about much.

Except Charlie. Charlie boy. Charlie was her darling, all right. His room was pristine. Not a thing had changed in sixteen years. Not a toy soldier had moved, not a poster had been allowed to peel off the walls. A stack of folded clothes waited to be put away in the chest of drawers. The clock on the bedside table was still ticking. His books were arranged neatly on shelves above the bed: schoolbooks, comics, thick hardback guides to planes of the Second World War. Boy books. It was all just as it had been when he disappeared, as if he could walk back in and pick up where he left off. I missed him – every day I missed him – but I hated that room.

Mum was fidgeting now, running the belt of her dressing gown through her fingers. ‘I was just tidying up,’ she said. I refrained from asking what exactly had needed tidying in the room that never changed. The air in there was stale, stagnant. I caught an acrid waft of unwashed flesh and partially metabolised alcohol and felt a spasm of revulsion. All I wanted was to get away, get out of the house and go as far away as possible.

‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you.’ I backed down the hall towards my room. ‘I’m just going to go out for a run.’

‘A run,’ Mum repeated, her eyes narrowing. ‘Well, don’t let me keep you.’

I was wrong-footed by her change of tone. ‘I – I thought I was disturbing you.’

‘Oh no, please yourself. You always do.’

I shouldn’t have responded. I shouldn’t have let myself get drawn in. Usually, I knew better than to think I could win.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘I think you know.’ With the help of the door handle, she pulled herself up to her full height, half an inch shorter than me – in other words, not tall. ‘You come and go as you please. It’s always whatever suits you, isn’t it, Sarah?’

I would have had to count to a million to keep my temper. Nonetheless, I bit back what I really wanted to say, which was:
shut up, you selfish bitch. I’m only here because of my misguided sense of loyalty. I’m only here because Dad wouldn’t want you to be left alone, and for no other reason, because you burned through whatever love I had for you a long time ago, you ungrateful, self-pitying cow
.

What I actually said was: ‘I didn’t think you’d mind.’

‘Think? You didn’t think at all. You never do.’

Her hauteur was spoiled slightly by a stumble as she stalked past me, heading for her bedroom. In the doorway she paused. ‘When you come back, don’t disturb me. I’m going to bed early.’

As if I wanted to go near her in the first place. But I nodded as if I understood, turning the movement into a slow, sarcastic shake of my head once the door had slammed behind her. I shut myself in my own room with a sense
of
release. She was unbelievable, as I informed the picture of my father that stood on my bedside table. ‘You owe me,’ I muttered. ‘Really, properly owe me.’

He smiled on, unmoved, and after a second or two I stirred myself into action, digging under the bed for my trainers.

It was the greatest of pleasures to strip off my creased, damp clothes and pull on running shorts and vest, to tie my thick curls out of the way and feel the cool air on my neck. After a moment’s hesitation I put on a lightweight jacket, conscious of the evening chill, even though the day had been warm. I grabbed my water bottle and my phone and headed out, sniffing the air appreciatively as I stood on the front doorstep, shaking the stiffness out of my legs. It had just gone five and the sun was still bright, the light warm and golden. The blackbirds were calling to one another across the gardens as I set off down the road, not too fast at first, feeling my breathing quicken before it settled into a rhythm that matched my stride. I lived in a small cul-de-sac on the Wilmington Estate, a development built to accommodate Londoners pursuing the suburban dream in the 1930s. Curzon Close was a neglected little backwater of twenty houses, inhabited by those residents who’d lived there for years, like me and Mum, and the newcomers, refugees from London house prices. One of the new arrivals was out in her front garden and I smiled at her shyly as I jogged by. No response. I shouldn’t have been surprised. We didn’t, on the whole, have much to do with the neighbours, even the ones who’d been there as long as we had, or even longer. Especially the ones who’d
been
there as long as we had, maybe. The ones who might remember. The ones who might know.

I picked up speed as I reached the main road, trying to outrun my own thoughts. I had been sideswiped all day by long-suppressed memories that rose to the surface of my mind, greasy bubbles in a stagnant pond. It was strange; I hadn’t felt the least twinge of foreboding when there was a knock on my classroom door at five minutes to twelve. I had been alone, getting myself organised for my Year 8 class, and opened the door to find Elaine Pennington, the fierce and intensely frightening head teacher of Edgeworth School for Girls, and, behind her, tall and glowering, a man. A parent, in fact. Jenny Shepherd’s father, I realised after a second. He had looked grim, desolate, and straightaway I had known that there was a problem.

I couldn’t help replaying the scene in my head, as I had been all day. Elaine hadn’t wasted any time on introductions.

‘Do you have your Year 8 group next lesson?’

After working for her for nearly a year, I was still thoroughly intimidated by Elaine. Her presence was enough to glue my tongue to the roof of my mouth with fear. ‘Er – yes,’ I’d managed eventually. ‘Who were you looking for?’

‘All of them.’ It was Mr Shepherd who had spoken, cutting across whatever Elaine was starting to say. ‘I need to ask them if they know where my daughter is.’

BOOK: The Missing
5.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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