Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  


Jeffery Deaver




  The Cutting Edge

  The Burial Hour

  The Steel Kiss

  The Skin Collector

  The Kill Room

  The Burning Wire

  The Broken Window

  The Cold Moon

  The Twelfth Card

  The Vanished Man

  The Stone Monkey

  The Empty Chair

  The Coffin Dancer

  The Bone Collector


  Solitude Creek


  Roadside Crosses

  The Sleeping Doll


  Hard News

  Death of a Blue Movie Star

  Manhattan is My Beat


  Hell’s Kitchen

  Bloody River Blues

  Shallow Graves


  The October List

  No Rest for the Dead (Contributor)

  Carte Blanche (A James Bond Novel)

  Watchlist (Contributor)


  The Bodies Left Behind

  Garden of Beasts

  The Blue Nowhere

  Speaking in Tongues

  The Devil’s Teardrop

  A Maiden’s Grave

  Praying For Sleep

  The Lesson of Her Death

  Mistress of Justice



  A Hot and Sultry Night for Crime (Editor)

  Trouble in Mind

  Triple Threat

  Books to Die For (Contributor)

  The Best American Mystery Stories 2009 (Editor)

  More Twisted



  Ninth and Nowhere


  The Victims’ Club

  Surprise Ending

  Double Cross

  The Deliveryman

  A Textbook Case


  Publishers Since 1838

  Copyright © 2019 by Gunner Publications, LLC

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Ebook ISBN: 9780525542254

  [Insert CIP]

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



  Also by Jeffery Deaver

  Title Page


  Thursday, August 30

  Friday, August 31

  Excerpt of The Never Game

  About the Author

  Thursday, August 30

  “She’s been gone for a month. And two days.”

  The man’s troubled expression suggested that he could easily have added the number of hours.

  “No contact with you at all?”

  “None.” The voice stumbled. He cleared his throat. “No, sir.”

  The two men were sitting in an Asian fusion restaurant—self-billed as such, though to Colter Shaw it resembled any other Chinese place. He was having wonton soup, concocted with homemade chicken stock, Shaw believed. It was good. The man across from him in the booth was ringed by a parapet of bowls and plates—some tofu thing, sauces, soup, egg roll and rice. One of the lunchtime combos. The man had taken two bites of the rice and set down his chopsticks.

  “I know—in my soul—I know she’s in danger. Somebody’s kidnapped her. We have to do something!” He tugged at the collar of his gray suit jacket. Brooks Brothers, Shaw had seen when the front flaps parted. The cuffs were frayed. Matthews’s shirt was white, the collar yellowing where it met his neck, and was a size too large. His tie was bold green and he sported a matching pocket square. A big gold ring encircled the middle finger of his right hand.

  “You’ve gone to the police?” Shaw asked, his voice a monotone, in contrast to Ron Matthews’s oscillating timbre.

  “Yes, of course. I called them a day after she didn’t come home. I was worried it was too soon. But the detective said there’s no waiting period or anything.”

  In most states you can report somebody missing ten minutes after they don’t show up. But unless it’s a child or there’s evidence of a crime (the standard police term really is the quaintly Sherlockian “foul play”), the authorities don’t jump on board right away.

  Matthews confirmed that this was true in his case. “They weren’t gung ho, you know. There are a lot of missing persons, he told me.”

  Thousands upon thousands, Shaw knew.

  “He asked—you’re probably going to ask me the same thing—if she’d been in touch with anybody. And, yeah, Evie called a friend the same day she was due home. She said she’d decided to travel for a while. She needed to get away. I had to be honest with the cop.”

  Always a good plan.

  Well, usually.

  “But I think the kidnapper forced her to call her friend, to make sure the police weren’t involved. She didn’t call me because the kidnapper would think I’d know something was wrong. And I would. Evie and me, we have this . . .” Matthews ran his hand through his thick salt-and-pepper hair. “I’d just know she was in trouble.”

  Shaw took a sip of pungent Tsingtao beer. Another spoonful of soup.

  Matthews had been sniping furtive glances at him since the businessman had joined Shaw here. He did so again, taking in Shaw’s short blond hair, lying close to the scalp, his broad but compact build, just shy of six feet. An oval face, complexion light. Eyes blue with gray influence. A few women had said he resembled this or that actor, usually some action-movie hero. Most of them he’d never heard of, since, growing up, he’d seen only two or three movies or TV shows a year—and then not until he was ten or eleven. Now, that sort of entertainment was not a major part of his life.

  The clothing he now wore was his usual when on the job: jeans, dress shirt open at the collar—today’s was navy blue—and a dark-checkered sports coat. Respectful, to put offerors and witnesses at ease. On his feet, black Ecco slip-ons. Which were comfortable. And offered good traction. Just in case.

  The businessman, of course, was interested in teasing more out of Colter Shaw than just his appearance. But all he got in this department, for the time being, was straight posture, constant eye contact, no smiles or frowns, no small talk, just undistracted attention to every word Matthews said. The message was the intended one: I’m listening and I’m taking the situation very seriously. Matthews seemed to relax into confidence. Like most offerors, he didn’t get that Shaw was sizing him up too.

  Shaw asked, “Did she—Evelyn’s friend—tell you anything about where she went?”

  “No. She said Evie’d called, and that was it. She didn’t pick up agai
n when I called back, once or twice.”

  Or dozens of times. Matthews would have called until the friend blocked his number.

  “Tell me how she disappeared,” Shaw said. “Details.”

  “Evie went to an artists’ retreat outside of Chicago—Schaumburg—last month. Weekend thing. She went to some retreat almost every month, all around the country.” His lips tightened. “Sunday night, she didn’t come home. She was supposed to but she didn’t.”

  “She drove?”

  “That’s right.”

  “You’ve been married a year?”

  “Thirteen months. Was our anniversary July tenth.”

  “Phone?” Shaw asked.

  “Not in service.”

  Shaw asked, “Private eye?”

  “Cost me more than I could afford, got me zip.”

  With a few exceptions, PIs were great for background security checks and poring over computer records to see if your fiancée had ever poisoned a prior husband or misbehaved more than one usually misbehaves in Cabo. The “investigation” part of the job title—as in, pounding pavement—usually wasn’t a stellar performance.

  That explained why, two weeks ago, Matthews had posted a reward—$10,000—in an Indianapolis newspaper and online for information about Evelyn Fontaine’s whereabouts. Shaw’s business associates in Florida had spotted the announcement and relayed the info to Shaw, who happened to be in Chicago finishing another job.

  The $10K wasn’t much for a missing spouse believed to have been kidnapped. But for Shaw, the reward was never about the money; it was a flag flying over a problem that, so far, no one else had been able to solve. The sort he lived for.

  Colter Shaw was restless in mind as well as restless in body.

  He now asked the standard question: Had anyone else been in touch about the reward? Yes, Matthews said. Some people had contacted him but it was clear they had no helpful information and were simply hoping for a windfall. There’d been no calls in the past week.

  This was a pattern Shaw had seen again and again.

  Matthews now opened his wallet and slipped out a picture. Shaw had already seen some shots online but this was a far better image: a well-done formal portrait that depicted a woman in her late twenties with a long, sweeping neck and an angular face. Fragile in some ways, confident in others. She was more striking than beautiful. Her dark blond hair was piled high atop her head in carefully plotted disarray. Her eyes were blue but toward the violet end of the spectrum, and her smile was mysterious. Given her profession, Shaw wondered if the crafted crescent lips were an unconscious homage to the Mona Lisa—or, perhaps, a very conscious one.

  Shaw nodded to the expensive Mercedes-AMG that Matthews had arrived in. “I looked you up. You own an industrial equipment dealership. How wealthy are you?”

  Matthews blinked.

  “I need to know if you’re a ransom target.”

  Usually such demands come early in a disappearance. But not always.

  “Maybe a year or so ago I was. But it’s been tough lately. With all the tariffs and trade wars, our revenues have dropped like a rock. The car’s leased and I’m looking at another operating loan. I could probably scrape together a million. You think that’s it? Somebody after money?”

  Shaw kept his eyes on Matthews. “I don’t. And you don’t either.”

  He’d finally formed an opinion about Ronald Matthews and Evelyn Fontaine. Matthews’s story didn’t quite add up; his eyes were evasive and he was emotional when he shouldn’t’ve been.

  The businessman looked down. His chopsticks were no longer utensils but instead had become fidget sticks. He twirled one between the blunt thumb and the equally blunt index finger of his right hand.

  “It’s not quite what I was telling you. Which I guess you picked up on. I just wanted somebody to get fired up enough to find her. I thought if you believed she’d been kidnapped, you’d really get on board.” A wan smile. “I’m a salesman by trade. We spin stories to close the deal.”

  “What do you really think happened?”

  “I haven’t been the best husband. Oh, not like that. I’m not abusive or anything. I’ve got a temper—my employees’ll tell you that. But I never shouted. Never hurt her. Wouldn’t even think of it. Ever. What I did was, I wasn’t honest with Evie.”

  “Go on.”

  “We met at a gala for the art museum in town. I was a benefactor, she was a volunteer. She came up to me and was all What’s a handsome guy like you doing in an old folks’ home like this? Because, yeah, everybody else was about eighty. We hooked up and started dating. It was so good. Great, at first. She was smart. Funny. And so beautiful. And the . . . between us . . . You know . . .” His voice faded.

  Shaw knew he was seeking a euphemism for their fine times in bed. He knew too Matthews would never finish the sentence.

  “She was so captivating . . .” A sigh. “I was, like, hypnotized. Naturally, I’d go to gallery openings and museums with her. I’d send her off to Paris or Florence so she could paint where all the famous painters from the past had. I’d go meet her and she was all Monet painted here, Gauguin painted there. But the fact is, I don’t get art, frankly.” Then in a whisper, as if she might actually hear: “I don’t even like it. I was involved in the museum for the tax write-offs. I could fake it for only so long and then started coming up with excuses for not going with her. It got worse when I had to work nights and weekends to keep the company afloat.

  “I’m going crazy, Colter, I miss her so much. I’ve lost twenty pounds this last month.” He tapped his ring. “I had to move it to this finger. It kept falling off.”

  He stared at the gaudy piece of jewelry—a class ring, it seemed.

  “Salesman, I was saying? Well, you can’t seal the deal if you don’t give your buyer what you told him you would. I didn’t give Evie what I promised.” His voice cracked. A deep breath wheezed between his narrow lips. He masked blotting away a tear by scratching his nose. “I want a chance to pitch my case again. I can sell myself, I can sell our marriage. I know I can.”

  Colter Shaw had seen many an offeror break down in front of him. Rewards are offered when a portion of the heart has vanished and there’s absolutely no balm for the pain except replacing the missing piece.

  “I should’ve told you all that up front.”

  In his decade of making his living seeking rewards Shaw had learned that how offerors described a situation was sometimes very different from what that situation actually was. He’d become a savvy interpreter and didn’t take such fabrication—sometimes intended, sometimes not—personally.

  “I’ll help you,” Shaw said.

  Matthews smiled once more, deeper this time, with appreciation. “Thank you. Now, what’s the arrangement?”

  “I’ll ask you some questions and then try to find Evelyn. That’s it.”

  He seemed confused, then asked, “Expenses?”

  “No expenses. That comes out of my pocket. If I find her you pay me the ten K. If I don’t I swallow the costs. If a neighbor calls you and tells you where she is, even if I’m on my way to her hotel room, it’s his money.”

  The nature of seeking rewards. Financial risks . . . as well as, often, physical risks.

  “Well, okay. Now, questions?”

  From his computer bag, sitting next to him, Shaw removed a five-by-seven bound notebook of thirty-two blank, unlined pages. From his inside sports coat pocket he retrieved a Delta Titanio Galassia fountain pen, black with three orange rings around the barrel, and uncapped it.

  He opened to the first page and for the next fifteen minutes Shaw asked, and Matthews answered, dozens of questions, the responses recorded in elegant script as small as the tracks of a sparrow, the words perfectly horizontal despite the absence of lines on the paper. Matthews stared at the man’s handwriting. Many people commented on it. He didn’

  Finally, Shaw believed he had enough to get started. Matthews rose, shook Shaw’s hand, more warmly than when they’d met. He began to speak, but emotion again intruded and he inhaled deeply, a hedge against tears. “Please. Help me, if you can.” He hurried out the door, climbed into the sleek black Mercedes, and a moment later the car sped out of view.

  * * *


  Colter Shaw had driven to Indianapolis in his thirty-foot Cambria Winnebago camper, in which he’d clocked 132,000 miles in the past year and half. He didn’t care for hotels and he hated to fly. The camper was perfect for both transportation and as living quarters. The boatlike vehicle, however, was cumbersome for tooling about town during an investigation itself, and his get-around wheels—a Yamaha YZ450FX dirt bike—made a questionable impression on offerors and disinclined potential interviewees from agreeing to talk to him.

  Avis and Hertz were the solution and on jobs he rented a lot of unassuming sedans. Rearview cameras, satellite radios, good mileage. He’d also found people tended to trust you when you showed up in a Ford Escape or a Kia.

  After leaving the restaurant, he found a trailer court with inexpensive hookups and clean showers, then he Ubered to a nearby Avis, where he collected a Toyota sedan.

  He returned to the court and parked beside the Winnebago. In the RV he printed out the emails of material Matthews had promised to send: a list of Fontaine’s family members, friends, acquaintances and coworkers; galleries where her work was on display and/or for sale; and Matthews’s own phone and travel records around the time that his wife disappeared, the days before and after. The man hadn’t been offended that Shaw considered him a suspect, which was standard operating procedure on a missing spouse job; several times husbands had offered substantial rewards, to flag their innocence, when they themselves had dispatched their wives.

  Shaw then called his own private investigator. Mack—an exception to the caveat about the limitations on permissible PI behavior—would conduct criminal background and weapons records checks on both principals in the job. Some of this information wasn’t in the public domain but Mack was unique in the world of private investigation: what was unavailable to most was rarely unavailable to Mack.