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Page 8


“What then?”
“It may be nothing,” Broome said.
Broome sat resting his forearms on his thighs, his head in his hands. He took a deep breath and looked into the pained eyes. “Another local man vanished. You may have seen it on the news. His name is Carlton Flynn.”
Sarah looked confused. “When you say vanished—”
“Just like…” He stopped. “One moment Carlton Flynn was living his life, the next—poof—he was gone. Totally vanished.”
Sarah tried to process what he was saying. “But… like you told me from the start. People do vanish, right?”
Broome nodded.
“Sometimes of their own volition,” Sarah continued. “Sometimes not. But it happens.”
“So seventeen years after my husband vanishes, another man, this Carlton Flynn, goes missing. I don’t see the connection.”
“There might be none,” Broome agreed.
She moved closer to him. “But?”
“But it’s why I missed the anniversary.”
“What does that mean?”
Broome didn’t know how much to say. He didn’t know how much he even knew for sure yet. He was working on a theory, one that gnawed at his belly and kept him up at night, but right now that was all it was.
“The day Carlton Flynn vanished,” he said.
“What about it?”
“It’s why I wasn’t here. He vanished on the anniversary. February eighteenth—exactly seventeen years to the day after your husband vanished.”
Sarah seemed stunned for a moment. “Seventeen years to the day.”
“What does that mean? Seventeen years. It might just be a coincidence. If it was five or ten or twenty years. But seventeen?”
He said nothing, letting her work on it herself for a few moments.
Sarah said, “So I assume, what, you checked for more missing people? To see if there was a pattern?”
“I did.”
“Those were the only two we know for certain who disappeared on a February eighteenth—your husband and Carlton Flynn.”
“We know for certain?” she repeated.
Broome let loose a deep breath. “Last year, on March fourteenth, another local man, Stephen Clarkson, was reported missing. Three years earlier, on February twenty-seventh, another was also reported missing.”
“Neither was found?”
Sarah swallowed. “So maybe it’s not the day. Maybe it’s February and March.”
“I don’t think so. Or at least, I didn’t. See, the other two men—Peter Berman and Gregg Wagman—could have disappeared a lot earlier. One was a drifter, the other a truck driver. Both men were single with not much family. If guys like that aren’t home in twenty-four hours, well, who’d notice? You did, of course. But if a guy is single or divorced or travels a lot…”
“It could be days or weeks before it’s reported,” Sarah finished for him.
“Or even longer.”
“So these two men might have vanished on February eighteenth too.”
“It’s not that simple,” Broome said.
“Why not?”
“Because the more I look at it, the pattern gets even tougher to nail down. Wagman, for example, was from Buffalo—he’s not local. No one knows where or when he vanished, but I was able to trace his movements enough to know that he could have gone through Atlantic City sometime in February.”
Sarah considered that. “You’ve mentioned five men, including Stewart, in the past seventeen years. Any others?”
“Yes and no. Altogether, I’ve found nine men who sort of very loosely could fit the pattern. But there are cases where the theory takes a bit of a hit.”
“For example?”
“Two years ago, a man named Clyde Horner, who lived with his mother, was reported missing on February seventh.”
“So it’s not February eighteenth.”
“Probably not.”
“Maybe it’s the month of February.”
“Maybe. This is the problem with theories and patterns. They take time. I’m still gathering evidence.”
Her eyes filled with tears. She blinked them away. “I don’t get it. How did no one see this—with this many people missing?”
“See what?” Broome said. “Hell, I don’t even see it that clearly yet. Men go missing all the time. Most run away. Most of these guys go broke or have nothing or got creditors on their ass—so they start new lives. They move across the country. Sometimes they change their names. Sometimes they don’t. Many of these men… well, no one is looking for them. No one wants to find them. One wife I spoke to begged me not to find her husband. She had three kids with the guy. She thinks he ran off with some—as she put it—‘hootchy whore,’ and it was the best thing that ever happened to her family.”
They were silent for a few moments.
“What about before?” Sarah asked.
Broome knew what she meant, but he still said, “Before?”
“Before Stewart. Did anybody disappear before my husband?”
He ran his hand through his hair and raised his head. Their eyes locked. “Not that I could find,” Broome said. “If this is a pattern, then it started with Stewart.”
He pried open one eye and immediately regretted it. The light worked like daggers. He grabbed hold of his head on either side because he feared that his skull would actually split in two from whatever was hammering on it from the inside.
“Open up, Ray.”
It was Fester.
More knocks. Each one landed inside Ray’s temple like a two-by-four. He swung his legs out of bed and, head reeling, managed to work his way to a sitting position. Next to his right foot was an empty bottle of Jack. Ugh. He had passed out—no, alas, he had once again “blacked out”—on the couch without bothering to pull out the bed beneath it. No blanket. No pillow. His neck was probably aching too, but it was hard to find it through the pulsating pain.
“Sec,” he said, because, really, he couldn’t get more sounds to come out.
This felt like a hangover raised to the tenth power. For a second, maybe two, Ray didn’t remember what had happened the night before, what had caused this massive influx of discomfort. Instead he thought about the last time he had felt like this, back before it all ended for him. He had been a photojournalist back then, working for the AP, traveling with the Twenty-fourth Infantry in Iraq during the first Persian Gulf War when the land mine exploded. Blackness—then pain. For a while it looked as though he would lose his leg.