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Authors: David Bell

Since she went away

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Praise for the Novels of David Bell

Somebody I Used to Know

“Filled with twists and turns that will have you forgetting everything you are supposed to do until you reach the very last page. . . . David Bell sure knows how to rope the reader in.”

—Fresh Fiction

“[A] satisfying thriller . . . distinctive characters and a smartly crafted plot.”

—Publishers Weekly

“A well-written, well-timed, steady-paced mystery.”

—Shelf Addiction

“Bell has a knack for writing suspenseful crime fiction with strong emotional, human elements, and his latest,Somebody I Used to Know, is no exception . . . a perfect read for fans of dark mysteries and crime thrillers mixed with poignant family drama.”

—Book of Secrets

The Forgotten Girl

“David Bell is a natural storyteller and a superb writer.The Forgotten Girlis a mystery lover’s mystery: a quick-paced and intriguing tale of what happens when the past catches up with the present.”

—#1New York Timesbestselling author Nelson DeMille

“The best crime novels combine a breakneck thriller plot with a piercing examination of family relationships.The Forgotten Girlhits this standard and then some.”

—Jeffery Deaver,New York Timesbestselling author ofThe Skin Collector

“[Bell is] a bang-up storyteller.”

—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“[A] strong and moody novel . . . personal relationships are critical in this satisfying read, which is in the same class as Russell Banks’sThe Sweet Hereafter.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“David Bell writes spellbinding and gripping thrillers that get under your skin and refuse to let go.”

—Linwood Barclay,New York Timesbestselling author ofFar from True

“Realistic glimpses of small-town America. . . . You might want to read it the next time you’re drawn back to the place you came from. It’ll remind you of why you got the hell out of there in the first place.”

—The Washington Post

“A taut gem of a mystery . . . a tale straight out of the psychological thriller territory blazed by the likes of Harlan Coben and Lisa Gardner.”

—The Providence Journal

Never Come Back

“David Bell [has] established himself as one of the brightest and best crime fiction writers of our time . . . a definite page-turner.”

—Suspense Magazine

“Bell does a good job exposing the seaminess underlying seemingly placid small-town life.”

—Publishers Weekly

“David Bell should be a household name for crime fiction lovers.”

—SheKnows Book Lounge

The Hiding Place

“A powerful, provocative novel.”

—Publishers Weekly

“David Bell does a masterful job of crafting a crime story . . . a riveting book with surprising but believable twists on every page.”

—Suspense Magazine

“A truly fascinating novel . . . an intriguing and complex plot that will keep the reader guessing up to the last chapter.”

—I Love a Mystery

Cemetery Girl

“An absolutely riveting, absorbing read not to be missed.”

—Lisa Unger,New York Timesbestselling author ofHeartbroken

“A fast, mean head trip of a thriller that reads like a collaboration between Michael Connelly and the gothic fiction of Joyce Carol Oates.”

—Will Lavender,New York Timesbestselling author ofDominance

“Grabbed me by the throat on page one and never let up. An intense, unrelenting powerhouse of a book, and the work of a master.”

—John Lescroart,New York Timesbestselling author ofThe Ophelia Cut

“A tense and terrifying journey that brims with emotional authenticity. Bell manages not only to build suspense effectively but also [to] tell a story that goes way beyond simple thrills.”

—Booklist

“An intense ride, twisting through some creepy psychological terrain.”

—Houston Chronicle

“Disturbing, brilliantly engaging, and a must read for thriller fans.”

—Suspense Magazine

ALSO BY DAVID BELL

Cemetery Girl

The Hiding Place

Never Come Back

The Forgotten Girl

Somebody I Used to Know

NEW AMERICAN LIBRARY

Published by New American Library,

an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

This book is an original publication of New American Library.

Copyright © David J. Bell, 2016

Readers Guide copyright © Penguin Random House, 2016

Penguin Random House 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 Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

New American Library and the New American Library colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information about Penguin Random House, visitpenguin.com.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:

Names: Bell, David, 1969 November 17– author.

Title: Since she went away/David Bell.

Description: New York, New York: New American Library, 2016.

Identifiers: LCCN 2016000473 (print) | LCCN 2016004532 (ebook) |ISBN 9780451474216 (softcover) | ISBN 9780698188839 (ebook)

Subjects: LCSH: Missing persons—Investigation—Fiction. | Secrets—Fiction. | BISAC:FICTION/Suspense. | FICTION/Thrillers. | GSAFD: Suspense fiction. | Mystery fiction.

Classification: LCC PS3602.E64544 S56 2016 (print) | LCC PS3602.E64544 (ebook) |DDC 813/.6—dc23

LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2016000473

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

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, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Version_1

For Molly

Contents

Praise for David BellAlso By David BellTitle PageCopyrightDedicationCHAPTER ONECHAPTER TWOCHAPTER THREECHAPTER FOURCHAPTER FIVECHAPTER SIXCHAPTER SEVENCHAPTER EIGHTCHAPTER NINECHAPTER TENCHAPTER ELEVENCHAPTER TWELVECHAPTER THIRTEENCHAPTER FOURTEENCHAPTER FIFTEENCHAPTER SIXTEENCHAPTER SEVENTEENCHAPTER EIGHTEENCHAPTER NINETEENCHAPTER TWENTYCHAPTER TWENTY-ONECHAPTER TWENTY-TWOCHAPTER TWENTY-THREECHAPTER TWENTY-FOURCHAPTER TWENTY-FIVECHAPTER TWENTY-SIXCHAPTER TWENTY-SEVENCHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHTCHAPTER TWENTY-NINECHAPTER THIRTYCHAPTER THIRTY-ONECHAPTER THIRTY-TWOCHAPTER THIRTY-THREECHAPTER THIRTY-FOURCHAPTER THIRTY-FIVECHAPTER THIRTY-SIXCHAPTER THIRTY-SEVENCHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHTCHAPTER THIRTY-NINECHAPTER FORTYCHAPTER FORTY-ONECHAPTER FORTY-TWOCHAPTER FORTY-THREECHAPTER FORTY-FOURCHAPTER FORTY-FIVECHAPTER FORTY-SIXCHAPTER FORTY-SEVENCHAPTER FORTY-EIGHTCHAPTER FORTY-NINECHAPTER FIFTYCHAPTER FIFTY-ONECHAPTER FIFTY-TWOCHAPTER FIFTY-THREECHAPTER FIFTY-FOURCHAPTER FIFTY-FIVECHAPTER FIFTY-SIXCHAPTER FIFTY-SEVENCHAPTER FIFTY-EIGHTCHAPTER FIFTY-NINECHAPTER SIXTYCHAPTER SIXTY-ONECHAPTER SIXTY-TWOCHAPTER SIXTY-THREECHAPTER SIXTY-FOURCHAPTER SIXTY-FIVECHAPTER SIXTY-SIXCHAPTER SIXTY-SEVENCHAPTER SIXTY-EIGHTCHAPTER SIXTY-NINECHAPTER SEVENTYCHAPTER SEVENTY-ONECHAPTER SEVENTY-TWOCHAPTER SEVENTY-THREECHAPTER SEVENTY-FOURCHAPTER SEVENTY-FIVECHAPTER SEVENTY-SIXCHAPTER SEVENTY-SEVENCHAPTER SEVENTY-EIGHTAcknowledgmentsReader's GuideExcerpt fromSomebody I Used To KnowAuthor Bio

CHAPTER ONE

 

Five police cars. Three news vans. And one coroner’s wagon.

Jenna Barton saw them as she made the turn onto the last county lane. The vehicles were fanned out around the old weathered barn with one wall collapsing and the others hanging on for dear life.

The fields around her on either side, stretching away for miles to the edges of the county, were empty and barren, still marked by patches of snow from an uncharacteristically heavy storm for that part of Kentucky. The soil was dark and lumpy, the remnants of cornstalks sticking out like spikes.

As she came closer, the dirt and gravel on the narrow road pinging against the underside of her car, she saw the people as well. County sheriffs in their pale green uniforms and Smokey Bear hats. News reporters in their nice clothes, their hair perfect, were being followed by cameramen in flannel shirts and heavy boots. And a scattering of onlookers, the curious good old boys who heard the call on their scanners or read about it on Twitter, were standing around in their feed caps, hands thrust deep into pockets against the cold, hoping for a glimpse of something horrific. Something gory or gross, some story they could tell later that night in the Downtowner while they sipped beers or threw darts.

Yeah,they’d say, their bravado mostly covering their unease,I saw them bring the body out. Wasn’t hardly anything left. . . .

Jenna parked next to a sheriff’s cruiser, but she didn’t get out. She sat in the car, hands clenching the wheel, and took a few deep breaths. She told herself this was probably nothing, another false alarm, one of many she had experienced over the past three months. Every time an unidentified woman’s body was found in central Kentucky, along an interstate or in a culvert, an abandoned house or the woods, someone called her. Usually the media but sometimes the police, and Jenna would have to wait it out, wondering whether this would be the time they’d tell her they’d found Celia. As she sat in the car, her eyes closed, the heater making the cabin of her Civic feel even closer and more cramped than it already was, she wondered whether she wanted to know the truth or if she could keep her eyes shut and hide forever. Would she finally feel relief when they found her best friend’s body?

The thoughts swirled through her brain like some twisted Zen koan:

I want to know.

I don’t want to know.

A light tapping against the window brought her eyes open. Jenna blinked a few times, turned her head. She saw a smiling face, one wearing a pound of makeup. Becky McGee from Local 40 News. Becky gave a short wave, her shoulders rising in anticipation of Jenna’s response.

Jenna turned the car off and stepped out. She’d been at work when Becky called and still wore her light blue scrubs. She’d rushed out of the office so fast she barely had time to grab her keys and purse. A damp winter chill hit Jenna as she straightened up, so she pulled her coat tighter, felt the light sting of the wind against her cheeks.

Becky placed her hand gently on Jenna’s upper arm. “How are you?” she asked, her voice cooing as if she were talking to an invalid or a frightened child. “Tough day, huh?”

“Is it her?” Jenna asked.

“They don’t know anything,” Becky said. “Or they won’t tell us anything. They’ve been poking around in there for the last thirty minutes. It’s a potential crime scene, so they have to take their time. . . .”

Becky’s voice trailed off as Jenna’s eyes wandered to the old barn. Some cops stood at the opening where a door once hung, staring inside. One of them said something and then smiled, looking to the man next to him for a laugh as well. They were close to fifty feet away from Jenna, so she couldn’t hear them, and she envied their ease at the scene, their lack of emotional involvement in the outcome of the search. She looked around. She was the only one truly invested, the only one who would buckle with pain if Celia’s body was discovered in the shitty, run-down barn.

Jenna turned back to Becky. The camera guy, Stan, loomed behind her, the equipment in his hand but not shooting. Jenna had learned over the past few months what the red light meant. “What did they find?” she asked. “You said on the phone it was a body.”

“Well, it’s—” The cheer and lilt quickly went out of Becky’s voice. She was a little older than Jenna, probably in her early forties, but her voice still sounded like the high school cheerleader she had once been. “Bones. I guessabone to be more specific.” Becky nodded, confirming the fact. “Yes, they foundabone. A surveying crew was out here, and they went inside the barn to get out of the cold or to take a smoke break, and they found a leg bone. Now they’re digging around in there, looking for more.” Becky made an exaggerated frown to show how awful she found the whole situation.

“Did someone call Ian?” Jenna asked.

“I did. He said he wasn’t going to come. You know he never makes it out to anything like this.” Becky lowered her voice. “I think he mistrusts any potential display of emotion. Plus, you know, a lot of people still think he’s guilty.”

“The police cleared him,” Jenna said.

“Mostly,” Becky said, her voice low.

Jenna wished she could be as strong as Ian, could so easily and readily draw lines and never cross them. It was easier for men. People accepted it if a man was cold and distant. “He’s smarter than me, I guess. It’s so cold out here.”

Jenna saw the other reporters and their cameramen moving her way. They recognized her, of course, after all the stories and interviews, after all the features and updates on Celia’s case. They knew she was good for a quote or two, knew the viewers loved to hear from her, even the ones who took to online forums and social media to criticize her. It was Jenna whom Celia was leaving the house to see that night back in November. It was Jenna who first called Ian when Celia didn’t arrive at their designated meeting place. It was Jenna, Celia’s best friend since high school, who could tell the viewers anything they wanted to know about Celia.

Jenna knew the reporters were using her, but she couldn’t help herself. She felt obligated to speak to them out of loyalty to Celia, even though she always received crank calls—at work and at home—and hateful comments on Twitter and Facebook. People offered support too, plenty of people, she reminded herself. But the nasty ones stuck with her.

Becky nodded to Stan, easing toward Jenna, reaching out with one hand to brush something off her coat. “You know what would be great? We’d love to be able to get your reaction now, you know, and have it as part of the story tonight. And I’ve already heard from New York. Reena wants to do a live remote tonight, put it all over CNN. Of course she’d love to have you again. She thinks you’re great.” Becky tilted her head to one side, studying Jenna. “This is so cool that you wore your work uniform. It’s so real. If you could slip your coat off and—”

“Please, Becky.” She didn’t want to be rude, didn’t want to snap at thereporter, who Jenna knew was only doing her job and who had always been decent to her. Jenna tried to soften her words with a smile, but it felt forced, like squeezing toothpaste back into a tube. “It’s cold out here.”

“You want the coat on?” Becky asked. “That’s fine. It’s a little brisk, even for February.”

“No, I don’t want to talk right now,” Jenna said, her voice friendly but firm. “Notbefore.”

Becky was a professional, but that didn’t mean she could hide all her emotions. One side of her mouth crinkled when Jenna told her no, and a glossy coldness passed over her eyes. “You don’t want to talk now?” Becky’s eyes darted around. She scooted closer, lowering her voice and adding a steely edge. “You’re not going to talk to someone else, are you?”

“I’m not going to talk to another reporter, no. Of course not.” Jenna sighed. “Whatever happens, I’ll talk to you first.”

“Good. Because you and I—” Becky’s glance darted to the other reporters, who stood just out of earshot. She eyed them like a school of circling sharks, which in a way they were. “We’ve always had a rapport, ever since this happened. And with Reena in New York helping me—”

“After,” Jenna said. “Okay? Let’s just talk after.”

“After what?” Becky asked.

“After we find out what’s—who’s—really in that barn.”

“Are you sure?” Becky asked. She lowered her voice again. “You know it could take a while for them to identify anything. I mean, they have to use the dental records at this point. And you always have something interesting to say. And this whole town has been on edge for the past few months. Things like this don’t happen here.”

Jenna felt the heat rise in her cheeks, and as it did, the molars at the back of her mouth ground together like shifting tectonic plates. She didn’t want to say the wrong thing. She had a tendency to do that, to blurt things out. The wrong things at the wrong times. Jokes at afuneral, curses in front of someone’s grandmother. They never came out the way she intended, and sometimes she hurt people or offended them. She never seemed to know how her words would land, and she wished she could learn to keep her mouth shut.

But Becky read the look and nodded, reaching up to pat her hair. “You’re right,” she said, smiling, doing her best to set Jenna’s mind at ease. “After will be better.”

Better,Jenna thought. Better? Would any of this ever be better?

CHAPTER TWO

 

It was a first for Jared Barton: a beautiful girl in his bedroom.

Yes, he’d fooled around with girls before. At parties or in the park, fumbling in the dark, the sweet taste of some kind of flavored vodka on the girl’s breath while they kissed, their tongues swirling like clothes in a dryer. And he remembered the ever-present fear of interruptions that hung over those encounters: other kids barging into the bedroom or, worst of all, police chasing them from the park, the flashlight blast in the eyes, the smug cops hustling them away with smirks on their faces.Okay, Romeo, the park’s closed now. . . .

But even though his mom worked full-time and his dad was long gone, Jared had never managed to bring a girl home. At fifteen, he felt a little behind. He had friends at school who boasted of blow jobs and even sex, and Jared listened to the stories in awe, not saying much for fear of betraying the fact that he’d never made it past second base, a private shame he kept to himself. But here she was, standing in his room after school on a Tuesday afternoon, the amazing Tabitha Burke.

Jared told himself to remain calm and to not—for the love of all that was holy—blow this chance.

Tabitha leaned over his desk, her long fingers picking up items andthen placing them down, almost as though she was shopping in a store and didn’t know what she wanted to buy. When they’d come in, Jared silently thanked whatever god dwelled above that his room was relatively clean, that there were no dirty boxer shorts on the floor, no stained socks or wet bath towels littering the carpet. For once he was glad his mom rode his ass about keeping things clean. He wanted to make the best impression possible, and he didn’t think Tabitha would be the kind of girl who would leave dirty clothes on the floor or dirty dishes on her desk. Not that he’d ever been close to her house, let alone inside.

“Do you want a drink or something?” Jared asked. “I think we have some Cokes. Maybe my mom made iced tea.”

“I’m fine,” Tabitha said. She looked back at him, offering a smile that revealed a dimple on her left cheek.

Jared loved the smile—even though her teeth weren’t perfectly straight—and he loved the dimple. He liked to caress her cheeks when they were close, making out and kissing her lips, her ears, her neck, running his fingers over her soft skin because he’d never felt anything like it. But that answer to his question about the drink.I’m fine. Tabitha said it all the time about almost everything. He thought of it as her motto, her catch-all response to most questions, and Jared couldn’t help thinking of it as a line in the sand, something that always reminded him he’d know her some, but not as much as he wanted. He hoped—and kept hoping—that would change, that he’d hear that phrase less and less as time went by.

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