SW01 - The Edge of Nowhere, p.1Elizabeth George
the Edge of
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First published in the United States of America by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2012
Copyright © Elizabeth George, 2012
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
George, Elizabeth, date–
The edge of nowhere / by Elizabeth George.
Summary: When her mother abandons her on Whidbey Island, Washington, a fourteen-year-old girl with psychic abilities meets a Ugandan orphan with a secret.
[1. Whidbey Island (Wash.)—Fiction. 2. Psychic ability—Fiction. 3. Abandoned children—Fiction. 4. Secrets—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.G29315Ed 2012 [Fic]—dc23 2011050741
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* * *
For Bob Mayer and Debbie Cavanaugh, in acknowledgment of a breathtaking lesson in both friendship and appreciation.
* * *
How Things Began
Be not afeared: the isle is full of noises,
sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
How Things Began
On the last day of Hannah Armstrong’s existence, things were normal for a while. She made a 94 percent on a math test, and she accepted a movie date for later in the week.
She walked home, as usual. She didn’t use her hearing device since she didn’t really need it outside of school. This gadget had the appearance of an iPod, but it didn’t play music. Instead it played a form of static that removed from Hannah’s hearing the disjointed thoughts of other people. Since babyhood, she’d heard these broken thoughts of others, which she’d learned to call whispers. But they came into her head like a badly tuned radio; she could never tell exactly who the whisperer was if more than one person was present; and they made school a nightmare for her. So a mechanism that her mom called an AUD box had been manufactured for Hannah. She’d worn it since she was seven years old.
When she arrived home, she went to the stairs. She headed up to her room, only to see her stepfather come stealthily out of it.
They locked eyes. Damn . . . what’s she doing . . . why didn’t . . . came into Hannah’s head from Jeff Corrie as whispers always did, disconnected and seemingly random. She frowned as she heard them, and she wondered what her stepfather had been doing in her room besides trying once again to gather reassurance that she wasn’t going to tell her mother how she’d been helping him with his latest scheme.
It wasn’t as if she’d wanted to help him, either. But Jeff Corrie had Hannah’s mom in some sort of thrall that had more to do with his looks than his character, and caught up in their dizzying relationship, she’d told him what went on inside Hannah’s head when she wasn’t wearing the AUD box. It hadn’t taken him long to figure out a way to use Hannah’s talent. He decided to “employ” her as the cake and coffee girl at his investment house, just the person to bring in the refreshments and listen to the whispers of his clients in order to read their weaknesses. He and his pal Connor separated old folks from their money in this way. It was a grand scheme and it was making them millions.
Hannah had never wanted to help him. She knew it was wrong. But she feared this man and she feared the fact that his whispers, his words, and the expressions on his face never matched up. She didn’t know what this meant. But she knew it wasn’t good. So she said nothing to anyone. She just did what she was told and waited for whatever was going to happen next. She had no idea it would happen that very afternoon.
Jeff Corrie said, “What’re you doing home?” His gaze went to her right ear where the earphone to the AUD box usually was.
Hannah dug the box out of her pocket and clipped it on the waistband of her jeans, screwing the earphone into her ear as well. His eyes narrowed till he saw her turn up the volume. Then he seemed to relax.
“It’s three thirty,” she told him.
“Start your homework,” he said.
He went past her and down the stairs. She heard him yelling, “Laurel? Where the hell are you? Hannah’s home,” as if his wife was supposed to do something about that.
Hannah put her backpack in her room. Everything seemed to be the way she’d left it that morning. Still, she went to the bedside table to check the drawer.
The tiny piece of clear tape was ripped off. Someone had opened the drawer. Someone had read her journal.
It wasn’t enough, she thought, that she helped him and his friend. He had to possess her thoughts on the matter, too. Well, good luck to figuring out how I feel, Daddy Jeff, Hannah scoffed. Like I’d write something honest and actually leave it in my bedroom for you?
She left her room and descended the stairs. She heard her mom and Jeff Corrie talking in the kitchen. She joined them there and turned away from the sight of Jeff Corrie nuzzling her m
Hannah said, “Hi, Mom,” and opened the refrigerator, reaching for a carton of milk.
Laurel said, “Hey. No hi to Jeff?”
“Already saw him upstairs,” Hannah told her. She added, “Gosh. He didn’t tell you, Mom?” just to see how she would react. Don’t trust him, don’t trust him, she wanted to say. But she could only plant seeds. She couldn’t paint pictures.
There was a silence between Laurel and Jeff. With the refrigerator door still open, hiding her from them, Hannah turned off the volume of the AUD box.
He’s not . . . he can’t be . . . had to be from her mother, she thought.
She tried to hear Jeff, but there was nothing.
Then everything changed, and life as Hannah had known it ended.
Little bitch always thinks . . . a break-in . . . surprise . . . Connor . . . if she hears that a gun . . . because dead isn’t always dead these days . . .
The carton of milk slipped from Hannah’s fingers and sloshed onto the floor. She swung around from the refrigerator and her eyes met Jeff’s.
“Clumsy,” he said, but inside his head was something different.
His gaze went from Hannah’s face to her ear to the AUD box on her waist.
She heard was the last thing Hannah heard before she ran from the room.
* * *
Becca King’s mother, Laurel, had traded the Lexus SUV at the first opportunity after they’d descended interstate five on the serpentine stretch of highway known as the Grapevine in California. She’d lost money on the car, but money wasn’t the issue. Getting away from San Diego along with getting rid of the Lexus was. She’d traded it for a 1998 Jeep Wrangler, and the moment they’d crossed the California state line into Oregon, she began looking for a place to unload the Jeep as well. A 1992 Toyota RAV4 came next. But that only took them up through Oregon to the border with Washington. As quickly as possible and making sure it was all legal, Laurel then dumped the Toyota for a 1988 Ford Explorer, which was what mother and daughter had driven ever since.
Becca hadn’t questioned any of this. She’d known the desperate reason it had to be done, just as she knew the reason there could be no more Hannah Armstrong. For she and her mother were traveling as fast as they could, leaving house, school, and names behind them. Now they sat in the Explorer in Mukilteo, Washington. The car was backed into a parking space in front of an old wooden-floored store called Woody’s Market, across the water from Whidbey Island.
It was early evening, and a heavy mist that was not quite fog hung between the mainland and the island. From where they were parked, Whidbey was nothing more than an enormous hulk surmounted by tall conifers and having a band of lights at the bottom where a few houses were strung along the shore. To Becca, with an entire life lived in San Diego, the place looked forbidding and foreign. She couldn’t imagine herself there, trying to establish a new life far away from her stepfather’s reach. To Laurel, the island looked like a safety net where she could leave her daughter in the care of a childhood friend for the time it would take her to establish a place of refuge in British Columbia. There, she figured that she and Becca would be safe from discovery by Jeff Corrie.
Laurel had felt overwhelming relief when her longtime Bohemian lifestyle had been enough to quash any questions from her friend. Carol Quinn had not even acted surprised that Laurel would ask her to care for her daughter for a length of time she couldn’t begin to name. Instead of questioning this, Carol said no problem, bring her on up, she can help me out. Haven’t been feeling so great lately, Carol had said, so I could use an assistant in the house.
But will you keep this a secret? Laurel had asked her over and over again.
To my grave, Carol Quinn had promised. No worries, Laurel. Bring her on up.
Now Laurel lowered her window two inches, to keep the windshield from fogging up. The middle of September, and she hadn’t had a clue the weather would have changed so much. In southern California, September was the hottest month of the year, a time of forest fires driven by winds off the desert. Here, it already felt like winter. Laurel shivered and grabbed a sweatshirt from the back of the car, where it lay against the wheel of Becca’s old ten-speed.
She said, “Cold?” Becca shook her head. She was breathing deeply, and while she usually did this to calm herself, she was doing it now because on the air was the scent of waffle cones meant for ice cream, and it was coming from Woody’s Market behind them.
They’d already been inside. Becca had already asked for a cone. Laurel had already made the automatic reply of “In through the lips and onto the hips.” She was a woman who, on the run from a criminal, could still count her daughter’s intake of calories. But Becca was hungry. They hadn’t had anything to eat since lunch. A snack certainly wasn’t going to blow up her thighs like balloons.
She said, “Mom . . .”
Laurel turned to her. “Tell me your name.”
They’d been through this exercise five times daily since leaving their home, so Becca wasn’t happy to go through it another time. She understood the importance of it, but she wasn’t an idiot. She’d memorized it all. She sighed and looked in the other direction. “Becca King,” she said.
“And what are you to remember as Job Number One?”
“Help Carol Quinn around the house.”
“Aunt Carol,” Laurel said. “You’re to call her Aunt Carol.”
“Aunt Carol, Aunt Carol, Aunt Carol,” Becca said.
“She knows you have a little money until I can start sending you more,” Laurel said. “But the more you can help her . . . It’s like earning your keep.”
“Yes,” Becca said. “I will become someone’s slave because you married a maniac, Mom.”
Oh God what did he do to you when you’re my only—
“Sorry,” Becca said, hearing her mom’s pain. “Sorry. Sorry.”
“Get out of my head,” Laurel told her. “And tell me your name. Full name this time.”
There was a parking lot to Becca’s right, across the main road that ended with the ferry dock. People had been sauntering from cars in that lot to a food stand just to one side of the dock. A sign declaring the place to be Ivar’s was shining through the mist, and a line of people making purchases had formed. Becca’s stomach growled.
“Tell me your name,” Laurel repeated. “This is important.” Her voice was calm enough, but beneath the gentle tone was come on come on there’s so little time please do this for me it’s the last thing I’ll ask, and Becca could feel those words coming at her, invading her brain, perfectly clear because that was how her mother’s thoughts always were, unlike the whispers that came from others. She wanted to tell her mom not to worry. She wanted to tell her that Jeff Corrie might forget about them. But she knew the first statement was useless, and she knew the second was an outright lie.
Becca turned back to her mother and their eyes met and listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere came from Laurel.
“Very funny,” Becca said to her. “It would’ve been nice if you’d memorized something else in sixth grade besides that, you know.”
“Tell me your name,” Laurel said again.
“All right. All right. Rebecca Dolores King.” Becca grimaced. “God. Does it have to be Dolores? I mean, who has a name like Dolores these days?”
Laurel ignored the question. “Where are you from?”
Becca said patiently because there was no point to anything other than patience at the moment, “San Luis Obispo. Sun Valley, Idaho, before that. I was born in Sun Valley, but I left when I was seven and that’s when my family moved to San Luis Obispo.”
“Why are you here?”
“Where are your parents?”
“My mom’s on a dig in . . .” Becca frowned. For the first time since they’d fled California, she couldn’t remember. She assumed it was the fact that she was so hungry because she was never at her best when there were physical needs that had to be taken care of. She said, “Damn. I can’t remember.”
Laurel’s head clunked back against the headrest of her seat. “You have to remember. This is crucial. It’s life and death. Where are your parents?”
Becca looked at her mother, hoping for a clue but all she picked up was on the eighteenth of April in seventy-five hardly a man is now alive, which wasn’t going to get her anywhere. She looked back at Ivar’s. A woman bent over with osteoporosis was turning from the counter with a carton in her hand and she looked so old . . . and then it came to Becca. Old.
“Olduvai Gorge,” she said. “My mom’s on a dig in Olduvai Gorge.” Nothing could have been further from the truth, but shortly before they’d made their run from Jeff Corrie, Becca had read an old book about the discovery of Lucy, aka Australopithecus afarensis, in Olduvai Gorge by an ambitious postgraduate fresh out of the University of Chicago. She’d been the one to suggest that her mother be a paleontologist. It sounded romantic to her.
Laurel nodded, satisfied. “What about your father? Where’s your father? Don’t you have a father?”
Becca rolled her eyes. It was clear that this was going to go on till the ferry arrived because her mother wanted no time to think of anything else. Least of all did she want to think of how she’d endangered her daughter. So Becca said deliberately, “Which father would that be, Mom?” and then she reached in her pocket and pulled out the single earphone of the AUD box. She shoved it into her ear. She turned up the volume and her head filled with static, soothing to her as always, the way satin is soothing against someone’s skin.
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