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Where are the children, p.1
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       Where Are the Children?, p.1

           Mary Higgins Clark
 
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Where Are the Children?


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  BY MARY HIGGINS CLARK

  Where Are the Children? (1975)

  A Stranger Is Watching (1978)

  The Cradle Will Fall (1980)

  A Cry in the Night (1982)

  Stillwatch (1984)

  Weep No More My Lady (1987)

  While My Pretty One Sleeps (1989)

  The Anastasia Syndrome & Other Stories (1989)

  Loves Music, Loves to Dance (1991)

  All Around the Town (1992)

  I’ll Be Seeing You (1993)

  Remember Me (1994)

  The Lottery Winner: Alvirah & Willy Stories (1994)

  Let Me Call You Sweetheart (1995)

  Silent Night (1995)

  Moonlight Becomes You (1996)

  My Gal Sunday (1996)

  Pretend You Don’t See Her (1997)

  You Belong to Me (1998)

  All Through the Night (1998)

  SIMON & SCHUSTER

  Rockefeller Center

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  Visit us on the World Wide Web:

  http://www.SimonSays.com

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

  Introduction copyright © 1999 by Mary Higgins Clark

  Copyright © 1975 by Mary Higgins Clark

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

  SIMON & SCHUSTER and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster Inc.

  ISBN-10: 0-7432-0611-8

  ISBN-13:978-0-7432-0611-2

  Introduction

  Prologue

  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

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  About the Author

  Lost Years excerpt

  To the memory of my mother,

  NORA C. HIGGINS,

  with love, admiration and gratitude

  Introduction

  Where Are the Children? was my first suspense novel and the book that really changed my life.

  I had written before and actually made a living for a time doing scripts for radio shows. I had also published some short stories, but while they were fun and gratifying, they didn’t pay the bills, so I decided to try my hand at a real book.

  My first effort was a biographical novel about George Washington; it took three years to write, was published invisibly, and went directly to the remainder tables as it came off press. That didn’t faze me—I considered it a triumph. After all, it was published. Triumph or no, however, I sincerely wanted my next book to sell.

  It was at that point that I studied my bookshelves and realized that from the time I was first able to read, whenever possible I had chosen to curl up with suspense stories. Clearly they were my favorite kind of fiction. I had begun with books featuring girl detectives like Judy Bolton and Nancy Drew; from them I had moved on to Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, Charlotte Armstrong, Mignon Eberhart and Daphne du Maurier, to name just a few. Whenever I read these books, I always tried to keep up with the author, to spot the bad guy, to solve the crime early on. Those writers were wonderful teachers, and gradually I absorbed some of the techniques they used.

  I’ll use an old and familiar story to illustrate what I mean. One version of the Hansel and Gretel legend is that Hansel dropped smooth stones to mark the path back out of the forest, while Gretel dropped breadcrumbs. When they wanted to find their way back home, they discovered that while the stones were still there, the breadcrumbs had been eaten by the birds.

  In the same sense, suspense writers drop their own different versions of smooth stones and breadcrumbs, and invite the reader to follow them on their journey. The breadcrumbs, so quickly gobbled up, turn out not to be the clues they seemed, while the stones, which blend in so well with the landscape, often prove to be the true guide to finding the solution to the crime. Over the years, I became quite good at separating the two.

  As a reader, I loved suspense. I thought I understood it. So I decided to see if I could write it.

  Some advice I had heard in a writing class came back to me: Take a true case or situation, one that interests you; ask yourself two questions: “Suppose . . . ?” and “What if . . . ?”; then turn it into fiction.

  At that time in New York there was a celebrated murder case, covered daily in the newspapers and on television. A beautiful twenty-six-year-old mother—her name was Alice Crimmins—was accused of killing her five-year-old son and her three-year-old daughter. As it turned out, covered constantly by the press, she was convicted of both deaths, then both convictions were thrown out on technicalities. Eventually, she was released from prison, having spent only a very short time there. Once she was out, she remarried and disappeared from the public eye.

  The case dragged on for years. It got so much media attention at the time that it was virtually impossible not to hear about it and to have an opinion as to Alice Crimmins’s guilt or innocence. Any mention of her name was sure to start a lively debate. So I asked myself the two questions: “Suppose . . . ?” and “What if . . . ?”

  Suppose a beautiful young mother is accused and later convicted of the deliberate murder of her two young children? Suppose she gets out of prison because the conviction is overturned on a technicality? Suppose she remarries and starts a new life, then seven years to the day her two children died, the two children from her second marriage disappear?

  I decided it was a strong premise, and so I began to plan my book. The setting was my first consideration. At that time I had just started renting a summer cottage on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and had fallen in love with the area. The Cape has lonely beaches to walk on and brilliant sunsets that offer a promise of joyous times to come. It also has terrifying nor’easters that lash the ocean savagely and send torrents of windswept rain across the Cape’s narrow, sandy width. In short, it has atmosphere.

  It is, therefore, the perfect place for a young woman with a wounded spirit to flee to. Cape people are reticent. They respect privacy and would never intrude upon or question a person who is a loner.

  As I began to outline the book, I could visualize the young woman—whom I called Nancy Harmon—leaving San Francisco and getting on a bus that would take her across the country to the Cape, which she had visited as a child and remembered as a place of peace—a place where she could heal.

  My working title for the book was Die a Little Death, a phrase I had read in a memoir written by a mistress of Louis XIV of France. She
had borne him a child, and it lived only eight months. In the memoir she wrote, “And I with my baby died a little death.” I thought it was an appropriate title because in my story, part of Nancy, in essence, died with her first two children. Since that time she had managed to blot out all memories of her life with them, but now she must suddenly try to recall every detail of the events leading up to their disappearance if she is to save her second family.

  At the time I was writing the novel, I had a full-time job in radio, so the book took me three years to finish. When I was finally satisfied and knew I could add nothing more to it, I wrote in my journal, “I have finished the book, and it is GOOD!!!”

  I still remember the black-and-white suit I was wearing when I dropped off the manuscript with my agent’s secretary—it was a very important day for me. Then six weeks passed without any word from my agent. Timidly I phoned her: “Pat,” I said, “by any chance have you had time to look at my book?”

  Pat Myrer had been a senior editor before becoming an agent, and usually she ripped my short stories apart and had me rewrite them before she would send them out. When she told me that this time she felt no rewriting was necessary, that my novel was already out on submission with publishers, I realized I was on my way because I was sure in my heart that the book would sell.

  The world was a slightly different place thirty years ago, and when I wrote that book, child molestation was pretty much a taboo subject. While there were no explicit scenes dealing with that, it was clear enough to the reader that the kidnapper was also a molester. As a result, two of the publishers to whom my manuscript was submitted turned it down. They feared the subject of children in that kind of jeopardy might upset their women readers. Fortunately for me, however, Simon & Schuster decided to take a chance, and they bought the book.

  At the suggestion of Phyllis Grann, then an editor at Simon & Schuster, it was given a new title. The concern she expressed was that Die a Little Death might sound too much like a hard-edged crime story, so the title was changed to the more descriptive—and compelling—Where Are the Children?

  The publication of that book marked the turning point in my life, and began a long and happy marriage with Simon & Schuster that has lasted to this day.

  MHC/Christmas 1998

  Prologue

  HE COULD FEEL THE CHILL coming in through the cracks around the windowpanes. Clumsily he got up and lumbered over to the window. Reaching for one of the thick towels he kept handy, he stuffed it around the rotting frame.

  The incoming draft made a soft, hissing sound in the towel, a sound that vaguely pleased him. He looked out at the mist-filled sky and studied the whitecaps churning in the water. From this side of the house it was often possible to see Provincetown, on the opposite shore of Cape Cod Bay.

  He hated the Cape. He hated the bleakness of it on a November day like this; the stark grayness of the water; the stolid people who didn’t say much but studied you with their eyes. He had hated it the one summer he’d been here—waves of tourists sprawling on the beaches; climbing up the steep embankment to this house; gawking in the downstairs windows, cupping their hands over their eyes to peer inside.

  He hated the large FOR SALE sign that Ray Eldredge had posted on the front and back of the big house and the fact that now Ray and that woman who worked for him had begun bringing people in to see the house. Last month it had been only a matter of luck that he’d come along as they’d started through; only luck that he’d gotten to the top floor before they had and been able to put away the telescope.

  Time was running out. Somebody would buy this house and he wouldn’t be able to rent it again. That was why he’d sent the article to the paper. He wanted to still be here to enjoy seeing her exposed for what she was in front of these people . . . now, when she must have started to feel safe.

  There was something else that he had to do, but the chance had never come. She kept such a close watch on the children. But he couldn’t afford to wait anymore. Tomorrow . . .

  He moved restlessly around the room. The bedroom of the top-floor apartment was large. The whole house was large. It was a bastardized evolution of an old captain’s house. Begun in the seventeenth century on a rocky crest that commanded a view of the whole bay, it was a pretentious monument to man’s need to be forever on guard.

  Life wasn’t like that. It was bits and pieces. Icebergs that showed in tips. He knew. He rubbed his hand over his face, feeling warm and uncomfortable even though the room was chilly. For six years now he’d rented this house in the late summer and fall. It was almost exactly as it had been when he had first come into it. Only a few things were different: the telescope in the front room; the clothes that he kept for the special times; the peaked cap that he pulled over his face, which shaded it so well.

  Otherwise the apartment was the same: the old-fashioned sofa and pine tables and hooked rug in the living room; the rock maple bedroom set. This house and apartment had been ideal for his purpose until this fall, when Ray Eldredge had told him they were actively trying to sell the place for a restaurant and it could be rented only with the understanding it could be shown on telephoned notice.

  Raynor Eldredge. The thought of the man brought a smile. What would Ray think tomorrow when he saw the story? Had Nancy ever told Ray who she was? Maybe not. Women could be sly. If Ray didn’t know, it would be even better. How wonderful it would be to actually see Ray’s expression when he opened the paper! It was delivered a little after ten in the morning. Ray would be in his office. He might not even look at it for a while.

  Impatiently, he turned from the window. His thick, trunklike legs were tight in shiny black trousers. He’d be glad when he could lose some of this weight. It would mean that awful business of starving himself again, but he could do it. When it had been necessary he’d done it before. Restlessly he rubbed a hand over his vaguely itchy scalp. He’d be glad when he could let his hair grow back in its natural lines again. The sides had always been thick and would probably be mostly gray now.

  He ran one hand slowly down his trouser leg, then impatiently paced around the apartment, finally stopping at the telescope in the living room. The telescope was especially powerful—the kind of equipment that wasn’t available for general sale. Even many police departments didn’t have it yet. But there were always ways to get things you wanted. He bent over and peered into it, squinting one eye.

  Because of the darkness of the day, the kitchen light was on, so it was easy to see Nancy clearly. She was standing in front of the kitchen window, the one that was over the sink. Maybe she was about to get something ready to put into the oven for dinner. But she had a warm jacket on, so she was probably going out. She was standing quietly, just looking in the direction of the water. What was she thinking of? Whom was she thinking of? The children—Peter . . . Lisa . . . ? He’d like to know.

  He could feel his mouth go dry and licked his lips nervously. She looked very young today. Her hair was pulled back from her face. She kept it dark brown. Someone would surely have recognized her if she’d left it the natural red-gold shade. Tomorrow she’d be thirty-two. But she still didn’t look her age. She had an intriguing young quality, soft and fresh and silky.

  He swallowed nervously. He could feel the feverish dryness of his mouth, even while his hands and armpits were wet and warm. He gulped, then swallowed again, and the sound evolved into a deep chuckle. His whole body began to shake with mirth and jarred the telescope. Nancy’s image blurred, but he didn’t bother refocusing the lens. He wasn’t interested in watching her anymore today.

  Tomorrow! He could just see the expression she’d have at this time tomorrow. Exposed to the world for what she was; numbed with worry and fear; trying to answer the question . . . the same question the police had thrown at her over and over seven years ago.

  “Come on, Nancy,” the police would be saying again. “Come clean with us. Tell the truth. You should know you can’t get away with this. Tell us, Nancy—where are the children?”
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  1

  RAY CAME DOWN THE STAIRS pulling the knot closed on his tie. Nancy was sitting at the table with a still-sleepy Missy on her lap. Michael was eating his breakfast in his poised, reflective way.

  Ray tousled Mike’s head and leaned over to kiss Missy. Nancy smiled up at him. She was so darn pretty. There were fine lines around those blue eyes, but you’d still never take her for thirty-two. Ray was only a few years older himself, but always felt infinitely her senior. Maybe it was that awful vulnerability. He noticed the traces of red at the roots of her dark hair. A dozen times in the last year he’d wanted to ask her to let it grow out, but hadn’t dared.

  “Happy birthday, honey,” he said quietly.

  He watched as the color drained from her face.

  Michael looked surprised. “Is it Mommy’s birthday? You didn’t tell me that.”

  Missy sat upright. “Mommy’s birthday?” She sounded pleased.

  “Yes,” Ray told them. Nancy was staring down at the table. “And tonight we’re going to celebrate. Tonight I’m going to bring home a big birthday cake and a present, and we’ll have Aunt Dorothy come to dinner. Right, Mommy?”

  “Ray . . . no.” Nancy’s voice was low and pleading.

  “Yes. Remember, last year you promised that this year we’d . . .”

  Celebrate was the wrong word. He couldn’t say it. But for a long time he’d known that they would someday have to start changing the pattern of her birthdays. At first she’d withdrawn completely from him and gone around the house or walked the beach like a silent ghost in a world of her own.

  But last year she’d finally begun to talk about them . . . the two other children. She’d said, “They’d be so big now . . . ten and eleven. I try to think how they would look now, but can’t seem to even imagine. . . . Everything about that time is so blurred. Like a nightmare that I only dreamed.”

 
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