Jane loses everything when her teenage daughter is killed in a senseless accident. Jane is devastated, but sometime later, she makes one tiny stab at a new life: she moves from San Francisco to the tiny seaside town of Half Moon Bay. She is inconsolable, and yet, as the months go by, she is able to cobble together some version of a job, of friends, of the possibility of peace.
And then, children begin to disappear. And soon, Jane sees her own pain reflected in all the parents in the town. She wonders if she will be able to live through the aching loss, the fear all around her. But as the disappearances continue, she begins to see that what her neighbors are wondering is if it is Jane herself who has unleashed the horror of loss.
Today I am delighted to share an extract from Half Moon Bay as part of the official blog tour.
The police are everywhere. Not just the limited Half Moon Bay police force, but San Mateo County sheriffs are making the rounds. They are interviewing everyone. There is word that the FBI will be coming in, forming a task force, because of the child kidnapping angle. Something about the Lindbergh Act. But the two men in uniform who come to Jane one afternoon at the nursery are locals.
Jane recognizes one of the cops by his voice. It is the one she’d spoken to the night Heidi disappeared, the one who circled her name on his pad. She can finally see his face clearly. He is much younger than she would have guessed. An unlined, untested face, and therefore one not to be trusted. Jane finds herself ill at ease these days with those inexperienced in life. Does that include children? It does.
You said you didn’t know the McCreadys, the policeman begins abruptly. No social niceties.
Jane is carefully wiping the leaves of the lilyturf (Liriope spicata) plants to keep them moist. Each leaf coming out a deep pure green after her wet cloth passes over it. She continues what she is doing. She breathes in deeply, as she’s been taught to do in times of stress.
I didn’t. I mean, I don’t, Jane says, finally. I knew that people with that name lived up on the hill, but I’ve never spoken to them.
But you have. This was the other cop, the one with the San Mateo Sheriff ’s Department patch sewn on the shoulder of his uniform. If it wasn’t an interrogation, Jane would have warmed to this man. He reminds her of Rick, with his narrow blue eyes and sandy-colored hair that curls around his ears. A deep quietness that reassures.
They came here and bought some plants from you. Quite a large order. They remember you distinctly. Your red hair. Your boss remembers them too.
Jane feels trapped. She’s never been good with authority figures. She invariably feels guilty of whatever has occurred. She is willing to admit to anything anyone accuses her of. In middle school, when her teacher called her to the front of the room to commend her on an essay she’d written, Jane blurted out, I didn’t plagiarize! Which of course caused the teacher to treat her with suspicion thereafter. Jane learned not to say what she was thinking, instead tried hard to look nonchalant and innocent when lunch money went missing or obscene graffiti was scrawled on the gym walls. But she’s not a good actress and can’t always force herself to do what liars apparently did to convince people of their innocence. Look people in the eyes. Don’t swallow. Don’t put your hand near your face, especially don’t hide your mouth or eyes. Don’t make any grooming gestures. Jane had practiced not lying in the mirror. She was terrible at it. Her hand was always straying to her face, and she always hesitated and swallowed before answering even the simplest questions. Jane would appear a liar even if asked for her name, or her favorite color.
When was this? Jane knows it sounds like she is buying time. She is.
Last January. January fifteenth, to be exact.
Jane considers what to say.
I was not . . . myself . . . back then, she says. I had only just arrived here. A lot of things from that time are a blur.
The nicer-looking policeman nods in what could be interpreted as a sympathetic manner.
Nevertheless, it was a little odd to find you wandering alone in the dark the night the little girl disappeared, he says. At that place, at that time.
I often wander in the dark. Especially to that place. Especially around that time of night.
Even though the beach closes at sundown?
Not to locals, Jane says. Not to me.
This makes both cops stop and look more closely at her.
You’re somehow privileged? the friendly one finally asks without hostility, just interest, it seems to Jane.
You know you could be ticketed for trespassing after hours, says the other, at the same time. He is hostile, Jane decides.
Yes, and yes, says Jane. But it’s not patrolled, and everyone knows it. Then, fiercely, You’re wasting my time. She turns her back on the cops to tend to her lilyturfs. She’s learned, over the last year, that being rude rather than polite, pushy rather than obsequious, gets her what she wants: to be left alone.
But it doesn’t work. The questions continue.
Where were you earlier that evening? (Home.)
Can anyone vouch for you being there? (No.)
What were you doing? (Straightening up. Organizing stuff. Reading.)
Do you have a car? (No.)
How do you get around? (Motorbike.)
Her answers to the last questions seem to terminate their interest. We might have more questions for you later, the friendly cop says finally, and they turn to leave, but not before the unfriendly cop plucks a glorious white rose from one of Helen’s prize bushes and holds it to his nose.
Why don’t flowers smell like anything anymore? he asks no one in particular.
Jane considers this a victory.
Despite all the police activity, no plausible suspects emerge. No one is charged. It must be a stranger, people say. They view anyone who recently moved to the coast with suspicion. There haven’t been many of them. The Schroeders, a boisterous family of six. The parents opened a frozen yogurt store on Main Street six months ago, are wonderfully patient with all the kids who hang out there. Greg and Jim, a young cohabiting couple, doing something in the arts scene up in San Francisco, and frequently away on trips. A few other unlikely persons. No single older men, normal or strange. Everyone in couples or families. No weirdos, unless you count the ones who have lived here for years. And Jane of course. Jane tries to look innocent. She tries to look concerned. She keeps her hands away from her face, doesn’t pat her hair. But she feels the burden of the unasked questions. Who are you really?
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