It had started only three days earlier, although now that seemed a lifetime ago. It began with. a ringing telephone and with me cursing the noisy instrument that I regard as technology's worst blight on the human race. Telephones follow me everywhere, Even in my car. There is no escape.
The blaring phone jarred me to my senses sometime around seven o'clock on a drizzly Saturday morning toward the end of June. Friday night had been a late one. I wasn't nearly ready to. rise and shine, but homicide cops at Seattle P.D. are used to unscheduled, early-morning wake-up calls.,
Around what locals call the Emerald City, people tend to knock each other off in the middle. of the night or in the wee small hours of the morning, especially right after the bars, close on weekends. If I the work load -- gets too heavy for the regular night-duty squad to handle, they start calling for reinforcements. Being off-duty doesn't, mean you're home free. When your name comes up on the rotation, you're called and you go in, regardless of what you may or may not have been doing the night before. Having a personal life is no excuse.
I figured my early morning phone call meant it had been another one of those busy Saturday-night-special Friday nights around Seattle P.D.
"Beaumont here," I grumbled into the phone, wishing we could somehow convince the city's crooks -- the gangs, the thugs, and the variously affiliated, drug dealers -- to use each other for target practice during regular day time eight-hour shifts. "What up?"
"This is Dave," an unfamiliar male voice replied. "You know, David Livingston?"
I was still muffled in a warm, sleep-induced cocoon, and this joker had me stumped. I could have sworn, I didn't know anyone in the whole wide world by the name of David Livingston. The telephone must have passed along my blank silence, because a moment later good ol'Dave gave me a helpful hint.
"You may not remember, but we met once, a while ago down in Wickenburg, Arizona. I don't think we were ever properly introduced."
Jump-started now, the old brain finally fired and caught hold. Of course! That Dave Livingston. My ex-wife's second husband. No wonder I didn't recognize him!
I sat up a little straighter in bed. Of all people, what did Dave Livingston think he was doing calling me up? So early on an otherwise peaceful Saturday morning that I had not yet tasted a single sip of coffee, here was Dave, already up and about and letting his fingers do the walking.
In a universe full of complicated matrimonial merry-go-rounds, second husbands don't often reach out and touch first husbands. By telephone, that is. It isn't done. Not unless it's a dire emergency a matter of life or death or missing child support. We're all reasonable adults, but there is a limit.,
Now, though, I heard Dave,talking to me as calmly as if conversations between us were an everyday occurrence. Since child support has never. been a source of controversy, my mind leaped instantly to all the other worst possible conclusions.
"Dave,"I croaked. "'What is it? Karen?"
He paused a moment and cleared his throat. "No, not Karen.
"The kids then?"
I said "kids" aloud, but even as I said the word, I knew it was a lie. I have fathered two offspring -- Scott and Kelly. Scott, my firstborn, is as steady and responsible a kid as any parent, good or otherwise, has any right to hope for or expect. He's never given any of us -- Dave Livingston included -- a moment's trouble.
Kelly is something else, our collective problem child -- a wildhaired, pain-in-the-ass-type kid who started wearing makeup and testing limits at the tender age of eleven and has been off the charts ever since. She had run away from her stepfather's home in Cucamonga, California,
some four months earlier, disappearing one week shy of her eighteenth birthday and several months short of high school graduation. Once Karen finally saw fit to tell me what was going on, I had hired an L.A.based private investigator to look into, Kelly's disappearance.All he had sent me so far was an outrageous bill.
"Kelly then," I added. "Did you find her?"
"Sort of,"Dave Livingston allowed gloomily. "More or less."
For a supposedly hotshot accountant, Dave was being damnably nonspecific. Meanwhile, my homicide cop's mentality was working overtime, filling in the most gruesome kinds of missing person details the dry ravines where unsuspecting people sometimes stumble over vulture scattered human remains. Memories of long-overlooked and rotting corpses -loomed in my mind's eye. Unfortunately, cops have chillingly realistic imaginations. We've seen it all. More than once too often.
"Tell me then, for God's sake!" I urged. " 'What
the hell do you mean, 'more or less'?, Is she alive or not? And if she is alive, is she all right?"
"I haven't talked to her yet," Dave put, in quickly. "Not in person; neither has Karen. As a matter of fact, Karen knows nothing about all this. She was so bent out of shape when Kelly ran away that I didn't exactly tell her I was hiring, a detective."
Great minds think a like. So Dave and I had both hired private eyes. His had gotten results. I'd have to fire mine.
"So where is she?" I prompted. " Is she okay?"
" In a little town, in southern Oregon. A place called Ashland. Ever heard of it?"I had heard of itas a matter of fact. Months earlier-the town of Ashland had been nothing more than a green-and-white freeway exit on I-5, the last stop in Oregon before ...Failure to Appear. Copyright © by J. Jance. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Failure to Appear by J. A. Jance
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