“Has she ever done anything like this before?”
“You mean, stayed out all night?”
Neil nodded. He was sitting beside Cindy on one of two tan leather sofas in her living room. Behind them a wall of windows overlooked the spacious backyard. Facing them were three paintings of pears in varying degrees of ripeness. Cindy couldn’t remember the name of the artist who’d painted these pictures. Tom had bought them without asking either her opinion or approval. I make the money; I make the decisions, being pretty much the theme of their marriage. Along with the never-ending parade of other women, Cindy thought, smiling sadly at the good-looking man perched on the opposite end of the couch and wondering if he’d ever cheated on his wife. She ran her hand across the sofa’s buttery surface. Find Italian leather. Guaranteed to last a lifetime. Unlike her marriage, she thought. The sofas had also been Tom’s decision, as was the checkered print of the two wing chairs sitting in front of the black marble fireplace. Why had she never bothered to change anything after he left? Had she been subconsciously waiting for him to return? She shook her head, trying to excise her former husband from her brain.
“Cindy?” Neil was asking, leaning forward, extending his hands toward hers. “Are you all right? You have this very strange look on your face.”
“Yes, she’s stayed out all night before,” Cindy said, answering his question, wondering how long ago he’d asked it. “But she always calls. She’s never not called.”
Except once just after she moved back home, Cindy recalled, when she was making a point about being an adult and no longer answerable to her mother. Her father, she’d argued pointedly, had never placed any such restrictions on her. Her mother, Cindy had countered, needed to be assured of her safety. It was a matter of consideration, not constraint. In reply, Julia had rolled her eyes and flounced out of the room, but she’d never stayed out all night again without first phoning home.
Except one other time when she forgot, Cindy remembered, but then she’d called first thing the next morning and apologized profusely.
“Shouldn’t you be at work?” she asked Neil, trying to prevent another example from springing to her mind.
“I take Fridays off in the summer.”
Cindy vaguely recalled him having told her that last night. “Look, you don’t have to stay. I mean, it was very thoughtful of you to come over and everything, I really appreciate it, but I’m sure you have plans for the long weekend….”
“I have no plans.”
“….and Julia should be home any minute now,” Cindy continued, ignoring the implications of his remark, “at which point I’m going to strangle her, and everything will be back to normal.” She tried to laugh, cried out instead. “Oh, God, what if something terrible has happened to her?”
“Nothing terrible has happened to her.”
Cindy stared at Neil imploringly. “You promise?”
“I promise,” he said simply.
Amazingly, Cindy felt better. “Thank you.”
Neil reached over, took her hands in his.
There was a sudden avalanche of footsteps on the stairs, and Heather bounded into view. “I heard the door. Is Julia home?”
Cindy quickly extricated her hands from Neil’s, returned them primly to her lap.
“Who are you?”
“Heather, this is Neil Macfarlane.”
“The accountant.” Heather advanced warily, quick eyes absorbing Neil’s black jeans and denim shirt.
“Neil, this is my younger daughter, Heather.”
Neil stood up, shook Heather’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Heather.”
Heather nodded. “I thought maybe Julia was back.”
“No,” Cindy said.
Heather swayed from one foot to the other. “Duncan and I were just going to head down to Queen Street. Unless you need me for anything.”
“No, honey. I’m fine.”
“You’re sure? ‘Cause I can stay if you want.”
“No, sweetheart. You go. I’ll be fine.”
“You’ll call me as soon as Julia gets home?”
Cindy nodded, looked anxiously toward the front door.
“You know my cell number?”
“Of course.” Cindy pictured a series of numbers, realized they were Julia’s. “Maybe you’d better write it down.”
Heather walked into the kitchen. “I’m leaving it by the phone,” she called back as Duncan came barreling down the stairs.
“Julia home?” he asked.
He stared blankly at Neil, crossed one arm protectively over the other. “Are you a cop?”
Cindy blanched. Why would he ask that?
“He’s an accountant,” Heather said, reentering the room. “We should go.” She guided Duncan toward the front door. “Remember to call me when Julia gets home.”
Cindy nodded, watching them leave. “Do you think I should call the police?”
“If you’re worried, yes,” Neil said.
“It’s only been twenty-four hours.”
“That’s long enough.”
She thought of Tom. Probably she should wait for him to return her call, discuss the matter with him before she did anything rash. “I should probably wait a little longer.”
“Have you checked with the place where Julia had her audition, to make sure she showed up?”
“I don’t know who to contact,” Cindy admitted. “I mean, I know the audition was for Michael Kinsolving, but he’s probably just renting some space, and I don’t know the address or the phone number.” I don’t know anything, she wailed silently. What kind of mother am I, who doesn’t know anything? “Tom will know,” she said. “My ex-husband. Julia’s father. He arranged the audition. He’ll know.” All the more reason to wait until she spoke to him before calling the police, she acknowledged to herself.
Neil walked to the fireplace, lifted a plexiglass frame from the mantle. “Is this Julia?”
Cindy stared at the picture of Julia that had been taken several days after her eighteenth birthday. She was smiling, showing a mouthful of perfect, professionally straightened and whitened teeth, elegant shoulders thrust proudly back in her new cream-colored Gucci leather jacket, a present from her father. Diamond studs sparkled from each ear, another present from Daddy. The night this picture was taken, Cindy had presented her daughter with a delicate necklace with her name spelled out in gold. Less than a month later, Julia had broken it while trying to pull a turtleneck sweater over her head. I forgot I had it on, she’d announced nonchalantly, returning the necklace to her mother to be fixed. Cindy dutifully had the necklace repaired, only to have Julia lose it a few weeks later. “That’s an old picture,” Cindy said now, taking the photograph from Neil’s hands and returning it to the mantle, one finger lingering, caressing her daughter’s cheek through the small square of glass.
“She’s a very beautiful girl.”
“Yes, she is.”
“Like her mother.”
The phone rang. Cindy raced to the kitchen, tripping on the large sisle rug in the front hall, and banging her hip against the side of the kitchen door. “Damn it,” she swore, lifting the phone to her ear. “Hello?”
“Well, damn it yourself,” her mother replied. “What’s the matter, darling? Forgot to put on your makeup?”
Cindy raised a hand to her bare cheek, realized she had indeed forgotten to put on any makeup. Still Neil had said she was beautiful, she thought gratefully, shaking her head as he approached, signaling the caller wasn’t Julia. “I’m fine, Mom. Just a little busy at the moment. Can I call you back?”
“You don’t have to bother. I’m just checking in. Everything all right? Your sister said you sounded pissy, and I’m afraid I have to agree with her.”
Cindy closed her eyes, ran her free hand through her hair. “Everything’s fine, Mom. I’ll call you later. Okay?”
“Fine darling. Take care.”
“My mother,” Cindy said, hanging up the phone and immediately checking her voice-mail to make sure no one else had called. “My sister told her I sounded pissy when she called earlier.”
“I’m sure she meant pithy,” Neil offered.
Cindy laughed. “Thanks for coming over. I really appreciate it.”
“I just wish there was something more I could do.”
Something clicked in Cindy’s mind. “You can take me to see Sean Banack,” she announced suddenly.
“I’ll explain on the way.” Cindy grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled a note for Julia, leaving it in the middle of the kitchen table, in case her daughter should return while she was gone. On the way out the door, she called Julia’s cell phone again and left another message. There’d been something in Sean’s voice when she’d talked to him earlier, Cindy thought, replaying their conversation in her mind, word for word. Something more than cigarettes and alcohol. Something more than fatigue and impatience and hurt feelings.
Anger, she realized.
He’d sounded pissy.
“Is Sean here?”
“He isn’t,” the young man said, standing in the doorway, blocking Cindy’s entrance to the small, second floor apartment that was situated over an old variety store on the south side of Dupont Street near Christie. The man was tall and black, with an athletic build and a shiny, bald head. A silver loop dangled from his left ear. A set of earphones wrapped around his neck, like a noose. He was wearing a sleeveless white T-shirt and black sweatpants, and his left hand clutched a large, plastic bottle of Evian.
“You must be Paul,” Cindy said, pulling the name of Sean’s roommate from the recesses of her subconscious. She extended her hand, gently pushing her way inside the stuffy, non-airconditioned apartment, Neil following right behind.
The young man smiled warily. “And you are?”
“This is Neil Macfarlane, and I’m Cindy Carver. Julia’s mother.”
The expression on the young man’s face altered ever-so-slightly. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Carver, Mr. Macfarlane. Excuse the mess.” He looked sheepishly toward the cluttered L of the living-dining room behind him.
Cindy’s eyes followed his. Books and papers covered the light hardwood floor and brown corduroy sofa in the middle of the room. A deeply scratched wooden door balancing on four short stacks of red bricks served as a coffee table. Several old copies of the Toronto Star lay stretched across the small dining-room table, like a linen tablecloth. HUSBAND PHONED WIFE AFTER BEHEADING HER screamed an inside headline. MAN STALKED VICTIM FOR THREE DAYS BEFORE FATAL ATTACK, announced another.
“Sean’s doing research on aberrant behavior,” Paul explained, following her eyes. “For a script he’s writing.”
Cindy nodded, remembering Julia had once boasted that Sean was writing a script especially for her. As far as Cindy knew, Sean had yet to find a producer for any of his efforts. He supported himself by bartending at Fluid, a popular downtown club. “Has Julia been around lately?” she asked, straining to sound casual.
“Haven’t seen her since….” There was an uncomfortable pause. “You should probably talk to Sean.”
“Do you have any idea when he’s coming back?”
“No. I wasn’t here when he went out.”
“Do you mind if we wait?” Cindy immediately plopped herself down on the sofa, moving a well-thumbed copy of a paperback book to the cushion beside her. The book was called Mortal Prey.
Paul hesitated. “The thing is….I have to be somewhere by noon, and I was just gonna hop in the shower….”
“Oh, you go right ahead,” Cindy instructed. “We’ll be fine.”
“Sean could be a while.”
“If he’s not back by the time you’re ready to leave, we’ll go.”
“All right. I guess it’s all right,” the young man muttered under his breath, perhaps sensing Cindy’s determination, and not wanting to make a scene. “I won’t be long.”
“Take your time.”
As soon as Cindy heard the shower running, she was on her feet.
“What are you doing?” Neil asked. “Where are you going?”
The second question was by far the easier of the two to answer. “To Sean’s room,” she said, trying to decide which of the two rooms at the back of the apartment was his, opening the first door she came to, grateful when she saw a row of high school football trophies bearing Sean’s name lined up in front of the open window.
Posters from popular movies covered the walls: Spider-Man, Invasion of the Body Snatchers; From Hell; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Cindy winced at the image of a horrifying, leather-faced figure brandishing a chainsaw in front of him like a giant phallus, a helpless young cowering at his feet. She remembered that movie, hated herself now for enjoying it. What was the matter with her that she liked such things?
“I don’t think this is such a good idea,” Neil said, his voice a strained whisper as he followed her inside the tiny bedroom.
“Probably not,” Cindy took a step back, her ankle brushing up against the waste paper basket on the floor. Her attention was immediately captured by the torn and crumpled remains of an eight-by-ten glossy. She bent down and scooped the battered picture of her daughter into her shaking hands. “It’s Julia most recent head-shot. She just had it taken a few weeks ago.” Cindy tried vainly to iron out the creases of the black-and-white photograph, piece together the smile on her daughter’s face. Obviously Sean had torn it from its fame in a fit of fury. Was it possible he’d attacked her daughter in a similar rage?
“Maybe you should just leave it,” Neil advised, removing the picture from her trembling hands.
“What else is in here?” Cindy asked, ignoring Neil’s warning, turning the waste paper basket upside down, and watching as scrap pieces of paper, used tissues, pencil shavings, and a browning apple core tumbled toward the floor. “Garbage, garbage, garbage,” she muttered, her fingers loosening their grip on the white plastic container, allowing it to slip from her hand. She began pulling open the desk drawers, poking around inside them. There was nothing of consequence in the first drawer, and she was just about to close the second when her fingers located something at the very back. An envelope, she realized, pulling it out, and opening it, a small gasp escaping her lips.
“What is it?”
Cindy’s mouth opened, but no words emerged, as her fingers flipped through a succession of small color photographs, all of Julia, all in various stages of undress. Julia in a see-through lavender bra and thong set; Julia wearing only the bottom half of a black string bikini, her hands playfully covering obviously bare breasts; Julia in profile, the curve of one naked breast visible beneath the crook of her elbow, the top of her bare bottom rounding out of the frame; Julia wrapped provocatively in a bed sheet; Julia wearing high heels and a man’s unbuttoned shirt and crooked tie.
“Why would she do this?” Cindy wondered out loud, showing the pictures to Neil before tucking them into the pocket of her khaki cotton pants. What was the matter with Julia? Had she no common sense whatsoever?
Cindy rifled through a few more items, and was about to close the drawer when her eyes fell across a sheet of densely typed paper.
The Dead Girl, she read.
By Sean Banack.
Cindy pulled the piece of paper from the drawer, and carried it over to the bed, where she sank down, her lips moving silently across the page as she read.
The Dead Girl
By Sean Banack
She stares up at him defiantly, despite the fact her hands and feet are bound behind her naked body and she knows beyond any shadow of a doubt that he is going to kill her. He should have taped her eyes shut as well as her mouth, he thinks, then he wouldn’t have to see the look of contempt he knows so well. But he wants her to see him. He wants her to know what’s coming, to see the knives and other medieval instruments of torture spread out across the floor, and understood what hell he has prepared for her. He lifts the smallest, yet sharpest of the knives into his hands, cradles it delicately between his fingers, fingers she claims are hopelessly inept. Fairy fingers, she calls them to his face. A faggot’s hands.
He draws a fine line down the taut flesh of her inner arm. Her eyes widen as she watches a thin red streak wind its way across the whiteness of her skin. Slowly he lifts a second knife into the air in a graceful arc, then plunger it into her side, careful to keep the blade a safe distance from her vital organs, making sure the thrust isn’t hard enough to kill her, because what would be the fun in that? Over so soon, so quick, before he’s had a chance to really enjoy himself, before she’s had a chance to fully suffer for her sins. And she must suffer. As he has suffered for so long.
What are you doing? Let go of me, she’d yelled when he pulled up beside her, then bundled her into the trunk of his car. She, this spoiled child of privilege, who claimed nosebleeds anyway north of Highway 401, is about to bleed to death in an abandoned shed just south of the King Sideroad, in the middle of bloody nowhere. Serves you right, bitch, he says, slicing at her legs before throwing her on her back, pushing the largest of the knives between her legs.
Green eyes widen in alarm as the knife slides higher, cuts deeper. Not laughing now, are you, bitch? Where’s all that defiance now? With his free hand he grabs another knife, slashes at her breasts. Her blood is everywhere: on her, on him, on the floor, on his clothes, in his eyes, beneath his fingernails. His faggot fingernails, he thinks, rejoicing as he plunges the knife deep inside her, then savagely rips the duct tape away from her mouth so he can hear her final screams.
“Oh dear God,” Cindy cried, rocking back and forth.
Neil extricated the paper from Cindy’s hands. “What is it?”
“No, please no.”
It was then she heard the noise from somewhere beside them. “What’s going on in here?” Paul asked from the doorway. “Mrs. Carver? What are you doing in here?”
Cindy scrambled to her feet, lunged at the startled young man, naked except for the white towel wrapped around his waist. “Where’s my daughter? What have you done with her?”
Paul took a step back, clutching the towel at his hips. “I don’t know. Honestly, I have no idea where she is.”
“I really think you should leave.”
“I’m not going anywhere until I speak to Sean.”
“I already told you I don’t know when he’ll be back.”
“Is he with Julia?”
“No way. Julia ripped his guts out, man. Look, I’m gonna have to call the police if you don’t clear out of here right now.”
Neil looked up from the pages he was reading and yanked the phone from the small table beside Sean’s bed, thrust it toward Paul. “Call them,” he said.
Excerpted from Lost by Joy Fielding. Copyright © 2003 by Joy Fielding. Excerpted by permission of Seal Books, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.