An extract from the gripping NO BAD DEED
Lee Child has called Heather Chavez's NO BAD DEED 'a sensational debut'! Read a Halloween extract from this gripping debut now.
Posted on October 28, 2019 in Extract
Tags: Extract, Heather Chavez, No Bad Deed, Trick or treat, halloween
With its mature trees, older homes, and sidewalks sloping toward the sky, Lomita Heights had always felt like a monument. It might’ve been the iconic stone sign at the base of the hill or that some of the families had been living in their homes longer than I had been alive. It felt solid, entrenched. Safe.
But tonight, I felt none of the usual security. There were shadows in the trees, and the sidewalk felt as if it could slide down the hill with only a minor jolt, crushing homes and trick-or-
treaters alike in a tide of crumbling concrete. That image certainly didn’t help my state of mind. Shortly past nine, the streets were nearly empty. Even the older kids had started packing away their candy bags and half-hearted costumes.
This lack of pedestrian traffic made the house a few blocks over stand out. With its over-the- top decorations, the two-story home could have passed for a commercial enterprise. Ghoulish heads streaked with stage blood impaled on fence posts. A headless scarecrow with a leering jack-o’-lantern tucked under its arm. A reaper cast in the greenish glow of carefully aimed spotlights, skulls at its feet, bony hands protruding from freshly dug plots. Then there were the usual foam headstones, warning signs, and rubber rats, all shrouded in dry-ice fog and the soundtrack of ghostly moaning and rattling chains.
It was the only house that still had traffic. Among the stragglers was a black cat wearing a tiara.
I couldn’t get to her fast enough, and when I reached her, I fell to my knees beside her. I pulled her into a hug, so tight she might have melted into my ribs, but then immediately worried my violent affection might frighten her. I pushed her back, just far enough to get a look at her face, and realized my daughter was already frightened. And why not? Sam was nowhere in sight.
“I take it you’re the mom?” I looked up and found myself staring into the face of a witch I didn’t know.
“Mm-hmm,”was all I managed before embracing Audrey again.
“Where’s your dad, Peanut?”
My daughter’s small shoulders lifted in a shrug. Her mouth was smeared with chocolate, her cheeks with tears. “I think he lost me,” she said. “I saw Savannah from school. Sometimes she’s nice. Tonight she was a cat, too, but she didn’t have a tiara, and she was brown.
“I said hi to Savannah, and then Daddy was gone.”
Audrey’s voice broke several times in the telling of her story. Expectation lit her face, only inches from mine, and I read every unspoken thought: Mom’s here. Mom will find Dad. Mom will fix it.
Her confusion was a gut punch. Sam was the reliable one. He was the parent who kept track of the kids’ overbooked schedules. Remembered to reorder Audrey’s medication, or buy Leo’s cleats. Made sure the kids were fed, even if it was only pasta and jarred sauce. Sam would know what to do. My fingers twitched, muscle memory wanting to tap out his number on a keypad. But Sam wasn’t answering his phone.
“Good of you to finally show up.” A second female voice. I turned and saw that a short-skirted pirate in fishnets had joined the witch.
I ignored the judgment, nearly as thick as the smell of wine on the pirate’s breath.
“Where do you remember seeing Dad last?”
“Before I saw Savannah.” She grabbed some candy from her bucket and held out her hand, palm up, for inspection. “She gave me all her sour candies, and I gave her one of my chocolates and all the purple ones that taste like cough syrup.” Her voice was hollow, and the candies plunked against the plastic as Audrey dropped them back into her bucket.
I glanced up at the women. “How long has she been alone?”
The pirate pursed her lips. “She’s not alone. We’re with her. But we’re not her parents.”
The witch added, “Her dad’s been gone for fifteen minutes. At least. We would’ve called, but your daughter doesn’t know your number, and she doesn’t have a cell phone.”
The witch said the last part the way she might’ve lamented Audrey being shoeless. I stood, pulling Audrey so she rested against my hip.
“She’s six. Of course she doesn’t have a phone.”
“I got my Clementine a phone for her fourth birthday,” the witch said.
The pirate’s turn now. “Not that it’s okay to dump a child on people you barely know.”
“Sam asked you to watch her? Why?”
Both women ignored me. By the witch’s curt nod of agreement, I could tell that this topic of discussion had preceded my arrival and wouldn’t end until all bullet points were addressed. “We’re busy
watching our own children.”
“Besides,” the pirate continued. “Nice neighborhoods like this, kids come in from other areas.”
I read her meaning clearly: these “other” children brought trouble with them.
Against my side, Audrey trembled. I stripped off my sweatshirt and wrapped it around her.
“Are you from around here?” the witch asked.
I frowned. “Why? Thinking of throwing a block garage sale?”
The witch picked up on the sarcasm, but the pirate didn’t.
“That’s a good idea, but that’s not why I was asking.” The witch shot her friend a “don’t be stupid” look.
I gave both of them one of my own. If I thought a six-year-old had been abandoned by her parents, I would’ve pounded on doors until I found someone who knew the child. But maybe that was just me. I also hadn’t thought to get my daughter a phone for her fourth birthday.
I took a breath, swallowing my irritation. It wasn’t really these two women who had me upset. Well, okay, it was a little bit them.
“You said Sam left Audrey with you?”
The pirate pointed to the witch. “With her. I was at my house getting a bottle of water.”
The witch nodded. “Sam recognized me from carpool. We usually drop off around the same time.”
“Then where did he go?”
“No clue. He said he wouldn’t be gone long, but that was fifteen minutes ago.”
“And neither of you have seen him since?”
The witch shook her head, but the pirate shrugged. “I’ve never met him,” she said.
I scrolled through the pictures on my phone, selected one of Sam, then held out the phone for the pirate to see. “Him.”
Her brow furrowed as she studied the screen, then she smiled in that way my husband often made women smile. “Yeah, I saw him, but it was earlier. Before he dumped your daughter on my friend here. He looked like he was waiting for someone.”
When Audrey burrowed closer to my hip, I wrapped my arm more tightly around her shoulders. “Why do you think he was waiting for someone?”
“He kept checking his phone, looking around,” the pirate said. “He was texting too. Then he must’ve connected with whoever, because he put his phone in his pocket.”
“How long ago was that?”
They shrugged in unison. “Longer than fifteen minutes,” the pirate said.
We were going in circles, and I needed to get Audrey home. I tried one last question, “Where did you last see him?”
“Over by the ghosts.” The witch pointed to the far side of the yard, toward a palm tree.
I went for my wallet, intending to give them a business card, then realized I hadn’t thought to grab it. “Let me give you my number. In case you see him again.”
I recited my number, which the pirate punched into her phone.
“Thanks for looking out for my daughter,” I said. “I don’t want to take you away from your kids any longer.”
I took some pleasure in the women’s sudden panic as they looked around and realized they had no idea where their children were. I would’ve probably taken more satisfaction if the same couldn’t also be said of my husband.