A gripping thriller about three young girlfriends, a dark obsession and a chilling crime that shakes up a quiet Iowa town, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence .
For twelve-year-old Cora Landry and her friends Violet and Jordyn, it was supposed to be an ordinary sleepover--movies and Ouija and talking about boys. But when they decide to sneak out to go to the abandoned rail yard on the outskirts of town, little do they know that their innocent games will have dangerous consequences.
Later that night, Cora Landry is discovered on the tracks, bloody and clinging to life, her friends nowhere to be found. Soon their small rural town is thrust into a maelstrom. Who would want to hurt a young girl like Cora--and why? In an investigation that leaves no stone unturned, everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted--not even those closest to Cora.
Before She Was Found is a timely and gripping thriller about friendship and betrayal, about the power of social pressure and the price of needing to fit in. It is about the great lengths a parent will go to protect their child and keep them safe--even if that means burying the truth, no matter the cost.
I’m afraid of what I might find once we reach the police cars or ambulances. I strain to see if I can hear the sirens, even roll down the window, but all I can hear is the rumble of the car’s engine and the creak of branches rubbing against each other as we drive down Main.
Sam slows to crawl as he crosses the railroad tracks but still the car bounces and pitches as it rolls over the uneven iron rails. I expect Sam to make a left on Depot, a street that runs parallel to the tracks, but he keeps going. Once over the tracks we pass the bank and the tiny grocery store, and then three blocks filled with single-family homes.
I glance down Juneberry, the street where Violet is spending the night at her best friend’s house. Cora Landry invited Violet over so they could spend their free day off school together tomorrow. I breathe a sigh of relief. No ambulances down that way.
Pitch ends suddenly as if the town’s forefathers somehow knew that it would never really grow into the buzzing railroad town originally planned. Main Street turns into a country highway, treeless and lined with deep ditches and acres of farmland now hidden by the black night. The road dips and winds and gradually rises and I turn in my seat to look out the rear window. From here I can see Pitch below us.
“There,” I say, grabbing at Sam’s arm. On the western edge of Pitch right along the railroad tracks and the old millwork district I see the rhythmic swirling of red lights. Sam knew exactly what he was doing coming up here.
Without slowing down, he makes a U-turn and I clutch at the dash to keep myself from sliding across the seat. There is no train in sight. Surely if there was an accident with one of the freight trains that runs through Pitch four times a day, it would have stopped. Unless, of course, the engineer didn’t know that he hit someone. Sam pulls off to the side of the road and punches the hazards with one finger.
“Try and call Max again,” he says and I lift the phone to my ear and this time it goes right to voice mail. “Do you want to go down there?” he asks.
Apprehension, thick as mud, fills my chest. I’ve always known I would never have much money, never have a big house to live in, never have some great job, probably never get married again. And because I’ve expected so little I don’t think I’m asking too much that my kids stay safe. God and I have always had a complicated relationship, but I never held anything against Him. But if something bad happened to Max or Violet all bets are off. I don’t want to find out what’s going on down there. I will my phone to vibrate, but it stays still.
“Go,” I finally say. I’m guessing that we won’t get very close to the scene, anyway, but I have to do whatever I can to find out what’s going on. Sam pulls back onto the highway and he speeds toward the train yard. He doesn’t have to worry about getting pulled over. It looks like every police officer and sheriff’s deputy in Johnson County is parked down there.
In less than three minutes Sam manages to park just a block away from where all the emergency vehicles have converged. Two sheriff’s cars and the police chief’s SUV barricade the only entrance into the train yard where the depot is boarded up and empty boxcars, abandoned years ago, sit. An ambulance is parked a bit off to the side facing the road ready to leave in a hurry. A deputy strides toward us as we approach. He’s young. Tall and broad across the shoulders. His eyes dart left and right as if on the lookout for something or someone. He looks scared. Ill.
“You can’t be here, folks,” he says, trying to usher us back toward the car.
“We heard the sirens, saw the lights,” Sam explains. “What happened? Is everyone okay?”
“Sorry, you can’t be here,” the officer says again. Behind him someone turns on their headlights and the darkened train yard suddenly comes into view to reveal a flurry of activity. A woman wearing running tights and tennis shoes is talking to another officer. With hands tucked inside the sleeves of her sweatshirt she gestures toward the tracks and then rubs at her eyes, leaving behind a streak of red across her face.
“Is that blood?” I ask louder than I intend. Hearing me, the woman looks down at her hands and cries out.
“Ma’am,” the young officer says more sternly, “you need to leave this area.” This is when I see the EMTs come toward us carrying a stretcher to the ambulance. A small body is strapped securely to the stretcher. My breath lodges in my throat. She is shaped like my Violet. Thin with long dark hair that could belong to Violet, too, but the child’s face is nearly unrecognizable. Bloody, swollen, grotesque.
I try to push pass the officer but he steps in front of me and I bounce against his solid form and stumble backward. Sam is quicker than I am and skirts past the cop to get a better look.
“It’s okay, I don’t think it’s Violet,” he calls back to me.
“Are you sure?” I say, wanting so badly to believe him, but Sam hasn’t met my kids yet—how would he know?
“What color is Violet’s hair?” he asks.
“Black.” My heart pounds wildly.
“Then it’s not her. This girl has lighter hair.” I want to cry in relief.
From my spot on the hard-packed dirt I can now see it isn’t Violet. The girl’s ears do not belong to my daughter. The hair I thought at first glance was Violet’s isn’t naturally dark but slick and blackened with blood. This child looks a bit thinner than Violet. Still…there is something familiar about her, but it can’t be. It doesn’t make sense.
Sam comes back to my side and helps me to my feet. My stomach churns. What has happened to this little girl? What could cause this kind of damage? Not a car accident; there are no other vehicles besides the ambulance and the police cars. A fall from a bike? She’s deathly still and I wonder if she’s breathing. She looks like she could have been mauled by a dog or some other large animal. A flap of skin hangs loosely from her cheek and blood bubbles from her lips.
The EMTs lift her into the ambulance and are quickly on their way and the scream of the siren once again shatters the late-night quiet. I watch as it speeds away, the tires kicking up clouds of dust, and wonder how they are going to find out who the injured girl is. I’m just getting ready to ask the cop this question when I realize that everyone else is looking back toward the railroad tracks.
Another small silhouette appears. This time on foot, emerging from the tall winter wheat that fills the field on just the other side of the tracks.
Again my heart nearly stops.
She is moving toward us as if in slow motion. Eyes unfocused, unseeing. The front of her white T-shirt blooms red. Her hands look like they’ve been steeped in blood. Something tumbles from her fingers and lands on the dirt at her feet.
“Oh, my God,” I breathe. “She’s bleeding! Call another ambulance!”
It feels like forever until I finally reach her. I sweep her up in my arms and run my eyes over her, searching for the source of all the blood. “Help her!” I cry, laying her gently on the ground. “Please,” I plead. “What happened?” I ask Violet. “Who did this?”
Suddenly I know exactly who the other girl is. Violet’s best friend, Cora Landry. I feel arms pulling me backward and hear Sam telling me to let them do their work. Violet’s lips move but I can’t quite make out what she says.
FOLLOW THE EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT TOUR:
Monday, April 1st: The Lit Bitch
Tuesday, April 2nd: Lindsey Reads and Reviews
Wednesday, April 3rd: Jessicamap Reviews
Thursday, April 4th: Amy’s Book-et List
Friday, April 5th: Books & Spoons
Monday, April 8th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy
Tuesday, April 9th: What is That Book About
Wednesday, April 10th: Bookish Connoisseur
Thursday, April 11th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Friday, April 12th: Lori’s Reading Corner
As a kid who played ouija and talked about boys, the nostalgia in this is enough for me to purchase and binge on this one. Thanks for being on this tour!
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