Long Lost
By David Morrell
Published by Warner Books 
May 2002; 0-446-52940-0; 320 pages

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Long Lost by David Morrell1

When I was a boy, my kid brother disappeared. Vanished off the face of the earth. His name was Petey, and he was bicycling home from an after-school baseball game. Not that he'd been playing. The game was for older guys like me, which is to say that I was all of thirteen and Petey was only nine. He thought the world of me; he always wanted to tag along. But the rest of the guys complained that he was in the way, so I told Petey to "bug off, go home." I still remember the hurt look he gave me before he got on his bike and pedaled away, a skinny little kid with a brush cut, glasses, braces on his teeth, and freckles, wearing a droopy T-shirt, baggy jeans, and sneakers-the last I saw of him. That was a quarter of a century ago. Yesterday.

By the time supper was ready and Petey hadn't shown up, my mother phoned his friends in the neighborhood, but they hadn't seen him. Twenty minutes later, my father called the police. His worst fear (until that moment at least) was that Petey had been hit by a car, but the police dispatcher said that there hadn't been any accidents involving a youngster on a bicycle. The dispatcher promised to call back if he heard anything and, meanwhile, to have patrol cars looking for him.

My father couldn't bear waiting. He had me show him the likely route Petey would have taken between the playground and home. We drove this way and that. By then it was dusk, and we almost passed the bicycle before I spotted one of its red reflectors glinting from the last of the sunset. The bike had been shoved between bushes in a vacant lot. Petey's baseball glove was under it. We searched the lot. We shouted Petey's name. We asked people who lived on the street if they'd seen a boy who matched Petey's description. We didn't learn anything. As my father sped back home, the skin on his face got so tight that his cheekbones stood out. He kept murmuring to himself, "Oh Jesus."

 

 

All I could hope was that Petey had stayed away because he was mad at me for sending him home from the baseball game. I fantasized that he'd show up just before bedtime and say, "Now aren't you sorry? Maybe you want me around more than you guess." In fact, I was sorry, because I couldn't fool myself into believing that Petey had shoved his bike between those bushes-he loved that bike. Why would he have dropped his baseball glove? Something bad had happened to him, but it never would have happened if I hadn't told him to get lost.

My mom became hysterical. My dad called the police again. A detective soon arrived, and the next day, a search was organized. The newspaper (this happened in a town called Woodford, just outside Columbus, Ohio) was filled with the story. My parents went on television and radio, begging whoever had kidnapped Petey to return him. Nothing did any good.

I can't begin to describe the pain and ruin that Petey's disappearance caused. My mother needed pills to steady her nerves. Lots of times in the night, I heard her sobbing. I couldn't stop feeling guilty for making Petey leave the baseball game. Every time I heard our front door creak open, I prayed it was him coming home at last. My father started drinking and lost his job. He and Mom argued. A month after he moved out, he was killed when his car veered off a highway, flipped several times, and crashed onto its roof. There wasn't any life insurance. My mother had to sell the house. We moved to a small apartment and then went to live with my mom's parents in Columbus. I spent a lot of time worrying about how Petey would find us if he returned to the house.

He haunted me. I grew older, finished college, married, had a son, and enjoyed a successful career. But in my mind Petey never aged. He was still that skinny nine-year-old giving me a hurt look, then bicycling away. I never stopped missing him. If a farmer had plowed up the skeleton of a little boy and those remains had somehow been identified as Petey's, I'd have mourned bitterly for my kid brother, but at least there would have been some finality. I needed desperately to know what had happened.

I'm an architect. For a while, I was with a big firm in Philadelphia, but my best designs were too unorthodox for them, so I finally started my own business. I also decided it would be exciting to change locales-not just move to another East Coast city but move from the East Coast altogether. My wife surprised me by liking the idea even more than I did. I won't go into all the reasons we chose Denver-the lure of the mountains, the myth of the West. The main thing is, we settled there, and almost from the start, my designs were in demand.

Two of my office buildings are situated next to city parks. They not only blend with but also reflect their surroundings; their glass and tile walls act like huge mirrors that capture the images of the ponds, trees, and grassland near them, one with nature. My houses are what I was especially proud of, though. Many of my clients lived near megadollar resorts like Aspen and Vail, but they respected the mountains and didn't want to be conspicuous. They preferred to be with nature without intruding upon it. I understood. The houses I designed blended so much that you couldn't see them until you were practically at their entrances. Trees and ridges concealed them. Streams flowed under them. Flat stretches of rock were decks. Boulders were steps. Cliffs were walls.

It's ironic that structures designed to be inconspicuous attracted so much attention. My clients, despite their claims about wanting to be invisible, couldn't resist showing off their new homes. House Beautiful and Architectural Digest did articles about them, although the photographs of the exteriors seemed more like nature shots than pictures of homes. The local CBS TV station taped a two-minute spot for the ten o'clock news. The reporter, dressed as a hiker, challenged her viewers to a game: "Can you see a house among these ridges and trees?" She was standing ten feet from a wall, but only when she pointed it out did the viewer realize how thoroughly the house was camouflaged. That report was noticed by CBS headquarters in New York, and a few weeks later, I was being interviewed for a ten-minute segment on the CBS Sunday Morning show.

I keep asking myself why I agreed. Lord knows, I didn't need any more publicity to get business. So if it wasn't for economic reasons, it must have been because of vanity. Maybe I wanted my son to see me on television. In fact, both he and my wife appeared briefly in a shot where we walked past what the reporter called one of my "chameleon" houses. I wish we'd all been chameleons.

Copyright 2002 David Morrell
Reprinted with permission. (back to top)

Synopsis

From his early critical acclaim for First Blood and its iconic protagonist Rambo through thirty years of creating action masterpieces such as The Brotherhood of the Rose and Extreme Denial, David Morrell has established himself as the master of high-action suspense. Now Morrell outdoes himself with a thriller that is both high-voltage and haunting. For Morrell's hero seeks not only a criminal who has taken what he most treasures, but the truth about the past and about himself...

Brad Denning's brother Petey is long lost. Frozen in time as a skinny nine-year-old bicycling away from his uncaring older brother, Petey haunts Brad's consciousness. To this day, within his prosperous life, Brad knows with certainty that he was responsible for the boy's disappearance. He knows how much his mother and father suffered and that nothing can ever bring Petey back-until a stranger walks into Brad's life.

Suddenly Brad is confronted by a man who claims to be his brother and is telling a tale of wandering, pain, and survival. As Brad gradually puts aside his suspicions, his alleged brother makes himself at home in Brad's life. Then everything is shattered. Petey is gone again. Only this time, he's taken Brad's wife and child with him.

Now Brad must struggle with a harrowing mystery. Was the man who knew all the intimate details of their childhood truly his brother or a vicious con man? Where has he taken Brad's family—and why? As the days stretch into weeks, the baffled police and the FBI are forced to end their search. Brad's only recourse is to put himself into the mind of the man who claimed to be his brother and hunt him down himself. Building to an extraordinary, nerve-rattling climax, Long Lost marks David Morrell's return to the spare, taut fiction of his classic early novels. A novel of shocking action that also brilliantly explores the ties that bind us to our past, Long Lost is this fiercely original storyteller's finest work yet.

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Author

David MorrellDavid Morrell is one of America's most popular storytellers with more than twelve million copies of his novels in print. As creator of the Rambo character, his thrillers have been translated into twenty-two languages and made into record-breaking films as well as a top-rated TV miniseries.

To give his stories a realistic edge, he has been trained in wilderness survival, hostage negotiation, executive protection, antiterrorist driving, assuming identities, electronic surveillance, and weapons. A former professor of American literature at the University of Iowa, Morrell now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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