Promise Me Page 1

Author: Harlan Coben

Series: Myron Bolitar #8

Genres: Mystery , Thriller


The missing girl—there had been unceasing news reports, always flashing to that achingly ordinary school portrait of the vanished teen, you know the one, with the rainbow-swirl background, the girl’s hair too straight, her smile too self-conscious, then a quick cut to the worried parents on the front lawn, microphones surrounding them, Mom silently tearful, Dad reading a statement with quivering lip—that girl, that missing girl, had just walked past Edna Skylar.

Edna froze.

Stanley, her husband, took two more steps before realizing that his wife was no longer at his side. He turned around. “Edna?”

They stood near the corner of Twenty-first Street and Eighth Avenue in New York City. Street traffic was light this Saturday morning. Foot traffic was heavy. The missing girl had been headed uptown.

Stanley gave a world-weary sigh. “What now?”


She needed to think. That high school portrait of the girl, the one with the rainbow-swirl background . . . Edna closed her eyes. She needed to conjure up the image in her head. Compare and contrast.

In the photograph, the missing girl had long, mousy-brown hair. The woman who’d just walked by—woman, not girl, because the one who’d just walked by seemed older, but maybe the picture was old too—was a redhead with a shorter, wavy cut. The girl in the photograph did not wear glasses. The one who was heading north up Eighth Avenue had on a fashionable pair with dark, rectangular frames. Her clothes and makeup were both more—for a lack of a better word—adult.

Studying faces was more than a hobby with Edna. She was sixty-three years old, one of the few female physicians in her age group who specialized in the field of genetics. Faces were her life. Part of her brain was always working, even when far away from her office. She couldn’t help it—Dr. Edna Skylar studied faces. Her friends and family were used to the probing stare, but strangers and new acquaintances found it disconcerting.

So that was what Edna had been doing. Strolling down the street. Ignoring, as she often did, the sights and sounds. Lost in her own personal bliss of studying the faces of passersby. Noting cheek structure and mandibular depth, inter-eye distance and ear height, jaw contours and orbital spacing. And that was why, despite the new hair color and style, despite the fashionable glasses and adult makeup and clothing, Edna had recognized the missing girl.

“She was walking with a man.”


Edna hadn’t realized that she’d spoken out loud.

“The girl.”

Stanley frowned. “What are you talking about, Edna?”

That picture. That achingly ordinary school portrait. You’ve seen it a million times. You see it in a yearbook and the emotions start to churn. In one fell swoop, you see her past, you see her future. You feel the joy of youth, you feel the pain of growing up. You can see her potential there. You feel the pang of nostalgia. You see her years rush by, college maybe, marriage, kids, all that.

But when that same photograph is flashed on your evening news, it skewers your heart with terror. You look at that face, at that tentative smile, at the droopy hair and slumped shoulders, and your mind goes to dark places it shouldn’t.

How long had Katie—that was the name, Katie—how long had she been missing?

Edna tried to remember. A month probably. Maybe six weeks. The story had only played locally and not for all that long. There were those who believed that she was a runaway. Katie Rochester had turned eighteen a few days before the disappearance—that made her an adult and thus lowered the priority a great deal. There was supposed trouble at home, especially with her strict albeit quivering-lipped father.

Maybe Edna had been mistaken. Maybe it wasn’t her.

One way to find out.

“Hurry,” Edna said to Stanley.

“What? Where are we going?”

There was no time to reply. The girl was probably a block ahead by now. Stanley would follow. Stanley Rickenback, an ob-gyn, was Edna’s second husband. Her first had been a whirlwind, a larger-than-life figure too handsome and too passionate and, oh yeah, an absolute ass. That probably wasn’t fair, but so what? The idea of marrying a doctor—this was forty years ago—had been a fun novelty for Husband One. The reality, however, had not sat as well with him. He had figured that Edna would outgrow the doc phase once they had children. Edna didn’t—just the opposite, in fact. The truth was—a truth that had not escaped her children—Edna loved doctoring more than motherhood.

She rushed ahead. The sidewalks were crowded. She moved into the street, staying close to the curb, and sped up. Stanley tried to follow. “Edna?”

“Just stay with me.”

He caught up. “What are we doing?”

Edna’s eyes searched for the red hair.

There. Up ahead on the left.

She needed to get a closer look. Edna broke into a full-fledged sprint now, a strange sight in most places, a nicely dressed woman in her mid-sixties sprinting down the street, but this was Manhattan. It barely registered a second glance.

She circled in front of the woman, trying not to be too obvious, ducking behind taller people, and when she was in the right place, Edna spun around. The possible-Katie was walking toward her. Their eyes met for the briefest of moments, and Edna knew.

It was her.

Katie Rochester was with a dark-haired man, probably in his early thirties. They were holding hands. She did not seem too distressed. She seemed, in fact, up until the point where their eyes met anyway, pretty content. Of course that might not mean anything. Elizabeth Smart, that young girl who’d been kidnapped out in Utah, had been out in the open with her kidnapper and never tried to signal for help. Maybe something similar was playing here.

Edna wasn’t buying it.

The redheaded possible-Katie whispered something to the dark-haired man. They picked up their pace. Edna saw them veer right and down the subway stairs. The sign read c and e trains. Stanley caught up to Edna. He was about to say something, but he saw the look on her face and kept still.

“Come on,” she said.

They hurried around the front and started down the stairs. The missing woman and the dark-haired man were already through the turnstile. Edna started toward it.

“Damn it.”


“I don’t have a MetroCard.”

“I do,” Stanley said.

“Let me have it. Hurry.”

Stanley plucked the card from his wallet and handed it to her. She scanned it, moved through the turnstile, handed it back to him. She didn’t wait. They’d gone down the stairs to the right. She started that way. She heard the roar of an incoming train and hurried her steps.