THE EDGE OF NOWHERE - EXCERPT  
 

ONE

Becca King’s mother, Laurel, had traded the Porsche SUV at
the first opportunity after they’d descended interstate five
on the serpentine stretch of highway known as the Grapevine
in California. She’d lost money on the car, but money wasn’t the issue. Getting away from San Diego along with getting rid of the Porsche was. She’d traded it for a 1998 Jeep Wrangler, and the moment they’d crossed the California state line into Oregon, she began looking for a place to unload the Jeep as well. A 1992 Toyota RAV4 came next. But that only took them up through Oregon to the border with Washington. As quickly as possible and making sure it was all legal, Laurel then dumped the Toyota for a 1988 Ford Explorer, which was what mother and daughter had driven ever since.

     Becca hadn’t questioned any of this. She’d known the desperate reason it had to be done, just as she knew the reason there could be no more Hannah Armstrong. For she and her mother were traveling as fast as they could, leaving house, school, and names behind them. Now they sat in the Explorer in Mukilteo, Washington. The car was backed into a parking space in front of an old wooden-floored store called Woody’s Market, across the water from Whidbey Island.

     It was early evening, and a heavy mist that was not quite fog hung between the mainland and the island. From where they were parked, Whidbey was nothing more than an enormous hulk surmounted by tall conifers and having a band of lights at the bottom where a few houses were strung along the shore. To Becca, with an entire life lived in San Diego, the place looked forbidding and foreign. She couldn’t imagine herself there, trying to establish a new life far away from her stepfather’s reach. To Laurel, the island looked like a safety net where she could leave her daughter in the care of a childhood friend for the time it would take her to establish a place of refuge in British Columbia.
There, she figured that she and Becca would be safe from discovery by Jeff Corrie.

     Laurel had felt overwhelming relief when her longtime Bohemian lifestyle had been enough to quash any questions from her friend. Carol Quinn had not even acted surprised that Laurel would ask her to care for her daughter for a length of time she couldn’t begin to name. Instead of questioning this, Carol said no problem, bring her on up, she can help me out. Haven’t been feeling so great lately, Carol had said, so I could use an assistant
in the house.
     But will you keep this a secret? Laurel had asked her over and over again.
     To my grave, Carol Quinn had promised. No worries, Laurel. Bring her on up.
     Now Laurel lowered her window two inches, to keep the windshield from fogging up. The middle of September, and she hadn’t had a clue the weather would have changed so much. In southern California, September was the hottest month of the year, a time of forest fires driven by winds off the desert. Here, it already felt like winter. Laurel shivered and grabbed a sweatshirt from the back of the car, where it lay against the wheel of Becca’s old ten-speed.
     She said, “Cold?” Becca shook her head. She was breathing deeply, and while she usually did this to calm herself, she was doing it now because on the air was the scent of waffle cones meant for ice cream, and it was coming from Woody’s Market behind them.
     They’d already been inside. Becca had already asked for a cone. Laurel had already made the automatic reply of “In through the lips and onto the hips.” She was a woman who, on the run from a criminal, could still count her daughter’s intake of calories. But Becca was hungry. They hadn’t had anything to eat since lunch. A snack certainly wasn’t going to blow up her thighs like balloons.
     She said, “Mom . . .” Her stomach growled.
     Laurel turned to her. “Tell me your name.”
     They’d been through this exercise five times daily since leaving their home, so Becca wasn’t happy to go through it another time. She understood the importance of it, but she wasn’t an idiot. She’d memorized it all. She sighed and looked in the other direction. “Becca King,” she said.
     “And what are you to remember as Job Number One?”
     “Help Carol Quinn around the house.”
     “Aunt Carol,” Laurel said. “You’re to call her Aunt Carol.”
     “Aunt Carol, Aunt Carol, Aunt Carol,” Becca said.
     “She knows you have a little money until I can start sending you more,” Laurel said.
     “But the more you can help her . . . It’s like earning your keep.”
     “Yes,” Becca said. “I will become someone’s slave because you married a maniac, Mom.”
     Oh God what did he do to you when you’re my only—
     “Sorry,” Becca said, hearing her mom’s pain. “Sorry. Sorry.”
     “Get out of my head,” Laurel told her. “And tell me your name.
Full name this time.”
     There was a parking lot to Becca’s right, across the main road that ended with the ferry dock. People had been sauntering from cars in that lot to a food stand just to one side of the dock. A sign declaring the place to be Ivar’s was shining through the mist, and a line of people making purchases had formed. Becca’s stomach growled again.
     “Tell me your name,” Laurel repeated. “This is important.” Her voice was calm enough, but beneath the gentle tone was come on come on there’s so little time please do this for me it’s the last thing I’ll ask, and Becca could feel those words coming at her, invading her brain, perfectly clear because that was how her mother’s thoughts always were, unlike the whispers that came from others.
     She wanted to tell her mom not to worry. She wanted to tell her that Jeff Corrie might forget about them. But she knew the first statement was useless, and she knew the second was an outright lie.
     Becca turned back to her mother and their eyes met and listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere came from Laurel.
     “Very funny,” Becca said to her. “It would’ve been nice if you’d memorized something else in sixth grade besides that, you know.”
     “Tell me your name,” Laurel said again.
     “All right. All right. Rebecca Dolores King.” Becca grimaced.
     “God. Does it have to be Dolores? I mean, who has a name like Dolores these days?”
     Laurel ignored the question. “Where are you from?”
     Becca said patiently because there was no point to anything other than patience at the moment, “San Luis Obispo. Sun Valley, Idaho, before that. I was born in Sun Valley, but I left when I was seven and that’s when my family moved to San Luis Obispo.”
     “Why are you here?”
     “I’m staying with my aunt.”
     “Where are your parents?”
     “My mom’s on a dig in . . .” Becca frowned. For the first time since they’d fled California, she couldn’t remember. She assumed it was the fact that she was so hungry because she was never at her best when there were physical needs that had to be taken care of. She said, “Damn. I can’t remember.”
     Laurel’s head clunked back against the headrest of her seat.
     “You have to remember. This is crucial. It’s life and death. Where are your parents?”
     Becca looked at her mother, hoping for a clue but all she picked up was on the eighteenth of April in seventy-five hardly a man is now alive, which wasn’t going to get her anywhere. She looked back at Ivar’s. A woman bent over with osteoporosis was turning from the counter with a carton in her hand and she looked so old . . . and then it came to Becca. Old.
     “Olduvai Gorge,” she said. “My mom’s on a dig in Olduvai Gorge.” Nothing could have been further from the truth, but shortly before they’d made their run from Jeff Corrie, Becca had read an old book about the discovery of Lucy, aka Australopithecus afarensis, in Olduvai Gorge by an ambitious postgraduate fresh out of the University of Chicago. She’d been the one to suggest that her mother be a paleontologist. It sounded romantic to her.
     Laurel nodded, satisfied. “What about your father? Where’s your father? Don’t you have a father?”
     Becca rolled her eyes. It was clear that this was going to go on till the ferry arrived because her mother wanted no time to think of anything else. Least of all did she want to think of how she’d endangered her daughter. So Becca said deliberately, “Which father would that be, Mom?” and then she reached in her pocket and pulled out the single earphone of the AUD box. She shoved it into her ear. She turned up the volume and her head filled with static, soothing to her as always, the way satin is soothing against someone’s skin.
     Laurel reached over and yanked the earphone out of Becca’s ear. She said, “I’m sorry this happened. I’m sorry I’m not who you want me to be. But here’s the thing: no one ever is.”
     At this, Becca got out of the car. She had money enough in her jeans to buy herself something to eat, and more money in the pockets of her jacket. She fully intended to use it. There was even more money in her backpack if she wanted to buy everything on the menu, but the backpack was with her bike in the back of the Explorer and if she tried to get at it, she knew her mother would stop her.
     Becca crossed the road. To her left, she could see the ferry coming, and she paused for a moment and watched its approach.
When Laurel had first told her that she would get to Whidbey Island on a ferry, Becca had thought of the only ferry she’d ever been on, an open-air raft that held four cars and sailed about two hundred yards across the harbor in Newport Beach, California. This thing approaching was nothing like that. It was huge, with a gaping mouth for cars to slide into. It was all lit up like a riverboat and seagulls were flying around it.
     The line at Ivar’s had diminished by the time Becca got there. She ordered clam chowder and made sure it was the New England kind, made with milk and potatoes and therefore possessing a dizzying number of calories. She asked for an extra bag of oyster crackers to float in the container, and when she had to pay, she did it in coins. She placed them carefully one at a time on the counter, and oh damn . . . what the . . . stupid chick told her that the cashier wasn’t pleased. Becca saw why when the cashier
had to pick up the coins with fingers minus their nails. She’d bitten them down to the quick. They were ugly, and Becca saw the cashier hated them to be on display.
     Becca thought about saying sorry but instead she said thanks and took her chowder over to a newspaper stand. She balanced the soup container on top and dipped her spoon into it as she watched the ferry come nearer to the mainland.
     The chowder wasn’t what she expected. She’d been thinking it would be like the chowder her stepfather two stepfathers ago had made. He was called Pete and he used corn in his, and Becca was a corn girl. Popcorn, corn on the cob, frozen corn. It didn’t matter. Laurel claimed corn was what was fed to cows and pigs to make them fat, but since Laurel said that about nearly everything Becca wanted to eat, Becca didn’t give much thought to the matter.
     Still, this particular chowder wasn’t worth fighting over with
Laurel. So Becca ate only half of it. Then she jammed her container into a trash can and sprinted back toward the Explorer.
     Laurel was on her cell phone. Her face, now without its spray tan, looked gray and weathered. For the first time, Becca thought of her mother as old, but then Laurel smiled and nodded and started talking in that way where no one could squeeze in a word. Carol Quinn was probably getting an earful, Becca thought. Her mom had been calling her twice a day to make sure every detail of the plan was hammered into position irreversibly.
     Their eyes met, and when they did, what Becca heard was no one’s ever going to hurt, but that was cut off the way a radio gets cut off when someone changes stations and what came over the airways next was one if by land and two if by sea and I on the opposite shore will be. It was just like static from the AUD box and it worked as well. Laurel said something into the cell phone and ended the call.
     Becca got into the Explorer. Her mother said sharply, “Was that New England clam chowder you were eating?”
     Becca said, “I didn’t eat it all.”
     Ready to ride and spread the alarm through every Middlesex village and farm took the place of what Laurel wanted to say but it didn’t matter and Becca told her so. “Stop it,” she said. “I know what you’re thinking anyway.”
     Laurel said, “Let’s not fight.” She reached over and touched her daughter’s hair. “Carol will be waiting for you when the ferry docks,” she said quietly. “She has a truck for the bike, so there’s nothing to worry about. She knows what you look like and if she
isn’t there when you arrive, just wait because she’ll be on her way. Okay, sweetheart? Hey. Are you hearing me?”
     Becca was. She was hearing the words. She was also feeling the emotion behind them. She said, “It’s not all your fault, Mom.”
     “There’s more than one kind of fault,” her mother replied. “If you don’t know that yet, believe me, you will.”
     Becca reached for her backpack in the back of the Ford. Laurel said, “Where are the glasses? You’ll need to put them on now.”
     “No one’s looking at me.”
     “You need to put them on. You need to get in the habit. Where’s the extra hair dye? How many batteries do you have for the AUD box? What’s your name? Where’s your mother?”
     Becca looked at her then. Listen my children listen my children, but there was no need for Laurel to recite that poem over and over, even if she couldn’t recall the rest of the words at that moment. For Becca read her expression as anyone could have done. Her mother was terrified. She was going on instinct alone
just as she always had, but because her last instinct had been the
one telling her to marry Jeff Corrie, she no longer trusted what
her gut was telling her.
     Becca said, “Mom. I’ll be okay,” and she was surprised when Laurel’s eyes filled with tears. Her mother hadn’t cried once since they’d left San Diego. She hadn’t cried at all since she’d spent herself crying when she’d learned who Jeff Corrie really was and what Jeff Corrie had done. We can’t go to the police, her mother had told her through her tears. God in heaven, sweetheart, who will believe you? No one’s reported a body yet and if we do . . . we have no evidence Jeff was involved. So she’d laid her plans and they’d made a run for it and here they were on the brink of something from which there was no return.
     Becca reached out and took her mother’s hand. “Listen to what I know,” she said.
     “What do you know?”
     “Rebecca Dolores King, Mom. San Luis Obispo. My aunt Carol on Whidbey Island. Carol Quinn. Olduvai Gorge.”
     Laurel looked beyond Becca, over her shoulder. The sound of traffic said that the ferry had arrived and was offloading its vehicles. “Oh God,” Laurel whispered.
     “Mom,” Becca said, “it’s okay. Really.” She shoved open the door and walked to the back of the Explorer. Her mother got out and joined her there. Together they lifted her bike from the back and arranged its saddlebags on either side. Becca struggled into the heavy backpack, but before she did so, she dug inside for the glasses with their clear and decidedly useless lenses. She put them on.
     “Map of the island?” her mother asked her.
     “I’ve got it in the backpack.”
     “You’re sure?”
     “I’m sure.”
     “What about Carol’s address? Just in case.”
     “Got that too.”
     “Where’s the cell phone? Remember, it’s limited minutes. Yours is programmed with the number of mine. So emergencies only. Nothing else. It’s important. You’ve got to remember.”
     “I’ll remember. And I’ve got it in the backpack, Mom. And yes to the rest. The AUD box. Extra batteries. More hair color. Everything.”
     “Where’s your ticket?”
     “Here. Mom, it’s all here. It is.”
     Oh God oh God oh God.
     “I better get going,” Becca said, gazing at the stream of cars heading into the town beyond the ferry line.
     “Look at me, sweetheart,” Laurel said.
     Becca didn’t want to. She was afraid, and she didn’t need to hear more fear. But she knew the importance of giving her mother this reassurance, so she met her gaze as Laurel said to her, “Look right into my eyes. Tell me what you see. Tell me what you know.”
     And there was no midnight ride of Paul Revere now. There was only a single message to read.
     “You’ll come back,” Becca said.
     “I will,” Laurel promised. “As soon as I can.”

This ends the excerpt of Elizabeth George's THE EDGE OF NOWHERE.

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