Each day in this country, twenty-three hundred children are reported missing.
Of those, a large portion are abducted by one parent estranged from the other, and over fifty percent of the time the child's whereabouts are never in question. The majority of these children are returned within a week.
Another portion of those twenty-three hundred children are runaways. Again, the majority of them are not gone long, and usually their whereabouts are either known immediately or easily ascertained—a friend's house is the most common destination.
Another category of missing children is the throwaway—those who are cast out of their homes or who run away, and the parents decide not to give chase. These are often the children who fill shelters and bus terminals, street comers in the red-light districts, and, ultimately, prisons.
Of the more than eight hundred thousand children reported missing nationally every year, only thirty-five hundred to four thousand fall into what the Department of Justice categorizes as Non-Family Abductions, or cases in which the police soon rule out family abductions, running away, parental ejection, or the child becoming lost or injured.
Of these cases, three hundred children disappear every year and never return.
No one—not parents, friends, law enforcement, childcare organizations, or centers for missing people—knows where these children go. Into graves, possibly; into cellars or the homes of pedophiles; into voids, perhaps, holes in the fabric of the universe where they will never be heard from again.
Wherever these three hundred go, they stay gone. For a moment or two they haunt strangers who've heard of their cases, haunt their loved ones for far longer.
Without a body to leave behind, proof of their passing, they don't die. They keep us aware of the void.
And they stay gone.
"My sister," Lionel McCready said, as he paced our belfry office, "has had a very difficult life." Lionel was a big man with a slightly houndish sag to his face and wide shoulders that slanted down hard from his collarbone, as if something we couldn't see sat atop them. He had a shaggy, shy smile and a firm grip in a callused hand. He wore a brown UPS deliveryman's uniform and kneaded the brim of the matching brown baseball cap in his beefy hands. "Our mom was a—well, a boozer, frankly. And our dad left when we were both little kids. When you grow up that way, you—I guess you—maybe you got a lot of anger. It takes some time to get your head straight, figure out your way in life. It's not just Helene. I mean, I had some serious problems, took a hard bust in my twenties. I was no angel."
"Lionel," his wife said.
He held up a hand to her, as if he had to spit it out now or he'd never spit it out at all. "I was lucky. I met Beatrice, straightened my life out. What I'm saying, Mr. Kenzie, Miss Gennaro, is that if you're given time, a few breaks, you grow up. You shake that crap. My sister, she's still growing up, what I'm saying. Maybe. Because her life was hard and—"
"Lionel," his wife said, "stop making excuses for Helene." Beatrice McCready ran a hand through her short strawberry hair and said, "Honey, sit down. Please."
Lionel said, "I'm just trying to explain that Helene hasn't had an easy life."
"Neither have you," Beatrice said, "and you're a good father. "
"How many kids do you have?" Angie asked.
Beatrice smiled. "One. Matt. He's five. He's stayingwith my brother and his wife until we find Amanda."
Lionel seemed to perk up a bit at the mention of his son. "He's a great kid," he said, and seemed almost embarrassed by his pride.
"And Amanda?" I said.
"She's a terrific kid, too," Beatrice said. "And she's way too young to be out there on her own."
Amanda McCready had disappeared from this neighborhood three days ago. Since then, the entire city of Boston, it seemed, had become obsessed with her whereabouts. The police had put more men on the search than they had on the manhunt for John Salvi after the abortion clinic shootings four years ago. The mayor held a press conference in which he pledged no city business would take precedence over her disappearance until she was found. The press coverage was saturating: front page of both papers each morning, lead story in all three major telecasts at night, hourly updates inserted between the soaps and talk shows.
And in three days—nothing. Not a hint of her.
Amanda McCready had been on this earth four years and seven months when she vanished. Her mother had put her to bed on Sunday night, checked in on her once around eight-thirty, and the next morning, shortly after nine, had looked in at Amanda's bed and seen nothing but sheets dented with the wrinkled impression, of her daughter's body.
The clothes Helene McCready had laid out for r daughter—a pink, T-shirt, denim shorts, pink socks, and white sneakers—were gone, as was Amanda's favorite doll, a blond-haired replica of a three-year-old that bore an errie resemblance to its owner, and whom amanda had named Pea. The room showed no sign of struggle.
Excerpted from Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane Copyright © 2006 by Dennis Lehane. Excerpted by permission.
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