When a young man wakes up bruised and beaten, with no memory of who he is or where he came from, the press immediately dub him ‘The Lost Man’.
Naming himself Richard Kite, he spends the next ten months desperately trying to find out who he is. But despite media appeals and the efforts of the police, no one knows him. Richard’s last hope may be private investigator David Raker – but Raker has more questions than answers.
Who is Richard Kite? Why does no one know him? And what links him to the body of a woman found beside on a London railway line two years ago? Could Richard be responsible for her death – or is he next?
Read on for an extract from I Am Missing!
I Am Missing
The church was on the coast, perched on the edge of a limestone bluff like a limpet clinging to a rock.
I pulled up outside and turned the engine off.
The wind and the rain shifted the Audi on its axle, the skies slate grey, the sea fierce and choppy. The building was three miles outside of Christchurch and, across the water, lost in a fine gossamer mist, the Needles drifted in and out of view like rudderless ships. As I grabbed my notepad from the back seat, I remembered the time my wife and I had taken a ferry over to the Isle of Wight, bumping across the Channel in a winter storm, and felt a twinge of regret that it could only ever be a memory.
I locked the car and headed to the church.
The door was open. Inside, I found ten wooden benches, a stone altar at the front, and a stained-glass window above that. Despite the weather outside, the image in the glass was leaking a coloured reflection across the nave. Against the cracks in the stone floor, a scene from the Last Supper moved like a puddle of oily water.
He was sitting in the second row on the left, his body pressed tightly against the end of the pew, his hands loosely together on the bench in front, as if he were about to say a prayer, or had just finished one. He wore a blue raincoat and grey beanie, and I could see one of his boots, poking out from under the bench. It was spattered in mud and badly scuffed.
I was almost level with him by the time he seemed to realize I’d arrived. He turned on the pew, dropped his hands to his lap and looked at me with an expression halfway between worry and relief.
‘Mr Kite?’ I said.
‘Yes.’ He got to his feet. ‘Yes, that’s me.’
‘I’m David Raker.’
We shook hands. They were small, just like him, and bone dry. I could feel scratch marks on his fingertips – cuts, maybe, or callouses – and there were marks on his face too: new scars, the biggest in a fat arc from his chin to his lip.
‘Thank you for coming, Mr Raker.’
‘David’s fine,’ I said. ‘Sorry I’m a bit late. I know we said ten o’clock.’
I looked back up to the window, to the vaulted ceiling. ‘I’ve worked a lot of cases, but I can’t remember any of them starting inside a church.’
He smiled briefly. ‘Do they ever end up here?’
I studied him, his eyes shifting from me, along the nave, to the front of the church. Two wooden funeral biers – the stands upon which a coffin was placed – had been collapsed and were leaning against the wall. His gaze lingered on them.
I replied, ‘I try to prevent that from happening if I can.’
He attempted another smile, but it got lost halfway to being formed, and it made me think he’d probably glimpsed the truth already: that I could only try to affect a person’s fate once I knew they were alive. When someone was already dead, and all you were returning to the families was bones and earth, it became a different job. You became a sort of artist, painting a picture of motivation and reason; someone who constructed narratives from the things people left behind.
‘You didn’t say much on the phone, Mr Kite.’
‘Richard,’ he said quietly. ‘I know I didn’t say much. I’m sorry. I don’t like talking about this sort of thing over the phone. I’m not good on phones. I prefer talking to people face-to-face.’
‘Okay,’ I said, and watched him for a moment.
He looked sad, weighed down. That wasn’t unusual. In my line of work, I saw that all the time. But there was something else, hidden behind his anguish. He seemed confused somehow, as if uncertain of himself, the expression strangely out of place on a guy who didn’t look older than thirty-five. He forced a smile again, seemingly aware of it, but it didn’t go away. It was anchored in his eyes, in the crescent of his mouth, and it had spread and thrived like the roots of a weed. I’d tried to find evidence of him online after his call, of a life lived out on social media like everyone else his age. But there was nothing. I couldn’t find any trace of Richard Kite anywhere.
‘I work here on Tuesdays and Thursdays,’ he said, gesturing to his surroundings. ‘I help the vicar keep the garden up together – the grounds, that sort of thing. I’m not a gardener, really, but I do my best.’ He stopped, his eyes back on the funeral biers. ‘Anyway, Reverend Parsons said we could use the room at the back – if you wanted.’
There was an open door at the rear of the church, leading through to a corridor. A yellow bucket was on the floor partway down, catching a leak.
‘I’m happy to talk,’ I said to him, ‘but maybe you should just tell me who it is you want me to find first.’
‘Yes, of course.’
He held up an apologetic hand but didn’t continue. He looked away again instead, searching the shadows for the words he wanted, his face thin and pale, black stubble lining his jaw, his eyes oddly colourless. And as he did, something struck me: I’ve seen him before. I know him from somewhere.
Had the two of us met at some point?
‘I called you,’ he said, ‘because I know that you find missing people. That’s what you do, and that’s . . . well, that’s what I need.’ He stopped, swallowed hard. ‘Someone’s missing, and I need you to find them.’
‘So who is it that’s missing?’
I was still thrown by the familiarity I felt. As I waited, I tried to wheel back, to figure out where our paths may have crossed, but I couldn’t think. If I’d met him, it wasn’t on any case.
‘Richard,’ I said again, ‘who is it that’s missing?’
It was like he hadn’t heard me, his eyes still probing the corners of the church where the light from the windows didn’t reach. But then, just as I was about to repeat myself a third time, he turned to face me.
‘I am,’ he said.
I frowned. ‘You are what?’
‘I’m the person that’s missing.’