Extract: You Were Gone by Tim Weaver
Three days after Christmas, a woman walks into a police station. She has no phone and no ID, just a piece of paper with the name of investigator David Raker on it. She tells officers that Raker is her husband. When he turns up at the station, Raker is stunned. The woman looks exactly like his wife. She knows all about their marriage, their history, even private conversations the two of them had. There’s just one problem: Raker’s wife has been dead for eight years.
The woman tells the police that Raker had a breakdown. A respected doctor backs up her account. Items are missing that prove Raker’s side of the story – and, worst of all, he soon becomes the prime suspect in a disappearance.
Could Raker have imagined their whole marriage? Is he delusional? Is this really the woman he loved and grieved for? Hunted by the police, Raker will have to find out the truth before it costs him everything – his memories, his sanity, his life…
Read on for the first chapter of You Were Gone!
You Were Gone
After it was all over, they let me watch the footage of her entering the police station. She seemed small, almost curved, in her green raincoat and dark court shoes, as if her spine was arched or she was in pain. The quality of the surveillance film was poor, the frame rate set low, which made it disorientating, a series of jerky movements played out against the stillness of the station’s front desk.
She paused at the entrance, holding the main door ajar so that light leaked in across the tiled floor and seemed to bleach one side of her face. The faded colours of the film didn’t help, reducing blacks to greys and everything else to pastels, and even when she let the door go again and it snapped shut behind her, her features remained indistinct. Her gaze was a shadowy blob, her blonde hair appeared grey. I couldn’t see anything of the slight freckling that passed from one cheek to the other, crossing the bridge of her nose, nor the blue and green flash of her eyes. Under the glare of the camera, she may as well have been just another visitor to a police station.
A stranger, nothing else.
Once she let the door go, she headed across the room to the front desk. On the timecode in the corner I could see it was just before 8 a.m. An officer was standing behind the counter, engaged in conversation with someone else, a kid in his teens with a black eye and bloodied cheek. The woman waited patiently behind the teenager until the desk officer told her to take a seat. She did so reluctantly, her head down, her feet barely seeming to carry her to a bank of chairs.
Ten minutes passed. The angle of the camera made it hard to see her, her head bowed, her hands knotted together in her lap, but then, after the desk officer finished with the teenager and told him to take a seat, she beckoned the woman back to the counter. I met the desk officer when I turned up at the station in the hours after: she had short black hair flecked with grey and a scar high on her left cheek, but on the film I couldn’t see the detail in either.
The woman stopped at the counter.
The desk officer bent slightly, so that her head was level with the woman’s, and even though the film’s frame rate was low and it didn’t record her lip movements in real time, I could still tell what she’d asked the woman.
‘You all right, love?’
The woman didn’t respond immediately. Instead, she reached into the pocket of her coat and started looking for something. It began as a slow movement, but then became more frantic when she couldn’t find what she was looking for. She checked one pocket, then another, and in the third she found what she was after.
As she unfolded the piece of paper, she finally responded to the officer.
I couldn’t tell what the woman said after that, the frame rate making it all but impossible to follow the patterns of her mouth, but she shifted position and, because the camera was fixed to the wall about a foot and a half above her, I could see more of her, could see there was just a single line on the piece of paper. Under the pale rinse of the room’s strip lights, her hair definitely looked blonde now, not grey, and it had been tied into a loose ponytail. Despite that, it was messy and unkempt, stray strands everywhere, at her collar, across her face, and even within the confines of the film, the way it twitched and jarred between frames, it was easy to tell that she was agitated.
Finally, her eyes met the officer’s and the woman held up the piece of paper and started to talk. I could see the teenager look up from his mobile phone, as if sparked into life by what the woman was saying. They told me afterwards that the woman had been crying, that it had been difficult to understand what she’d been talking about, that her voice, the things she’d been saying, had been hard to process. I watched the desk officer lean towards her, holding a hand up, telling the woman to calm down. She paused, her body swaying slightly, her shoulders moving up and down, and gestured to the piece of paper again.
This time I could read her lips clearly.
The call came on 28 December.
I’d spent Christmas with my daughter, Annabel, in her house in south Devon. She was twenty-nine and lived within sight of a lake at the edge of Buckfastleigh with her thirteen-year-old sister Olivia. I’d only known the two of them for five years – before that, I’d had no idea I was even a father – and although, biologically, Olivia wasn’t mine, her parents were gone and I looked out for her just the same. Liv had now gone past the point of believing that an old man with a white beard came down the chimney with a sackful of presents, but she was still a kid, and kids always made Christmas more fun. We opened gifts, we watched old movies and played even older board games, we ate and drank and chased Annabel’s dog across a Dartmoor flecked in frost, and then I curled up with them in the evenings on the sofa and realized how little I missed London. It was where I lived, where my work was, but it was also where my home stood – empty even when I was inside it. It had been that way, and felt like that, every day for eight years, ever since my wife Derryn had died.
The morning of the call, I woke early and went for a run, following the lanes to the west of the house as they gently rose towards the heart of the moors. It was cold, the trees skeletal, the hedgerows thinned out by winter, ice gathered in slim sheets – like panes of glass – on the country roads. After four miles, I hit a reservoir, a bridge crossing it from one side to the other. Close by, cows grazed in the grass, hemmed in by wire fences, and I could see a farmer and his dog, way off in the distance, the early-morning light winking in the windows of a tractor. I carried on for a while until I reached a narrow road set upon a hill with views across a valley of green and brown fields, all perfectly stitched together. Breathless, I paused there and took in the view.
That was when my phone started ringing.
I had it strapped to my arm, the mobile mapping my route, and I awkwardly tried to release it, first from the headphones I had plugged in, then from the pouch it was secured inside. When I finally got it out, I could see it was a central London number, and guessed it was someone who needed my help, somebody whose loved one had gone missing. Very briefly, I toyed with the idea of not answering it at all, of protecting my time off, this time alone with a daughter I’d only known for a fraction of my life, and was still getting to know. But then reality hit. The missing were my ballast. In the time since Derryn had died, they’d been my lifeblood, the only way I could breathe properly. This break would have to end and, sooner or later, I’d have to return to London, to the work that had become my anchor.
‘Mr Raker, my name’s Detective Sergeant Catherine Field.’
Thrown for a moment, I tried to recall if I’d come across Field before, or had ever heard anyone mention her name.
‘How can I help you?’
‘It’s a bit of a weird one, really,’ Field responded, and then paused. ‘We’ve had someone walk into the station here at Charing Cross this morning. She seems quite confused.’ Another pause. ‘Or maybe she’s not confused. I don’t know, to be honest.’
‘Okay,’ I said, unsure where this was going.
‘She doesn’t have anything on her – no phone, no ID. The only thing she brought with her is a scrap of paper. It’s got your name on it.’
I looked out at the view, my body beginning to cool down, the sweat freezing against my skin. My website was only basic, little more than an overview and a contact form, but it listed my email address and a phone number.
‘I expect she found me online,’ I said.
‘Maybe,’ Field replied. She cleared her throat, the line drifting a little.
‘So are you saying she wants my help?’
‘I’m not sure what she wants.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘She says she knows you.’
‘Knows me how?’
Field cleared her throat for a second time. ‘She says she’s your wife.’
I frowned. ‘My wife?’
‘That’s what she says.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘No, my wife has been dead for eight years.’
‘Since 2009,’ Field replied. ‘I know, I just read that online.’
I waited for her to continue, to say something else, to tell me this was a joke at my expense, some bad-taste prank. But she didn’t. Instead, she said something worse.
‘This woman, she says her name’s Derryn Raker.’
‘Derryn Alexandra Raker.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘No way. She’s lying.’
‘She seems pretty convinced about it.’
‘It’s not Derryn. Derryn’s dead.’
‘Yeah, well, that’s the other thing she said,’ Field replied, her voice even, hard to interpret or analyse. ‘She tells me she’s really sorry for what she’s put you through – but now she wants to explain everything.’
Enjoyed this extract from You Were Gone by Tim Weaver? Take a look at all the books in the David Raker series here.