Five p.m. in the newsroom and I am in the zone. A blast of static crackles from the scanner above my desk. “Shots fired on the two-hundred block of Rosa Parks Boulevard,” the female 911 dispatcher calls out in a staccato monotone. I turn back to my story and listen with trained detachment to hear whether there’s anything more I need to chase on deadline or if it’s just another drive-by shooting.
My name is Julia Gooden, and I’m a crime reporter in the city of Detroit. I became a reporter because I never found out the ending to my own story. Thirty years after my brother Ben disappeared, the only answers I could find were for others, the victims, or those they left behind. The crime beat is a natural for me. The people I write about are the most broken, and they need the most answers. I have to tell their stories. I feel like I owe the victims at least that.
I ignore an e-mail that flashes across my computer screen from my city editor and instead concentrate on my half-written follow-up story about an eight-year-old boy who disappeared somewhere between his row house where he lives with his grandmother and his school bus stop just one short block away.
My eyes hang on the third-grade class picture of the boy in his missing-persons flyer that I pinned over my desk after the Amber Alert went out. I can get lost in the juice of the moment as I chase a story, but once it’s written, once I’m alone, the victim’s stories, their faces, always come back to me. They never let go.
My desk phone rings, and I debate whether to pick it up on deadline or wait to retrieve the message after I finish the story. I know it’s not my husband, David. We’ve been separated for six months now. After ten years of marriage, David arrived home from his law firm one night and announced he couldn’t take my constant. . .or as he would say, nearly “manic” . . . overprotectiveness when it came to our two young sons, Logan and Will.
I throw the dice and answer the phone, hoping it’s a legitimate lead and not a crackpot calling about how their husband hasn’t paid alimony in two months. I feel relieved when I hear the familiar voice of Detective Raymond Navarro, my best source at the Detroit PD. We were in a relationship ten years earlier before I met David. Despite our breakup, Navarro and I have remained friends, which sticks in David’s craw despite our current situation.
“Hey, Julia, this didn’t come from me, but you better get down here. A tagger found a body inside a burned-out building on the three-hundred block of Mount Elliott Street,” Navarro tells me.
I breathe out hard and look back at the picture of the shy little boy with the wire-framed glasses in the missing person’s photo and silently pray it’s not him. But I know that good news in child abduction cases is a bona fide miracle. And I stopped believing in miracles when Ben never came home. Miracles are like Santa Claus, just stuff kids believe.
I make my way through the parking garage to go to the scene, adrenaline flowing, and chisel down the list of questions I will pose to the police. As I slide my key into the ignition, I calculate the fastest route through rush-hour traffic. There’s still time though. There’s always time.
I unzip a duffel bag on the passenger seat and gently pull out a binder, now cracked and faded with age. I open the cover and run my hand over the first yellowed newspaper article. I know it by heart.
Local Boy Disappears in Resort Town
A nine-year-old boy remains missing one day after he disappeared from his bedroom in the small resort town of Sparrow, Michigan.
Ben Gooden, who was to join the rest of his incoming fourth-grade class at Willow Glen Elementary today, was reported missing by his seven-year-old sister, Julia Gooden, who called 911 at approximately 12:30 a.m.
Police would not comment on whether the mother, Marjorie Gooden, is a suspect or will face child endangerment charges, although sources close to the case claim witnesses saw Mrs. Gooden drinking heavily with an unidentified man at a local bar around the time the boy disappeared. Police are trying to locate the missing child’s father, Benjamin Gooden Sr., who was reportedly out of town at the time of the boy’s disappearance.
A sliding glass door leading from an outside courtyard into Ben Gooden’s room was found open and an Indian arrowhead was discovered under his bed, police said.
(Photo caption: Julia Gooden, the missing boy’s younger sister, sits alone on the front steps of the family home and clutches her brother’s baseball against her chest.).
I close my eyes as I try and block out of the memory and picture the faces of my own two boys instead.
I wish I could have somehow prepared myself for what was to come.
The Last Time She Saw Him is the first book in the NEW Julia Gooden mystery series, published by Kensington, June 28, 2016.
A crime reporter searching for her kidnapped son must untangle the connection to her brother’s long ago disappearance.
Julia Gooden remembers nothing about the worst night of her life. Thirty years ago, her nine-year-old brother Ben—the person who promised he would always protect her—was abducted from the room they shared. Try as she might to recall any clue or detail, there is a black hole where Julia’s memories of that terrible event should be.
Now a crime reporter at a Detroit newspaper, Julia tries to give others the closure she’s never found. But guilt and grief over Ben’s disappearance have left her fearful that whoever took her brother is going to come back. Nowhere seems safe—not the city, not the suburbs, not even the secluded lake town where she plans to raise her children. And then, on the anniversary of Ben’s disappearance, Julia’s worst fears are realized when her two-year-old son, Will, is snatched from his bed.
Convinced that the crimes are related, Julia tries to piece together memories from her final day with Ben. Are the sudden reminders of her brother clues that will lead her to her son’s abductor, or merely coincidence? Julia knows she has hours at best to find Will alive, but the deeper she digs, the more personal and terrifying the battle becomes, and an undying promise may be her only hope of saving herself and her son.
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Meet the author
Jane Haseldine is a journalist, former crime reporter, columnist, newspaper editor, magazine writer, and deputy director of communications for a governor. Jane’s debut suspense novel, The Last Time She Saw Him, is coming in June 28, 2016 from Kensington Publishing, and will be the first book in the new Julia Gooden series. You can find Jane at janehaseldine.com, Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook.
Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a print copy of The Last Time She Saw Him. US entries only, please. The giveaway will end June 30, 2016 at 12 AM EST. Good luck everyone!
All comments are welcomed.