Abandoned: New Excerpt
Abandoned by New York Times-bestselling author Allison Brennan is the fifth book in the Max Revere series, which weaves the intimate, unputdownable story of an investigator confronting the most important—and most dangerous—mystery of her career.
Investigative reporter Max Revere has cracked many cases, but the one investigation she’s never attempted is the mystery from her own past. Her mother abandoned her when she was nine, sending her periodic postcards, but never returning to reclaim her daughter. Seven years after the postcards stop coming, Martha Revere is declared legally dead, with no sign of what may have happened to her. Until now.
With a single clue―that her mother’s car disappeared sixteen years ago in a small town on the Chesapeake Bay―Max drops everything to finally seek the truth. As Max investigates, and her mother’s story unfolds, she realizes that Martha teamed up with a con man. They traveled the world living off Martha’s trust and money they conned from others.
Though no one claims to know anything about Martha or her disappearance, Max suspects more than one person is lying. When she learns the FBI has an active investigation into the con man, Max knows she’s on the right path. But as Max digs into the dark secrets of this idyllic community, the only thing she might find is the same violent end as her mother.
Maxine Revere had been an investigative reporter, in one capacity or another, for more than a decade. In the beginning, she had been the sole collector of information. She’d spent thousands of hours in libraries, interviewed hundreds of people, and traveled across the country to collect key pieces of intelligence to solve cold cases.
Now that she had a monthly cable crime show, had written four true crime books, and recently published her seventy-sixth article in a major trade magazine, she enjoyed the benefits of her success: a staff that was as good at research—and sometimes better—than she was; an assistant both smart and disciplined; and a real career that had garnered her both respect and animosity, praise and criticism.
She liked her job and she made a difference. Max solved cold cases that seemed unsolvable because of the limited resources of law enforcement. That, and her driving need to uncover the truth wherever it led.
Now, for the first time, she had a real chance of learning the truth about what had happened to her mother sixteen years ago. She might even find out why her mother left her in the first place to be raised by grandparents she had never known before that fateful Thanksgiving, only weeks before her tenth birthday.
The disappearance of her mother was personal, and she wasn’t going to film a segment for “Maximum Exposure.” She had no plans to write a book, an article, or even a blog about Martha Revere’s life and presumed death. Max had the resources—namely, money—to investigate this case on her own, and could take the time to do it, even if it cost Max her career.
Some things were worth sacrificing everything. The truth—especially the truth about her life—was one of them.
Two months ago, she’d learned from a private investigator, Sean Rogan, that her mother had bought a car in Miami under a false identity, and that car had turned up abandoned in Northampton County, Virginia, three months later. Max hired the PI to dig deeper into the identity and the timeline of Martha Revere’s whereabouts from when she left Max at her grandparents’ house that Thanksgiving weekend, until she stopped sending Max postcards shortly after Max’s sixteenth birthday.
It was difficult and tedious work for many reasons, the passage of time being an almost insurmountable factor. Martha left Max twenty-two years ago. All Max had—she’d turned copies over to Rogan—were sixteen postcards sent over a six-year period. Financial records were archived and not readily accessible. Someone with one false identity may have additional false identities. And the one thing that Max had learned after living with her mother for the first ten years of her life—Martha Revere was smart, unpredictable, and wild.
Rogan had made great headway, but he had a life and a business and had been unavailable for the last few weeks due to a major case he was working on. Max was antsy. She needed to get into the field and learn the truth. She already knew where Martha’s car had been found, the name she had been using—that of her elderly aunt. She had basic information that Rogan had dug up, enough that she could go to Northampton herself and find more answers. And she’d filmed two shows for “Maximum Exposure” in the time it usually took her to do one—just in case the investigation took longer than she planned.
Her producer, Ben Lawson, wasn’t happy that she was taking time off with no set return date. She recognized if she were any other person, she’d be fired or her series canceled. And maybe it would be. At this point, she didn’t care. For the first time in her life, she had a hint about what happened to her mother, and enough clues to follow the bread crumbs. This was more important than anything else in her life. It was more important than her fledgling love life, more important than her career, more important than her family, who didn’t want her digging into the past at all.
This was the most important investigation she’d ever undertaken.
On Saturday morning, she emailed Rogan and told him she was taking the information he’d gathered and would be leaving the following morning for Cape Haven, a small community in Northampton County. She had reserved a small beach house at a resort for the entire month of April, and she’d stay longer if necessary. She hadn’t heard back from the PI, so she assumed he didn’t have anything new to share with her.
She packed Saturday evening, then poured herself a glass of wine and made herself a chef’s salad. She lived in a penthouse in Greenwich Village with a view of the Hudson River. She bought the place after she graduated from Columbia and renovated it to suit her needs and lifestyle. She had no plans to move. She traveled extensively, but this was her home. Maybe because she hadn’t had a real home growing up. First, living like a nomad with her mother for nearly ten years, then living with her grandparents for the next nine years in their subdued mansion in a prestigious northern California zip code. Nothing had been hers. But this penthouse was all Max. Her space. A place for her things.
She didn’t have much—not because she was a minimalist, but because she didn’t see the need to accumulate stuff for the sake of having stuff. But she cherished what she did have. Art she bought because she liked it, not because it was valuable—though much of it was. Furniture that was both comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. A kitchen of state-of-the-art appliances, because she loved to cook when she had the time. An entire wall devoted to books because she loved reading. It was an eclectic collection. History, especially books that discussed how history was reflected in the art of the times; architecture because that, too, touched on both art and history; mysteries—give her a good puzzle to lose herself in, and she was happy for the night. Some books she felt she had to read because everyone else had read them. And many, many classics. And she’d always had a fondness for Louis L’Amour, because her grandfather had loved the writer of Westerns. When she bought the penthouse her grandmother had sent her his entire collection with a note from her grandfather, who had died a few years before:
I used to believe you indulged me when I would read you passages from some of my favorite L’Amour books, but you always listened and humored this old man. One day, I saw you reading The Sacketts by the fire, and realized you weren’t simply appeasing me; you enjoyed the stories as much as I did. I hope you have room for my collection in your new home; there is no one else I would want to have them.
He’d died when she was fifteen, long before she bought the penthouse. Her grandmother never told her about the collection, so when she received them as she was settling in to her home she was touched. Reading her grandfather’s letter, written before he passed, had been bittersweet.
She finished her salad, washed her plate, and poured a second glass of wine. She sat in her reading corner and reviewed her schedule for the week. She’d already set up an appointment with the sheriff of Northampton County to talk to him about the investigation into the disappearance of “D. Jane Sterling,” the owner of the car that Max was certain belonged to her mother.
Still, now that she had made the decision and planned to leave tomorrow morning, she’d become apprehensive. Her assistant, David Kane, would say that it was because she was scared.
“You have always lived in the shadow of your mother’s choices,” David had told her when she began to pursue the information Rogan uncovered two months ago. “That the truth is so close terrifies you.”
“I’ve never shied away from the truth.” His observations made Max more than a little irritated at him.
“While I’ll admit that Rogan is unusually gifted in his field, you certainly could have found or paid to find the same information he did.”
That was true, and it was something Max had been thinking about a lot since she hired Rogan to dig deeper.
“I’m putting it out there, Max. You have never backed down from a challenge—but with your mother’s disappearance, you’ve never confronted it.”
Max trusted David more than anyone else in her life, and when he’d called her on her hypocrisy, she realized that he was right. First her mother lied to Max about her paternity, all the while leading a wild and carefree lifestyle before dumping her to live with her grandparents; then Martha disappeared off the face of the earth when Max was sixteen. Every decision her mother had made, both before and after that fateful Thanksgiving, had colored Max’s life and every choice she made. She’d never lied to herself about any of it, because Max abhorred lies—especially to herself. But until David called her out, she didn’t realize the deep truth: she was scared. She feared learning the whole truth about her mother because it would de facto change who Max was and how she viewed herself in the world.
Not knowing had driven her for years, and once the truth came to light, what would she do? Who would she be?
Fear was no excuse. Now, there was no turning back.
There was a knock at her door. That meant one of two people: her neighbor who owned the other top-floor penthouse, or David, who had a passkey to the building. He also had a key to her apartment, but he wouldn’t use it except in an emergency.
She opened the door. David. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Rogan found something. He wants to talk to both of us.”
In the past, Max would have been furious that the PI she hired had contacted her assistant instead of her. Though David had become more of a partner than an assistant, this was still a personal investigation, not affiliated in any way with NET, the cable television station that paid David’s salary.
“I know,” David said without her having to say anything.
“Let’s go to your office.”
“I’ve already packed.” She sat down at the dining table and called Rogan from her cell phone, then put it on speaker.
“Rogan,” a voice said.
“Sean, it’s Maxine Revere and David Kane.”
“Glad I caught you before you left.”
“Bright and early tomorrow morning.”
“I learned something last week and was trying to get more details before I called you, but since you’re jumping now I thought you should know.”
“I appreciate that.”
“If any of my other feelers pan out, I’ll let you know, but I have another job that will keep me busy for the rest of the week.”
“You warned me you couldn’t devote all your time to the project, so just tell me what you have and we’ll go from there.”
“Do you recall a man named James Truman? He went by the name Jimmy.”
The past slapped Max in the face. She hadn’t heard that name in a long, long time.
“Yes.” She shook her head, trying to purge memories of the jerk. “He was one of my mother’s many boyfriends.”
“When you told me you were going to Northampton County to talk to the sheriff about the abandoned car, I revisited the list of Martha’s known associates during the years between when she left you and when she disappeared. Martha and Truman were very good at covering their tracks, but I found records in New York, Texas, Florida, Hawaii, Italy, and New Zealand that put them together. In fact, I may be going out on a limb here, but I think they were together the majority of those six years.”
“My mother never stayed with one man longer than three or four months,” Max said. “And that’s stretching it.”
“You created the timeline of her known locations based on where she withdrew her trust fund allowance. I took that and extrapolated. She was off the radar most of the time, but Jimmy Truman wasn’t—until she disappeared.”
“I don’t see what you’re getting at, Rogan.” She was trying to wrap her head around the idea that her mother could have been committed to anyone.
“The FBI opened an investigation into James Truman ten years ago. I couldn’t get much more than that except that it’s linked to a case in Dallas at least sixteen years ago.”
Sixteen years? That was the time her mother disappeared. “Was there an investigation into my mother, too?” She would be stunned—she would have known. She’d dated a federal agent on and off for nine years. Certainly someone would have made the connection, and she had never distanced herself from her mother. It was on her Web page, her biography, and she’d even touched on her childhood in articles she’d written. Yet the FBI had never interviewed her—or her grandparents, as far as she knew.
“No, not Martha Revere. If she had a really good fake identity—better than the Sterling identity—maybe they simply didn’t know who she was.”
David asked, “What was he being investigated for?”
“That I don’t know. All I know was that it was opened out of the Norfolk regional FBI office and then attached to an older Dallas investigation. I don’t even have an agent of record. I can dig deeper.”
“I have contacts in the FBI,” Max said. “I’ll get it, if it’s important.”
“Like I said, I’m going to be out of pocket for the next week or two, but I put out a lot of feelers specifically following the money trail. Some of your information isn’t accurate.”
Max straightened her spine. “What?” Her family had thwarted her in the past, but something of this magnitude—falsifying bank records—that was beyond the pale.
“Most of the information I’m looking for isn’t maintained for this long. But I confirmed that on at least three occasions, the money was transferred out of your mother’s bank account to an offshore account. So the records are technically accurate, but your mother wasn’t present to receive her funds.”
Max’s mother had never kept a bank account longer than a few months because she had once told Max that she didn’t want Eleanor to know what she was doing or who she was doing it with. It made no sense then, and now Max wondered why. Was it just Martha’s way of flipping the bird to her family? Or did she have another, more logical—more criminal—reason?
“Thank you,” she said.
“I also have a request into the State Department for her passport travel records—I should say you made the request, you’re next of kin. It’s faster and easier that way, but I put myself down as the contact. If I hear anything, I’ll call you.”
David said, “I’ll be in Miami following up on Martha’s alias. Max is going to Virginia.”
“Which brings me to the other information I learned about Truman. First, I believe he was using the alias J. J. Sterling in Miami, so David, you might want to follow up on that as well. He was born and raised in Virginia—in a small town called Cape Haven. It’s less than fifteen miles from where Martha’s car was found.”
David stared at Max. “I should go with you.”
“It’s been sixteen years,” Max said. “Truman isn’t around, or if he is, he’s not going to remember me. We need the information from Miami, and you’re the only one I trust—other than me—to get it.”
David didn’t look happy, but Max wasn’t worried about danger. Her mother had been missing for sixteen years. If it was foul play that didn’t mean squat. Sixteen years was a long time.
“What else do you know about Truman?” David asked Rogan.
“He obtained a Virginia State driver’s license when he was eighteen that has never been renewed. That doesn’t mean anything—he could have gotten one in another state, and I have inquiries in the states I know he spent some time. His parents are deceased—his father died in a fishing boat accident when he was a teenager, and his mother, Emily, died of cancer ten years ago. He has a younger brother, Gabriel, a U.S. Navy veteran honorably discharged sixteen years ago in September. Gabriel Truman lives in the family home in Cape Haven and owns a charter boat business attached to a resort. He keeps a low profile—no personal social media profiles. His business is all business, no personal information other than basic. No criminal record.”
Jimmy Truman. Max barely remembered him, but she hadn’t liked him. That she hadn’t forgotten.
“That’s pretty extensive,” David said.
“Not as much as I would have liked. I don’t have a current photograph of Truman, for example, and no sign of him in the last ten years—which could mean he’s dead or he has a solid new identity.”
“What are you thinking in this?” David asked. “That Jimmy Truman killed Martha? Is that why there’s an investigation?”
“I couldn’t say—only that the federal government doesn’t generally open murder investigations,” Sean said. “But again, you’ll need to get the file from Norfolk or Dallas.”
“I’ll get it,” Max said.
“If you need help, I can make calls.”
“Like I said, I have my own FBI contacts. Sean, back up—you said you tracked him up until ten years ago? And nothing since?”
“I think I have. I uncovered two of his aliases—my guess is that he may have had more, and I’m working on it now that I know his pattern. He went under the name James Masters in Texas, and under the name J. J. Sterling in Florida. I have a list of your family members and have been running those names and variations in Texas, Florida, and New York—three of the places Martha seemed to return at least once a year.”
What had Jimmy and her mother been up to? Nothing would surprise Max at this point.
That wasn’t completely true. She’d be surprised if her mother was alive.
David asked, “Keep both of us in the loop if you learn anything else, Rogan.”
Max was staring out the window and didn’t realize that David had disconnected the call.
“Max?” It was a quiet inquiry from her partner and her friend. She and David had been through a lot together over the last two years. She’d faced several truths from her past with David by her side. But this one mystery haunted her.
“When I found out Martha was using Aunt Delia’s identity, the truth didn’t hit me.”
“You lost me.”
“Martha was involved in something illegal. It’s the only explanation.”
“She could have been in trouble, maybe dated the wrong guy. Like Jimmy Truman.”
She glanced at David. “I met Jimmy. He and Martha hooked up a month before she left me with my grandparents. I didn’t like him, my mother knew it. I thought she’d grow tired of him like she did every other guy she slept with. When she didn’t come back for me, I determined that she much preferred her freedom to being saddled with a precocious child. I never thought she’d stayed with him.”
“We don’t know anything right now, not about their relationship or how close they were. Anything could have happened. He could have been blackmailing her, she could have been working with him, or maybe she was a victim.”
She laughed humorlessly. “Martha Revere, the victim? No. She was never a victim, and if she was killed—by Jimmy or anyone else—she probably got into something she couldn’t talk or buy her way out of. The people she liked to hang with weren’t all saints. Maybe she got in over her head, or maybe she knew exactly what she was doing. Whatever it was.”
“We’ll find the answers.”
Max had more answers now, in the two months that Rogan had been helping her, than she had in the twenty-two years since her mother left. But every answer led to more questions.
“Be careful with Gabriel Truman.”
She turned and gave David a half smile. “You knew I’d reach out to him?”
“It would be my first play. But we don’t know who he is, not really. So be cautious.”
In the past, she would have given David a snippy response—after all, she’d been an investigative reporter long before David was hired by NET to be her bodyguard, in far more dangerous areas than the Chesapeake Bay—but she’d learned that David’s caution wasn’t a criticism of her abilities, but came from his experience in security and their friendship.
“I’m going to do a little research locally, then reach out to him,” she said. “And I’ll proceed with caution, I promise.”
“I can hop on a plane and be there in only a few hours,” he said. “Just ask. And—as a reminder—if I don’t hear from you, I’ll show up anyway.”
Copyright © 2018 Allison Brennan.