City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong is the 1st Casey Duncan Novel, introducing Casey Duncan—a homicide detective with a secret—who, along with her best friend Diana, flees her old life to a community that might present more danger than they were in previously (Available May 3, 2016).
Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: when she was in college, she killed a man. She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster and she knows that someday this crime will catch up to her. Casey's best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana's husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it's time for the two of them to disappear again.
Diana has heard of a town made for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton and if you're accepted, it means walking away entirely from your old life, and living off the grid in the wilds of Canada: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council's approval. As a murderer, Casey isn't a good candidate, but she has something they want: She's a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in. However, soon after arriving, Casey realizes that the identity of a murderer isn't the only secret Rockton is hiding―in fact, she starts to wonder if she and Diana might be in even more danger in Rockton than they were in their old lives.
“I killed a man,” I say to my new therapist.
I’ve barely settled onto the couch … which isn’t a couch at all, but a chaise lounge that looked inviting and proved horribly uncomfortable. Like therapy itself.
I’ve caught her off guard with that opening line, but I’ve been through this before with other therapists. Five, to be exact. Each time, the gap between “hello” and “I’m a murderer” decreases. By this point, she should be glad I’m still bothering with a greeting. Therapists do charge by the hour.
“You…,” she says, “killed a man?”
The apprehensive look. I know it well—that moment when they’re certain they’ve misheard. Or that I mean it in a metaphorical way. I broke a man’s heart. Which is technically true. A bullet does break a heart. Irrevocably, it seems.
When I only nod, she asks, “When did this happen?”
“Twelve years ago.”
Expression number two. Relief. At least I haven’t just killed a man. That would be so much more troublesome.
Then comes the third look, as she searches my face with dawning realization.
“You must have been young,” she says. “A teenager?”
“Ah.” She settles back in her chair, the relief stronger now, mingling with satisfaction that she’s solved the puzzle. “An accident of some kind?”
She’s blunt. Others have led me in circles around the conclusion they’ve drawn. You didn’t really murder a man. It was a car accident or other youthful mishap, and now you torture yourself with guilt.
“No, I did it on purpose. That is, pulling the trigger was intentional. I didn’t go there planning to kill him. Manslaughter, not homicide. A good lawyer could argue for imperfect self-defense and get the sentence down to about twelve years.”
She pulls back. “You’ve researched this. The crime. The sentence.”
“It’s my job.”
“Because you feel guilty.”
“No, it’s my job. I’m a cop.”
Her mouth forms an O of surprise, and her fingernails tap my file folder as she makes mental excuses for not reading it more thoroughly. Then her mouth opens again. The barest flicker of a smile follows.
“You’re a police officer,” she says. “You shot someone in the line—No, you were too young. A cadet?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t a training accident.” I settle on the chaise. “How about I just tell you the story?”
An obvious solution, but therapists never suggest it. Some, like this one, actually hesitate when I offer. She fears I’m guilty and doesn’t want me to be. Give her a few more clues, and she’ll find a way to absolve me.
Except I don’t want absolution. I just want to tell my story. Because this is what I do. I play Russian roulette with Fate, knowing someday a therapist will break confidentiality and turn me in. It’s like when I was a child, weighed down by guilt over some wrongdoing but fearing the punishment too much to confess outright. I’d drop clues, reasoning that if I was meant to be caught, those hints would chamber the round. Magical, childish thinking, but it’s what I do.
“Can I begin?” I ask.
She nods with some reluctance and settles in.
“I’d gone to a bar that night with my boyfriend,” I say. “It was supposed to be a date, but he spent the evening doing business in the back corner. That’s what he called it. Doing business. Which sounds like he was dealing coke in some dive bar. We were actually in the university pub, him selling vitamin R and bennies to kids who wanted to make it through exam week.…”
Blaine and I sat at a back table, side by side, waiting for customers. His fingers stroked the inside of my thigh. “Almost done. And then…” He grinned over at me. “Pizza? Your place?”
“Only if we get enough for Diana.”
He made a face. “It’s Friday night, Casey. Shouldn’t your roommate have a date or something?”
“Mmm, no. Sorry.”
Actually, she was out with college friends. I just wasn’t telling Blaine that. We hadn’t had sex yet. I’d held him off by saying I was a virgin. That was a lie. I was just picky.
Blaine was my walk on the wild side. I was a police recruit playing bad girl. Which was as lame as his attempt to play drug lord. On a scale of bad boys, Blaine ranked about a two. Oh, sure, he claimed he was connected—his grandfather being some Montreal mobster whose name I couldn’t even find with an Internet search. More likely the old guy played bookie at his seniors’ home. Blaine’s father certainly wasn’t mobbed up—he was a pharmacist, which was how Blaine stole his stuff. Blaine himself was pre-med. He didn’t even sample his merchandise. That night, he nursed one beer for two hours. Me? I drank Coke. Diet Coke. Yep, we were hard-core.
A last customer sidled over, a kid barely old enough to be in university. Blaine sold him the last of his stash. Then he gulped his beer, put his arm around my shoulders, and led me from the pub. I could roll my eyes at his swagger, but I found it oddly charming. While I might not have been ready to jump into bed with Blaine, I did like him. He was a messed-up rich kid; I could relate to that.
“Any chance of getting Diana out of your apartment?” he asked.
“Even if there is, the answer is no.”
He only shrugged, with a smile that was half “I’ll change your mind soon” and half genuine acceptance. Another reason why I wasn’t ready to write him off as a failed dating experiment—he never pushed too hard, accepted my refusals with good-natured equanimity.
We started walking. I wasn’t familiar with the campus area. I was attending the provincial police college outside the city and spending weekends with Diana, a high school friend who went to the local community college. Neither of us was from here. So when Blaine insisted that a dark alley was a shortcut to the pizza place, I didn’t question it … mostly because I was fine with what he had planned—a make-out pit stop designed to change my mind about getting Diana out of our apartment.
We were going at it hard and heavy when I heard the click of a gun. I gasped and pushed Blaine back. He looked up and jumped away, leaving me with a 9 mm pointed at my cheek.
“I only have fifty bucks,” Blaine lied—the rest was stuffed in his sock. “She has some jewelry. Take that and the fifty—”
“Do we look like muggers, Saratori?”
As the gun lowered, I saw the guy holding it. Early twenties. Dark blond hair. Leather jacket. No obvious gang markings, but that’s what this looked like: four young guys, one with a gun, three with knives.
I couldn’t fight them—I didn’t have a weapon, and martial arts doesn’t work well against four armed attackers. Instead, I committed their faces to memory and noted distinguishing features for the police report.
“Does the old man know you’re dealing?” the lead guy asked.
“I don’t know what—” Blaine began.
“What I’m talking about? That you’re Leo Saratori’s grandkid? Or that you were dealing on our turf?”
Blaine bleated denials. One of the guys pinned him against the wall, while another patted him down. They took a small plastic bag with a few leftover pills from one sock and a wad of cash from the other.
“Okay,” Blaine said. “So we’re done now?”
“You think we want your money?” The leader bore down on him. “You’re dealing on our turf, college boy. Considering who you are, I’m going to take this as a declaration of war.”
“N-No. My grandfather doesn’t—”
A clatter from the far end of the alley. Just a cat, leaping from a garbage bin, but it was enough to startle the guy with the gun. I lunged, caught him by the wrist and twisted, hearing the gun thump to the ground as I said, “Grab it!” and—
Blaine wasn’t there to grab it. He was tearing down the alley. One of the other thugs was already scooping up the gun, and I was wrenching their leader’s arm into a hold, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good. The guy with the gun jabbed the barrel against my forehead and roared, “Stop!”
I didn’t even have time to do that before the other two slammed me into the wall. The leader took back his gun and advanced on me.
“Seems we know who’s got the balls in your relationship,” he said. “The pretty little China doll. Your boyfriend’s gone, sweetie. Left you to take his punishment.” He looked me up and down. “A little too college-girl for my tastes, but I’m flexible.”
I thought he was joking. Or bluffing. I knew my statistics. I faced more danger of sexual assault from an acquaintance or a boyfriend.
“Look,” I said. “Whatever beef you have with Blaine, it has nothing to do with me. I’ve got twenty dollars in my wallet, and my necklace is gold. You can take—”
“We’ll take whatever we want, sweetie.”
I tugged my bag off my shoulder. “Okay, here’s my purse. There’s a cell phone—”
He stepped closer. “We’ll take whatever we want.”
His voice had hardened, but I still didn’t think, I’m in danger. I knew how muggings worked. Just stay calm and hand over my belongings.
I held out my purse. He grabbed it by the strap and tossed it aside. Then he grabbed me, one hand going to my throat, the other to my breast, shoving me against the wall. There was a split second of shock as I hit the bricks hard. Then …
I don’t know what happened then. To this day, I cannot remember the thoughts that went through my brain. I don’t think there were any. I felt his hands on my throat and on my breast, and I reacted.
My knee connected with his groin. I twisted toward the guy standing beside us. My fingers wrapped around his wrist. I grabbed his switchblade as it fell. I twisted again, my arm swinging down, and I stabbed the leader in the upper thigh as he was still falling back, moaning from the knee to his groin.
Afterward, I would piece it together and understand how it happened. How a response that seemed almost surreal was, in fact, very predictable. When the leader grabbed me with both hands, I knew he was no longer armed. So I reacted, if not with forethought, at least with foreknowledge.
Yet it was the lack of forethought that was my undoing. I had stabbed the leader … and there were three other guys right there. One hit me in the gut. Another plowed his fist into my jaw. A third wrenched my arm so hard I screamed as my shoulder dislocated. He got the knife away from me easily after that. Someone kicked me in the back of the knees, and I went down. As soon as I did, boots slammed me from all sides, punctuated by grunts and curses of rage. I heard the leader say, “You think you’re a tough little bitch? I’ll show you tough.” And then the beating began in earnest.
* * *
I awoke in a hospital four days later as my mother and the doctor discussed the possibility of pulling the plug. I’d like to believe that somewhere in that dark world of my battered brain, I heard them and came back, like a prizefighter rising as the ref counts down. But it was probably just coincidence.
I’d been found in that alley, left for dead, and rushed to the hospital, where I underwent emergency surgery to stop the internal bleeding. I had a dislocated shoulder. Five fractured ribs. Over a hundred stitches for various lacerations. A severe concussion and an intracranial hematoma. Compound fracture of the left radius. Severe fracture of the right tibia and fibula with permanent nerve damage. Also, possible rape.
I have recited that list to enough therapists that it has lost all emotional impact. Even the last part.
Possible rape. It sounds ludicrous. Either I was or I wasn’t, right? Yet if it happened, I was unconscious. When I was found, my jeans were still on—or had been put back on. They did a rape kit, but it vanished before it could be processed.
Today, having spent two years as a detective in a big-city Special Victims Unit, I know you can make an educated guess without the kit. But I think when it disappeared, someone decided an answer wasn’t necessary. If my attackers were found, they’d be charged with aggravated assault and attempted murder. Good enough. For them, at least.
As for my injuries, physically, I made a full recovery. It took eighteen months. I had to drop out of police college and give up the job waiting for me. As the victim of a serious crime, I was deemed no longer fit to serve and protect. I didn’t accept that. I got a bachelor’s degree in criminology, a black belt in aikido, and a flyweight championship in boxing. I aced the psych tests and, five years after the attack, I was hired and on the fast track to detective.
My parents had not been pleased. That was nothing new. When I’d first declared I wanted to be a police detective, their reaction had been pure horror. “You’re better than that,” they said. Smarter, they meant. Not geniuses, like them. While they considered my IQ of 135 perfectly adequate, it might require extra effort to become a cardiologist like my dad or chief of pediatric surgery like my mom or a neuroscientist like my sister. Still, they expected that I’d try. I wanted none of it. Never had.
After I had to leave police college, they’d been certain I’d give up this nonsense and devote myself to a meaningful career, preferably with a string of letters after my name. We argued. A lot. They died in a small plane crash four years ago, and we’d never truly mended that fence.
But back to the hospital. I spent six weeks there, learning to walk again, talk again, be Casey Duncan again. Except I never really was. Not the Casey Duncan I’d been. There are two halves of my life: before and after.
Four days in a coma. Six weeks in the hospital. Blaine never came to see me. Never even sent a card. I’d have ripped it to shreds, but at least it would have acknowledged what happened. He knew, of course. Diana had made sure of that, contacting him while I was in emergency. He hadn’t asked how bad I was. Just mumbled something and hung up.
When I’d seen him run away in the alley, my outrage had been tempered by the certainty that he would get help. Even as the blows had started to fall, I’d clung to that. He must have called the police. He must have.
The last thing that passed through my mind before I lost consciousness was that I just had to hold on a little longer. Help was on the way. Only it wasn’t. A homeless guy cutting through the alley stumbled across me, hours later. A stranger—a drunk stranger—had run to get help for me. My boyfriend had just run.
Blaine did need to speak to the police after I woke up and had told them what happened. But in Blaine’s version, he’d created the distraction. I’d been escaping with him, and we’d parted at the street. The muggers must have caught up and dragged me back into that alley. If Blaine had known, he’d have done something. To suggest otherwise, well … I’d suffered head trauma, hadn’t I? Temporary brain damage? Loss of memory? Clearly, I’d misremembered.
I didn’t call him when I got out of the hospital. That conversation had to happen in person. It took a week for me to get around to it, because there was something I needed to do first. Buy a gun.
* * *
Blaine’s routine hadn’t changed. He still went jogging before dawn. Or that was what he’d say if he was trying to impress a girl: I run in the park every morning at five. It wasn’t completely untrue. He did go out before dawn. He did run in the park. Except he only did it on Fridays, and just to the place where he stashed his drugs. Then he’d run back to campus, where he could usually find a few buyers—kids who’d been out too late partying, heading back to the dorms before dawn, in need of a little something to get them through Friday classes.
I knew the perfect place for a confrontation. By the bridge along the riverbank, where he’d pass on his way home. The spot was always empty at that time of day, and the noise of rushing water would cover our discussion.
Cover a gunshot, too?
No, the gun was only a prop. To let him know this was going to be a serious conversation.
I stood by the foot of the bridge. He came by right on schedule. Walking. He only jogged where people could see him.
I waited until I could hear the buzz and crash from his music. Then I stepped out into his path.
“Casey?” He blinked and tugged at the earbuds, letting them fall, dangling, as he stared at me. “You look…”
“Like I got the shit beat out of me?”
“It’s not that bad.”
“True. The bruises have healed. There are only ten stitches on my face. Oh, and this spot, where they had to shave my head to cut into my skull and relieve the bleeding.” I turned to show him. “Plus a few teeth that will need to be replaced after my jaw’s fully healed. My nose isn’t straight, but they tell me plastic surgery will fix that. They also say I might walk without the limp if I work really, really hard at it.”
He listened, nodding, an overly concerned expression on his face, as if I were an elderly aunt detailing my medical woes.
When I finished, he said, “You’ll heal, then. That’s good.”
“Good?” I stepped toward him. “I almost died, Blaine. I had to drop out of police college. I’m told I’ll never be a cop. That I’ll never move fast enough. I might never think fast enough.”
Another long pause. Then, “I’m sorry this happened to you, Casey. I gave you a chance to run.”
“No, I let you run. You did, and you never even called for help.”
“That’s not how I remember it.” He pulled himself up straight, ducking my gaze.
“No?” I said. “Does this refresh your memory?”
I took the gun from my pocket.
I’d envisioned this encounter so many ways. All those nights, lying in a hospital bed, fantasizing about it, I’d realized I didn’t want him to break down and beg forgiveness too quickly. I wanted to have to pull the gun. I wanted to see his expression. I wanted him to feel what I’d felt in that alley.
Now I pointed the gun at him, and he blinked. That was it. A blink. Then his lips twitched, as if he was going to laugh. I think if he had, I’d have pulled that trigger. But he rubbed his mouth instead and said, “You’re not going to shoot me with your training weapon, Casey. You’re smarter than that.”
“Did I mention I had to drop out? This isn’t my training weapon. Now, I want you to think hard, Blaine. Think back to that night, and tell me again that you let me run.”
“Oh, I get it.” He eased back. “You want me to confess on some hidden tape so you can—”
I yanked off my jacket. It wasn’t easy. My left arm was still in a cast, and my shoulder blazed with the simple act of tugging off clothing. But I got it off, and I threw it at him.
“Check for a recorder. Pat me down if you want. I’m not taping this. It’s for me. I want to hear you tell the truth, and I want to hear you apologize.”
“Well, then you’re going to have to pull that trigger, because I don’t have anything to apologize for. We ran, and you must have doubled back.”
“For what?” I roared. “What in fuck would I double back for?”
“Then they must have caught you. You were too slow—”
“I did not run! You know I didn’t. I grabbed him, and you were supposed to pick up the gun he dropped, but you ran. Like a fucking coward, you ran, and you didn’t look back, and I nearly died, and you never even called the goddamned hospital to see if I was okay.”
“You are okay. Look at you. Up and about, waving a gun in my face. Well, actually, I’m not sure I’d call that okay. I think you need help. I always did. You’re messed up, Casey. I bet a shrink would say you have a death wish.”
I went still. “What?”
He shifted forward, as if he’d just remembered the missing answer in a final exam. “You have a death wish, Casey. What normal girl wants to be a cop? Does that martial arts shit? We get mugged in an alley, and I’m trying to play it cool, and what do you do? Grab the guy. Hell, thank God I did run, or I’d have had the shit beat out of me, too.”
I hit him. Hauled off and whaled the gun at the side of his head. He staggered back. I hit him again. Blood gushed. His hands went to the spot, eyes widening.
“Fuck! You fucking crazy bitch!”
“We were not mugged,” I said, advancing on him as he backed up, still holding his head. “You were selling dope on some other guy’s turf. Apparently, you knew that. You just didn’t give a shit. I grabbed that guy to save your ass, and you ran. You left me there to die!”
“I didn’t think they’d—”
“You left me there.”
“I just thought—”
“Thought what? They’d only rape me? A distraction while you escaped?”
He didn’t answer, but I saw it in his face, that sudden flush right before his eyes went hard.
“It was your own fault if they did rape you,” Blaine said. “You couldn’t leave well enough alone. Now give me that—”
He lunged for the gun. I shot him. No thought entered my head as I pulled the trigger. It was like being back in that alley.
I saw Blaine coming at me. I was already pointing the gun at his chest. So I pulled the trigger.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Kelley Armstrong graduated with a degree in psychology and then studied computer programming. Now, she is a full-time writer and parent, and she lives with her husband and three children in rural Ontario, Canada.