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By Harlan Coben
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Simon sat on a bench in Central Park—in Strawberry Fields, to be more precise—and felt his heart shatter. No one could tell, of course, at least not at first, not until the punches started flying and two tourists from Finland of all places started screaming while nine other park visitors from a wide variety of countries caught the whole horrible incident on smartphone video.
But that was still an hour away.
There were no strawberries in Strawberry Fields and you’d be hard-pressed to call the two-and-a-half-acre landscaped grounds a field (singular), let alone more than one, but the name was derived not from anything literal but from the eponymous Beatles track. Strawberry Fields is a triangular-shaped area off Seventy-Second Street and Central Park West dedicated to the memory of John Lennon, who was shot and killed across the street. The centerpiece of this memorial is a round mosaic of inlaid stones with a simple caption in the middle:
Simon stared straight ahead, blinking, devastated. Tourists streamed in and snapped photos with the famed mosaic—group shots, solo selfies, some kneeling on the inlaid stone, some lying down on it. Today, as it is most days, someone had decorated the word IMAGINE with fresh flowers, forming a peace sign of red rose petals that somehow didn’t blow away. The visitors—maybe because the place was a memorial—were patient with one another, waiting their turn to step toward the mosaic for that special photo that they’d post on their Snapchat or Instagram or whatever social media platform they favored with some John Lennon quote, maybe a Beatles lyric or something from the song about all the people living life in peace.
Simon wore a suit and tie. He hadn’t bothered to loosen the tie after leaving his office on Vesey Street in the World Financial Center. Across from him, also sitting near the famed mosaic, a—what do you call them now? vagrant? transient? drug-addled? mentally ill? panhandler? what?—played Beatles songs for tips. The “street musician”—a kinder name perhaps—strummed an out-of-tune guitar and sang in a cracked voice through yellowing teeth about how Penny Lane was in her ears and in her eyes.
Odd or at least funny memory: Simon used to walk past this mosaic all the time when his children were young. When Paige was maybe nine, Sam six, Anya three, they would head from their apartment only five blocks south of here, on Sixty-Seventh Street between Columbus and Central Park West, and stroll across Strawberry Fields on their way to the Alice in Wonderland statue by the model-boat pond on the east side of the park. Unlike pretty much every other statue in the world, here children were allowed to climb and crawl all over the eleven-foot-tall bronze figures of Alice and the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit and a bunch of seemingly inappropriate giant mushrooms. Sam and Anya loved to do just that, swarming the figures, though Sam at some point always stuck two fingers up Alice’s bronze nostrils and screamed at Simon, “Dad! Dad, look! I’m picking Alice’s nose!” to which Sam’s mother, Ingrid, would inevitably sigh and mutter, “Boys,” under her breath.
But Paige, their firstborn, had been quieter, even then. She would sit on a bench with a coloring book and intact crayons—she didn’t like it when a crayon broke or the wrapper came off—and always, in an ironic metaphor, stayed within the lines. As she grew older—fifteen, sixteen, seventeen—Paige would sit on a bench, just as Simon was doing now, and write stories and song lyrics in a notebook her father had bought her at the Papyrus on Columbus Avenue. But Paige wouldn’t sit on just any bench. Something like four thousand Central Park benches had been “adopted” via big-money donations. Personalized plaques were installed on the benches, most of them simple memorials like the one Simon now sat on, which read:
IN MEMORY OF CARL AND CORKY
Others, the ones Paige gravitated toward, told little stories:
For C & B—who survived the Holocaust and began a life in this city…
To my sweetie Anne—I love you, I adore you, I cherish you. Will you marry me?…
This spot is where our love story began
on April 12, 1942…
The bench that Paige most preferred, the one she’d sit on for hours on end with her latest notebook—and maybe this was an early indicator?—memorialized a mysterious tragedy:
The beautiful Meryl, age 19. You deserved so much better & died so young. I would’ve done anything to save you.
Paige would move from bench to bench, read the inscriptions, find one to use as a story prompt. Simon, in an attempt to bond, tried to do that too, but he didn’t have his daughter’s imagination. Still, he sat with his newspaper or fiddled with his phone, checking the markets or reading the business news, as Paige’s pen moved in a flurry.
What happened to those old notebooks? Where were they now?
Simon had no idea.
“Penny Lane” mercifully came to an end, and the singer/panhandler segued right into “All You Need Is Love.” A young couple sat on the bench next to Simon. The young man stage-whispered, “Can I give her money to shut up?” to which his female companion snickered, “It’s like John Lennon is being killed all over again.” A few people dropped some coins into the woman’s guitar case, but most people stayed clear or backed away making a face that indicated they had gotten a whiff of something of which they wanted no part.
But Simon listened and listened hard, hoping to find some semblance of beauty in the melody, in the song, in the lyrics, in the performance. He barely noticed the tourists or their tour guides or the man who wore no shirt (but should) selling water bottles for a dollar or the skinny guy with the soul patch who told a joke for a dollar (“Special: 6 Jokes for $5!”) or the old Asian woman burning incense to honor John Lennon in some vague way or the joggers, the dog walkers, the sunbathers.
But there was no beauty in the music. None.
Simon’s eyes stayed locked on the panhandling girl mangling John Lennon’s legacy. Her hair was matted clumps. Her cheekbones were sunken. The girl was rail-thin, raggedy, dirty, damaged, homeless, lost.
She was also Simon’s daughter Paige.
* * *
Simon had not seen Paige in six months—not since she had done the inexcusable.
It had been the final break for Ingrid.
“You leave her be this time,” Ingrid had told him after Paige ran out.
And then Ingrid, a wonderful mother, a caring pediatrician who dedicated her life to helping children in need, said, “I don’t want her back in this house.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“I do, Simon. God help me, I do.”
For months, without Ingrid’s knowledge, he’d searched for Paige. Sometimes his attempts were well organized, like when he hired the private investigator. More often, his efforts were hit-and-miss, haphazard, consisting of walking through dangerous drug-infested areas, flashing her photograph to the stoned and unsavory.
He’d come up with nothing.
Simon had wondered whether Paige, who had recently celebrated her birthday (how, Simon wondered—a party, a cake, drugs? Did she even know what day it was?), had left Manhattan and gone back to that college town where it all began to go wrong. On two separate weekends, when Ingrid was on shift at the hospital and thus wouldn’t be able to ask too many questions, Simon had driven up and stayed at the Craftboro Inn next to the campus. He walked the quad, remembering how enthusiastically all five of them—Simon, Ingrid, incoming freshman Paige, Sam, and Anya—had arrived and helped settle Paige in, how he and Ingrid had been so cockeyed optimistic that this place would be a great fit, all this wide-open green space and woodland for the daughter who had grown up in Manhattan, and how, of course, that optimism withered and died.
Part of Simon—a part he could never give voice to or even admit existed—had wanted to give up on finding her. Life had, if not improved, certainly calmed since Paige ran away. Sam, who had graduated from Horace Mann in the spring, barely mentioned his older sister. His focus had been on friends and graduation and parties—and now his sole obsession was preparing for his first year at Amherst College. Anya, well, Simon didn’t know how she felt about things. She wouldn’t talk to him about Paige—or pretty much anything else. Her answers to his attempts at conversation consisted of one word, and rarely more than one syllable. She was “fine” or “good” or “’k.”
Then Simon got a strange lead.
His upstairs neighbor Charlie Crowley, an ophthalmologist downtown, got into the elevator with Simon one morning three weeks back. After exchanging the usual neighborly pleasantries, Charlie, facing the elevator door as everyone does, watching the floors tick down, shyly and with true regret, told Simon that he “thought” he had seen Paige.
Simon, also staring up at the floor numbers, asked as nonchalantly as possible for details.
“I might have seen her, uh, in the park,” Charlie said.
“What, you mean like walking through?”
“No, not exactly.” They reached the ground floor. The doors slid open. Charlie took a deep breath. “Paige…was playing music in Strawberry Fields.”
Charlie must have seen the bewildered look on Simon’s face.
“You know, um, like for tips.”
Simon felt something inside him rip. “Tips? Like a—”
“I was going to give her money, but…”
Simon nodded that it was okay, to please continue.
“…but Paige was so out of it, she didn’t know who I was. I worried it would just go…”
Charlie didn’t have to finish the thought.
“I’m sorry, Simon. Truly.”
That was it.
Simon debated telling Ingrid about the encounter, but he didn’t want to deal with that particular fallout. Instead he started hanging around Strawberry Fields in his spare time.
He never saw Paige.
He asked a few of the vagrants who played if they recognized her, showing a photo off his phone right before he tossed a couple of bills into their guitar case. A few said yes and would offer more details if Simon made that contribution to the cause somewhat more substantial. He did so and got nothing in return. The majority admitted that they didn’t recognize her, but now, seeing Paige in the flesh, Simon understood why. There was almost no physical overlap between his once-lovely daughter and this strung-out bag of bones.
But as Simon sat in Strawberry Fields—usually in front of an almost-humorously ignored sign that read:
A QUIET ZONE—NO AMPLIFIED SOUND
OR MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
—he had noticed something odd. The musicians, all of whom leaned heavily on the grungy-transient-squalid side, never played at the same time or over one another. The transitions between one street guitarist and the next were remarkably smooth. The players changed on the hour pretty much every hour in an orderly fashion.
Like there was a schedule.
It took Simon fifty dollars to meet a man named Dave, one of the seedier street musicians with a huge helmet of gray hair, facial hair that had rubber bands in it, and a braided ponytail stretching down the middle of his back. Dave, who looked to be either a badly weathered midfifties or an easier-lived seventy, explained how it all worked.
“So in the old days, a guy named Gary dos Santos…you know him?”
“The name is familiar,” Simon said.
“Yeah, if you walked through here back in the day, boy, you’d remember him. Gary was the self-appointed Mayor of Strawberry Fields. Big guy. Spent, what, twenty years here keeping the peace. And by keeping the peace, I mean scaring the shit out of people. Dude was crazy, you know what I’m saying?”
“Then in, what, 2013, Gary dies. Leukemia. Only forty-nine. This place”—Dave gestured with his fingerless gloves—“goes crazy. Total anarchy without our fascist. You read Machiavelli? Like that. Musicians start getting in fights every day. Territory, you know what I’m saying?”
“I know what you’re saying.”
“They’d try to police themselves, but come on—half these guys can barely dress themselves. See, one asshole would play too long, then another asshole would start playing over him, they’d start screaming, cursing, even in front of the little kids. Sometimes they’d throw punches, and then the cops would come, you get the deal, right?”
Simon nodded that he did.
“It was hurting our image, not to mention our wallets. So we all came up with a solution.”
“A schedule. An hour-to-hour rotation from ten a.m. to seven p.m.”
“And that works?”
“It ain’t perfect, but it’s pretty close.”
Economic self-interest, thought Simon the financial analyst. One of life’s constants. “How do you sign up for a slot?”
“Via text. We got five regular guys. They get the prime times. Then other people can fill in.”
“And you run the schedule?”
“I do.” Dave puffed out his chest in pride. “See, I know how to make it work, you know what I’m saying? Like I never put Hal’s slot next to Jules because those two hate each other more than my exes hate me. I also try to make it what you might call diverse.”
“Black guys, chicks, spics, fairies, even a couple of Orientals.” He spread his hands. “We don’t want everyone thinking all bums are white guys. It’s a bad stereotype, you know what I’m saying?”
Simon knew what he was saying. He also knew that if he gave Dave two one-hundred-dollar bills torn in half and promised to give him the other halves when Dave told him when his daughter signed up again, he would probably make progress.
This morning, Dave had texted him:
11AM today. I never told you. I ain’t a snitch.
But bring my money at 10AM. I got yoga at 11.
So here he was.
Simon sat across from Paige and wondered whether she would spot him and what to do if she bolted. He wasn’t sure. He’d figured that his best bet was to let her finish up, pack up her measly tips and guitar, make his approach.
He checked his watch. 11:58 a.m. Paige’s hour was coming to an end.
Simon had rehearsed all kinds of lines in his head. He had already called the Solemani clinic upstate and booked Paige a room. That was his plan: Say whatever; promise whatever; cajole, beg, use whatever means necessary to get her to go with him.
Another street musician in faded jeans and ripped flannel shirt entered from the east and sat next to Paige. His guitar case was a black plastic garbage bag. He tapped Paige’s knee and pointed to an imaginary watch on his wrist. Paige nodded as she finished “I Am the Walrus” with an extended “goo goo g’joob,” lifted both arms in the air, and shouted, “Thank you!” to a crowd that was not even paying attention, let alone applauding. She scooped the few pathetic wrinkled singles and coins up and then lowered her guitar into the case with surprising care. That simple move—lowering that guitar into the case—hit him hard. Simon had bought that Takamine G-Series guitar for her at the Sam Ash on West Forty-Eighth Street for her sixteenth birthday. He tried to conjure up the feelings to go with the memory—Paige’s smile when she plucked it off the wall, the way she closed her eyes as she tested it out, how she threw her arms around his neck and shouted, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” when he told her it was hers.
But the feelings, if they were real, wouldn’t come.
The awful truth: Simon couldn’t even see the little girl anymore.
Oh, for the past hour he had tried. He tried again now to look at her and conjure up the angelic child he’d taken to swim classes at the 92nd Street Y, the one who sat on a hammock out in the Hamptons while he read her two full Harry Potter books over the three-day Labor Day weekend, the little girl who insisted on wearing her Statue-of-Liberty Halloween costume complete with green face two weeks early, but—and maybe it was a defense mechanism—none of those images would come to him.
Paige stumbled to a stand.
Time to make his move.
Across the mosaic, Simon stood too. His heart pounded hard against his rib cage. He could feel a headache coming on, like giant hands were pressing in against both his temples. He looked left, then right.
For the boyfriend.
Simon couldn’t say exactly how it all started spiraling, but he blamed the boyfriend for the scourge brought on his daughter and by extension his entire family. Yes, Simon had read all about how an addict has to take responsibility for her own actions, that it was the addict’s fault and the addict’s fault alone, all of that. And most addicts (and by extension, their families) had a tale to tell. Maybe their addiction started with pain medication after an operation. Maybe they traced it back to peer pressure or claimed that one-time experimentation had somehow evolved into something darker.
There was always an excuse.
But in Paige’s case—call it a weakness of character or bad parenting or whatever—it all seemed somewhat simpler:
There was Paige before she met Aaron. And Paige now.
Aaron Corval was scum—obvious, unsubtle scum—and when you blended scum and purity, the purity was forever sullied. Simon never got the appeal. Aaron was thirty-two years old, eleven years older than his daughter. In a more innocent time, this age difference had concerned Simon. Ingrid had shrugged it off, but she was used to such things from her modeling days. Now, of course, the age difference was the least of it.
There was no sign of Aaron.
A small bird of hope took flight. Could Aaron finally be out of the picture? Could this malignancy, this cancer, this parasite who fed off his daughter have finished his feast and moved on to a more robust host?
That would be good, no question about it.
Paige started east toward the path across the park, her gait a zombie-like shuffle. Simon started to make his move.
What, he wondered, would he do if she refused to go with him? That was not only a possibility but a likelihood. Simon had tried to get her help in the past, and it had backfired. He couldn’t force her. He knew that. He’d even had Robert Previdi, his brother-in-law, try to get a court order to have her committed. That hadn’t worked either.
Simon came up behind her now. Her worn sundress hung too loosely off her shoulders. There were brown spots—sun? illness? abuse?—on her back, blotting the once-flawless skin.
She didn’t turn around, didn’t so much as hesitate, and for a brief second, Simon entertained the fantasy that he had been wrong, that Charlie Crowley had been wrong, that this disheveled bag of bones with the rancid smell and shot voice was not his firstborn, not his Paige, not the teenager who played Hodel in the Abernathy Academy production of Fiddler on the Roof, the one who smelled like peaches and youth and broke the audience’s heart with her “Far from the Home I Love” solo. Simon had never made it through one of her five performances without welling up, nearly breaking into sobs when Paige’s Hodel turned to Tevye and said, “Papa, God alone knows when we shall see each other again,” to which her stage father replied, “Then we will leave it in His hands.”
He cleared his throat and got closer. “Paige?”
She slowed but did not turn around. Simon reached out with a trembling hand. Her back still faced him. He rested his hand on the shoulder, feeling nothing but dried bone covered by papery skin, and tried one more time.
“Paige, it’s Daddy.”
Daddy. When was the last time she had called him Daddy? He had been Dad to her, to all three kids, for as long as he could remember, and yet the word just came out. He could hear the crack in his voice, the plea.
She still wouldn’t turn toward him.
And then she broke into a run.
The move caught him off guard. Paige had a three-step lead when he snapped into action. Simon had recently gotten himself into pretty good shape. There was a health club next to his office and with the stress of losing his daughter—that was how he looked at it, as losing her—he had become obsessed with various cardio-boxing classes during his lunch hour.
He leapt forward and caught up to her pretty quickly. He grabbed Paige by the reedlike upper arm—he could have circled the flimsy bicep with his index finger and thumb—and yanked her back. The yank may have been too hard, but the whole thing—the leaps, the reach—had just been an automatic reaction.
Paige had tried to flee. He had done what was necessary to stop her.
“Ow!” she cried. “Let go of me!”
There were loads of people around, and some, Simon was sure, had turned at the sound of her cry. He didn’t care, except it added urgency to his mission. He would have to act fast now and get her out of here before some Good Samaritan stepped in to “rescue” Paige.
“Honey, it’s Dad. Just come with me, okay?”
Her back was still to him. Simon spun her so that she would have to face him, but Paige covered her eyes with the crook of her arm, as though he were shining a bright light in her face.
“Paige? Paige, please look at me.”
Her body stiffened and then, suddenly, relaxed. Paige lowered her arm from her face and slowly turned her gaze up at him. Hope again took flight. Yes, her eyes were sunken deep into the sockets and the color was yellow where it should have been white, but now, for the first time, Simon thought that maybe he saw a flicker—life—there too.
For the first time, he saw a hint of the little girl he once knew.
When Paige spoke, he could finally hear the echo of his daughter: “Dad?”
He nodded. He opened his mouth, closed it because he felt too overwhelmed, tried again. “I’m here to help you, Paige.”
She started to cry. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s going to be okay.”
He stretched out his arms to sweep his daughter into safety, when another voice sliced through the park like a reaper’s scythe.
“What the fuck…?”
Simon felt his heart drop. He looked to his right.
Paige cringed away from Simon at the sound of Aaron’s voice. Simon tried to hold on to her, but she pulled her arm loose, the guitar case banging against her leg.
“Paige…” Simon said.
But whatever clarity he had seen in her eyes just a few seconds ago shattered into a million pieces.
“Leave me alone!” she cried.
Paige started to backpedal away. Simon reached out for her arm again, a desperate man falling off a cliff and trying to grasp a branch, but Paige let out a piercing scream.
That turned heads. Lots of them.
Simon did not back away.
“Please, just listen—”
And then Aaron stepped between them.
The two men, Simon and Aaron, were eye to eye. Paige cowered behind Aaron. Aaron looked strung-out, wearing a denim jacket over a grungy white T-shirt—the latest in heroin chic minus the chic. He had too many chains around his neck and had that stubble that aimed for fashionable but fell way short, and work boots, which were always an ironic look on someone who wouldn’t recognize a day of honest work if it kicked him in the groin.
- "I read [Harlan Coben's] new book RUN AWAY straight through without moving. It's RIVETING."—Ann Patchett
- "Brilliantly executed...might be the best book Harlan Coben has ever written. For such a master storyteller, that's a high bar indeed but one Coben effortlessly crests...[Run Away] features an effortlessness and fluidity that define everything great storytelling should be. A fantastic read and early contender for the best thriller of 2019."—Providence Sunday Journal
- "Harlan Coben is a master at taking what seems to be an ordinary family and exposing the facade and secrets that are buried just below the surface. With Run Away, his writing and storytelling are firing on all cylinders and the seemingly straightforward tale takes a sharp turn when it's least expected. The narrative continues to navigate that twisty mountainous road until the shocking conclusion."—Associated Press
- "One major bombshell awaits in the last few paragraphs. It's a secret so major that it will leave readers wondering how they would handle it long after they put the book down."—USA Today
- "[A] greased-lightning domestic thriller."—Kirkus Reviews
- "[A] bombshell-laden thriller...the sheer amount of jaw-dropping plot twists is impressive...the breakneck pacing and audaciously intricate story line will have readers on the edge of their seats."—Publishers Weekly
- "A twisty, edge-of-your-seat thriller...to say more would ruin the sheer genius of...an absolutely brilliant, taut thriller that begs to be read in one sitting."—Library Journal (starred review)
- "The modern master of the hook and twist."—Dan Brown
- "Coben never, ever lets you down -- but this one is really special."—Lee Child
- "Solid Coben, with clever plotting and dead-on
- On Sale
- Nov 12, 2019
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Grand Central Publishing