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Kent Austin is the beloved coach of the local high school football team, a religious man and hero in the community. After years of near misses, Kent’s team has a shot at the state championship, a welcome point of pride in a town that has had its share of hardships.
Just before playoffs begin, the town and the team are thrown into shock when horrifically, impossibly, another teenage girl is found murdered. As details emerge that connect the crime to the Austin brothers, the two must confront their buried rage and grief-and unite to stop a killer.
Michael Koryta, widely hailed as one of the most exciting thriller authors at work today, has written his greatest novel ever — an emotionally harrowing, unstoppably suspenseful novel that Donald Ray Pollock has called “one of the sharpest and superbly plotted crime novels I’ve read in my life.”
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
A Preview of Rise the Dark
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ADAM HAD HIS SHIRT LIFTED, studying the lead-colored bruise along his ribcage, when the girl opened the door. She turned her head in swift horror, as if she'd caught him crouched on his desk in the nude. He gave the bruise one more look, frowning, and then lowered his shirt.
"Want a lesson for the day?"
The girl, a brunette with very tan skin—too tan for this time of the year in this part of the world—turned back hesitantly and didn't speak.
"If you're going to tell a drunk man that it's time to go back to jail, you ought to see that the pool cue is out of his hand first," Adam told her.
She parted her lips, then closed them again.
"Not your concern," Adam said. "Sorry. Come on in."
She stepped forward and let the door swing shut. When the latch clicked, she glanced backward, as if worried about being trapped in here with him.
Husband is a good decade older than her, Adam thought. He hasn't hit her, at least not yet or at least not recently, but he's the kind who might. The charges probably aren't domestic. Let's say, oh, drunk and disorderly. It won't be costly to get him out. Not in dollars, at least.
He walked behind the desk, then extended a hand and said, "Adam Austin."
Another hesitation, and then she reached forward and took his hand. Her eyes dropped to his knuckles, which were swollen and scabbed. When she removed her hand, he saw that she was wearing bright red nail polish with some sort of silver glitter worked into it.
"My name's April."
"All right." He dropped into the leather swivel chair behind the desk, trying not to wince at the pain in his side. "Somebody you care about in a little trouble, April?"
She tilted her head. "What?"
"I assume you're looking to post a bond."
She shook her head. "No. That's not it." She was holding a folder in her free hand, and now she lifted it and held it against her chest while she sat in one of the two chairs in front of the desk. It was a bright blue folder, plastic and shiny.
"No?" The sign said AA BAIL BONDS. People who came to see him came for a reason.
"Look, um, you're the detective, right?"
The detective. He did indeed hold a PI license. He did not recall ever being referred to as "the detective" before.
"I'm… yeah. I do that kind of work."
He didn't think he was even listed in the phone book as a private investigator. He was just AA Bail Bonds, which covered both his initials and gave him pole position in the Yellow Pages as people with shaking hands turned pages seeking help.
The girl didn't say anything, but looked down at that shiny folder as if it held the secrets of her life. Adam, touching his left side gingerly with his fingertips, still trying to assess whether the ribs were bruised or cracked, said, "What exactly brought you here, April?"
"I'd heard… I was given a referral."
"A referral," he echoed. "Can I ask the source?"
She pushed her hair back over her left ear and sat forward in the chair, meeting his eyes for the first time, as if she'd summoned some confidence. "My boyfriend. Your brother was his football coach. We heard from him that you were a detective."
Adam said, "My brother?" in an empty voice.
"Yes. Coach Austin."
"Kent," he said. "We're not on his squad, April. We can call him Kent."
She didn't seem to like that idea, but she nodded.
"My brother gave you a referral," he said, and found himself amused somehow, despite the aching ribs and bruised hand and the sandpaper eyelids that a full week of uneven hours and too much drinking provided. Until she walked in, he'd been two minutes from locking the office and going in pursuit of black coffee. The tallest cup and strongest blend they had. A savage headache had been building, and he needed something beyond Advil to take its knees out.
"That's right." She seemed unsatisfied with his response, as if she'd expected the mention of his brother would establish a personal connection. "I'm in school at Baldwin-Wallace College. A senior."
"Terrific," Adam said.
"It's a good school."
"I've always understood that to be true." He was trying to keep his attention on her, but right now all she represented was a delay between him and coffee. "What's in the folder?"
She looked down protectively, as if he'd violated the folder's privacy. "Some letters."
He waited. Could this take any longer? He was used to fighting his way through personal stories he didn't care to hear about, used to deflecting tales of woe, but he did not have the patience to tug one out just so he could begin deflecting it.
"What precisely do you need, April?"
"I'd like to get in touch with my father."
"You don't know him?" Adam said, thinking that this wasn't the sort of problem he could handle even if it interested him. How in the hell did you go about finding someone who'd abandoned his child decades ago? It wasn't like chasing down a guy who'd skipped out on bail, leaving behind a fresh trail of friends, relatives, and property.
"I've met him," she said. "But he was… well, by the time I was old enough to really get to know him, he was already in prison."
Adam understood now why she'd gone to the trouble of telling him that she was in a good school. She didn't want him to form his understanding of her from this one element, the knowledge that her father was in prison.
"I see. Well, we can figure out where he's doing his time easily enough."
"He's done. He's out."
Damn. That would slow things down.
"What I've got," the too-tan-for-October girl said, "is some letters. We started writing while he was still in prison. That was, actually, your brother's idea."
"No kidding," Adam said, doing his damnedest to hide his disgust. Just what this girl needed, a relationship with some asshole in a cell. But Kent, he'd have found that a fine plan. Adam's brother had gotten a lot of ink for his prison visits over the years. DRIVEN BY THE PAST, one headline had read. Adam found that a patently obvious observation. Everyone was driven by the past, all the time. Did Kent's past play a role in his prison visits? Of course. Did that shared past play a role in Adam's own prison visits? Better believe it. They were just different sorts of visits.
"Yes. And it was a wonderful idea. I mean, I learned to forgive him, you know? And then to understand that he wasn't this monster, that he was someone who made a mistake and—"
"He stopped writing when he got out?"
She stuttered to a stop. "No. Well, he did for a while. But it's an adjustment."
"It certainly is," Adam said, thinking That's why most of them go right back. She was so damn young. This was what college seniors looked like? Shit, he was getting old. These girls seemed to be moving backward, sliding away from him just as fast as he aged away from them, until their youth was an impossible thing to comprehend.
"Right," April said, pleased that he'd agreed. "So some time passed. Five months. It was frustrating, but then I got another letter, and he told me he'd gotten out and explained how difficult it was, and apologized."
Of course he did. Has he asked for money yet?
"So now he writes, but he hasn't given me his address. He said he's nervous about meeting me, and I understand that. I don't want to force things. But I'd at least like to be able to write back, you know? And I don't want him to be… scared of me."
Adam thought that maybe he didn't need coffee anymore. Maybe he needed a beer. It was four in the afternoon. That was close enough to happy hour to count, wasn't it?
"You might give him some time on that," he said. "You might—"
"I will give him time. But I can't give him anything more than that if I can't write back."
That's the point, honey. Give him nothing but time and distance.
"He explained where he was living," she said. "I feel like I should have been able to find it myself, honestly. I tried on the Internet, but I guess I don't know what I'm doing. Anyhow, I'd love it if you'd find the address. All I want to do is respond, right? To let him know that he doesn't need to be afraid of me. I'm not going to ask him to start being a dad."
Adam rubbed his eyes. "I'm more of a, uh, local-focused type. I don't do a lot of—"
"He's in town."
"He's from here?"
She seemed to consider this a difficult question. "We all are, originally. My family. I mean, everyone left, like me to go to college, and…"
And your father to go to prison. Yes, everyone left.
She opened the folder and withdrew a photocopy of a letter.
"In this, he gives the name of his landlord. It should be easy to come up with a list, right? He's living in a rental house, and this is the name of the woman who owns it. It should be easy."
It would be easy. One stop at the auditor's office and he'd have every piece of property in this woman's name.
"Maybe you should let things take a natural course," he said.
Her eyes sparked. "I have plenty of people who actually know something about this situation who can give me advice. I'm asking you to give me an address."
It should have pissed him off, but instead it almost made him smile. He hadn't thought she had that in her, not after the way she'd crept so uneasily into his office, scared by the sound of the door shutting behind her. He wished she'd come in when Chelsea was working. Not that Chelsea had a gentle touch, but maybe that was why it would have been better. Someone needed to chase her out of here, and Adam wasn't doing a good job of that.
"Fair enough," he said. "May I see the letter?"
She passed it over. A typed letter, the message filling barely a quarter of the page.
I understand you're probably not very happy with me. It just takes some time to adjust, that's all. I don't want you to expect more of me than I can be. Right now I will just say that it feels good to be back home. And a little frightening. You might be surprised at that. But remember it has been a while since I was here. Since I was anywhere. It's great to be out, of course, just strange and new. I am living in a rental house with a roof that leaks and a furnace that stinks when it runs, but it still feels like a castle. Mrs. Ruzich—that's my landlord—keeps apologizing and saying she will fix those things and I tell her there is no rush, they don't bother me. I'm not lying about that.
It is my favorite season here. Autumn—so beautiful. Love the way those leaves smell, don't you? I hope you are doing good. I hope you aren't too upset about the way I've handled things. Take care of yourself.
Adam read through it and handed it back to her. He didn't say what he wanted to—Let it breathe, don't force contact because it will likely bring you nothing but pain—because that argument had already been shot down with gusto. The landlord's name made it cake, anyhow. Ruzich? There wouldn't be many.
"I just want to write him a short note," April repeated. "Tell him that I'm wishing him well and that he doesn't need to be worried about my expectations."
Definitely beer, Adam thought. Definitely skip the coffee and go right to beer.
"Can you get me an address?" she asked.
"Probably. I bill for my time, nothing more, nothing less. The results of the situation aren't my responsibility. All I guarantee is my time."
She nodded, reached into her purse. "I'm prepared to pay two hundred dollars."
"Give me a hundred. I charge fifty an hour. If it takes me more than two hours, I'll let you know."
He charged one hundred an hour, but this would likely take him all of twenty minutes and it was good to seem generous.
"All right." She counted out five twenty-dollar bills and pushed them across the desk. "One other thing—you have a policy of being confidential, don't you? Like a lawyer?"
"I'm not a lawyer."
She looked dismayed.
"But I also am not a talker," Adam said. "My business is my own, and yours is your own. I won't talk about it unless a police officer walks in this door and tells me to."
"That won't happen."
She had no idea how often that did happen with Adam's clients.
"I just wanted to be sure… it's private, you know," she said. "It's a private thing."
"I'm not putting out any press releases."
"Right. But you won't even say anything to, um, to your brother? I mean, don't get me wrong, I really respect Coach Austin, but… it's private."
"Kent and I don't do a whole lot of talking," Adam said. "What I will do is find some potential addresses and pass them along to you. The rest is between you and your dad."
She nodded, grateful.
"How do I get in touch with you?" he said.
She gave him a cell phone number, which he wrote down on a legal pad. Beside it he wrote April and then looked up.
She frowned, and he knew why she didn't want to give it. If she still carried her father's name, and he was betting that she did, then she was afraid Adam would look into what the man had done to land in prison.
"Harper," she said. "But remember, this is—"
"Private. Yes, Miss Harper. I understand that. I deal with it every day."
She thanked him, shook his hand. She smelled of cocoa, and he thought about that and her dark skin and figured she'd just left a tanning bed. October in northern Ohio. All the pretty girls were fighting the gathering cold and darkness. Trying to carry summer into the winter.
"I'll be in touch," he said, and he waited long enough to hear the engine of her car start in the parking lot before he locked the office and went to get his beer.
KENT KNEW WHAT THEY were hearing and what they were reading: this was their season, the stuff of destiny, and they were too good to lose.
It was his job to make them forget that.
This week, that would be a little more difficult. They'd played a good team on Friday, a ranked team, and handled them easily, 34–14, to complete the first perfect regular season in school history. They'd won every statistical battle, and while Kent didn't believe in paying much attention to statistics, he knew that his boys watched them carefully, and he was happy to use that tendency against them. In four short days they'd play again, the first playoff game, and there would be pep rallies and television cameras and T-shirts announcing their unbeaten season.
All of those things scared him more than anything the opponent might do. Overconfidence was a killer.
So, knowing that their confidence would be a difficult thing to shake, knowing that they'd be looking ahead to the school's first state championship in twenty-two years—an undefeated championship, no less—he sought out drills that would show their weaknesses.
Colin Mears would be all-state at receiver for the second year in a row. The fastest kid Kent had ever coached at the position, and the most sure-handed, Colin would run routes all practice long with a smile on his face. Colin would not block long with a smile on his face. His lanky, lean frame made it difficult for him to get low enough quick enough to set the kind of block that contributed, and the Cardinal linebackers were happy to demonstrate that to him. Damon Ritter in particular, who ranked among Kent's all-time favorite players, a quiet black kid with an unmatched ability to transfer game video to on-field execution, as bright a player as Kent had ever had at middle linebacker. Lorell McCoy, likewise, would be all-state at quarterback for the second year in a row. He had the touch that you didn't see often in a high school quarterback, could zip it in like a dart when needed or float one up so soft in the corner of the end zone that his receiver always had time to gather his feet. What Lorell didn't have was Colin's speed. He had unusual pocket presence and read gaps well enough that he could gain yards up the middle consistently, but he had no burst. On a naked bootleg, then, taking the snap and sprinting around the end, he would nearly always be lacking the gear needed to make the play a success, and on the bootleg, Colin Mears had to block, his least favorite thing.
They ran the naked bootleg for the last twenty minutes of practice.
Kent didn't have any intention of beating Spencer Heights on Friday night with this play, but he did intend to beat Spencer Heights, and this reminder of the things that his boys couldn't do well was important. This unbeaten team needed to leave the practice field with a sense of fallibility. The attitude you needed to win football games was a difficult balance. Confidence was crucial; overconfidence killed. Success lived on the blade's edge between.
Up in the bleachers, thirty people were watching. It was cold and windy, but there they sat anyhow. Talents like Mears and Ritter and McCoy were on their way out of the program, and their like might not pass through Chambers again. This much Kent understood better than anyone. He'd been the head coach for thirteen seasons now and had reached the state championship game twice. He had never had a team like this.
Watching them now, he wanted the lights on and the ball in the air. Wanted game day. That was unusual. Like most coaches, he was always wishing for one more practice day. You were never prepared enough. This week, though, this season, this team? He found himself wanting to be under the game lights. Wanted it over, so he could begin wishing that it had never ended. Because if he couldn't close out that elusive state championship with this kind of talent?
It's a game played among boys, he reminded himself while Matt Byers, his defensive coordinator, walked into the middle of the field to make a point about leverage, and the reason you're here is to use this game to help these boys. You're not here to put a trophy in that case. Never were, never will be. That trophy's absence doesn't say a thing about your measure as a man, and its presence wouldn't, either.
This season, though? This season that was difficult to remember.
He let Byers say his piece and then he called them over, everyone circling around him, forty-seven players and six coaches, and told them they were done.
"Keep your heads down," he said, the same thing he said to end every practice and locker room talk until the season was finished. Then he'd tell them to lift their heads up and make sure they held them high. Only then.
The practice officially over, Kent walked to midfield and most of the team followed. He offered no instruction for them to do so, and this was critical—the school board had required this of him after a complaint from a parent four years earlier. Praying with a public school team, he'd been told, was a violation of the separation of church and state. He couldn't require it of his players. And so he did not. He prayed to end every practice, but participation was voluntary.
The players took a knee and Kent offered a short prayer. Football was not mentioned. Never was, never would be, never should be. The closest he came was when he prayed for their health, though he caught himself drifting too close to the game sometimes this season even as the words were leaving his lips. A swift, sharp desire to make it specific: Not Damon's knee, Lord, not his knee. God, please watch over Lorell's throwing shoulder… Silly things, desires for which he would chastise himself privately, but still they arose.
Because this season…
"Amen," he said, and they echoed, and then they were on their feet and headed for the locker room at a run—no player walked onto or off of the field, ever. Kent watched while Colin Mears made a beeline to where his girlfriend, Rachel Bond, waited at the fence. One kiss, quick and amusingly chaste for hormonal teenagers, and then he rejoined the others. It was a deviation from the team-first routine that Kent ordinarily wouldn't have allowed, but you needed to understand your players as something beyond cogs in the gridiron machine. That girl had been through a great deal, and Colin was a light in the darkness for her. He was what Kent wanted them to be so badly: not only about more than football but also about more than the self.
Kent let the assistants follow the team to the locker room while he headed directly to the parking lot. This wasn't standard, but today he had places to be. A prison waited.
Standing behind the end zone, hands tucked in his pockets, was Dan Grissom, a local minister. Together, they would make the drive down to Mansfield, to one of the state's larger prisons, and there Kent would speak to a group of inmates. There would be some talk of football; there would be more talk of family. Truth be told, Kent had winced a little when he saw Grissom arrive, the reminder of his required task. He wanted to put it off until after the season, after playoffs. But responsibilities were responsibilities. You weren't allowed days off.
"They're looking good!" Dan said, gushing with his usual enthusiasm, and Kent smiled a little, because Dan didn't know the first thing about football. He knew plenty about encouragement, though.
"They should be," Kent told him. "It's that time of year."
"I can't believe you have a crowd in the stands just for a practice."
Kent turned and glanced into the bleachers, saw the faces, some familiar, some not. The watchers grew as the season went on, as the wins stacked up and the losses stayed at bay. Definitely more strangers on hand. Curious about what the Cardinals had. What they could do.
"It's a big deal in this town," he admitted.
"Alice and I would like to have you and Beth and the kids over for dinner," Dan said. "To celebrate the season."
"Let's wait until the season's done."
"I mean to celebrate how well it's gone so far," Dan said, and Kent wasn't sure if he imagined the uneasiness, the sense that Dan didn't expect it to close out as well as it had begun.
"I appreciate it. But dinner right now, it's tough. With practices, you know."
"We can eat late. Be fun to get the kids together. Sarah's the same age as Lisa, you know. I think they'd get along well."
"After practices, there's film," Kent said. And then, after catching a glance between disappointment and reproach from the minister, he said, "I'm sorry, Dan. But this time of year I get a little… edgy. I'm not much of a dinner companion. So as soon as we're done, okay?"
"Sure thing," Dan said. "Win, lose, or draw, we're doing that dinner at season's end."
But there are no draws, Dan, Kent thought. Not in the playoffs. It's win or lose.
They were in the parking lot when they passed Rachel Bond, who caught Kent's eye and smiled, lifting a hand. He nodded and tipped two fingers off the bill of his cap. She was a prize. A convict for a father and an alcoholic for a mother and she'd risen above it all. It was unbelievable how much some of these children had to bear, so young.
But life? It didn't card you before it sold you some pain. Kent had been given the most personal of examples in that lesson. It was why he devoted so much of himself to a game. Sometimes a game was what you needed—mind, body, and soul. That much he'd known for years.
THERE WAS A TIME when Chambers County had produced more steel by itself than forty-six states. It had been home to mills for five major companies that exported worldwide, and the steel industry had employed more than half of the county's workforce.
That time was a whispered recollection now.
The steel industry was gone, and a decade since the last plant closed and two decades since the writing on the wall had been clear, nothing had been found to replace it. Chambers had boasted one of the highest unemployment rates in the state for years, and most of those who could leave did. The population had dropped by twenty-five percent since 1950, one of the few places in an always-growing country that had experienced such a thing. A manufacturing town that found itself without anything to manufacture.
While the census reported a declining population, the county jail reported a rising one. It had been remodeled and expanded twice. The core of the town's troubles—economic woes and absence of jobs—also provided the core of Adam's business. Only two things were flourishing in Chambers of late: high school football and bail bonds.
Because he was busy, he had to determine focus areas. Nature of the beast, simple as that. A skip with a $10,000 bond was a priority. A girl with a hundred bucks and a missing father was not. April Harper got one call, and one call only, from Adam on the morning after her visit. She didn't answer her cell phone, so he left a message informing her that there was only one Ruzich in town who might own a rental property. Her first name was Eleanor, and she owned two homes: one that was assessed at three hundred thousand, pricey for Chambers, and another well outside of town, a place on a small private lake that looked like a seasonal property. If she was renting out a place with a leaking roof and a failing furnace, he told her, it was probably 7330 Shadow Wood Lane, the lake cottage.
He told her to call with questions and then hesitated for just a moment, tempted to remind her again that if her ex-con father wanted communication to be a one-way street, she might be well advised to agree. Then he remembered that the hundred dollars in his pocket had been paid for an address, not advice, and he disconnected the call. He hadn't allowed himself to look up Jason Harper's criminal record, because he knew what he'd think if he did, knew what he'd be tempted to tell his client: Your father is toxic, and you need to stay the hell away from him. Unlike his brother, he wasn't in the pro bono therapy business.
- On Sale
- Aug 7, 2012
- Page Count
- 576 pages
- Little, Brown and Company