Welcome to my turn on the blog tour for Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia. My thanks also to Quercus Books and Ella Patel for the opportunity to be part of the tour. I have an extract to share today of the initial meeting of the two main characters, speech-therapist Maya and Lucas, the boy who went missing with his father 10 years earlier. If this sounds as interesting to you as it did to me, then do read on!
There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.
Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later…the son appeared. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative and sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with their high-profile patient. No matter how she tries, however, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life.
But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.
Mindy Mejia is an internationally acclaimed thriller writer, known for mixing compelling characters with page-turning suspense against the backdrop of the US Midwest. Her books have been chosen for People’s Best New Books Pick and listed in The Wall Street Journal’s Best New Mysteries. She lives and works in the Twin Cities.
The patient faced the back of the room with his hands on the cement block wall in a push-up position. From the way he stood with his shoulders tensed and legs braced it looked like he was trying to move the entire wall. I took a step closer and noticed his hospital shirt was torn at the bottom and he’d used the missing strip to tie his hair back.
He remained still for a second, but then surprised me by turning his head. I saw his face in person for the first time.
He wasn’t a boy.
My brain stuttered on that one thought for what felt like a stupidly long time as our eyes met and held. Why did all the media keep calling him a boy? Lucas Blackthorn looked at least as old as me and stood a foot taller. His cheeks were hollow and shaded with the beginning of a beard. His skin was a deep reddish tan, not the pasty white of most of our long-term patients, and his eyes conveyed things that no first session speech therapy could have drawn out: intelligence and caution mixed with undisguised curiosity.
Moving slowly and deliberately, I walked to the bare mattress between us. There was no table, so we’d have to start the flashcards on the bed. He watched my progress, studying my hair. The short, pixie-cut combined with its dyed color grabbed a lot of patients’ attention. One of the men in ward two, a lifer named Big George with a traumatic brain injury, even liked to touch the ends of it that swished in front of my ears. I made sure he stuck to the left side so he didn’t get distracted by the tiny silver hoop earrings along my right ear. Lucas noticed those, too. I watched him catalog every part of me, absorbing the appearance of this outsider to his room, like someone would analyze a newly discovered insect. His gaze paused on the blue fabric bag I carried, his expression unreadable now.
‘I’m Maya.’ Three syllables. Slow rate, distinct pronunciation.
I didn’t smile. I’d never trusted strangers who smiled at me – they always wanted something.
Patting the place where my pulse beat too fast, I nodded and said it again. ‘Maya.’
He swiveled back toward the wall, dismissing the insect. I glanced behind me where Stan was shaking his head through the lead glass. Shrugging, I started to pull out the flashcards when suddenly Stan’s face changed. His eyes widened and his mouth opened in a warning I couldn’t hear.
I hesitated and before I could turn around, a giant force threw me into the wall and something was being looped around my neck.
The metal door shrieked as Stan wrenched it open and I was pulled back, my body turned into a human shield. The thing around my neck tightened and I panicked, unable to breathe. Lucas had my arms locked behind me in an impossibly strong grip. I fought against it, desperate to free myself.
‘Keys,’ he said in a hoarse voice. I bowed my body against his,
trying to find some slack in the cord around my throat, but met only a column of unyielding muscle. If anything, the cord grew tighter.
My vision started to contract, black creeping in at the edges.
I kicked viciously, striking his shins so hard they should have snapped in half, and used the rest of my oxygen in the process. The last thing I saw before everything went dark was Stan’s hand, holding out his ring of keys.
*** Don’t forget to check out the other stops of the blog tour ***