Out of Range: A Novel

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Authors: Hank Steinberg
Tags: Fiction, General, Suspense, Thrillers
answered, “You’ve reached Becca. Do what you do. Cheers.”
    “Becca, it’s Charlie.” He cleared his throat, struggling to keep his voice under control. “I know you spoke to the police. And I know Julie wasn’t in New York. You better have some goddamn answers for me. Call me back.”
    F orty-five minutes later, Charlie arrived at home, carried the children up the stairs, gently removed their socks and shoes and tucked them into their beds.
    He barreled downstairs and hurried into Julie’s office. The first thing he needed to do was check her computer. If she was carrying on some kind of affair in London—and that was somehow related to her disappearance—there might be some evidence of it in her emails.
    He opened her computer. Normally her screen saver brandished a photo of the kids, but now it was just a pale blue screen. Had the power gone off and caused it to reboot? No, that didn’t make sense. It had a battery backup. He typed in the codes for system check. It didn’t take him more than a few moments of key tapping to realize there was nothing there at all. Her computer was empty. No files, no software, not even an operating system. It had been wiped clean. Had Julie done that? To hide something from him?
    Charlie hurried toward the kitchen. He could access her email from his own computer, assuming she hadn’t changed the passwords. But when he got there, and he saw his laptop, he was faced with the same blank blue screen. His computer had been wiped too?
    He felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck and remembered that he hadn’t set the alarm before he’d rushed out the door. Could someone have broken into the house?
    He opened a drawer and grabbed for the longest, sharpest knife he could find. But before he could venture a step, his cell phone rang.
    At three in the morning?
    He grabbed the phone from his pocket and looked at the screen.
    It read—JULIE.
    He held the phone for longer than he might have expected, then stabbed the button.
    “Jules?” he implored.
    “Not quite.” The voice was husky and male.
    “Who are you? Where’s my wife?”
    “If you ever want to see her again, you’ll come down to the basement. Now.”
    Charlie glanced upstairs. Where the kids were.
    “Your children won’t be harmed,” the voice assured him. “We only want to talk to you.”
    Charlie gripped his weapon, looking down at the blade.
    “And leave the knife,” the voice said.
    Charlie spotted a man standing in the shadows of his front yard, staring blankly at him through the kitchen window, muttering into what appeared to be a Bluetooth as he raised a gun toward him.
    Charlie considered his options—he could make a run for it, dash upstairs, grab the children, and try to get away. Or lock himself and the children in his bedroom and call for help. But for all he knew, there was another man already upstairs. Standing guard.
    Whoever these people were—they were professionals.
    Charlie set the knife down on the counter, moved to an interior kitchen door and opened it. At the bottom of the stairs was the basement. It was pitch-black down there. Charlie felt for the light switch and turned it on. Nothing happened. Had they shorted the circuit? Taken out the bulbs?
    Slowly, Charlie descended the stairs, the wood boards creaking beneath his feet. Even in the darkness, he could make out the shadow of a man down below.
    Charlie paused in the middle of the staircase, wondering if he was walking placidly toward his own death.
    “Keep coming,” the bland, husky voice told him.
    Behind him, at the top of the stairs, Charlie heard the door close and lock from inside the kitchen. He was trapped.
    Charlie took three more steps. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he thought he spotted another figure to his right. He paused again.
    “Keep coming, Charlie. If we wanted to kill you, you’d be dead already.”
    Charlie took the last two steps and felt his feet arrive on the hard stucco floor.
    “How about

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