Jane Whitefield is a Native American guide who leads people out of the wilderness—not the tree-filled variety but the kind created by enemies who want you dead. She is in the one-woman business of helping the desperate disappear. Thanks to her membership in the Wolf Clan of the Seneca tribe, she can fool any pursuer, cover any trail, and then provide her clients with new identities, complete with authentic paperwork. Jane knows all the tricks, ancient and modern; in fact, she has invented several of them herself.
So she is only mildly surprised to find an intruder waiting for her when she returns home one day. An ex-cop suspected of embezzling, John Felker wants Jane to do for him what she did for his buddy Harry Kemple: make him vanish. But as Jane opens a door out of the world for Felker, she walks into a trap that will take all her heritage and cunning to escape. . . .
Praise for Vanishing Act
“Thomas Perry keeps pulling fresh ideas and original characters out of thin air. The strong-willed heroine he introduces in Vanishing Act rates as one of his most singular creations.”—The New York Times Book Review
“One thriller that must be read. . . . Perry has created his most complex and compelling protagonist.”—San Francisco Examiner
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Jack Killigan used the reflections in the dark windows to watch the woman walk quickly up the long concourse, look at her high heels so she could take a few extra steps while the escalator was carrying her down, and then hurry around the curve so she could step onto the conveyor. She didn’t even know he was shadowing her. They always looked behind them every few seconds, but they never looked in front—didn’t really look.
Here she was getting off an airplane, so how could anybody not know where she was heading now? He could have just strolled straight to the baggage-claim area and waited for her there, but this one was worth serious money, so he had decided not to be lazy about it. He was a hundred feet ahead of her on the moving walkway, so he felt confident enough to look back.
She looked like a French model—or maybe Italian—chestnut hair, tall and slender, with legs that seemed longer than they really were because the leather skirt was shorter than it should have been. A lot of times they were like this. They didn’t have any idea of how to be inconspicuous. He only did rich women. Their husbands or whatever they called themselves were the only ones who had Killigan’s fee. The average guy who had this kind of problem would try to take care of it himself, but not just because of the number of dollars. He would do it because he couldn’t conceive of hiring somebody else to bring his woman back for him. He wouldn’t want anybody to know about it. But these rich guys were brought up with it. People washed their underwear for them and emptied the wastebasket where they threw their used rubbers. A lot of times the men were older—too old to do what had to be done.
Killigan’s peripheral vision caught the woman turning away from him again to look back for her imaginary pursuers. He turned his head to watch. She had to bend a little at the hips to lean over the railing and stretch her neck to see around the bunch of Wichita Chamber of Commerce types who had stopped behind her. He couldn’t help noticing the skirt again. That was typical. They would run away from home dressed like they wanted to be noticed, either because they didn’t own a dress that cost less than a used car or because they didn’t know there was such a thing. His eyes lingered on the shiny leather stretched across her buttocks. It was a long time on the road from Los Angeles to Indiana. Once he had her in the van, anything might happen. Women sometimes considered all kinds of options if they wanted out bad enough.
As though she had somehow heard what he was thinking, her back seemed to give a shiver, and he barely managed to turn his head away from her in time.
Killigan stepped off the conveyor and headed for the row of public telephones along the wall, to give her time to get past him. She came within four or five feet of him as she passed the telephones, and he caught a scent of her perfume, a slight change that made the air taste like a spice. He was busy wondering what that stuff cost when she turned the wrong way. “Oh shit,” he said into the telephone. “Coitus interruptus.” He was getting all geared up for it, and she was…of course. He caught sight of her walking into the ladies’ room.
Killigan hung the telephone on its hook and walked to the other side of the terminal so he would be behind her when she got around to coming out.
The woman emerged after a few minutes, and he almost felt sorry for her. She had put on sunglasses and a short jacket and a long blond wig to cover the dark hair, but she was carrying the same handmade leather flight bag that matched the leather skirt. He could even detect a fresh drop or two of perfume. The only person who wouldn’t recognize her was somebody who wasn’t looking for her at all. Those long legs in those dark stockings: If she’d had any sense at all, that was what she would have covered.
Killigan waited while she put a good two hundred feet between them before he started toward the baggage area. He could feel the universe rolling along smoothly now, the way it was supposed to. That had just been a little bump in the pavement. She was watching for her luggage, staring down at the metal track that wound around the waiting area. It was all a question of timing now.
He saw her spot her suitcase. She watched it all the way from the moment it brushed in through the weather flaps and went around the track; then he saw her lean forward and strain to drag and bump it over the rim onto the floor. It made her seem more vulnerable and ripe to watch her balance on the toes of those high-heeled shoes and do that. There wasn’t a lot of strength in those arms.
Killigan waited until she had hauled it to the door and shown the security woman her ticket with the stub stapled to it that matched the one on the suitcase. Then the door opened and she stepped out onto the sidewalk with Killigan at her elbow. At the curb she stopped and looked to the left to find a taxi, and Killigan moved in.
He flashed his identification wallet in her face as he said, “Come with me, please, Mrs. Eckerly,” clutched her arm, and pulled her along with him, so there was never a second for her to think.
She tried to dig in her heels, but he knew exactly the way they reacted, so he gave her a first taste of it. He bent her wrist down enough so she knew it would break if she didn’t come, and jerked her along more quickly. It wasn’t just the pain that worked on them, it was the fact that he knew how to inflict it so easily. It proved to something deep inside them that he represented genuine authority—cops and law and government and, even more, all the massed force that made people do what they were supposed to do.
He hustled her across the street in the crosswalk, not even waiting for the light to change, just holding up a hand and counting on the drivers’ reflexes. He knew that, too, would help. And then he had her inside the big concrete parking structure and he was already feeling relief, because he was through the hard part, where real airport cops might be loitering and where, if she screamed and ran, it might be hard to subdue her without attracting some man he couldn’t scare off by flashing an imitation-leather wallet with his license on one side and a business card with a picture of an eagle on the other.
He had parked the van on the first floor, just about twenty feet from the exit. To get that space he’d had to be here early and hang around all evening, but it was paying off now. She was already to the back door before she said, “Wait, you’re making a mistake. Don’t do this.” She never pulled herself together enough to look up at him.
It was exactly what they always said, but it was a little disconcerting, because usually they tried to use their faces—the tiny quiver in the lips, the big wet eyes. And there wasn’t that little sob in her voice. It was like a whisper in the big concrete place, and it went right through him. He couldn’t let up for a second, he knew. “No mistake, Mrs. Eckerly. There’s a legal complaint, and you’ll have to go back and clear that up. Face the van, please.” He had hoped to do this after she was inside, because the sight of the handcuffs sometimes made them panicky, but he had a feeling about this one. He slipped the cuffs off his belt and turned her away from him. As he pulled her left arm around behind her, it came too quickly.
He pulled harder, but that didn’t seem to help. He had been keeping her off balance, trying not to give her a chance to think, but she had been waiting for him to have to use one hand to get the cuffs. She stomped on his instep, turned with him, and brought her elbow up against the bridge of his nose. He heard the bone break and felt the warm blood streaming out of his nostrils into his mouth. He knew he was in trouble, because of the pain and the slowness. And something bad had happened to the bones in his foot. He stepped back to try to get time working with him again, but his toes didn’t want to hold him, so he had to rock back on his heel and use his other foot for balance. He was angry, maddened with pain. He was going to make her hurt just as much. In a second she would turn to run, and he would be on her. He pushed off to get started.
The woman didn’t turn, and she didn’t run. She drifted toward him, and he sensed what she had in mind. She was winding up for a kick in the groin. They always taught women that in those self-defense classes. He bent his body and held his hands low to grip her leg when she did it.
What People are Saying About This
"Bean's performance is an act that's hard to follow. She's highly believable as Whitefield and modulates the story's emotional ups and downs easily." -AudioFile