Poison Town: A Novel

Poison Town: A Novel

4.4 21
by Creston Mapes
     
 

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Another Christian fiction mystery thriller from Creston Mapes! When reporter Jack Crittendon learns people on the poor side of town are dying, and pollution from a local manufacturing plant may be to blame, nothing will stop his investigation.
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Overview

Another Christian fiction mystery thriller from Creston Mapes! When reporter Jack Crittendon learns people on the poor side of town are dying, and pollution from a local manufacturing plant may be to blame, nothing will stop his investigation.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
02/15/2014
Something is very wrong on the east side of Trenton City. Reporter Jack Crittendon stumbles upon a big story while dropping his car off to be fixed with the Randalls. The mechanics claim that the Daimler-Vargus plant behind their property is poisoning people with its airborne fiberglass pollutants and that their father, Galen, has the inside scoop. Investigators from the EPA have not found any wrongdoing, but people keep dying. When a hospitalized Galen is poisoned by a mysterious man in black, Jack is driven to find out the truth—if it doesn't kill him first. Mapes (Nobody; Fear Has a Name) has written a riveting story with well-drawn, quirky characters. This tension-filled tale will leave readers spellbound, wondering if one person can really fight a corporation and make a difference. Can faith in the face of fear give one the courage to do the right thing, regardless of the cost? VERDICT A roller-coaster ride of a thriller with strong protagonists and a story line that hits very close to home. Recommended for fans of Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action and of Erin Brockovich (Rock Bottom; Hot Water).
Publishers Weekly
12/02/2013
The follow-up to the first (Fear Has a Name) in Mapes’ Crittendon Files series is filled with incongruous twists and turns, peppered with tepid suspense and stereotypical dialogue. Jack Crittendon, reporter, husband, father of two, is recovering from the aftermath of his wife’s kidnapping and struggling with his faith when a chance encounter with old friends leads him to the story of a lifetime—a local manufacturer is poisoning not only its workers, but the people who live in the surrounding Ohio city. With the help of his co-worker Derrick and the support of his family, he must bring those behind the environmental misdeeds to justice before time runs out. By using multiple narrative viewpoints, Mapes provides critical insight into secondary characters, allowing for the story to proceed at a steady pace. But character interactions are stilted, and a contrived ending rounds out a lackluster novel. Agency: Natasha Kern Literary Agency. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

“Creston Mapes has crafted quite the thrill ride. He explores the evils of corporate greed and exposes an even more menacing enemy lurking inside all of us. Warning: once you pick this book up, you will not want to put it down.”
Mark Lee, guitarist and founding member of the Grammy Award winning band Third Day

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780781411233
Publisher:
David C Cook
Publication date:
02/01/2014
Series:
Crittendon Files
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
112,407
File size:
5 MB

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Read an Excerpt

Poison Town


By Creston Mapes

David C. Cook

Copyright © 2014 Creston Mapes, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7814-1123-3



CHAPTER 1

Jack could see his breath even inside the car as he dodged potholes on the Ohio interstate and maneuvered his way into Trenton City at daybreak. He blasted the heat but was getting nothing but cold air. The gun he'd bought three days earlier still felt bulky and foreign strapped to his ankle. He didn't like keeping the gun a secret from Pam, but with Granger Meade out on parole, it was for her own good—hers and the girls'.

Wiping the moisture from the side window, he glimpsed one of the city's sprawling industrial plants, its web of mechanical apparatuses and smokestacks silhouetted by the dawn's red-orange glow. He put the windows down to clear the windshield. It was below freezing outside. "Shoot!" He laughed at how cold he was and how ridiculous he must look with the windows down in the dead of winter. Cars hummed alongside his, covered with clumps of snow and ice and white stains from the rock salt on the roads.

He'd been taking the cars to Randalls' Garage for repairs on the east side of Trenton City for years. Galen, the elderly father, and his two fortysomething sons, LJ and Travis, knew cars like a cardiologist knew chest cavities.

Jack glanced at the digital clock in the dash: 7:17.

The fact that Granger had returned to Trenton City made Jack sick to his stomach—especially each morning when it was time to leave Pam and the girls. The man had come to town to track Pam down two years ago because she was the only person who had ever cared two cents about his life. She had paid for that compassion—they all had.

Jack rested a hand on his chest. His sternum had been severely cracked that night when he slammed into the guardrail. The bone had eventually healed, but his heart had not. Jack didn't care. It was his right to despise Granger. He had zero sympathy for the man, even though Pam—the real victim—had mustered the mercy to forgive.

He recalled driving hopelessly in the dark, through sheets of torrential rain, in search of any sign of his wife—then spinning out of control.

Jack realized he was clamping the steering wheel like a vise. Ease up. He tried to relax his hands, his neck, his whole body.

He shook away the disturbing vignettes of that night.

At the last second he spotted the Tenth Street exit sign, shot a glance back, and veered off the interstate. When Granger got into his head, the memories possessed him. Just like that—almost missing the exit.

He looped around the exit ramp, past the new soup kitchen, which was lined with dark figures—standing, sitting, sleeping—trying to stay warm on sewage grates billowing clouds of steam. He hit green lights for several city blocks. Once past the library, thrift shop, and triple set of railroad tracks leading to the east side, he slowed along the narrow streets.

The houses were shoeboxes whose colors had faded long ago. Many were mobile homes, yet almost every one supported a monstrous leaning antenna or satellite dish. Smoke chugged from tiny chimneys, and he imagined the warmth inside. Beater cars and trucks were parked at all angles in the short driveways and right up against the shanties and shotgun shacks.

Jack's phone chirped. He knew without looking that it was a reminder to attend the editorial board meeting at nine thirty. He had tons of work on his plate. He took a left on Pell Lane and a quick right at the Randalls' place, easing the Jetta up to the large doors of the auto shop. It was a leaning, rusted silver metal building the size of a barn, sealed up tight with no windows or sign.

A hint of snow fell as Jack turned the car off. The Randalls' one-story house was situated about fifty feet from the shop. It was faded green with a big metal awning over the back. Next to it was a rusting white propane tank that looked like a giant Tylenol capsule. Out back were a red tool shed, an ancient doghouse, and a broken-down sky-blue Ford Pinto.

The Randalls' orange dog with the corkscrew tail was lying on the back stoop, which led to the rear entrance of the house. A cozy yellow light shone from inside. The instant the mutt saw him, it bolted upright and howled.

"Hello, Rusty." Jack continued toward the back door. "It's okay. I'm here to see the boys. Are they up?" Rusty quieted and sniffed at his coat.

Jack went up the steps slowly, the gun on his ankle feeling heavy. Through the screen door he could see Travis sitting hunched over an enormous plate of food at the small kitchen table. Jack knocked at the leaning screen door, and without any change in facial expression, Travis lifted a hand and motioned him inside.

Jack nudged the tightly sealed back door, scaring a gray cat away as he slipped in. "Morning, Travis."

The kitchen was small and toasty warm, permeated with the smell of cigarettes and dotted with NASCAR posters, hats, and paraphernalia.

"Jack." Travis nodded casually, as if Jack lived there and had just meandered in for breakfast. He sat with his right leg crossed and his right foot gently bouncing. He was distinctly bony, like a caveman, from his large hands and sinewy arms to his long, sculpted face. His fork tapped and cut and diced its way into a pile of yoke-smothered eggs, bacon, grits, grilled potatoes, biscuits, and white gravy.

"Could it be any colder?" Jack took his gloves off.

Travis continued to work on his breakfast, his elbows resting on the Formica table. "I guess it could, but I wouldn't want it to be." He chuckled at his own joke. "What's the word at the Dispatch? Any new scandals? You can wipe your feet right there on that rug."

"Nothing earth-shattering." Jack wiped his feet.

"You still doin' the city-hall beat?" Travis spoke slowly, in a deep voice. He wore faded jeans with a small rip above one knee, a soft brown T-shirt, and thick gray socks.

"Yeah," Jack said. "And I'm the features editor now, so I've been doing some personality profile stuff. We ran a story about a neighbor of yours recently—Jenness Brinkman."

"They live right 'round back, I think. Jenness is the handicapped girl, right?"

"Yep. Top of her class at East High. Got a full ride to Yale to study criminal law. Wants to work with the FBI in Washington."

"I'll be," Travis said. "I missed that one."

"The features usually run on Sundays."

"Well, that answers that. Bo's always runnin' off with the Sunday paper. Uses it to clean car windows. You hear he's detailin' cars now?"

Bo was Travis's seventeen-year-old nephew, who was always into something new.

"No, I hadn't." Jack heard a sound from the other room.

"Yup. Ask him 'bout it. He's startin' off really cheap."

"I might do that."

"You want somethin' to eat? Biscuit? I got some a' Daddy's homemade sawmill gravy over there. A little go-joe?"

It all sounded good, but he'd had fruit and eggs with Pam. "No, thanks. I appreciate it, though."

The smell of a freshly lit cigarette wafted in from the next room, but Travis didn't seem to notice.

"What brings you out this mornin'?" Travis scratched his dark sparse beard, which was peppered with gray.

"I've got my '98 Jetta out there. The fan is barely working, and there's no heat. Plus the muffler's sagging."

Just then LJ rounded the corner from the dark room, a lit cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, the usual black eye patch covering his left eye. He wore dark blue jeans, a white T-shirt, an unbuttoned blue and red flannel shirt, and white socks. "You want the good ol' boy fix on the muffler, Jack, or you want me to get the parts from Volkswagen?"

"Hey, LJ," Jack said. "The good ol' boy fix, if you can."

"What you doin', boy?" Travis suddenly came to life. "Sneakin' round here in the dark." He looked at Jack. "He's been doin' that since we was boys. Ears like radar. Stickin' that crooked nose into other people's beeswax. Ain't no such thing as a private conversation 'round here."

LJ smirked as he stirred some grilled potatoes in a frying pan above a blue flame. With the cigarette pinched at the end of two fingers, he took a heaping mouthful. "Momma used to call me Ghosty. Remember, Trav?"

The most prominent feature on LJ, besides the eye patch, was his Adam's apple, which protruded an inch from his long skinny neck. He was about six foot four and balding. The brown hair he did have on top was long and thin; on the sides it was full and flowing.

"Momma had your number," Travis said. "Remember how she got on you for spying on Daddy's customers? Hey, don't smoke around the food!"

"How long ago did your mother pass away?" Jack asked.

LJ ran his cigarette under water, threw it away, and got into the eggs, eating right out of the pan. "Two thousand and seven," he said with a mouthful. "These need salt. Want some grub, Jack?"

"I already asked him ... but now that you've gone and stuck your grea-zee grubs into everythin' ... Sorry, Jack. LJ, mind your manners."

"Same thing's gonna kill Daddy that killed Momma." LJ shook the big spoon toward the window as he spewed the words: "Demler-Vargus."

"Is something wrong with Galen?" Jack asked.

"He's in the hospital." LJ tossed the spoon in the sink. "They's callin' it emphysema, and maybe it is, but we know what caused it." He jabbed a finger toward the window. "That plant. It killed Momma, and it's killed others. But nobody wants to listen to us poor east-siders. We got no voice in this town."

Travis calmly tapped and scraped at the remains on his plate.

Jack knew that Demler-Vargus, the massive fiberglass manufacturing plant that employed half of Trenton City, had been the recipient of complaints in the past for emitting hazardous pollutants. But as far as he knew, the corporate giant had only received several slaps on the wrist from the EPA.

"How bad is he?" Jack said.

"He's gonna be okay." Travis didn't look up. "Passed out the other night. Wasn't gettin' enough oxygen to the brain. Scared the starch out of us."

"I thought he was dead." LJ came over and stood by Travis. "He was purple. Sprawled out yonder in the TV room."

"Lucky there was no brain damage, they said." Travis picked at his teeth with his upside-down fork. "It's my day at the hospital, so LJ will be takin' care of your car." He looked up at his brother. "You hear all his Jetta needs when you was listenin' in?"

"I heard. I gotta take care of the fuel filter on that Volvo first, then I got that little day-care bus out back, door's busted—"

"But you gonna get to it today, right?" Travis said.

"I might could. But it might be tomorrow."

Travis craned his neck toward Jack. "That okay?"

"That's fine."

"You need a ride to the paper?" Travis stood and took his dish to the sink.

"That would be great." Jack put his gloves on. "You know, we just ran a feature story about the CEO of Demler-Vargus. He was voted Trenton City's Person of the—"

"That is the biggest load of horse manure." LJ scowled and pulled at his thick brown mustache that reached to the bottom of his chin. "Don't get me started, Jack. That man is nothing but a murderer, plain and simple."

"No, please don't git him started." Travis finished rinsing his things and put them in the dishwasher. "I can take you to the paper on my way to the hospital."

"Great." Jack guessed LJ was frustrated and looking for someone to blame for his parents' struggles, but his own curiosity was piqued. He'd come away from his interview with Leonard Bendickson III thinking the fiberglass CEO was intelligent, cocky, and filthy rich. "Why are you so sure Demler-Vargus is hurting people?" he asked. "What do you know?"

"Whatever that plant is spewing, it's killing people," LJ said. "It's in the air and the water. I've heard plenty."

"Like what, specifically?"

"Uh oh," Travis said. "Here we go."

"You know what fiberglass is, Jack?" LJ whirled around like a raging pirate, with his arching brown eyebrows and long crooked nose. "It's tiny slivers of actual glass. We breathe it in day in and day out in this crummy neighborhood. Momma and Daddy been breathin' it in they whole lives. Some days we can see it on the cars and houses. You know what that does to your innards? That plant shouldn't be anywhere close to any neighborhood."

"What did your mom die from?" Jack said.

"Lymphoma, eventually," Travis said as he hoisted on a heavy blue-and-yellow parka. "But she had respiratory problems the last three years."

LJ slammed some dishes in the sink. "Her mouth was covered with sores." He stopped, gripped the sink, and stared out the window. "She had a sore throat for years. Used an oxygen tank."

"Did she smoke?"

"All her life," Travis said.

"That ain't the point!" LJ kicked away the gray cat that was poking around the dishwasher. "Smokin' don't make you twitch and break into hives till you itch yerself raw!"

Travis snatched his keys from a wooden board. "We know people who work in there whose health is broken down somethin' miserable. They's some horror stories, how it affects the central nervous system."

"Big joke at the plant is, none of 'em collect on their retirement 'cause they all dead shortly after they retire," LJ said. "If they last that long."

"I've heard things from time to time at the paper," Jack said. "But it always sounded to me like when there was any wrongdoing, Demler-Vargus complied and cleaned things up."

LJ closed the dishwasher with a bang. "Jack, this is dirty, filthy politics and greed and cover-up. Nobody wants to do nothin' about it 'cause Demler-Vargus employs the whole town. It would cripple the entire city if they got shut down. That's yer bottom line."

"Daddy got us a big-shot lawyer." Travis knelt to pet the cat. "Says we're gonna pursue it hot an' heavy. Lawyer says we got a good shot at winning some big moolah."

"Other people have gotten payoffs from Demler-Vargus, but you wouldn't know about that down at the Dispatch," LJ said. "Prob'ly wouldn't write about it even if you did."

"Sure we would."

LJ shook his head like a spoiled child. "No sir. I'm tellin' you, Jack, this here is a can a' worms. The Dispatch don't cover it, and neither does AM 550; Demler-Vargus is too powerful. They're Goliath. No one's got the guts to call 'em out and say what's really goin' on."

"That's enough, LJ." Travis headed for the door. "Jack's gotta get to work, and I gotta get over to see Daddy. Oh, that's right ..." Travis rattled around in a drawer until he found a brown bag. "I told him I'd bring him some biscuits." He dropped three in the bag and wrung it closed. "That'll do it. You ready?"

"Yep." Jack followed him to the door. "Look, I'm not promising anything, but if I can get my editor to agree, would you guys be willing to give me names and details?"

"Shoot, yeah. Daddy's got all the facts. You need to talk to him." LJ stretched his long arms and touched the low ceiling, then ran his fingers through his thin hair and snapped the elastic band that held the eye patch in place. "But I bet you a six-pack you won't do nothin'—beverage of your choice."

Jack reached his hand out, and it was engulfed by LJ's massive calloused paw, clean except for the dirt beneath his fingernails.

"You're on."

CHAPTER 2

It was getting light and snowing when Travis dropped Jack out front of the big Dispatch building downtown. From there, Travis rocked and rolled his dark green Jeep Wrangler through Trenton City slush puddles and backstreets, on over to visitor parking at Cook County Hospital.

Up on the modern fourth floor, he quietly entered the dark sterile-smelling room. Daddy was upright in bed, sleeping. Travis set the bag of biscuits down, then went to the window and pulled up the blind, knowing his father would want to see out when he awoke. His color looked better, more ruddy, like usual.

Travis ducked back out into the hallway, keeping the door open with his foot. "Excuse me—Candace, is it?" He addressed a plump young nurse in aqua scrubs, whose shiny brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail.

"Yes?" Her eyes shifted and cheeks reddened, as if she was surprised he knew her name.

Shoot, we've been here how many days now?

"Has Galen Randall eaten breakfast yet? Right here in 411?"

She looked at her watch. "It should be coming soon. You're one of the sons, right?"

"Travis." He nodded. "I know I asked this before, but can he have waffles 'stead of eggs?"

"They should know that by now in the kitchen."

Travis smiled and went back into the room, doubting they would get the order right. People didn't care about their jobs anymore. Not like Daddy had taught LJ and him—to do your job well, respect others, please the customer, go the extra mile.

Travis sat himself down in the green vinyl chair. His father was fit as a fiddle for seventy-eight. He stood only about five foot nine, but he was lean and stubbornly strong. His forearms were thick, and his hands were small and tough as metal. He could reach unreachable places on an engine, unscrew things, bend, clamp, tighten, and manipulate a motor with his hands like most people couldn't do with a full set of tools. And nothing ever seemed to hurt those hands, or him—until now.

His father's face was full of gray beard stubble. He looked older. Of course he had to be fatigued from all this hospital business. They still had the oxygen tube stuck up his nose, but it looked like they had reduced his IVs from two bags of fluid to one. Good.

Travis just hoped he could get Daddy home soon, because that house and that garage and that piece of property were his life, especially since Momma died. Daddy'd been going to church quite a bit since then too, and that seemed to give him a lot of comfort, which was fine with Travis. Daddy even managed to get LJ and him to church once in a while, when he promised to take them to Ryan's afterward for the all-you-can-eat buffet.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Poison Town by Creston Mapes. Copyright © 2014 Creston Mapes, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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